Riverdale – Ayoub’s Opinion

Okay. So. Why am I talking about Archie Comics? What on earth do Jughead, Archie, Betty, and Veronica have to do with a dark Twin Peaks-esque TV show?

Welcome to Riverdale.

Yes, those of you who remember the comics from back in the day will know that Riverdale is Archie’s home town, and it’s usually a place of innocent hi-jinks and good clean fun. Now that the comics have been rebooted (although I haven’t read the newer ones), the CW in the US and Netflix in the UK are airing this new series based on the rebooted comics. While on the surface this murder mystery in a town that has plenty of secrets seems like something we’ve all seen before (*cough* Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars *cough*) it’s different because the Archie comics’ characters are so well known.

The television show itself is full of twists and fairly grown up themes. The darkness added to the wholesome Archie characters doesn’t seem forced (they were always a little too happy in the old comics). Mädchen Amick‘s presence in the cast brings Twin Peaks to mind, while 90210 alum Luke Perry rebalances it slightly towards a high school drama, and the show switches between the two genres masterfully, aided well by Cole Sprouse‘s narration as Jughead.

Three episodes in and I’m loving the show enough to give it a 4/5 rating, but that’s partly because of my fondness for the characters of old. People not quite as familiar with the comics may not be so generous.

Doctor Strange – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

Doctor Strange is not a character I’m overly familiar with, so the latest movie from Marvel Studios had very little to live up to in terms of character canon for me. Of course, it still had to live up to all the other Marvel Studios films.

This film has all the ingredients of the other films in the MCU; humour, a human story, action, and good versus evil, but it felt as if the balance was different. It’s a darker tale than any of the others so far. I have a feeling this was intended as a poke in the eye to the DC bunch – here is a darker story, and yet there are sprinklings of humour, often in the most unexpected of places (when you see it, you’ll see what I mean). At it’s core, however, this is a martial arts film. If there were an Iron Fist movie, it would be somewhat like this one.

While the bad guy is obvious as the bad guy, the film also deals with the concept of using dark power for good, and it deals with it well, but all of that makes the bad guy little more than an excuse to have a film. Other than Loki and Ultron, the bad guys in the MCU haven’t been that impressive, and this film is no different in that respect. Not that this detracts from the story as much as it could.

Now, before I get too tempted to throw in spoilers, I give the film 4/5 stars easily. When you go watch it, there are two end credits scenes. One hints towards Ragnarok, and the other hints towards Doctor Strange 2.

Deus-Ex: Mankind Divided – Ayoub’s Review

Sequels are tricky beasts to balance. Everyone wants change and improvement, but nobody wants to lose the feel, so Deux Ex: Mankind Divided, the sequel to one of my favourite games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, had a lot to live up to.

Mankind Divided begins two years after the events of Human Revolution; it immediately feels comfortable to play and looks beautiful. There is no visible difference to the very high and ultra settings on a 1080p display, and the game runs very smoothly. The tutorial system is one of the best I’ve seen because it lets you learn by playing trough a scenario without risk, and then rewinds to let you play your way. People playing on PC have a few more options than consoles, with the ability to give inventory items shortcut keys. There are also a number of user interface and HUD tweaks in the settings that are PC exclusive.

The cover system is vastly improved, because it needed to be, and the combat (should you choose to play that way) is fantastic. The biggest surprise in the game is in the vast detail that has been put into the main city hub of Prague. There is beautiful architecture, wonderfully animated advertising and store signs, and a much better map system to show you where everything is. It’s very easy to just stroll around the place and discover details about the Deus Ex world that are very easily missed if you just stick to the main story.

Speaking of which, the story of the game is somewhat lacking in scope in comparison to Human Revolution. It feels more like the the first part of a larger story than something complete. That’s not to say that the story is short, however. It has a similar chapter structure to Human Revolution, and when all the side missions are added, Mankind Divided has more playable hours. The game stays away from heavy social commentary, which is a good thing in my book. There are many moments where injustice is highlighted (provided you don’t storm through the story without doing any exploration or side missions), and the player is invited to draw their own conclusions. There are choices to be made, and some of the side missions can lead to assistance in the main mission.

The wonderful thing about Mankind Divided, and the Deus Ex franchise, is that there is a lot of choice in terms of how to approach the missions. Every mission, every accessible building and location, has multiple paths. You have real choice as to whether to be a ghost, or go in all guns blazing, becoming a storm of force and armour. There are many options to talk it out as well, without resorting to stealth or violence. This is what made Human Revolution great and very much replayable, and this is why I can see myself replaying Mankind Divided at least as often (Played it twice already, and getting ready for a third go).

At the end of the game, there are many unanswered questions, and even a little mid-credits scene that has a fun mini reveal. These questions are likely part of a set up for the next chapter in the Deus Ex expanded universe. Eidos have taken the success of Human Revolution and run with it in an epic way, and it has paid off as far as this finished product is concerned. The interesting thing will be in what comes next.

This game gets a solid 5/5 from me. It’s my kind of game.

No Man’s Sky – Ayoub’s Review

The much anticipated No Man’s Sky was released last week, and reviewers out there have not been happy. This is what happens when expectations are very high, and based on little information.

No Man’s Sky is beautiful in a highly saturated sixties science fiction sort of way. There are many worlds to discover, and alien races to learn about while trying to survive harsh environments, and the occasional space pirate. Aaaaand that’s it. That’s the full depth of the game. Yes, there’s a couple of stories, but they give no satisfaction. One leads to a new ability, and the other leads to a New Game+ scenario.

The best thing I can say about No Man’s Sky is that it’s a good survival and exploration simulation. It’s not, however, a good game. While it’s possible to spend an infinite amount of time mining, trading, learning alien words, and building up your standing with the various alien races you meet, there is nothing else driving you forward, no story to get immersed in other than the one you create in your own mind.

For such a small game (Just over 3GB fully installed), this is not surprising, but for a much hyped game, this is unacceptable. What we wanted was Skyrim in space, but what we got was Minecraft‘s survival mode in space, minus the ability to build stuff.

While that can be fun, it’s just not what people hoped for, and that is not the developer’s fault. Expectations can kill games that would be considered amazing had there been no expectations, and that is what has happened to No Man’s Sky.

Playing the game can be frustrating. The ships can’t be crashed. They take control from you when you get too close to the ground, or to a space station. The landing function on planets is annoyingly haphazard which makes it difficult to hit the flat piece of land you were aiming for. The combat is nothing to get overly excited about. It’s functional, but nowhere near as good as other space combat games. The map is largely useless, and the interstellar navigation is dire.

But.

The exploration and survival aspects are very good. The game can be tense at times, especially when you’re forced to choose between being able to take off again, and the possibility of death while hunting for resources to fuel your take off jets. That’s what makes the game exciting, and that makes the game worth some of the frustrations.

I rate this game as a 3/5, in terms of what it is. If I was to rate it for what I wanted it to be, it would have got a zero.

Ayoub’s Opinion – A Different Type of Racism

I find that the topic of racism is often one that automatically puts people on the defensive. I also find that there are many people out there who don’t see racism, even when it’s on a billboard in front of them.

Some of those people will be wondering why I’ve chosen Tarzan as an image for this post. Some people might even be offended when I say that the opinion piece I’m writing here could just as easily be about Danny Rand, The Iron Fist.

When I was a kid, I never really thought about it. Even in my late tenties, when Disney’s Tarzan came out, it still didn’t strike me as strange, but now, when I think cynically about the story, I feel a little uncomfortable.

Tarzan, and Iron Fist, at their core, are about a lost white child raised in a foreign environment, and rises to be the best in that environment. Tarzan, raised by apes, becomes King of the Jungle, above and beyond all the actual black people who live in the damned jungle. Danny Rand, raised by monks and taught martial arts, even as a later starter than his fellow students, rises to the top and becomes the Iron Fist.

The cynical old man in me sees these as stories where rich white kids (Lord Greystoke’s heir and the heir to the Rand fortune), because of nothing other than their genetics, are better than those who have lived for generations in their environment. It’s as if the authors, knowingly or not, felt that the essential whiteness and wealth of their heroes meant that they would excel above and beyond any other race.

Then, of course there’s the non racist counterparts. For Tarzan, there’s Jungle Book, and for Iron Fist, there’s Black Panther, both of which involve people of colour rising to the top, but they only do so in the lands of their birth, so while they are race positive, they don’t actually balance out.

What I want to see in the future is better balance. I want to see stories about people of colour who rise to the top of white societies, and no, I don’t mean rising to the top of the ghetto, or cleaning up the ghetto. Barack Obama is an example in reality for writers to draw from, and about the only example I can think of from fiction is Trading Places. We need balance added to the historical non-malicious, likely unintentional racism of white authors creating white characters that conquer the homes of people of colour.

Maybe some of the people who read this will write stories like the ones I want.