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.

Captain America – An Open Letter to Marvel

To the Captain America Steve Rogers team,

How does it feel to give validity and a supportable hero to hate groups?
Seriously… now every racist and homophobic parent has a comic to give to their children that shows them it’s okay to hate, because that’s what Captain America does. You’ve just glorified the very thing Marvel has made great strides against with characters like Ms Marvel, Moon Girl, Miles Morales, Red Wolf, and Starbrand and Nightmask.
Of course, controversy sells, and that’s likely why such a shocking step was taken, and no matter how it ends up, even if Cap gets beaten to hell and back by the Avengers, we still have a mainstream Marvel hero for those who hate.
I really can’t believe this concept made it through without anyone just stopping and saying “wait, do we really want to give hate groups a comic to rally around and love?”
Yours disgustedly,
Ayoub

DC vs Marvel – A Tale of Two Theories of Filmmaking

Having seen both Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War, I felt it was time to talk about the differences between the cinematic approaches made by the two biggest comic book dynasties around.

The most glaring difference (without having seen Suicide Squad) is that DC’s films are much more dark and serious in tone than Marvel’s efforts. It’s as if DC saw Marvel’s success and wanted to emulate without cloning, and that was the best way they could think of doing it. I think it goes a little deeper than that.

DC’s Batman comics have been dark and serious for a while, and Superman has also gotten grittier, but both still have more humour in one issue than Batman vs Superman. These stories are working in comic book form because humour, even wry humour, adds another dimension to the characters. Without that the characters would be two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, and that’s how they appeared on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s comics have also changed in some ways. Comparing the first Secret Wars to the latest event, just in the way the stories were told, shows a shift in language: the depiction of the heroes back then had them all sounding much like Thor – Heroic, loquacious, and serious. Today’s Marvel comics, while still action packed, show more well formed characters in that they are people who talk like we do. The comics show all sides, dark and gritty as well as light and fun. They’re more three-dimensional. Marvel have managed to translate this well in their films.

DC’s films tell a story, but one filled with mostly angst-ridden characters who seem to think that all there is in the world is the serious business of fighting crime. Even the people they love pull away from them in tragic pose to try to kick them out of their personal well of angst, but all it does is drive them deeper. It’s almost Twilight-esque (and anyone who knows me knows that is the worst insult I can give a film). Only their villains show any hint of humour, and yes, even that’s dark. They wear their pain on their faces all the time, such that even the rare moments of levity have the weight of pain behind them. It’s the same mistake that Sony made with the first Spider-man trilogy: they took away his wit and replaced it with duty.

Marvel films, while telling a story, present characters. They humanise their heroes. Civil War is so much better than Dawn of Justice because it’s not two relative strangers going head-to-head, it’s two friends. That’s what Zack Snyder forgot in his cursory read of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In that comic, Superman and Batman were friends, but estranged. They had a long history, which made their estrangement complex and beautifully nuanced to anyone who had read even a smattering of the many crossovers the two giants have had. All of that was abandoned for a wafer-thin reason to show almost exactly the same fight from the comic in the film. DC, in their rush to catch up with Marvel, tried to do in one film what took Marvel six, and ended up with a mess. It’s that legacy that also helps Marvel stay ahead – The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already rich with texture. If The Avengers had been made with none of the previous five films for context, it would have been a mess as well, but it would have still been fun to watch.

This led me to a realisation:

DC wants you to care about the events of their films, while Marvel wants you to care about the characters.

I say this because I found myself having a hard time caring in the last few minutes of Batman vs Superman. I should have cared. I should have felt something for a character that did what he did, but after all the angst, it just seemed a little uncomfortable. I’m skirting around spoilers here, and I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll expand on this with anyone who messages me on Google+. My emotional response to the confrontations in the two films highlighted this difference between the approaches taken with these two films, and it is because of that difference that Marvel will continue to get better reviews than DC.

The problem for DC now is that, if they listen to their critics and go in a more Marvel-like direction with their efforts, then they will have still lost. They will only ever be remembered in cinema history as the other superhero franchise. They need to make people care about the characters in the films, but not by copying Marvel’s formula, and the first thing they need to do to achieve that is to get rid of Zack Snyder. They need someone running the show that understands the characters, and isn’t solely interested in elaborate set pieces. They won’t do this, however, because of the money they made from Batman vs Superman. The initial bubble in ticket sales for that movie inflated it’s gross, and that’s all Warner Brothers and DC care about right now, so it’s not likely that they will change a thing.

Zack Snyder has done what I previously thought impossible: He made a worse Batman film than Batman and Robin. It’s sad, because Ben Affleck did a good job with the material he was given, and while Batman vs Superman has some good points about it, it’s flaws are only magnified when compared to Captain America: Civil War. Maybe the folks over at DC should have a closer look at the universe that Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl are building on TV and take their cues from there.

Captain America: Civil War – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

I just saw Captain America: Civil War today, because it was released in the UK early, and I’m going to try to calm down and write something that’s not just a long list of words that amount to OMGOMGOMGOMG!

Suffice it to say that the movie gets 5 out of 5 stars from me!

There are three major items I want to discuss, without spoiling anything, and the first of which is T’Challa, the Black Panther.

Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of T’Challa was flawless. I had concerns with how the character was progressing initially, but by the end, I was satisfied that he was written faithfully. There were a great deal of fantastic performances, and to stand out in the company of Robert Downey Jr. is not easy, ever, so yeah. It would have been very easy to have T’Challa descend into one of any number of stereotypes, and as it went on, I feared that would happen, until, without fanfare or anything that seemed out of the ordinary, he suddenly gained a whole lot of depth.

The next major item is Spidey.

Spider-Man-3-1200x632

Tom Holland has already achieved one thing, as far as I’m concerned, with his portrayal of Spider-Man – he has acted in the best Spider-Man film to date. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield did decent acting jobs with the material they were given, but neither one of them were given material that evoked the same emotional response I had (and still have) when reading Spidey in comic book form. He wasn’t in the movie for a long time, but many of the basic details about the webhead were covered well. I do have one issue, however, and it’s a minor one: Aunt May is not supposed to be sexy! “Aunt May” and “sexy” shouldn’t even be in the same state, let alone the same sentence! But, you can’t take the sexy out of Marisa Tomei… A very minor quibble, to some, but Aunt May has always been portrayed as more of a grandmotherly figure. It will be interesting to see other opinions of that at some point.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the story itself. The bad guy in the movie is bland. He’s not memorable at all, but then he’s not really supposed to be. This isn’t a simple tale of good versus evil, like Age of Ultron, or The Avengers. It had much more depth than any of the other Marvel films that came before, and unlike those, has considerably more depth if the other films have been watched. While the other films benefit a little in terms of depth of reference, I feel that there is too much about this one that will go over the heads of people who haven’t seen at least the previous two Captain America movies as well as Avengers and Age of Ultron. This may be an action packed special effects extravaganza, heavily laced with humour and everything else you’d expect from a Marvel Studios film, but I will admit that going in, I feared I would find it lacking in a post Deadpool world. I’m glad to report that it wasn’t lacking at all. I doubt Marvel will be able to pull off an equally deep and engaging story in a hurry. That would be too much to ask, I think. It’s not that the future Marvel films will not be good, far from it, but this was more than a black and white tale of good versus evil.

Like I said above, this film gets a full 5/5 from me. All I can say is that if you’ve enjoyed the Marvel films to date, go watch it as soon as you can!