science fiction

Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth – My thoughts.

Hello there! I wholeheartedly apologise for such a lack of content recently and I’m not going to bore you with excuses but I will say that this isn’t so much of a review rather than my thoughts and experiences with the game so let’s just get on with it.

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If you own a computer or are in to strategy games and haven’t heard of the behemoth that is Sid Meier then where the fuck have you been? The strategy game giants have graced us with another instalment to their Civilization series this time however there is a twist. It’s set in the future! Instead of doing the usual business of building a famous empire from the ground up over thousands of years this time we take on the job of setting up a colony on a distant planet. Each Civ is funded by a sponsor so instead of having separate countries you have different corporations. Now for the interests of impartiality I will admit that I am quite the Civilization fan but for the sack of this article I have put aside my preconceptions and tried to play this game with an open mind.

First off I am going to address an issue that I have seen a lot of people have with this game and that is that there is a lack of personality from the A.I. leaders. I don’t really think this is as big a deal as what some are making it out to be. Yes their aren’t as many leaders(as of yet) as there have been in previous games so most playthroughs are similar but you can clearly see patterns in behaviour and individual characteristics of each one. I think the major difference in this game is that none of the names are recognisable as in previous Civ games so we have no previous ideas of what that person is like. I do agree that the level of personality isn’t as high as in previous games but it is undeniably still there. I found myself many times getting angry with how certain factions were acting and even being very spiteful in different playthroughs because of how a leader acted in a different game. Anyway rant over.

The game plays a lot like any other Civ game so if you aren’t a fan of the previous ones then this probably won’t float your boat however if you are a fan of the earlier games or the genre in general then this will be a happy edition to your collection. For most part the game is almost identical to Civ V as they run on the same engine however it is the new setting and tweaks that they have made that make the game feel drastically different. The most notable change is the tech web, previously being a tech tree, allowing for much greater variation in advancements and giving science an even greater level of strategy as it makes each technology you research that little bit more significant. It also separates the different countries/corporations quite drastically as there are now hundreds of different orders to unlocking things like buildings and new units. The next most significant feature is probably the Affinity system. By acting in certain ways or researching certain things you gain affinity points and increasing your chosen affinity will lead to stronger units, new perks and also affect how other Civs react to you. This is a welcome addition however can prove a bit distracting as sometimes you focus on growing your affinity rather than your own Civilization.

There are so many choices to make in this game that it borderlines on the ridiculous. One of the reasons there aren’t that many starting leaders(in this game they are called sponsors) is because after picking which one you want to be there are then three more choices for you to customize your Civ with such as starting bonuses etc. This can be really fun as it really feels like your Civ is your own however as all the A.I. also customize themselves can make it difficult to work out how the opponents will play. The game also runs a quest system helping you to feel like there is a progression to what you are doing and with certain quests you are given a decision to make which will change what certain buildings output or give different buffs again further customizing your Civ.

Level design is a bit lacklustre as most places feel very similar however knowing Firaxis, the company behind the game, they will be releasing a bunch of dlc maps as they normally do. This is cushioned as from day one this game came with steam workshop support so modders have already been hard at work making the game have even more content.

Civilization: Beyond Earth is another good instalment in the franchise and is well worth a play if you are a fan. There are a few things that I think don’t make this a less fun game but do impact replayabillity and so I doubt it will eat up as many hours as say Civ V will/has/is but given the history of these games once a few large expansions have been released I would not be surprised if this game could eat away around 60hours+. Let me know what you guys think and what things you would like to be included in the expansions or made as a mod, thanks for reading!

Civilization: Beyond Earth is out now for PC.

 

-Joe

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Review- Not A Disney Castle In Sight!

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Hey everyone! doing my review a little early this week as for once I am prepared. I know right! bet you’re glad you were sitting down for that bombshell. Anyhoo If you haven’t guessed by the title (Then I’m seriously worried about you. Get some help.) this is a review about the latest Marvel film Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Now I’m a big comic fan boy and even I was surprised when Marvel announced that this film was going to be made especially when there are many other, much more popular, characters just waiting in the wings, *cough* Deadpool *cough*, but the more that emerged about this film the more I started to get really excited. The film looked like it was taking the Marvel universe to new plains and was going to open the gates to all the Sci-Fi story lines and characters Marvel has in its locker. The cast choices, while at first left me confused, were fantastic and after seeing trailer footage I was ready to see what was in store. Then I remembered Disney owned Marvel and I cried a little inside. Yes Avengers was epic and set the standard for the genre but since that first outing I have to be honest Marvel films have been a little hit and miss for me. Cap’ America 2 was decent, nothing to shout from the roof tops but stood its ground well, Thor 2 was a little meh but then again so was the first and Iron Man 3 was like watching a child fail at sport while their overly aggressive parent shouts at them to keep going. I was apprehensive.

Now this movie puts all those others to shame. After the little BSA ticket it’s just like BAM! right into the film. No logos or nothing. After a short set up the Marvel logo flashes and the film carries on and introduces the main character, his name’s Peter Quill(Chris Pratt) by the way, all the while doing the obligatory opening credits of who worked on the film. Luckily they don’t stop what’s going on and shove it in your face who made this movie, instead they put the names in corners and at the bottom of the screen to leave you to enjoy what you’ve paid to see. Now this may seem small but I feel like it sets the tone for a film. It says “Hey! We ain’t fucking around with your fancy pantsy ego boosting shit! We’re here to entertain you so you’re gunna need to pay attention from the get go! Capiche?” and I love it.

Now this is a spoiler free review so I won’t tell you any story specifics but this movie actually has a rather good one. The story is neat and tight and constructed rather well. You’re given enough information that it’s easy to follow but not so much that it becomes overly predictable (granted there are a few clichés dotted here and there but they’re forgivable). The ending to a lot of comic films I feel are where they get let down the most with the majority not having the satisfying feeling that films should have, in particular with final/boss battles. This film, and this is just my opinion, doesn’t suffer from this at all. The finale is just as epic as it should be and the ending is incredibly satisfying! Oh and for all of you that are reading this wanting to know the after credit sequence all I will say is that Guardians takes to the comic book trope like a duck to water.

The acting is some of the best I have seen in a comic book movie and every character feels real and really brought to life. I was most apprehensive about the WWE wrestler Dave Bautista being cast as Drax as wrestlers haven’t exactly made the best actors but He does incredibly well in the role and, other than the fact his arms are the size of my head, you wouldn’t have guessed that acting (don’t start with that wrestling is basically acting crap) wasn’t his first profession. Vin Diesel does incredibly well in the role of Groot with, and this isn’t sarcastic, some well delivered subtle voice acting. Same goes for Bradley Cooper as Rocket(Racoon). Zoe Saldana shows us again that she’s a fantastic actress in her role as Gamora . And not forgetting Chris Pratt who brings it all together in with a performance of the highest calibre.

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A lot of the time during this film I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching this generations Star Wars. God I’m going to get slaughtered for that comparison but its honestly true. The epic scale of everything and the level of detail in the different races and species that feature was very reminiscent of episode 4-6. It has the same strange charm about it as well. The film did something that most films of this genre can and that’s fill the viewer with that sense of wide eyed wonder. Sure super hero films do that for kids but kids get that same sense when they discover that the light in the fridge turns off when the door shuts. I’m talking about that feeling in Adults. Honestly try and think back to the last film that left you with the feeling of amazement. I have to go pretty far back. That makes me sad. The visuals were just brilliant especially(and I can’t believe Im saying this) in 3D. Yeah, really. It genuinely does add a depth to a lot of the action and sequences and there were a few moments where I was just like “3d was made for this kind of shit!”. The CGI was some of the better ones that I’ve seen and the mixture of practical props and CGI really work well.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Is quite possibly my favourite Marvel film to date and is definitely worth the price of a ticket to go and watch. I would give it a solid 8.5/10. It really does entertain but it still can’t shake the knowledge that you’re watching a good comic book movie not just a good movie and for that reason I can’t score it a 9. So very close though.

Oh and the soundtrack is fucking awesome!

 

Thanks for reading!

-Joe

Penny Dreadful, Review

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Penny Dreadful is horror series, freshly finished its first season, from Showtime, taking classic horror stories and characters from old favourites such as DraculaFrankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray and placing fascinating new twists layered over plot-points to create a unique and engaging story. In it, African explorer Sir Malcom Murray hunts relentlessly for his kidnapped daughter, Mina Murray (or Harker, seeing as she was recently married) with the aid of Vanessa Ives and Sembene, later enlisting the help of Ethan Chandler and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. But they find a lot more than just vampires in their search. Something old and evil haunts Vanessa, posing links to both the vampires, and Christian and Egyptian mythology both, even as some unknown horror stalks the streets of London, leaving carnage in its wake.

The premise instantly intrigues me, and does not disappoint. Penny Dreadful is fantastically dark, expertly weaving psychological and classical horror together to leave me absorbed and definitely creeped out.

While the plot is fun enough, it is the compelling characters that drive the story for me personally, and both the re-written and original characters drag you screaming eagerly into their world.

I particularly love Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the darkly mysterious woman with a past tying her to Mina Harker, and something evil stalking her even as it seems to lie within her. The wit and drama she delivers are flawless, and her harsher scenes in ‘Seance’ and ‘Possession’ left me genuinely disturbed, difficult even for me to watch, and I revel in good horror!

Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) intrigued, but frustrated me. He has his secretiveness, and his ulterior motives, such that when they come to the light, leave you feeling less than warm and fuzzy toward him. But his tenacity is admirable and he admittedly has his redeeming moments.

Ethan (Josh Hartnett), our American sharpshooter with serious Daddy-issues, is a strange one. His own emotional moments had me tearing up myself on occasion, while certain points of his intensity had me very suspicious – that is, until it finally clicked. If you watch very closely, you’ll figure out fairly quickly what’s going on with Ethan and his secrets, and if not, it’s a wonderfully grim revelation that has me very excited for his story-lines in the future.

Brona Croft (Billie Piper), savvy but sickly Irish prostitute, was another that had me in tears. Though she is slowly and painfully dying of consumption as she struggles to make enough money just to eat, she falls for Ethan, and him for her, it would seem. I felt as helpless as he did, knowing there was no help for her – but her story is far from over.

Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Well, I bet you know where this is going! Some time after his disastrous first creation was brought to life, we see him feverishly trying to again pierce the veils between life and death (a very big theme of Penny Dreadful as a whole), and his past coming back to haunt him. I love Victor’s characterisation; he is naive, but dark, young, but with horrors in his eyes. He is an easily lovable character, even as he is a total walking disaster.

Speaking of walking disasters… Dorian Gray’s (Reeve Carney) story is well known to us all, and he certainly lives up to it in this incarnation of his character. He is free, pleasure-seeking, has an obsession with portraits, and seduces or sleeps with anything with hip-gyrating capabilities, but I cannot dislike him. It’s his vices that seem to make him, and I actually find myself cheering him on a bit, just to see how far he can go before things inevitably come crashing down around him. And it seems Vanessa may be a large part of that crashing. Sadly, his portrait has not yet been seen from the front, so we can only guess at how much he has eroded his soul, but his actions within the series and his overall character suggests that it’s probably a hell of a lot.

One of the show’s greatest virtues, outside of these characters, is its sincerity. It takes no joy in outsmarting viewers, or even taking itself too seriously. It is what it is, and doesn’t dance around that.

I’ll admit that the first two episodes may leave you a little confused as to what the heck is going on, which is often a pet peeve of mine. I don’t always enjoy shows that make me work for it. But stick with it – things do come together, and it is very much worth it when they do. And yes, some of it’s pulpy shock-factor can be a little over the top.

Despite this, its silliness adds to its charm for me, and makes the weird ride that much more fun!

Here’s to the next season being as successfully creepy, fun, dark and sexy as the first! And to finding out what’s up with that mysterious Sembene (Danny Sapani)??

4.5/5 Stars! Only 8 episodes long this season, but so very worth the watch!

– Meg

Orphan Black – a review

For months now, the internet has been awash with rave reviews and articles about BBC America’s new sci-fi show, Orphan Black. The show premiered in March in 2013, and since its debut it has taken the world by storm. Throughout the show’s growing popularity, I’ve heard many people ask, “But what is it about?” To that, I simply smile and say one word: clones.

Clone shows and movies have been done many times before in the past, from the light-hearted ‘Parent Trap’ to films with a little more intensity like ‘Never Let Me Go’. But Orphan Black goes the extra mile; not only does it encompass the drama of a ‘clone show’, but it manages to encapsulate a myriad of other aspects and genres. For one, it manages to maintain a dramatic edge without being over the top or cliché; from the moment it begins, it hooks the viewer in with exciting incidents and compelling characters that make it almost impossible to tear your eyes away from it. In terms of the characters themselves, while there is an excellent extended cast, the ‘main’ cast, if you will, is simply comprised of the one person who brings such a dynamic quality to the show that makes it as phenomenal as it is; Tatiana Maslany, who won a Critics’ Choice award for the show in June.

Tatiana Maslany.

Tatiana Maslany, Comic Con 2013.

Somehow, she has achieved the seemingly impossible task of playing a multitude of characters on one show and making it look easy, which only endears her to her fans even more. Maslany is captivating to watch on screen, and her ability to act so convincingly as different people (including doing a variety of accents, all of which are practically impeccable) is what really draws people in to the show at the start. She is so adept at creating entirely new personas for each of her clones, it just stuns me every time to see one single person with so much talent; and I know it may be difficult to believe if you have not yet seen the show yourself, but Maslany has actually managed to make the clones seem like entirely different people, in altering their movements in subtle but important ways, and changing the way they speak using their lips and their reactions to things (and as you can imagine, this is utterly baffling considering they are all played by the same actress).

3 of the clones: Sarah Manning (left), Alison Hendrix (middle), Cosima Niehaus (right).

3 of the clones: Sarah Manning (left), Alison Hendrix (middle), Cosima Niehaus (right)

However, this isn’t the only reason Orphan Black has become so popular in such a short space of time – the show definitely holds its own in terms of the structure and plot lines, and while it can be quite science-based at times due to the involvement of the DNA replication involved in the process of cloning, the plot remains engaging and easy to follow, with thrilling twists and turns along the way to keep the viewer hooked.

In addition, the humour of the show is not to be ignored – in particular, the character of Felix, played by Jordan Gavaris, who is the stepbrother of the show’s protagonist Sarah, provides the show with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek commentary, as well as providing representation for the LGBT community with his character being openly gay. The LGBT community also receives more support from the show in terms of Cosima, one of the many clones portrayed by Maslany. Cosima’s character is presented extremely well in that she is not defined by her sexuality; her romantic interest in French student Delphine simply happens along the way, and the fact that they are both women is not ignored nor is it highlighted in any way – it is simply treated as any other romantic plotline.

Also, the fact that the show is female-led is definitely something to be revered; while there are male main characters (Felix, Detective Arthur Bell, Paul Dierden), the spotlight is focused on Sarah (one of the main clones) and her quest to discover more about her past and how she came to be. This is extremely refreshing in a time where so much of the media is overrun with patriarchy and misogyny, and makes Orphan Black even more compelling to watch.

The diversity of the show not only extends to the LGBT community; there is also a range of different backgrounds to be seen in the plethora of characters, with Maslany herself playing clones from England, Canada, America, Ukraine, and France, to name a few.

To sum up, this show is everything you could want a show to be; it has drama, romance, humour, a phenomenal cast and thrilling storylines, all wrapped up in a sci-fi blanket. So if you have some time to spare this weekend, watch Orphan Black; trust me, once you’re a member of the Clone Club, you’ll never look back.

Thanks, Cosima.

Thanks, Cosima.

5/5. Utterly brilliant in every possible way.

~Steph.

‘Cinder’ by Marissa Meyer, Review

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Okay, so we all know there have been a lot re-envisionings of classic fairy tales in recent years, but Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles is by far one of the most interesting and, frankly, brave additions to the fairy tale fad. The story Meyer’s telling carries on over a series of four books (of which three are out), beginning with the Cinderella story.

Lihn Cinder is a cyborg. She is essentially almost half mechanical; she has a robotic hand and a rusty old mechanical foot (in place of the famous glass slipper) and much of her internal organs are operated by wire and prosthetic nerve impulses – she even has a control panel attached to her CNS at the base of her skull, with fully synthetic eyesight. She can pull up newsfeeds and the net on her eyes. Are you thinking this is awesome yet? Let me keep going.

Set centuries in the future, the world is much the same but divided a little differently, not to mention the colony on the moon, known as Lunar, full of people who can control bioelectricity to manipulate people and change their own appearance. They’re scary as shit, by the way.

Probably thanks to her own cyborg body, Cinder is one of the best mechanics in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth – made up of what was once Asia, and just so happens to be suffering madly with plague outbreaks. In the midst of this, the heir to the throne of the Commonwealth, Prince Kai, arrives at her stall to have his android fixed and if you think this is where everything changes for Cinder because the hot boy magically appears in her life, boy are you wrong. Sure, it stirs things up a little, but this meeting actually only sets up plots and reasoning behind certain decisions later in the book(s). Cinder’s life actually takes its horrifying change when her youngest and beloved stepsister contracts the plague, and Cinder is given up by her legal guardian (read ‘evil stepmother’) for testing in ever-failing attempts to cure the luetomosis plague, only to make a huge discovery about herself and, strangely, her doctor.

Suddenly Cinder is at the edges of multiple intrigues and quickly being pulled deeper into them, including finding a cure for the increasingly deadly leutomosis, fighting off an unwelcome attraction to a prince, and the fast approaching war between Earth and the moon colony of Luna, lead by their viciously beautiful Queen Levanna, who is desperate to marry Prince Kai for her own malicious purposes.

Cinder was definitely the most unique take on a fairy tale I have ever seen, and more enjoyable than most due to the depth Meyer went into, both within the confines of the original Cinderella story and the series’ world as a whole. She created a vivid and enthralling story filled with political intrigue, the beginnings of love, family, the consequences and fear of war and, maybe most importantly, how society ostracises those who are different. It is very impressive that Meyer manages to touch on all of these issues while building a beautifully varied world around it, constantly throwing in hints and clues as to the larger plot and promise of future adventures.

In terms of plot progression Meyer sticks close to the original story, but does still twist many points and gives the story some shades of grey rather than the black and white tale we are used to, particularly in the heroine herself. This results in more than a few heart-wrenching moments centred around the unexpected adoration between Cinder and her youngest stepsister Peony, the remarkably human-like house robot Iko who longs to be a beautiful woman, and Prince Kai’s loss of his father and too-sudden ascension to the throne.

Two faults I’ll pick at with this novel, though reluctantly, is that I wanted the worldbuilding to be a little wider-reaching in Cinder, as we only see the rather limited confines of Cinder’s personal world, and a few other scenes from other character’s POVs. This, however, is more than addressed in the rest of the series. Secondly, the ‘plot twist’ near the end? Yeah, I’m gonna say it’s not exactly world-shaking for the reader if they’ve been paying attention, and a bit anticlimactic as far as plot twists go. But, trust me, the rest of the novel more than makes up for it. In fact, it may even make it a little more exciting to read along having figured it out long before Cinder ever does.

The next two books introduce us to Cinder’s allies and the rest of the heroines: Scarlet, featuring Little Red-Riding hood, or rather, French, skilled pilot, shooter and all-around badass Scarlet in her red hoodie; Cress, the Rapunzel character, a Lunar computer hacker with an imagination as big as the galaxy and trapped in a satellite orbiting Earth; and finally, Winter, or ‘Snow White’. She is the terrifying Queen Levanna’s stepdaughter and Lunar princess, driving herself insane with the refusal to use her own Lunar abilities. This final book is unreleased, but there’s a lot of excitement surrounding it, not least because it’s the final instalment, and oh yeah, takes place on the moon!

Overall, Cinder is a fantastic début novel from Marissa Meyer and introduces a bloody wonderful story. It is an awesomely new take on fairy tales and carries with it the refreshing message that a girl’s ‘happy ever after’ is not so rigidly defined by a romance, that some things take precedence over it, like actually surviving to reach just your ‘ever after’, never mind the ‘happy’ part, and they don’t always need a flick of a fairy godmother’s wand – sometimes, a girl just has to get out there to the scrap heaps and build her goddamn carriage herself.

4.5/5 Stars, go read this book!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Marissa Meyer

– Meg