Pacific Rim: The Black Is Solid Gold

I emerge from my blogging hiatus because I have something nerdly I need to gush about, and I just can’t keep it in.

A promotional image for Netflix's Pacific Rim: The Black.Pacific Rim is a franchise I want to like more than I do. The fantasy of giant robots punching alien kaiju appeals intensely to my inner six year old boy, but the films somehow never managed to be as fun as that premise should be. They’re decent time-wasters, but largely forgettable.

I’m also not a big anime guy, so when I saw Netflix had produced a Pacific Rim anime, my reaction wasn’t exactly feverish excitement. But there really isn’t a lot to watch right now (I’ve been watching Resident Evil let’s plays on YouTube for lack of anything more interesting), so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The first episode of Pacific Rim: The Black is a bit shakey, but it showed enough potential for me to try another episode. It was then that the show really took off, and my low expectations were completely shattered. This show turned out to be incredibly good.

The Black takes place in the ruins of Australia after the events of both films (though prior knowledge of the films isn’t really required). The continent has been abandoned and left to the kaiju, but pockets of survivors remain.

Among these survivors are teenagers Taylor and Hailey, children of jaeger pilots who left to find help but never returned. Early on, they discover an abandoned jaeger, and… y’know, shenanigans ensue.

The jaeger Atlas Destroyer in Pacific Rim: The Black.In a lot of ways, the arc of the show follows what you’d expect, but there’s enough surprises and twists to keep things interesting, and it’s in the execution of the show’s concepts more so than the concepts themselves where The Black really shines.

Going in, I saw that all the main characters were kids and assumed this was going to be a very sugar-coated, family friendly series.

It is not. The Black is a very intense, dark, and often brutal story that does not pull its punches.

But what really makes it special is that The Black doesn’t fall into the trap so much grimdark media does these days. It’s not all horrible, all the time. It’s not a show where every character is an unlikable monster. The challenges faced by the characters may be harrowing, but the characters themselves are good people who are worth cheering for.

The Black hits the exact tone I want in fiction. It’s dark, but it’s not cynical.

Not much else I can say without spoilers, but I will mention that I love how this show handles issues of abuse and PTSD. There’s some fantastic character work in this series.

My one major frustration with The Black is it’s yet another example of TV seasons becoming ever shorter. Seriously, seven twenty-minute episodes isn’t a TV season; it’s a movie with a bunch of credit sequences jammed into the middle.

Taylor, Hailey, and Boy in Pacific Rim: The Black.I will say, though, that as much as I’m hungry for more of this show, its quality doesn’t really suffer from the shortness of the season, unlike most shows these days. They somehow managed to cram an incredible amount of plot, action, and character development into very little time without it feeling rushed.

I’m just glad season two is on the way. I’m struggling to even remember the last time a new show impressed me this much.

I haven’t been doing numbered reviews as much lately, but this is definitely 9/10 territory. There are a few weird choices here or there, and the short season is disappointing, but there’s so much to love that faults like that are easily overlooked.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Impressions

The trilogy of Age of Empires remasters is now complete, and it feels like their trajectory has matched that of the original releases.

The new Inca civilization in the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition.The first game was impressive for its time but was surpassed by its successors, and while its remaster was competent, it couldn’t fully make up for the game’s age, especially with no new content. Age of Empires II was when the franchise reached its peak, and its remaster was a virtually perfect example of how to update a game, delivering major improvements without changing anything that made the game great.

Age of Empires III, meanwhile, was still a solid game but unable to match the greatness of its predecessor, and its new Definitive Edition is a solid upgrade, but not the masterpiece the AoE2 remaster was.

Playing this, I quickly remembered why 3 is my least favourite Age of Empires game. They tried to improve on the formula of 2, but mostly all they accomplished was adding a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles that made the game more complicated, but not more interesting.

That said, Age of Empires is still Age of Empires. Beneath all the bloated tooltips and wonky extra mechanics, the core formula is still plenty enjoyable, and it still works out to a fairly good game, just not one that quite lives up its legendary forebear.

So too with the remaster. Overall they did a good job — every change is a positive — but it does leave a little something to be desired. It’s good, but it could have been better.

A Haudeenoshownee village in the Age of Empires II Definitive Edition.The best trait is easily the graphical overhaul. The game looks gorgeous now. Everything is colourful, vibrant, and detailed.

There are a number of small but welcome gameplay tweaks, too. Home city leveling has been effectively eliminated, so everyone has access to all of the shipment cards off the bat, which is a nice way to prevent people having to grind all over again.

The revolution mechanic has also been fleshed out more. This is mainly noteworthy for me because it’s added Canada as a playable option. Even if it’s just a revolution option for the British and French rather than a complete civilization, it’s nice to have my country represented in an Age of Empires game for the first time.

They’ve also tweaked the indigenous civilizations to be more culturally sensitive. I will admit that in my ignorance I didn’t realize there was anything problematic about the old versions, but I’m glad they’re making the effort to be more respectful. In hindsight, the firepit thing does seem… less than ideal.

Finally, there’s new content. Here’s where I have some complaints, and even then it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the new content. I just wish they’d done more — what’s there feels like an appetizer rather than a full meal.

A Swedish home in the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition.There’s two new civilizations, the Swedes and the Inca. Based on early impressions, they both seem pretty fun. I always enjoy the indigenous civilizations because I prefer the lower tech aesthetic, so the Inca are an easy win, but I also found myself enjoying the Swedes to a surprising degree. Being able to harvest resources with houses is a very strong economic boost, and their tech tree is simple but effective, with clear tools for every situation.

There’s also a new short “campaign” of standalone historical battle missions. These are fun enough — it’s nice to return to historical events rather than the fictional stories of AoE3’s base campaigns — but I really wish there was more. There’s only six missions, and strangely the new civilizations are not represented in them, which feels like a real missed opportunity.

Part of the problem is simply that the bar was set so high by the AoE2 remaster, with its multiple new civilizations and campaigns.

Which was always the problem with 3, remaster or no. It’s a solid game, but it predecessor was just too tough an act to follow.

Anyway, for all my humming and hawing, I’m pretty happy with the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, and I’d recommend it to fans of the franchise. Just leaves me wanting more is all.