No Man’s Sky

Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

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First things first, there’s no way to offer a complete review of No Man’s Sky. There are so many ways to play and the mechanics behind it all are overwhelming. I’m not even sure No Man’s Sky can be called a game, at least in the usual sense. Sure there’s the normal elements of gameplay present, but none of that really seems to matter while playing. People have been categorising it as a survival sim, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice either as the survival element just isn’t that deep to be a true survival sim. Just what it is, is a question that has plagued No Man’s Sky in the lead up to its release. So what is No Man’s Sky?

In the simplest of terms No Man’s Sky is a game in which you mine different planets for elements to craft better suits, better ships and better mining tools in order to get to the middle of the universe. Along the way you can try to unravel the mystery of a forgotten race, trade with different alien races or involve yourself in a space battle or two with random NPCs. All the while you’re updating an online database (that other players are also updating from their own games) of planets, creatures or whatever you’ve scanned/discovered, to gain more units (the in-game currency) to help amass a fortune that you can then spend on upgrading your suit, ship or mining tools. It’s circular to be sure, as everything leads you straight back to the main point of the game – to get to the centre. Or not. The game doesn’t force you to do any of this. It’s completely up to you whether you make that journey or just spend your time exploring. Therein lies the genius and the problem with No Man’s Sky.

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It’s a giant sandbox title, where instead of a city like GTA’s Liberty City or a nuclear wasteland like in Fallout, you have a universe to explore. That universe may not be filled with crazy characters or insane missions, but it’s more than vast and once things click it is rather addictive in spite of itself. There may come a time when flying down through the atmosphere of the nearest planet to mine some needed mineral like plutonium will get old, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. Having said that, this is definitely not a game for everybody.

If internet chatter has the general feeling right, it seems that No Man’s Sky is indeed proving to be quite a divisive title. The main reason seems to be the same thing that makes it a great game, a growing sense of aimlessness as you wander the cosmos. If you’re after a white knuckled thrill ride or some linear storytelling this is not the game you want to be booting up. No Man’s Sky almost works as the antithesis to Blizzard’s latest release, the FPS Overwatch, itself a fast-paced and sometimes breathless shooter that lasts what feels like almost 5 minutes a round.

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Much has been made of No Man’s Sky’s mind-bending algorithm that allows for the quintillion planets that are explorable in game, but after a while it becomes a little more than apparent that a lot of these planets are very similar and just have a new coat of paint. Those coats of paint are also an interesting choice of colour scheme in and of themselves. Looking straight out of the 80s may have been what the creators intended, particularly when paired with the actual designs of various space stations and ships, but the over reliance on specific shades of primary colours leads to some very ugly combinations at times. The same could be said for the creatures and plants that populate the many star systems. The less said about the sometimes bizarre creature combinations the better. Using horse legs for forearms on an upright pig is not what anyone would call a new creature.

It’s not just the designs and colour choices from the algorithm that take you straight out of the game, there’s almost a yearning that the game dug deeper into every level of its gameplay. The survival aspect is more of an afterthought to give you something to do other than update your ship. The space battles haven’t gotten anywhere near the level of an actual battle so far in my play through, even with random NPCs talking non-stop about war. And the one quest line available culminated with me just shrugging and thinking, ‘well that was something I did.’

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But maybe all this isn’t the point of No Man’s Sky. Maybe you aren’t supposed to be looking for a regular game in all those star systems. Maybe you’re just meant to float along through space and take in the wonder of the universe and all that math that’s working behind the scenes to create it. After all, it is the kind of game where it’s quite possible to lose yourself to the horizon, gathering that last bit of Heridium or chasing a strange lizard-like thing through a cave system, and not realise you’ve lost a few hours of real world time. Just don’t look too hard or the cracks will not just become obvious, they may start multiplying into a quintillion reasons to not pick up the controller again.

Grade – B

  • No Man’s Sky feels unfinished at the moment, but that may change in the future as Hello Games have said they’re looking to update the game with several add ons to widen the scope of what’s there. Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later, or they might find a bunch of players will have moved on to newer and shinier things. Especially with the amount of new games on the horizon.
  • I didn’t talk much about how the game plays, that’s because it’s all rather straight forward. It plays exactly as you’d expect it to. Although the menus could use a little tweak to be a little more user friendly.
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Was There… Now Here… Things are upside down…

Been a while since I updated here, but don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about This Random Brain. Basically what’s been going on in my corner of the world has been some great, some bad and some awesome things. Firstly, and most importantly, is that I have moved out of Germany. Or more to the point, changed hemispheres again. Our visas and work contracts expired for Europe and we found ourselves moving to Melbourne. Again for me, but a first for the other half. I won’t go into too much detail, but whatever you think is involved in a complete move to the other side of the world is… triple it. It was one of the most exhausting and time-consuming things I have ever undertaken. This wasn’t a matter of packing a bag or two and jumping on a plane, this was more a lets take a decade’s worth of house and move it, along with the cat and various pet permits/vet visits, try to find a house, obtain specific work visas and employment, figure out where all the non-essential stuff gets taken to be left behind… etc… etc… Again, exhausting. But it’s done now and we’re quite settled. All in all, I think it took 5 months from start to conclusion.

With that out of the way, the second big thing is that for two months I was dealing with a bit of a medical emergency. I had somehow received a scratched cornea that developed an infection. No one could tell me how it happened, but a fair few doctors later and it’s fixed now. Well, sort of. I still have a small scar in the middle of my right eye. I can’t tell it’s there unless i try to read only out of that eye, but thankfully there’s not too much damage and it should fade a bit given time.

The last thing I want to fill you in on is Weird Orbits, my ongoing webcomic I write with Lena. I spent a fair chunk of my spare time in the past year beefing up the story and organising our future with this title and I’m happy to say we’re on our way to making things happen. We haven’t been offered anything in the way of publishing deals or anything (if only!), but we have made very specific inroads in how we want to proceed and have some very cool extra content plans to start working on.  We even managed to switch over from our old hosting site WordPress to a fancy new one on Squarespace with only a small amount of hassle. So look out over the next few months as we might have some pretty awesome things to tell you. Also Lena gave birth to a little baby girl a few weeks ago, so we are on a little hiatus until things settle down, but we are still working away behind the scenes to get it moving again. I’ve seen the next page or so already and things are definitely going strong there. I can’t wait for us to be posting again, as this is the point where our comic goes from exposition/set up stuff to full on comic territory. Things are going to start getting crazy!

There’s nothing more I can tell you about at the moment, except This Random Brain will start to be updated with more content shortly and on a regular basis. Fingers crossed that I might have some more news in the way of writing work to tell you about soon too (hopefully paid, but that’s more a pipe dream at the moment). Til then gentle reader…

heroes reborn

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Not so much a rebirth, more an extra life.

It’s been a few years since last time Heroes was on our screens and in that time I honestly have not missed it. I checked out sometime in season three and never gave it a second thought. I’m not sure what gave NBC the feeling that anybody would be interested in returning to Tim Kring’s universe filled with evolved people (Evos for short). I’m fairly certain the thought of having their very own superhero show like the CW (Arrow/Flash) or ABC (Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D./Agent Carter) would give them a license to print money, cause superheroes are so hot right now.

What NBC has in Heroes Reborn is just a continuation of the ridiculous and nonsensical trappings of what came before (including the bland and pointless narration by Mohinder Suresh, which thankfully was kept to one at the halfway point). Within its first hour I began to remember what annoyed me about the original flavour Heroes and I gave serious thought to turning it off, but in the interest of fairness I thought I’d watch the entire premiere to see if maybe it was just a slow burn and Kring and co had learnt from past experiences. At its finish I can say, with all certainty, they haven’t learnt a damn thing.

heroesscreengrabHere we have a bunch of people with powers ranging from the standard superhero constants of speed, teleportation and the like, to the downright stupid and plot convenient. We also have characters, just like before, who have no clear characterisation or behave in ways purely for shock value. I don’t expect a pilot episode to explain everything, but I do expect it to make sense and not start with a giant contradiction/plot hole. It appears Claire Bennet, main character Noah Bennet’s daughter, who can’t be killed because of her regeneration power, was actually killed in a terrorist attack. It’s this plot contradiction that starts this new-ish version of Heroes and honestly, it doesn’t begin to make any more sense the longer it goes on. However, I am very aware that this may be explained later in the season, but it doesn’t bode well for future storytelling competency.

The terrorist attack, apparently undertaken by Suresh if the in-world media is to be believed, is one year before the story starts proper, and when it does start up we are introduced to a world that has been rocked by it. Where the general public has gone from being amazed and welcoming to Evos, to outright hatred and fear. A world where they are hunted down and either killed or imprisoned, and made to meet in secret groups akin to AA meetings or running away via underground rail networks. If this sounds very X-Men, it’s because it is. But that’s nothing the earlier seasons of Heroes hasn’t been accused of before.

It’s one of these AA type meetings where we meet teenager Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay), who’s constantly been on the run in order to hide his powers and leaves early when he’s sent a mysterious message on his phone to get out. Tommy is probably the most sympathetic and likable character in Heroes Reborn, but his story feels like a rehash of almost every high school story ever told. We also meet Luke Collins (Zachary Levi) at the superhero AA meeting, who it turns out is hunting down Evos with his wife Joanne Collins (Judith Shekoni). He’s at the meeting undercover trying to root out the heroes until the plot demands that he show his hand and then he and his wife kill everyone there. To me this whole scene makes no sense, because there’s a speedster in the room who could have easily killed them both or escaped. Not to mention a guy, who just naturally happens to be Tommy’s gym coach, that manipulates fire and if he hadn’t wasted his time being so flashy with how cool he looks conjuring fire, he could have also taken out both Luke and Judith. The reason given later in the episode for them killing Evos is that because Evos killed their powered son in the terrorist attack, they now hate them and want revenge. I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt on this point, because in real life people do things that make no sense after a tragedy and it’ll probably be explained that they belong to a secret government group or shady organisation as is Heroes go to plot line. The rest? Not so much leeway.

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Heroes Reborn also does its best to reinforce racial stereotypes with a LA based Hispanic storyline, complete with a Mexican wrestler inspired vigilante El Vengador and the local priest, that feels like a non-union Daredevil. In Tokyo, we have a storyline that is just more computer game obsessed, sword wielding Japanese characters. There is almost nothing new here, except for Miko Otomo’s (Kiki Sukezane) powers. She’s somehow able to enter into a computer game called Evermore in search for her kidnapped father, who’s also missing in real life. The computer game apparently substitutes real life for the game. In one scene in-game she enters a castle only to exit the video game and find herself standing in an office skyscraper surrounded by security. It’s an interesting power, if only it made sense and the game she enters looked remotely playable or like an actual video game. It’s like someone wrote and directed that section with no knowledge of videogames, just word of mouth of what they’re supposed to be like.

Here lies my main problem with Heroes Reborn, just like the computer game plot thread, it’s as if someone had just heard about what a superhero/comic book story was and then decided to go ahead and make one with no thought to how they’re constructed. Tommy’s teleportation power has some nice effects and a sweet little noise, but that pretty much sums up this entire show. Sure it sounds great on paper to have all these powers and, don’t get me wrong, they do actually look cool, but the storytelling is about as bland and pointless as you can get. It all adds up to something that is ultimately empty and severely lacking. When you have shows like Daredevil and Flash where there is some subtext to what’s happening and actual thought has been put behind it, Heroes Reborn will have to try a lot harder to even coming close to anything resembling good television. At the moment it just feels like later day Heroes has returned and nobody asked for that.

Grade – C

Random Thoughts and Spoilers

  • Noah Bennet, or HRG, from Heroes the First apparently has memory loss that was self-inflicted due to a favour from Rene, AKA the memory wiping Haitian. When Noah turns up at a mysterious Opticians because of a clue he found, Rene is there and suggests they go somewhere to talk. He then proceeds to try to kill Noah because he asked him to before he wiped his memory. This makes little to no sense. Why not just kill him in your obvious shady practice and save yourself the time? Or you know, not kill him?
  • Noah also forgot his new fiance pretty damn quickly, along with his original wife and son. Maybe it’s a side effect of the memory wipe and now he has the memory of a goldfish? Who knows, and I literally would not put it past this show to have that as a plot point.
  • My guess for the mysterious messenger is Micah. Why? Because it’s the exact same plot as he had last time and he’s in half the promos. Also appearing this season is Matt and Hiro. Why bother with a reboot if you’re just going to ask most of the cast back?
  • Let’s talk a second about what this show looks like. It is quite nicely shot and most plot threads do look good. The opening scene especially was quite nice. And then we get to poor old El Vengador. There is so much orange in these scenes that it’s almost unbearable. We get it. You think Hispanic people are vibrant, but stop it. It looks horrible and feels like a continuation of your implied racial stereotypes.
  • While we’re on that subject, why is the lone black character really gun happy? She shoots first and asks questions later, which generally would be awesome in an action show. But with all that’s going on in the USA in terms of police brutality and black lives matter, was this the best casting decision for that character? Also why is this show so white? It’s meant to be about everyone in the world and you show a stack of white people, two Asian stereotypes and one black person. This doesn’t scream diversity Heroes Reborn, it kinda feels like tokenism and that’s just offensive.
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Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Can Lightening strike twice? Yes… and No…

When it comes to the latest Marvel movie I’m of two minds. I liked it enough as a spectacle of modern special effects and superheroes, but at the same time I can’t quite shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. I decided to sleep on it and write this piece the next day instead of straight after like I usually do. Mainly just so I could collect my thoughts and see if what I was feeling was due to hype and being overly critical or if I really was picking up on something. After a good night’s sleep and some thought, I can without a doubt say that there are things that really bothered me about this movie and most of it comes down to what I assume are director/writer Joss Whedon’s choices. But rather than get bogged down on the negative I’ll start with the positive, especially since most of those negatives would have to come with a big fat spoiler warning.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is full of the giant set pieces everyone’s come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s starts halfway through a raid on a Hydra base in the fictional country of Slokovia featuring all the heroes from the first film and it is breathtaking in scope. It copies the first film’s long take showing all the Avengers avenging and it seems like something hard to top. There are two fight scenes later in the film that, if not match it, actually do indeed top it. Especially the final battle. There is one shot of all the Avengers and their new allies in slow motion fighting of the titular Ultron’s hordes and it is beautiful. But it’s the first scene that wastes no time in getting into the action and introducing us to two new enhanced people, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (twin siblings Pietro and Wanda Maximoff). The inclusion of these two helps to extend the roster of superheroes and supervillains in the MCU and it’s a nice way of introducing powers as well. Until now the only powered people are the alien and god-like Thor and Captain America/Steve Rogers. So it’s great to be able to have actual powered people in the MCU for once. Especially as the roster gets expanded in future movies with the likes of Dr Strange, Spiderman and Captain Marvel joining the fray.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-9But enough of the spectacle, we all know that a Marvel movie means big, flashy and well made action sequences. What this movie seems to be interested in is the after effects these battles have on the world around them. It’s something the Netflix series Daredevil constantly and successfully hinted at around its edges. Age of Ultron unfortunately doesn’t have the same effect as Daredevil and the motivations of its characters are somewhat diminished as we never really know what everyday people think of the Avengers and the collatarol damage they cause. There is a scene at the beginning where the people of Slokovia throw rocks and acid at one of Tony Starks robots, but it’s nothing that’s really expanded on. Even Wanda’s story of how she survived one of Stark Industries’ weapons holds no real weight against the Avengers and comes across as merely a grudge against Tony Stark. Here’s one of the main problems with Age of Ultron, all of this seems like set up and foreshadowing for the next Captain America movie as it really doesn’t get its point across. The Avengers are doing life-threatening work in helping to stop threats against humans and the Earth and it’s apparently tearing the team apart, but all you see is powerful people breaking things and fighting. It was the same in The Winter Soldier, there is a point to it, but at around the three-quarters mark it all stops to have a big expensive fight scene. What it basically seems to be saying is that to stop the destruction of mankind you just have to have a bigger and more destructive force on your side. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with that reasoning, but as this is the world of superheroes it’s taken for granted that this is what they do.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-VisionThis is also the reason why Stark, with the help of Bruce Banner, creates the sentient robot Ultron. An unstoppable force that has the power to stop any and all threats to the world and will give our heroes a chance to take a step back from their duties. Of course it all goes awry and by Ultron’s logic the biggest threat to the Earth is the Avengers and then humans. By eliminating them, the world will be a safer place. It’s a bit strange though, as the movie continues Ultron goes from being a creation that believes in what he is doing to actively enjoying it. The movie would have been a lot better had Ultron continued believing he was doing good by wiping out the human race and not slipped into cartoon villainy, and at times antagonising the Avengers for thrills.

Just like the Nolan Batman movies, everything starts to unravel in the Age of Ultron the more you think about it. Which is a shame, because the first Avengers movie was the perfect piece of popcorn film making. Everything had its place, the quips were funny, everything fit thematically and nothing was wasted. Here, all the set up done by every movie before it, is half ignored (Stark is apparently over his PTSD from Iron Man 3 and didn’t destroy all his suits and Captain America believes in S.H.I.E.L.D. again), hits the same beats (Thor has had no character growth in the last three movies) or things come from left field (Hulk and Black Widow have a blossoming relationship… Really?).

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Trailer-3-Scarlet-Witch-Controls-Black-WidowTo be perfectly honest, this movie did almost exactly what it set out to do and I can’t fault it for that. There were huge amazing fight scenes (even if the editing at times was questionable and a bit shaky cam for my liking), everyone got their moment to shine, Ultron was better than most of the villains from previous films and Hawkeye finally got to be Hawkeye. It all added up to a movie that was highly entertaining and I would gladly see again. It’s just such a shame that it wasn’t better than what it turned out to be. And if the mixed reviews that are appearing online are any indication, I’m not alone in thinking this.

 Grade – B

Random Thoughts

*Here be massive spoilers so if you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron consider yourself warned*

  • I struggled trying to grade this movie and finally settled on a B. I was going to give it a B+, but then I marked it down when thinking about the other Marvel movies. I’m not grading against anything other than itself and the other movies in the MCU. Both Guardians and Winter Soldier are better movies and this one just didn’t get to their level, hence the B grade.
  • I’m fully aware this review is a tad negative, but let me reassure you while it was lacking in the foundations of what makes a great movie, it was still highly enjoyable and worth watching. Nothing as serious as the too CGI’d and tonal mess that was the Hobbit movies. Or the story and character problems that plagued both new Spiderman movies. But it’s just disappointing that someone who clearly has skills as a story teller didn’t live up to his usual standard when it came to the foundations for this movie. It was all fan service and basic superhero beat ’em up with none of the intrigue or wonder the last few Marvel properties had. It felt like something that had to be made and somewhere along the way it lost it’s heart and forgot that it needed to be a stand alone film, not just set up for the next one.
  • Avengers Part Deux has some issues relating to the directing and editing of the fight scenes. Nothing as bad as the tv show S.H.I.E.L.D., but it was a little jarring. The first movie was brilliantly filmed with everything being mapped out and easy to follow, however, here it became apparent that Whedon is not an action director. At times things got messy to see and a little difficult to follow. Close ups and quick cuts are not good for 3D, nor are they good for action editing. I wish he would have moved the camera back a bit and let the action and fight choreography breathe a little. Not to bring up the old DC/Marvel rivalry, but Snyder, for all his faults, knows how to film action and I wish Whedon would have taken note of how he does it. The Russo brothers are directing the next Avengers and Captain America movies and this fills me with hope that the fight scenes will be better. The Winter Soldier and their television work have given me this hope.
  • That being said, that first battle’s long take through a snow filled forest was gorgeous. Towards the end of the film there’s another one that takes place in a ruined church that is even better. A slow motion long take that circles around everyone doing their avenging and it really is the best shot in the movie. The logistics of filming them both are just as insane as the fights taking place.
  • While we’re talking Whedonisms, let’s talk about the dialogue. There’s a lot of humour in this film and most of it landed. Some of Ultron’s lines fell flat, but almost everything got a laugh. Hawkeye was definitely a standout in the humour department and it made me sad that given the movie’s developments regarding him, we wont ever see Fraction’s take on Hawkeye in the MCU. But it was close to it here though, bro.
  • Another of Whedon’s token plot points is the death of a main character and Age of Ultron is no exception. It didn’t hit home like it has in previous Whedon creations, but the death of Quicksilver bothered the crap out of me. He dies from being shot, but in universe this makes no sense. How does someone who is previously been seen to be faster than a speeding bullet (sorry, i had to) and faster than an out of control train get shot? Either way, I’m sure he’ll be back because comic books.
  • In the trailers for Age of Ultron the Vision is teased. All I’ll say is that he is in this movie, he is played to perfection by Paul Bettany and he looks amazing. Also, James Spader’s voice was the perfect choice for Ultron.
  • Whedon also tweeted there is no after credits sequence. He wasn’t trolling, there isn’t one. There is however, a mid-credits stinger. It’s quick and to the point and it is Thanos.
  • If you’ve read this far you might as well know that at the end of this film the Avengers line up has definitely changed. Cap is in charge and Black Widow is his second in command, but the rest of the team is totally different. We have Scarlet Witch, The Vision, War Machine and Falcon rounding out the full line up. Although I have no doubt the others will be back at some point, if only to serve out the rest of their Marvel contractual obligations.
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Horns, Joe Hill

hornsIg Perrish wakes up one year after the rape/murder of his girlfriend Merrin Williams and finds horns growing out of his head. For the last year the entire town believes Ig did the crime, but somehow got away with it. We know this isn’t the case, but poor Ig stumbles across the identity of the real killer in the first third of Horns and from then on tries to exact his revenge. The only problem is that Ig is really bad at it. Throughout the course of the novel we never find out why he has horns growing out of his head, but that’s not the point. This novel is about a lot of things, none which are explored with any real depth or meaning, but it is an entertaining read nonetheless. It’s a shame though, cause there’s some great material to be mined from this set up, but Hill’s more concerned with the plot and its revenge angle.

It is refreshing to read a novel where the main protagonist isn’t very good at, well, anything, but it does come at a price. Ig lost me about three-quarters into the book due to his self-loathing and uselessness and by the end I wasn’t really rooting for anyone to triumph. I did find myself wanting the bad guy to lose, but then who wouldn’t. He really was a nasty piece of work. That pretty much sums up most of my experiences with Joe Hill’s writing. He is great at set up, has some brilliant ideas and really does get the small town mentality perfect, but by the end it all feels formulaic and like a wasted opportunity to turn something that’s merely good, into something that transcends the usual tropes of his genre. Hill’s Locke and Key comic series left me feeling the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, Horns is a great addition to anyone’s horror book shelf, but at the same time I felt like there should have been more. Perhaps leaving out the pace destroying chapters of the killer’s childhood in the last section of the book would have helped (it really didn’t add anything new to the story) and adding more to the section revolving around Merrin’s parents. Or even just checking in on Ig’s family more than he did would have solved this problem. Perhaps even exploring more of the powers Ig’s new horns gave him would have helped flesh out Ig more, but these are hypotheticals as we’ll never really know. What we do have though, is a nice indication that Joe Hill has some real talent in the genre and hopefully in the future that talent will manifest into a one of a kind novel.

Grade – B

Random Thoughts (spoilers)

  • From a pure plot perspective, those flashback chapters really slowed the book down. Like almost to a standstill. Shame there wasn’t another way to put some of that information into the present plot. They were pretty much information dumps that gave almost nothing to the novel as a whole.
  • Hill really has a hard time killing off his main characters (apart from the bad guys). He seems like he wants to give everyone a happy ending. *spoilers for Locke and Key* Locke and Key was exactly the same. Sure we kinda lost the bad guy and a few minor characters, but every major character seemed to magically survive and live happily ever after.
  • I’m currently about half way through Hill’s first novel Heart Shaped Box and I’m honestly enjoying it far more than I did this one.
  • Hill has a great easy to read style with his prose and a knack for dialogue and set up that really does keep you wanting to read more. This also adds to Horn’s fantastic pacing, but those flashbacks…
  • I didn’t mention anything about Hill’s famous parentage, because he really should be thought of as someone separate from his dad, Stephen King. Especially since he went to the trouble of changing his name and trying to do things without him. However, there’s no escaping the fact that he is his father’s son. There are a few King-isms on display here, but Hill is definitely trying to pave his own way. He’s way more graphic than his father and his plots are nowhere near as meandering.
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The Venture Bros… All This and Gargantua-2

Or Can A Show That’s Been Gone For So Long Still Have ‘That Spark’?

It’s been two years since anyone has seen The Venture Bros in any form other than repeats or on Netflix and the wait has been excruciating. At the end of a very short season 5 things were definitely left up in the air for most of the characters. Especially since it aired fans wereScreen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.04.23 pm told that that wasn’t even the true end of season 5 and that the real ending will come at the start of season 6. And that’s not even counting the rumour that season 6 will be the last season has been floating around the internet (a rumour that’s been proven to be false and true depending on who’s saying it, which just adds to the confusion). I’m happy to report that Publick and Hammer have not lost it. The Venture Bros All This and Gargantua-2 one hour spectacular aired and from the start I felt right back at home.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 4.57.56 pmAll This and Gargantua-2 starts off by reintroducing you to one group of villains, The Revenge Society. Which has grown stronger under Dr Killinger’s tutelage into a true super villain team up crew, still with the 3 founding members Phantom Limb, Baron Ünderbheit and Professor Impossible/Professor Incorrigible, but now with a name changed Fat Chance as Fat Choice, Henchmen Zero (just Zero now as he henches for no man) and other new recruit Radical Left. After a quick re-introduction, the story then changes tactic and shows you all the ‘Heroes’ on their way to the titular Gargantua-2, a space station built by Dr Jonas Venture Jr and is now open to the public. The story then changes again to show The Monarch, Mrs The Monarch and Henchmen 21/Gary arriving at their new home, the childhood home of The Monarch and, unbeknownst to him, also recently used hideout of the Revenge Society. Mrs The Monarch, newly appointed member of The Guild of Calamitous Intent’s Council of Thirteen, then receives a summons by The Sovereign/David Bowie to join a meeting of The Council and she leaves, starting a montage of most of The Council’s members. You’d think by this point we’ve been re-introduced to everyone who plays a part in this story by now, but Publick and Hammer then check in on the O.S.I. (who are spying on the opening of Gargantua-2 through Brock Sampson and Amber Gold) and then Sargeant Hatred and H.E.L.P.eR back at the Venture Compound before finally settling down into the story proper. Keeping up? Cause I’m fairly certain the only major characters missing from this special are Pete White and The Master (Even more characters appear throughout the special than I mentioned here).

This works as a great fast-paced introduction to the major playerScreen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.07.52 pms in this story and with that out of the way All This and Gargantua-2 gets straight into the main plot, where all the villains decide that the opening of the space station is the perfect time to make their moves to rid themselves of the Venture family and all the heroes contained within once and for all. But of course, because this is The Venture Bros not all is as it seems and twists and turns abound. If all this sounds like a confusing mess for the uninitiated, that’s because it is. It’s also The Venture Bros‘ usual highly entertaining MO, which has become the bread and butter of their constantly evolving main plot and if you can follow along it’s highly rewarding and infinitely rewatchable.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.11.46 pmThematically there is not much here to analyse but A plot, and this special seems quite content to do nothing more than set up the next season of The Venture Bros by tearing everything down just to rebuild most of it before the end credits start. All the jokes and situations come directly from the characters and because of the long history this show has, almost everything lands. Under a lesser show it would slowly turn into a confusing and ridiculous mess as I mentioned earlier, but Publick and Hammer have concocted a universe over 5 seasons that’s filled with three-dimensional characters that you actually believe would behave in such outlandish ways.

The animation on display here is a cut above the normal Venture Bros episode, but that’s to be expected when watching a very special episode. The previous special, A Very Venture Halloween, also stepped up its animation. That special also had very little under the surface to take in just like this one, however, All This and Gargantua-2 has a lot more meaning when placed in context to the rest of the series. Sure there was a big reveal to one of the actual Venture brothers, but at the end of All This and Gargantua-2 there are so many new plot threads and game changing moments that the two can hardly be compared.

When taken as a whole All This and Gargantua-2 is a highly Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.13.08 pmentertaining hour of television that made the long wait for this almost bearable. I can only hope that it isn’t such a long wait for the actual series to start back up again, as this special has reignited my interest in The Venture Bros (not that it really ever waned). And that my two favourite characters, Shore Leave and Dr Byron Orpheus, get more screen time than the quick cameos they receive here, but that’s just me being a demanding fanboy. If the end result is as good as this, then Publick and Hammer can take their time. Go Team Venture!

 

Grade – A

Random thoughts (here be spoilers…)

  • Welcome back Stephen Colbert as Professor Impossible/Incorrigible! We haven’t heard him voice this character since season 2 and even though the guys doing the voice in his absence were pretty good, you just can’t beat the original.
  • I love that General Treister finally became a Hulk. And why? Because gamma radiation in space and comic book logic.
  • It was a little sad to see Dr Jonas Venture Jr go, but as there was never a body I’m sure he’ll be back.
  • When all is said and done, The Monarch is still denied a seat at the council, but apparently his only henchman has been offered one. Brilliant.
  • There was that touching father/son moment between Rusty and Dean where both realised the other one respected them. That was a nice little bit. Plus it’s always good to see Rusty not being a complete self-obsessed arse all the time.
  • Billy Quizboy when Treister initially breaks free: ‘Fuck this noise. I’m gonna go get drunk and gamble.’
  • Sally Impossible: Richard, are you coming? Professor Impossible: Wha… Really? You’d have me back? Sally Impossible: No, idiot. But I’m not about to let our son lose his father because he joined the Larp Society.
  • I could keep quoting lines, but I think I’ll leave this one by the Wild Fop as the last one: The Sovereign can be such the queen bitch when we’re late.
  • Sorry for the slightly off-placed pics, but sometimes wordpress just wont do what you want it to do. Also, sorry I haven’t updated this blog in a while, but I’ve been incredibly busy with the day job and Weird Orbits (which just finished its first Issue!). I have more blog posts planned, it’s just a matter of getting the time. But you guys probably don’t care about my babbling so I’ll just shut up now.
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Comics on your TV

or how much can I geek out on a weekly basis…

There seems to be a comic revival on television at the moment. It’s like every channel is trying to cash in on Marvel’s Avengers money, with some faring better than others… So with that in mind, I thought what better to write about than some of them. Be careful if you haven’t kept up with some of them as there could be spoilers…

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

images (1)Anyone who follows me on Facebook will know my feelings on the first season of MAOS (hint, it wasn’t all puppies and rainbows). Aside from a few episodes towards the end it was the most frustrating thing I can remember watching and that season finale left me more angry at its missteps than I remember being at a fluffy piece of entertainment last year. It is with a great big smile on my face that I can say that season two is a huge improvement. After a first episode that at the halfway point fell into all the traps of the first season, MAOS seems to have learnt its lessons and listened to the gripes of fans. Either way, it’s slowly shaping up to be the show everyone hoped it would be. The best thing MAOS has done is get the agents off that damn plane and separate them, allowing for more personal stories and actual characterisation. We have Simmons infiltrating Hydra and helping to introduce Bobbi ‘Mockingbird’ Morse, an actual Avenger, to the cast. Coulson becoming the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and actually giving some nuance to his character and plot line. And then there’s Skye, who, during the break between seasons, has become an actual agent thanks to May’s training and is no longer the hacker activist girl. There also seems to be a speeding up of the main plot which is a breath of fresh air after last season’s slow burn that really didn’t pay off in any satisfactory way. Yes, Coulson’s Tahiti nonsense is still slowly moving along and the search shieldcodefor Skye’s parentage is still ongoing, but there has developed an urgency to these arcs which seem to be linked to each episode’s main story and questions are finally being answered and followed up on. It’s also nice to see Fitz have something to do other than geek out, even if it is slightly depressing, and Agent Backstab McDoubleAgent, aka Ward, is actually interesting. It will take a few more episodes to allow me to think that this show has transcended its season one woes, but these first handful of episodes are definitely showing a promise that this show has never had. Now, aside from that brilliant hand to hand action sequence towards the end of episode four involving May and Agent 33, if they could only figure out how to shoot their action sequences properly I would totally be on board for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0.

Flash

The CW’s Flash has started its first season with a string of really good episodes. Usually a TV show takes a few episodes to hit its stride and pave the way for the rest of the show’s run, but out of the gate Flash has set in place everything it needs to move forward. The first episode has Barry Allen in costume and saving people. It’s set up its main mysteries with Allen’s mentor Dr Harrison Wells being all duplicitous and what actually happened to Allen’s mother (even though they’ll probably turn out to be the same mystery at some point). It’s also given Allen a team to work with, with their own idiosyncrasies and even foundtheflash time for an Arrow cameo. The next few episodes have fed into the main premise of Flash while expanding the characterisation of the central players, reminding viewers of the central premise without being repetitive and actually advancing the plot. And more importantly, episode four has introduced a proper villain in Leonard Snart (or as Cisco names him, Captain Cold), and even includes Felicity Smoak, another Arrow alum, stopping by to lend a hand and give the team some much needed advice. Sure the special effects at times are a little too TV to be awe-inspiring, but the earnestness of Grant Gustin’s Flash and the general tone of the show help to go a long way in helping you to forget the budget restraints and just go along for the ride. It also helps that being written by the same team that makes Arrow, Flash seems to be profiting from their two seasons of knowledge and experience in running a superhero TV show. I only hope that they can keep it up, but being up to date with Arrow I have a lot of confidence that Flash can hold its own. Besides, it means we’re one more step towards having a live action Justice League TV show, and that’s all any geek could hope for. Well that, and for the characters to stop calling Allen the Streak and just go with the Flash already. The Streak brings to mind a visual that belongs more on HBO than the CW.

Arrow

Sticking with the CW for a bit, it’s time to talk about Arrow. I have been a big supporter of Arrow from the episodes following the Huntress two-parter in season one. It was as if the writers sat down, looked at all the criticism the show got from fans and critics and decided to fix everything that needed fixing, and from that point on Arrow had been building towards something truly great. The last few episodes of season one were absolutely incredible and season two followed on from there. Sure there are a few episodes that weren’t the best arrow-season-3-poster(Remember Moira’s day in court? It’s a real shame that drunk Laurel is the best Laurel…), but everything else in that season leading up to the final showdown between Arrow and Deathstroke showed an epicness that I don’t think anyone could see Arrow achieving during its first season. At times it approached Opera standards of epicness. Now this third season finds our heroes in a new place, Oliver is broke, having lost his fortune to Slade Wilson’s evil plan, Diggle is a father, Roy is now an actual member of Team Arrow, Felicity is still Felicity (even though her storylines are being relegated to predictable girly relationship bullshit, but I have hopes it’s going somewhere. If not, shame on you Arrow writers, you’re better than that). The most important points not including our plucky band of heroes are Malcolm Merlyn is back and Thea has been training with him, Laurel has finally been given something to do other than be bad at everything and Brandon Routh is Ray Palmer (just what is his deal anyway?). But the big one is, Ra’s al Ghul seems to be on his way to Starling City to be this season’s big bad. It’s like Warner and DC gave the keys to the funhouse to the CW writers and said go nuts, and I for one am hoping that’s exactly what they do. This show has the cheesy B-grade comic dialogue down, the action sequences are always a treat and the plot chugs along at a pace that would be exhausting if it wasn’t so much fun. Arrow, with its grounded, more realistic and somewhat darker tone, and Flash, with its optimistic and light approach to superscience and superheroes, really do make for a fantastic and perfect partnership for the CW.

The Walking Dead

the-walking-deads-season-5-trailer-fooled-us-all-undead-walking-the-walking-dead-news-rumors-recaps-castingThat brings us to the last show I’m going to talk about for now, the long-suffering and meandering The Walking Dead. This show has had its share of problems and detractors, and now in its fifth season it’s finally living up to its potential. There were flashes of brilliance in seasons past, but nothing that really stuck. The first season was amazing in parts and seriously suspect in others. The second spent too much time at the farm and talking in circles to be classed as anything but a meandering waste of time. The third started off strong and then fizzled into nothing but an anti-climactic bore (I remember being so pissed at that finale, screaming at the TV, ‘All you had to do was follow the comic plot! Why couldn’t you just do that? You don’t even have to do anything, it’s all laid out for you!’). Then the fourth season started and I became aware that this show had actually begun trying to make something legitimately good. Aside from a sickness plot that went no where, it righted it’s wrongs with the Governor storyline and split the characters up. This was a stroke of genius and allowed some characters to finally be given some depth, some of which had been waiting for this from a few seasons back. (Did anyone even remember who Beth was until season four? Michonne finally got something more to do than stand around and glare at people…) Which brings us to season five and what so far seems to be Scot Gimple’s very successful turn at being showrunner for a show that likes to fire their showrunners every other season. No longer do our ‘Heroes’ stand around debating the finer points of survivalism, no longer do they speak without any subtext, spouting dialogue that’s as one-dimensional as past season’s worth of characterisation and most importantly there is movement in the main story arcs. Basically after four season’s of shambling along this show has become about characters that, instead of only reacting to things, are becoming proactive and actually have a sense of agency. This is all anyone could have hoped for, as walkingsomething that is such a ratings juggernaut really should be better than this was in previous seasons. And although we’re only four episodes into this season, I am still hopeful that The Walking Dead can become that show that was promised way back when and judging on season’s five handful of episodes and the back half of season four, Gimple seems to be the person to do it.

 

Random Thoughts

  • I usually give a grade on here, but for this post I decided against it. It seemed pointless at this stage to grade anything as mostly it’s all set up. The grading will come later when it becomes clear just exactly what’s going on with the major storylines and character arcs. Besides you can tell I’m kinda into these four shows and the grade would be positive anyway.
  • There were other shows I could have included in this, Constantine for one. But I only watched the pilot for that and it really didn’t do anything for me. It seemed like every other dark magic show that had ever been, but this time with an english accent. I’ll probably watch more, but it better step up its game or I wont be tuning in for much longer. Supernatural already took up too much of my time and I wont be going down that disappointing path again without good reason.
  • The other show would have been Gotham, but you already know my thoughts on the pilot and having seen the next episode and half the third, I am really not impressed. I might binge watch it later and give my final thoughts on the season as a whole. Although I try to be positive here on thisrandombrain, so if my review never turns up, you know why… (Full disclosure, I fell asleep during the third episode and I have had no desire to finish what I started. The internet tells me I’m not really missing out anyway.)
  • There are a couple of other shows coming to TV, Netflix and other mediums at some point in the next year or so, and I can’t wait to see how they fare. Netflix has its four Marvel shows in Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones. And then Marvel also has its connecting everything together show – Agent Carter and the Howling Commandos . Sony has its live action Powers that is well into production and has even released a NSFW trailer. And let’s not forget that Heroes reboot as much as we may want to forget about the first time Heroes was around.

Serious spoilers for the next few random thoughts

  •  I’m not a big Laurel hater, but I really think the writers on Arrow didn’t have any idea what to do with her aside from the usual CW love triangles. But now that season three Laurel has taken on a vigilante in training role (Why’d you have to take away Caity Lotz? Damn you show!), it seems like Laurel may actually become more than an annoyance and finally be good. Which is new for Laurel, cause let’s face it, she is terrible at everything. Except for getting her arse kicked. She was quite good at that…
  • Sticking with Arrow, now Thea and Laurel are being trained up, is there going to be any character left on this show that isn’t a salmon ladder climbing expert vigilante? I know it’s a superhero show, but I am dubious what’s going to happen after this season when they’ve run out of characters who are normal people.
  • I really like the new characters on MAOS. Like really like them. They seem to have given the show a new life. Most of the main characters from last season were way too similar, but now they have at least four new ones who seem to be very different from each other. And we get two kick arse women in May and Mockingbird (the later who turns out to be Hunter’s ex-wife, I guess that means Hawkeye/Hawkguy in the MCU was never married?), plus Fitz and his budding bromance with Mac… Slash fiction fans must be going crazy with the shipping of those last two.
  • But now the whole cast is back together again (but thankfully still off the plane), so we’ll see if any of the momentum and characterisation in the first few episodes will actually stick, or just get thrown aside in favour of big shiny explosiony stuff.
  • When everybody started watching The Walking ceaa1cb3ecbaa1c9cf77d4b14306a6c3Dead, did anybody think that Carol would basically become the Zombie world’s Jack Bauer? I certainly did not. Especially given how pathetically her comic counterpart was written and written off. That season five opener was really something else. She basically became Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid.

 

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gotham – pilot

or can you really make a Batman anything without ol’ Bats himself?

The-Gotham-TV-show-7

The quick answer to this question is a big fat Maybe?… The longer answer would probably also end up at the same result. (Forgetting for the sake of argument that the comic Gotham Central exists. But even that at least had the Batman lurking in the shadows.) Gotham starts out strong with some pretty decent city shots of Gotham, a child lurking on rooftops and then she continues down into the city streets for some petty crime. We’re lead to assume this is a very young Selina Kyle/Catwoman (the fact she gives a stray cat some stolen milk pretty much lights this up in neon), who then goes on to witness the murder of Martha and Thomas Wayne by a masked street thug, leaving poor Bruce alone and at the start of Batman’s origin story. We then cut to Gotham City PD and get introduced to the star of the show, a fresh and starting out Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). They get assigned the Wayne case and everything ties together neatly and starts a chain of events that let the viewer into the world of Gotham. 

Gotham-TV-Show-Cast-PhotoNormally for a pilot episode of a tv show the show takes the viewer by the hand and guides them through the character introductions and only a little world building takes place if only to set up the general story just to let the viewers know what to expect week to week. Gotham is no different, however, you’d think for a tv show based around one of the most known fictional cities in all of entertainment history the showrunners would take a chance and not explain every minute detail like it’s your first time and actually let the viewer work things out for themselves. Gotham has a very irritating habit of repeating everything, (I lost count of how many times Jim Gordon’s name was dropped as well as new character Fish Mooney). Although to play devil’s advocate, I was watching this with someone who only has a passing interest in Batman and he didn’t seem to mind or notice, so maybe it’s just me. After all, you spend this much money on something you want people to remember your characters’ names.

One of the other issues Gotham has is introducing a big chunk of Batman’s most famous rogues gallery straight out of the gates. We have Selina Kyle and then we have Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin, Edward Nygma/Riddler, Carmine Falcone and Poison Ivy. It’s not that it’s too much, but it does come across as pointless fan service. Especially in the case of Nygma, who appears in one scene as a riddle giving crime scene analyst, and Ivy, who is the child of the main suspect in the Wayne’s murder case. I’m sure it’s going to pay off eventually, but it feels like a case of too much too soon, as if Gotham is trying to be all things to all people. Or at the very least, making sure the audience is kept aware that this is Batman’s world. Which is a real shame, because, as of now, there is no Batman in this universe and all these villains and future villains do is remind you of that fact.

gotham-series-premiere-cobblepot-gordonThat could be Gotham’s big problem, in trying to sell you on the show’s concept they are relying heavily on Batman’s popularity and the origins of a lot of these characters, but there is no Batman here. Perhaps it would be better to stop with all the heavy leaning on Batman and just let the show be the kind of story it wants to be. That’s not to say the show is bad. It’s interesting enough and some of the actors are doing some great work here, particularly Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney and Robin Lord Taylor as Cobblepot, who seem to grasp the idea of camp while still having that dark side which is the Bat-universe’s bread and butter. And Gotham does look beautiful, every scene is shot exquisitely and every dollar spent is right there on the screen.

As it stands, Gotham is a curiosity for me. I know that I’ll watch again next week just to see things unfold, but it might be a good idea to forget about this being a Bat-show and focus more on what is happening. The last scene between Gordon and Master Wayne basically says that. Gordon tells the young Master that his parents murder will go unsolved and that he needs to let it go for now, as Gordon will try to sort out Gotham from the inside and this will take some time. It’s a nice moment in a show that doesn’t really have a lot of them in this episode, but it does once again hint at Bruce’s future and Batman. Hopefully moving forward we will see more of Gordon battling corruption and mob bosses and a little less of Batman’s origins.

 

Grade – B-

 

Random Thoughts

  • I wasn’t entirely excited for this show, only cause I really enjoy the more theatrical aspects of Batman juxtaposed with the darkness and this show promised none of that and delivered, well, none of that. I only hope that in the future we will get to see some of the crazy as well as the boring police procedural stuff. If I wanted to watch Law and Order I’d just watch Law and Order. Which I don’t by the way.
  • I also hope that in the future they don’t rely on character’s being threatened for suspense. It makes no sense and left me kinda bored. Gotham has introduced some pretty big hitters in the Bat-universe and it’s pretty obvious that none of them are going to die at any point soon. You’re going to threaten the death of Penguin and Jim Gordon in your first episode? Really? Tell me how that works?
  • What the hell was with the lesbian past of the future Barbara Gordon? Is that a comic thing? Or is Gotham trying to be edgy? It really made no sense and neither actress really sold it.
  • As this is a pilot episode I’m going to hold out hope that this improves over time. It worked out quite well with Arrow, not so much for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A quick googling tells me that this will be an origin story for Bruce unfortunately. He’s, what, twelve years old? So that’s ten years of brooding to look forward to.
  • Speaking of the future of this show, I want a Victor Zsasz centric arc. Nothing would fit this show’s gloomy atmosphere like a good serial killer.
  • I would also be remiss to not mention the stand up comic auditioning for Mooney. I highly doubt it’s the Joker, but it was a nice troll by Gotham. Maybe every episode could have a joker troll… But seriously Gotham showrunners, NO ORIGIN FOR THE JOKER. EVER.
  • I might keep up with Gotham and review it again in a few weeks just to see how it’s going. I know I haven’t said a lot about the actual show in this review, but as this is a pilot episode there’s not really much to go on unless I want to get super comic book and television nerdy. And I much prefer reviews and thoughts about episodes to recaps anyway. Besides, a lot of things in pilot episodes don’t make it past the first episode, which makes it pointless to mention most of it. But we’ll see what the future brings…
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Destiny – first impressions

destiny_headerOn Monday night I sat eagerly at home awaiting for the Destiny file to unlock on my PS4. We filled in time by watching The Venture Bros on Netflix until my partner fell asleep and then I fired up Minecraft to basically play a big game of Lego building until it was time to play Destiny. We had pre-ordered Destiny from the store, so the game file sat there dormant until one minute past midnight local time. For those that don’t know, Destiny is Bungie’s latest game. Bungie, the creators of the Halo franchise, had split with Microsoft and decided to go multiplatform for their latest online multiplayer, with a heavy lean to team Playstation. With the sales figures coming in for each company’s new system, it seems like a gamble that will pay off quite well for them and Playstation.

At midnight a little message popped up on my screen saying that Destiny was ready, so I quit Minecraft, a game I had only recently started playing a few days earlier and as such wasn’t that far along in. It seems like the kind of thing that requires a few people to make it more interesting and I don’t know anyone on my friend’s list that plays it so it wasn’t that difficult a choice to leave. Plus, Destiny seemed way more exciting than digging in mineshafts and fighting off the occasional spider or skeleton. Exiting the game by hitting the little PS button to get to the home screen, I grabbed my wireless headphones (Midnight isn’t really the time of day to be blasting a new game through speakers. What would the neighbours think?) and entered the world of Destiny.

0After the usual company names a cut scene began and it looked beautiful. Men landing on Mars and taking those first steps before the game explains to you in a prologue/exposition voice over just exactly what it is that you’ve got yourself into. Explaining that creatures came to Earth, gave us advanced technology to colonise the solar system, but that information came at a price and now there’s something evil that wants to take over the world and send us right back to where we came from. It’s standard Sci-Fi stuff, but you don’t really care about the trope so much, cause those images are so elegantly rendered. Then it’s time to start playing as you’re introduced to the world by a little mechanical flying robot called a Ghost and voiced by Tyrion Lannister, I mean, Peter Dinklage and it’s time to choose a player type and decide what you’re going to look like.

The character types are separated into three classes, Hunter, Titan and Warlock, each with their own attributes, but there’s no need to worry too much about it as you can have multiple character saves. There’s even a trophy when you max out each of them. And then you choose whatupdated-destiny-xbox-one-ps4-complete-guide-easter-eggs-secrets-tips-things-to-do-9a2b182c-a8e9-431f-af94-be4c53dab0cb they will look like. Again, standard fare for a game like this, with a fair few choices of skin tone, head shape, etc, all with their own colours. The choices aren’t exhaustive, but there are quite a few of them and should go a long way to distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Once chosen it’s then time to start playing and Dinklage leads you through a tutorial level to get you used to the controls and fill in a little more about the bad guys you’ll be shooting. His voice works well as your Ghost, but I found the more into the game I played the more I wish he would emote just that little bit more.

Once the tutorial is completed you’re then sent to the Tower, a sort of market area, where you can buy and sell what you need, talk to other players, upgrade your ship, weapons and armour, and even unlock a variety of things with the collectables you’ve gathered along the way. At the moment it was a bit bare, but the longer the game’s available the busier I assume it will become. Here you’re also introduced to the three Vanguards, one for each character class. These guys and gals help to send you on your way in regards to missions and even hand out new armour for completing tasks. It’s here where I first noted the geektastic voice casting for this game. In addition to Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage lending his voice to your Ghost, the three Vanguards are voiced by Fringe’s Lance Reddick, and Firefly’s Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres, with other fan favourite voices bound to pop up.

468px-Moon_1920x1080With a visit to the Tower complete it was now time to start the game proper. The first mission unlocked was to Earth and Old Russia. If you played the Alpha or Beta, you should be well versed in this location. Having only played the Alpha (I refused to play the Beta as I didn’t want my time with the game to be spoiled), most of this was newish to me. As you play along more missions unlock as you level up and Patrols and Strikes become available. The mission levels are well thought out and everything again looks beautifully rendered, however, on Patrols it can get quite tedious searching around the place for mission markers as the levels are quite huge. Plus it’s a bit of a buzz kill going to a place for a mission and then finding out it’s exactly where you just were strolling about on a patrol. The good news is, as you play you will unlock new places to visit and that may help the tedium of returning to the same places all the time. At the time of writing this I have unlocked the Moon and Venus, and I’m sure there are more places to unlock otherwise what’s that big empty map area for?

The other unlockable section is the crucible. It’s here where you’ll find the competitive multiplayer levels. So far I’ve only unlocked the first sections, Clash and Control. Clash is exactly what it sounds like, two teams go head to head and try to obliterate each other. Control, is a classic capture the zone type level, with up to six players on a team compete to see who can hold the most zones for the longest time. It’s again, pretty basic fare for a game of this sort, however, I am finding that I am longing for something a little bigger in scope. Having been playing Battlefield 4 for the last few months, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed that the multiplayer area is so small. But then again I could be wrong and the next thing I unlock could be exactly what I’ve been craving – big huge levels with 64 player teams.

That seems to be the way of things for Destiny. Everything 0is in the right place, all the pieces fit, but there seems to be a lack of greatness and grandness so far. Maybe the further I play the better and grander things will become… but who knows. I will definitely keep playing as I am quite enjoying myself, but the way the game is set up it is bound to be more fun with a bigger group of people. I find that all I keep hoping for is that the things I’m craving will be the next unlock. So far not so good, but luckily the game is good enough that it hasn’t discouraged me yet. Although, if things don’t improve I may lose interest in continuing and go back to another game. I hope that’s not the case as you can see this game has been built with love, it’s just a matter of time to see whether it was also built with an eye on multiplayer as well.

 

Random Thoughts

  • I haven’t included a grade for this, mainly because it’s a first impression and it’s impossible to grade something when you haven’t completed it. If I was pushed to grade Destiny right now, I’d give it a B+ for all the things it’s seems to be missing at this stage, but that could all change when I’m a little further on than where I am now.
  • It was the first time we had pre-ordered anything from the Playstation Network, as usually we wait until the reviews start coming in to decide wether or not to buy anything. Not because we care what other people think, but more a test of a game’s playability and to make sure there aren’t any game breaking bugs on launch day. With Destiny however, there were enough Alpha and Beta tests to calm the nerves and we had no problem pre-ordering it. Although had I have known that pre-ordering on the PS3 would also get me a PS4 copy, perhaps I would have ordered it from there so we would have two copies in the house and could make it a local multiplayer game of sorts.
  • The sound design of this game should not be forgotten about, as it’s of the highest calibre. At points it sounds quite inspiring, with an orchestral score that builds and swells, with sweeping refrains and eery string solos that match whatever section of the game you’re playing. It really help to put you in the mood. That’s not even mentioning the more upbeat techno score that pounds in when things start to really get hairy. Sitting comfortably in the region of a danced up and slightly more mainstream Nine Inch Nails sound, it’s when this music kicks in that the game really shines.
  • I guess I should mention the controls. They aren’t anything different from any other FPS, although the melee is quite fun. Instead of hitting someone with a knife or punching, you get to blast them with some sort of magic blast. It’s different for each character type, but it does get you out of some pretty intense situations if you’re being swarmed.
  • There is also a bounty hunter section in game that awards you with certain unlocks and character upgrades. It works in the background and as you achieve each bounty you get told via the launch area screen that a message is available at the Tower for you to collect your reward.
  • It’s also worth noting that to complete certain areas a Playstation Plus account is required to play. But as I’m not sure who would want to play an online multiplayer game without first subscribing to Plus, I’m not sure how relevant this information is.
  • If anyone wants to play along with me hit me up with a message under the username zillah explaining that you found me here at thisrandombrain.
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4 more image comics

Chew – Vol 1-4

Chew is a comic I’ve been reading for a little while now. It drew me in with its completely insane premise and eye-catching visuals and kept me around with its bizarre plot twists and its ability to have everythin2638181-15_copyg somehow make perfect sense. Yes, of course policeman Tony Chew (the main protagonist) can take a bite of a dead body and tell you what happened to them. Yes, of course there’s a super smart cock-fighting rooster called Poyo. Yes, of course Chew’s police partner is part cyborg. And because yes of course there are Russian assassins and people with strange food abilities and aliens and a government led anti-chicken conspiracy… The list is endless of the strange happenings in John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew, but somehow it all makes sense and nothing seems out of place. I’m not sure how they did it, but they did and thank those in charge that they did, because Chew is one of the most creative, intriguing and funny books I think I have ever read. Of course there are problems, as nothing is perfect, but reading Chew you just don’t care as long as it keeps bringing the crazy and keeps being as entertaining as it has been since the beginning.

Vol 1-4 – A-

 

Black Science – Vol 1

Black-Science-1-6Black Science is one of those pulpy science fiction adventure types that’s unafraid of its more violent tendencies and all the while owing, at the very least, a tip of the hat to stories like Quantum Leap. You know the type – scientist creates thing, thing transports scientist through time/space/dimensions with no idea where s/he will end up, all the while hoping the next jump will be the one home. In lesser hands it would all seem a bit trite, but Rick Remember throws the reader headfirst into this crazy story with such a break neck pace that never seems to let up and never allows the reader slow down to think about just how insane the whole thing really is. And it’s a good thing, as the story here is a quite simple one, albeit a very entertaining one. However, just as crazy as the story is, it’s easily matched by Matteo Scalera and Dean White’s artwork. Every panel looks beautiful and their use of darker tones (all too forgotten about in a lot of recent comics) in such an unafraid and creative manner really make this one stand out. Hopefully with the next volume the story and characters get a little more fleshed out and then this comic will truly come in to its own.

Vol 1 – B

 

Nowhere Men – Vol 1

There’s something a little off about Nowhere Men. It’s a great read and you can tell a lot of hard work and love went into creating it, but there are pacing problems and a slightly muddy plot. That by no means is to say it’s bad, as nothing could be further from the truth, but the set up and the way the comic cuts between the main plot nowhere men 2 threads can be quite jarring. It’s as if author Eric Stephenson was in such a rush to get to the end he neglected the part about the journey being just as important. Although that seems to not matter as much, because by the end of the first volume you realise you’ve just read the origins of a new type of X-Men comic, where science instead of thinly veiled minority subtext rules and I for one, can’t wait to get my hands on the next volume. Be warned though, Nowhere Men is not an easy read. Sure Nate Bellegarde has drawn some simplistic and stunning visuals that are easily on a par with colourist Jordie Bellaire’s choices and they translate into some striking images that you want to see more of, but the sheer amount of text to read by Stephenson can take you out of the story and make this a chore for some readers. But if you’re like me, you wont mind reading the interviews and articles scattered throughout this volume as they really do help to create a complete universe where science truly does rule the world.

Vol 1 – B+

 

Sex Criminals – Vol 1

sex criminalsAll bullshit aside – this comic is brilliant. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky have created one of my favourite new comics in Sex Criminals. Basically, volume one is the story of how Suzie and Jon discover their sexuality, meet up and ultimately find out they have the same power – whenever they orgasm they stop time. You can see how this story under anyone else could have become a sleazy and pointless exercise in what not to do when writing a comic for adults, but Fraction and Zdarsky treat the subject matter with such humility and honesty that at times you feel like you’re reading about real people and not just looking at lines and lettsex_criminals_sexual_positionsers on a page. These characters are three-dimensional and their world lived in and nothing about it seems cheap or tawdry. Add to that the amazingly beautiful artwork and some very amusing jokes (one including a musical number in a pool hall) and you have a book worth reading. Out of all the comic books I’ve read this year, this and only a handful of others have surprised me the most and I can’t wait for the next instalment. It’s the perfect amount of zany plot, true and honest characters and the occasional wink to the reader.

Vol 1 – A

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