Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

Welcome to the Escape Velocity Collection!

We are an opinionated group of friends reviewing all sorts of fantasy and science fiction media. Don’t forget to get to know the curators and visit our curated Collection, where we discuss the stories that never cease to transport us to another world.

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Suddenly, there’s a new antagonist to finish off the trilogy. If you can avoid it, don’t watch this movie, folks.

The Rise of Skywalker

Why, Disney, why?

The Rise of Skywalker is the absolute low point in the Star Wars saga, and proof that even a huge budget, a name as big as Disney, and a franchise as iconic as Star Wars are no guarantee for a film that is even remotely passable. Disney massively dropped the ball on this trilogy, and the main reason for that is that it all led to the massive trainwreck that is The Rise of Skywalker

The movie stopped making sense before the opening crawl even started, when they decided to announce their new antagonist off screen, between movies, in Fortnite. I am not making this up

It doesn’t get any better after that. The movie is rife with bad writing and filmmaking – hunts for newly-introduced McGuffins, unearned emotional moments, single-moment character redemption arcs, nonsensical lines spoken by a dead actress, terrible boss-battles, stakes raised to the absolutely unbelievable, and an ending that makes sense only to the public and not to the characters. There are too many sins to list them all. My viewing experience was akin to some sort of fever-dream hallucination, like someone had accidentally replaced the script with a fourteen-year-old’s fan fiction, and J.J. Abrahams just rolled with it. 

Overall, even though it still looks good (it’s Star Wars, after all, and the visual team seems not to have collectively lost its mind (as opposed to the writing team)), the film is an affront to filmmaking and to the Star Wars franchise. There are many hundreds of hours of video essays and rants on where this trilogy went wrong, and much digital ink has been spilled over it on blog posts and Reddit threads. I believe that the plot writing was the main issue, and apparently, the lack of a coherent plan for the trilogy. 

Effectively, it took Disney about four years to kill the main Star Wars saga as a guarantee for good content. Each of the movies was less successful than the last. Of course, Star Wars is too big a franchise to just die because of a couple of lean years (and though I haven’t watched it, The Mandalorian appears to be good, based on its reception), so there is hope yet. But there are so many failures and icky elements to the Disney Star Wars reboot that it feels to me like a soulless cash grab (as we’ve come to expect from Disney’s factory-formulaic storytelling). It is just a pity that this time, Star Wars was the victim.

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Fighting a losing war against the First Order, the Resistance is forced to flee with their last fleet, while far away Rey starts her training with Luke Skywalker.

The Last Jedi

The controversial one! I’m going to rate it two stars, but I’m flip-flopping a lot on this one. 

Let’s start with the good: Like any Star Wars movie, it looks amazing. The visual language of the Star Wars universe is yet to be beaten in science fiction film in my opinion, and The Last Jedi is no exception. I love Daisy Ridley’s performance, and I think that Kylo Ren has a better showing in this film. Though their force-based Zoom calls make very little sense in-universe, their conversations make for great character development and their action sequences are visually popping. 

However, ‘that makes very little sense in-universe’ could have been the tag line of this movie. I am not a purist, and as I explained in my review of The Force Awakens, not the world’s biggest Star Wars nerd. But this film is filled with moments that make you raise eyebrows – character choices, technological possibilities, etc. – that are in direct conflict with what the story required in earlier installments. Along the lines of the same criticism, there is a mediocre subplot about two of the characters going hunting for a technological McGuffin that ends up being useless, whilst being presented with an absolutely ludicrous ‘both sides’ argument. But most importantly, this movie takes a lot of the set-up of the previous part and tosses it right in the bin. 

When I walked out of the cinema, I was actively angry with this movie. It just made no sense to me why they would make the weird plot choices that they made. Looking back now, on the one hand, we can lay much of the blame for the complete and utter dumpster fire that is Episode IX squarely at the feet of some of the plot choices of The Last Jedi. On the other hand, seeing the absolutely miserable character development in that movie, I realise that there is a certain grown-upness to The Last Jedi that is only otherwise present in the original trilogy. Overall, I think that much of The Last Jedi would have been a far better movie had it not been a Star Wars movie (oh, and also, if they had removed the Canto Bight sub-plot). Unfortunately, it is a Star Wars movie and it just smashes down too much of what we know and expect of the universe to function well as one. So while I see some merit, at the end of the day, I am with the crowd that was disappointed.

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In this Disney reboot of the Star Wars universe, scavenger Rey gets tangled up in the workings of the Resistance against the newly risen First Order when a deserter falls out of the sky near her home on the desert planet of Jakku.

The Force Awakens

Ah, the Disney Star Wars Trilogy – that’s a can of worms to open. I’ll just go ahead and give my opinion, and I’ll try not to let the internet outrage influence me too much. 

So, some background – I grew up with Star Wars. My dad was in his early twenties when the original Star Wars was released and he’s been a big fan since. I probably watched the movies first when I was about seven years old, and their visual style has imprinted on me too. I am not, however, on the scale of Star Wars fans, a particularly big Star Wars fan – I’ve seen most movies, played a couple of video games and own some cool lego sets, but I’ve never delved into the extended universe or read novels. 

I saw The Force Awakens with my dad in the cinema, and I was very excited to go. It is not every day that you get to experience the reboot of a franchise this big, and there had been teasers and trailers all year long. When the opening crawl finally floated across the big screen and the theme music plays, there was a special ‘yes’- feeling you get at being there to actually experience it in cinemas this time. 

The movie itself did not disappoint. It is a movie that oozes Star Wars. I loved the visual styles of the new ships and droids and stormtroopers, I loved the re-introduction of old favourites like the Millenium Falcon and the beautiful dogfight scenes we get with her early on. I especially loved Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey, who I thought was a great, witty, charming heroine without the overwhelming need to present her as sexy. 

The movie oozes Star Wars so much that perhaps… it feels like they just took a lot of the plot beats from A New Hope and re-used them for The Force Awakens, from a nobody from a backwater desert planet falling in with Han Solo to the secret plans revealing the weak spot of a large moon-like base that is assaulted in the final act. But honestly, it didn’t bother me. I came to the cinema to watch the rebirth of Star Wars, and something very Star Wars is what I got. 

That is not to say that the movie doesn’t have its misses. I liked John Boyega’s performance, but I didn’t really like his character. That is mostly because he ended up as a comic relief character that was killing stormtroopers left and right, even though his arc was set up as putting a face to a nameless crowd of enemies that turn out to be literal child soldiers. The movie fails to knock down that set up miserably. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren was never going to be as iconic as Darth Vader, but in trying to find the balance between unstable and terrifying, I think the writers erred on the unstable side, making him appear more as a child and less as an antagonist. 

In the end, though, I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Force Awakens. It is not particularly refreshing or unexpected, but it is Star Wars the way I like it.

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In a violent cyberpunk future in which your consciousness can be downloaded into a machine in your neck and bodies have become interchangeable, convicted rebel and terrorist Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in prison, sleeved in a new body, 250 years after the rebellion in which he took part was crushed. He is released to solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft, a man rich enough to have survived his own death.

Altered Carbon

 

This review pertains to the first season only.

 

I have a rule for myself: read the book first. With Altered Carbon, I failed. I didn’t know it was an adaptation of Richard Morgan’s book, so I watched the first season of the series. Of course, I’ve got the book now – it sits on my shelf of shame, near the top of the list of to-reads (though I say that of everything on that shelf). When I’ve read it, I’ll come back to this review and see how the show stacks up against the book.

 

So, this show is not easy to watch. Right from the start of the first episode, it is filled with violence and nudity – bullets spraying, blood on the screen, breasts every five minutes. If that is not your thing, Altered Carbon might not be for you. Normally, it’d be a ding against the show for me as well. But in the case of Altered Carbon, it fits so well with the premise that it drew me in instead. 

 

Altered Carbon takes place in a cyberpunk sci-fi world where your consciousness is saved to a stack, a small machine in the neck. Unless the machine is also destroyed, your body – derogatorily called a ‘sleeve’ – can die, but you will survive. The result is a complete shift in the way people – especially rich people – view bodies. The richest never die, resleeving in clones if their bodies age. The poor lose or sell their bodies to the rich. Grandma can come back from the dead, resleeved in a rented body for Christmas. The possibilities are endless and the show does a good job of exploring that premise and showing how it affects the characters. 

 

The plot is perhaps a bit too complex for the show to fully capture (which makes me believe it might be a faithful adaptation of the book). The plot twists and turns, which is engaging but dizzying at times. At its core, Altered Carbon is an action-packed detective story, with plenty of time spent exploring the main character’s motivations. It is surprisingly thoughtful at times, though it is not exactly high art. The acting and production values are great, but there are so many storylines that some are bound to turn out worse. The flashback story about Kovac’s former life, for example, is not as well fleshed out as the main story, and just looks a little less good on the screen. Again, I haven’t yet read the books, but if the show would have been written for television I’d advise them to cut some of the storylines.

 

That doesn’t take away the fact that I thought Altered Carbon is a great show. Overall, I would recommend the show to both (i) fans of action-packed television and (ii) people whose interests are piqued by the interesting sci-fi concepts and can stand the violence and nudity.

I’m back again!

 

I promised to update my review once I’d read the book, so here I am. 

 

Perhaps surprisingly, I liked the series better than I liked the book. I am sure this is heresy to some, but as I explained in my review of the book, I couldn’t bring myself to like book-Takeshi Kovacs much.  I have seen people online complain about Joel Kinnaman’s acting, but somehow, he sold the character to me in a way that the book couldn’t. 


Looking back, the show’s writers definitely made some interesting (and ‘interesting’) choices. I feel vindicated in criticising the flashback story, since most of that never appeared in the book. The show left out one of my favourite book character for no reason that I can discern. But I did actually like what they did with Reileen and Takeshi’s background, braiding together a few vague references in the novel into a more coherent and character-defining backstory. 

Overall, a good adaptation. Apparently, I shouldn’t watch the second season, however…

 

 

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Sunless Sea is a steampunk rogue-like game in which you steer a small ship over the vast procedurally generated Unterzee, encountering islands, port cities, dangerous Zee-creatures and other ships with which to interact. With writing that borders both on horror and on the bizarre, the atmosphere harkens back to the writings of Coleridge and Poe. As you set sail, beware of your supplies running out, but if you return safely to Fallen London, you are sure to be rewarded by the admiralty for your news from distant shores and your reports on the plans of the Khanate.

Sunless Sea

The gameplay of Sunless Sea is rather simple: top down, you view your ship sailing the Zee, steering through the mist toward the islands you see appearing on the edge of your screen. There is combat, but it is limited: you have an indication of your broadside range and a button for ‘fire’, and that’s about it. In port, you can play through quests and interact with shops and officials through simple text and conversation menus with little tidbits of charming art. 

Sunless Sea has many elements of a traditional rogue-like game, where you start with very little and are encouraged to slowly build up skills and resources over multiple playthroughs, with each character passing on certain aspects to their successor after their death. Each new character faces a completely new layout of the Zee, though many of the islands and places you’ve seen before will be out there again. 

Whilst the game’s atmosphere is amazing and the stories are fun, I found that the game is very slow-paced, causing me to put on a podcast as I was sailing around. I thoroughly enjoyed my first playthrough (though I stranded fuelless somewhere on the dark waters).  After the first one, however, I found that I encountered fewer and fewer new islands and stories, while actual progression towards a better ship, a faster engine, or increased skills was painfully slow. I found that I would have rather played the game without constraints, sailing and exploring until I had found everything there was to be seen, than grind my way through the progression system by ferrying passengers or goods back and forth between the same ports for a slight profit ten times. 

I want to say that my two-and-a-half star rating here is very personal – I can easily imagine someone else rating this game five stars and I would completely understand. But I am in a position where I like the content in my video games to be more condensed – and Sunless Sea simply does not offer that experience. I did really enjoy the atmosphere during the 10 hours that I played, and I would recommend this game to people looking for a laid-back exploration experience with the time and patience to build your way up through the game’s slow progression system. I’m convinced the developers have hidden some gems of stories behind higher-level places like the Cumean Canal, where stories of The Surface run down into the Unterzee…

Sunless Sea was recommended to me by a friend. I played it for about 18 hours in total, which consisted of three or four ‘playthroughs’. Although there were certainly elements I enjoyed, I found I was somewhat disappointed on the whole.

Like Peter also concisely describes in his review of the game, Sunless Sea’s gameplay is fairly simple, but also very slow-paced. I liked the exploration aspect, travelling through fog to discover new islands and stories, but quickly tired of the resource management that was required of me. Ferrying between the same islands for a tiny profit felt more like a chore than a pleasure. A life of commerce is apparently not for me…

However, after some grinding I was able to obtain a mansion, a will and a faster engine. I experienced some gripping tales – one involving a scary Santa Claus and a melting child, another left me with a Hesperidean Apple, which felt like a worthy achievement? – that were the highlights of my playing time. The storytelling and (cosmic horror) atmosphere of this game are its strong points.

I’m sure I have many stories left to uncover in the Unterzee. However, last time I played, my patience for the endless sailing had run dry. I might pick it up again in the future, though. People who don’t mind a little grinding, might find this game right up their alley.

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Darkest Dungeon is a progression-based role-playing dungeon crawler, in which you recruit and equip teams of heroes to crawl through dungeons where they will encounter turn-based combat, random events, boss battles, hunger, and darkness. Mixing elements of traditional fantasy with the writings of Lovecraft and Poe, the setting has you slowly progress through the story of your decadent ancestor as painstakingly cleanse his manor of the occult corruption that he has left behind. The game is ruthless, so expect your prized heroes to die, for good, especially when you are tempted by the prospects of carrying more loot…

Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is a great game with a relatively simple core gameplay loop: you recruit heroes, equip and train them, and send them to crawl through a procedurally generated dungeon. When they return (if they return), you can use the loot to upgrade the facilities at your camp and equip more heroes, to send on new and more dangerous missions. The combat is turn-based, with each hero able to perform abilities on the basis of their position in the group, damaging or poisoning enemies, healing or de-stressing your allies, or shuffling your enemies’ positions to get their vulnerable stress casters within range of your bounty hunter’s axe. 

Though the gameplay looks simple, it is kept engaging by the large number of different heroes, each with different abilities depending on their position in the line up, and the vast range of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses. 

The game’s strength is in its ruthlessness, and in the way it keeps tempting you. The game knows no mercy: dead means dead, and there is no way to resurrect your favourite hero or even reload a save. Things can go downhill very quickly, especially once a hero’s stress meter is maxed and they starts spreading despair to your other characters. A single poor decision can cause a cascade of failures that sees the entire party die or go insane. At the same time, you are constantly tempted to clear another room, or attempt a dungeon in the total dark, increasing difficulty and reward in equal measure. 

The only reason I’m not rating this game more highly is because, even though I realise it is literally the point, it can feel a bit disheartening to lose a hero or party as a result of a couple of bad rolls. The game is unfair at times (though that is advertised as a feature), and recuperating from the loss of a prize hero can take a couple of hours. You really do need to be able to stomach painful losses and spend the time to slowly grind your way up to the tough boss battles. I found that after a couple of bad crawls, I didn’t feel like sinking in too much more time – though writing this review has motivated me to pick it back up. Perhaps I’ll clear another dungeon tonight!

Finally, the game’s simple but beautiful art, and absolutely MAGNIFICENT voice acting deserve mention: if ever you are looking for an atmospheric gothic horror game, this is it!

See also:

Altered Carbon

Review: Altered Carbon – Netflix

In a future in which your consciousness can be downloaded into a machine in your neck, convicted rebel and terrorist Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new body, 250 years after being caught, leased to solve the murder of a man rich enough to have survived his own death.

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Sunless Sea

Review: Sunless Sea – Failbetter Games

Sunless Sea is a steampunk rogue-like with elements that harken back to the writings of Coleridge and Poe, in which you sail your dapper vessel across the vastness of the underground Unterzee in search of riches and fame.

Read More »