GTA V: The good, the bad and the ugly

Grand Theft Auto V is amazing. Or rather, it’s hideous. But not that bad, after all.

I must admit to myself that I have mixed feelings towards humankind’s best creation since bacon. It took a while, and several sessions with my therapist (aka my best friend Paddy, who happens to have a blog) to finally make up my mind, but in the end, I could not come to a better conclusion. GTA V: yay, but hey, almost nay.

It is a great game, indeed, with a condition: that you have never played GTA before. If you are, like me, in your mid-twenties or over, you probably remember the old instalments: each of them came with something new, exciting and surprising. In GTA III it was the 3D, Vice City was all about the late 80s atmosphere, in San Andreas you could spend hours just customising your character’s likeness and you had not one, not two, but three cities at your disposal. GTA IV was a bit of a disappointment for many, with Rockstar exploring more depth in the characters but doing a great job on graphics and general gameplay.

Therefore, I was expecting all of these features to be put together in one (not last), episode of the saga. To be honest, I was rather disappointed, not to say upset, after just a few hours in the game.

So here we go: the level of detail is stunning, but the graphics, colour depth etc. are just one step below other videogames (I am thinking of Red Dead Redemption as the benchmark). The characters’ moves are clumsy, ridiculous at times; their facial expressions in the cut-scenes are soulless. The gun sight is hard to see, and it does not provide any info on your opponent’s residual health like it did in GTA IV. Non-playable characters die too easily and our three heroes are very vulnerable, but at the same time they introduced some features that make the game easier such as the ability to turn your car back on its wheels when you flip it over, and… superpowers! Wait, superpowers?! Is this the Avengers? Is this Max Payne? What superpowers do you need in a world where you can carry a bazooka out in the open and get away with it?

Plus, the world looks big, too big, excessively big, as if at Rockstar suffered some “male-compensation problems”. Or, as if they followed the “bigger is better” philosophy. However, it just does not feel as big as they advertised it because it lacks diversity. San Andreas had three completely different cities; what you have here is a decently-sized city and at least 75% countryside. This made sense in Red Dead Redemption: I used to spend a lot of time just looking at sunsets, wishing that they had invented smartphones in the early 1900s.

Sure there are many activities you can do in Rockstar’s version of LA, but honestly, how much time will you spend playing tennis, golf or triathlon? It all looks a bit forced, pushed into a game because every new instalment has to be bigger than the previous one. It’s so ridiculously big that they couldn’t even make Chicken, Burger and Pizza shops accessible, like they were in GTA SA. No casinos either. But there’s a totally useless Underground/Overground train line (which, to be fair, has always been present. Have you ever met anyone who has ever used it more than once in every game?).

On the other hand, the city feels more alive than ever, and this is the most positive aspect of the game, what I think they should have put most of their effort into. And they did. At times (especially in the countryside) there is a feeling of peak/off-peak time with changes in traffic, population activities etc. I reckon that we have to wait for the new-gen consoles to have massive improvements on that side.

Also, as I previously said, the level of details is stunning, from the changing weather to the functioning fan in the Lifeinvader office and tire treads. And, after all, it’s still GTA, the best videogame franchise ever made, which is the only game that “makes you mop the floor, and still makes you enjoy it.” Messing around, insulting random people on the street and then killing them, taking a picture of them to show off on the Rockstar Social club is still great. Unfortunately, I am just too old to not be hit by nostalgia.

PS: I haven’t tried GTA Online yet, I am in a new home and only just connected my Xbox to the Internet a few days ago. I am looking forward to trying it as soon as possible, so up to now I cannot say anything. In the meantime, check out what my therapist Paddy has to say about it here.

From my dear friend and ex coursemate Bibek Bhandari

The Journal


Graduation – it’s a time to celebrate our academic achievements, reflect on the past and awkwardly smile as we take a step to an unpredictable future. Yesterday, along with my 40 other friends from around the world, I just did that.

During the commencement speech, speakers resonated similar sentiments: they commended for our efforts, congratulated on our success and then consoled us that we all would do great, get jobs and make a difference in the real world.

But before making a real difference, at this very moment, we are trying to make ourselves noticed. It’s strange that despite our skills, abilities and the academic records, a majority of us – all international students – are not being able to get a call back for an interview; landing a job seems like a distant dream.

The job market is competitive and constantly changing: it requires us to have skills that is a…

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F1 Tops and Flops of 2012, Part 2 – The midfielders

After one of my friends published Part 1 of my Tops and Flops on Reddit, I received some nice feedback.

In particular, I was called “an ass” because I compared Mercedes’s expectations in F1 to those of a panzer division in Poland. Or, people simply told me I did not know anything about Formula One at all.

For these reasons, I felt even more motivated to write Part 2 of my Tops and Flops. After focusing on the first-liners, let’s move to the midfield, which means, that no-man’s land which includes teams like Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso, and which often sees some of the greatest battles on the track.

Sauber is a Top without any doubt. I mean, have you seen it? The C31 is a hell of a car, surely the best Sauber since 2001 (and excluding the BMW era). They are now fighting for the fifth position in the championship with Mercedes (yup, the panzers) and, with one race to go, drivers Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi will have to do their best to recover 13 points.

Which means, for example, a podium, which Perez has already achieved three times this year. No wonder why McLaren offered him a contract for next season, after Lewis Hamilton signed for Mercedes (seriously, what is wrong with him?).
On the other hand, Kobayashi really impressed me since his debut at the end of 2009, and he was even considered a serious candidate for a seat in a top-team. Especially because he was backed by Toyota, which unfortunately retired before the 2010 season. Even though I would not consider him a Flop at all, I was surely expecting more from him. He is now just eight points behind Perez, but he struggled in the first half of the championship. He is without a seat for next year, who is ready to give this young guy a chance to finally emerge?

Maybe Force India, which lost Nico Hulkenberg who decided to sign for Sauber, indeed. However, a swap of drivers is unlikely to happen, given the fact that Kobayashi might lose his sponsor and the difficult financial situation of patron Vijay Mallya.

Force India is definitely another one of my Flops. Not because of this year only, but because of all the past years’ results altogether. They arrived in Formula One in 2008, on the ashes of the former Spyker F1, which was Midland before that, and which was called Jordan until 2005. Which used to have the best pit babes of the lot. But that is not the point now.

In five years, they have been able to score one single podium, in 2009, with Giancarlo Fisichella at Spa. And what a podium for the Italian driver, finishing second following his pole position on Saturday. After that, however, the team has stuck where it still is now, in the midfield, navigating between P6, P7 or P8 in the constructor’s championship. Their technical director, until 2010, was James Key, the man behind this year’s Sauber, and this year’s line-up is not bad at all, with Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta, the latter being a good bet for a top team, in the future.

Talking about James Key, he will not be working on next year’s Sauber because he was hired by Toro Rosso, my second Flop team today. They are the last of the best. The last that can be considered a Formula 1 team before the world of unknown. They are like Neptune: the solar system is not over yet, but you have to travel a long way before you can find Pluto.

This is what Toro Rosso is, sadly. Powered by Ferrari engines, as well as Sauber, they used to be Red Bull’s junior team. After the teams have been forced to build their cars fully (until 2010, TR used the RB car from the previous year), the team has fallen into disgrace. Last year’s line-up, Buemi and Alguersuari, were replaced by two almost-debutant drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.

They scored 22 points this year, which means ninth place. The team fired technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, who joined them in 2007, and he is surely not the most inexperienced men in F1. Sebastian Vettel won his first career race with Toro Rosso in an extremely wet Italian GP at Monza, in 2008. This remains the first and only victory for the team, which replaced the even-more unsuccessful Minardi.

Not much to say about this team, just that I would like to see them battling for something more than an occasional ninth or tenth position. But that is like wishing that Caterham, Marussia or HRT were proper F1 cars, rather than fast GP2 cars.

Stay tuned for the last part!

Talk like an Egyptian

Sometimes all you need to describe someone is a single word. You may think that this is because they are one-dimensional and nothing special.

You couldn’t be more wrong as the kind of person that only needs one word to describe them is so completely embodied by that word that they encompass all of its meanings.

Shady Arafa is and always will be: S…uave.

It’s in the way he dresses, the way he walks, the way he stands and the way he talks. The smoothness and coolness of his nature and the sophistication of the way he dresses overcome you. You have no choice but to be left in awe by the man who stands before you.

When you strike up a conversation with him he makes it very clear where he is from and he speaks of Egypt consistently and with passion in his voice.

He draws you into the troubles that his nation has gone through and he comes across as both political correspondent and head of the Egyptian tourist board.

And yet here we find a contradiction that is a contentious issue for our fine Egyptian friend.

He walks into the room, places his black umbrella by the side of his seat and removes his long knitted jacket revealing the black shirt and trousers underneath, his shoes shined to a glaring sheen.

How can it be that this man, so passionate about his country that is gripped by violence and fear, be so deeply involved in this comfortable Western life?

You would like to think that when you ask him about it you will get a reaction and you will be able to hear how he feels in his voice.

Yet this is not the case, the calm voice that issues from his vocal chords is always perfectly steady, never conveying the slightest emotion.

Does he feel at all? The little grin on his face says that yes, he does. He just hides it well.

Shady Arafa could be easily called the “Magnum P.I. of the Middle-East”, thanks to his recently-grown moustache. And he doesn’t give a shit if moustache were fashionable 40 years ago.

If the 1970s are back, we must thank the pharaoh from the past who gave light to the present.

While Tom Selleck used to drive his Ferrari in Oahu, Hawaii, the pharaoh only travels by tube. But he does so in such a way, with such elegance and grace that it is as if he was riding on the wings of the angels themselves.

The only question remains, will he return to the life he has so long shunned? Or, will he continue strolling down the path his comfortable Western life has led him to?

Either way the one thing he will always remain, is suave.

By: Paddy McCaul and Tommaso Cervini

Jenson Button wins in Melbourne

Jenson Button won the Australian Grand Prix, the first race of the 2012 Formula 1 season.

This is the third time in four years that the Briton tops the podium in the opening event, in Melbourne. He was followed by Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.

“Every victory means a lot, but the starts of the past two seasons have both been tricky for us, so today is really encouraging,” he told the reporters after the race.

Traditionally, the driver starting on pole position on this track is also the winner, but this time the starting order was completely twisted.

Everybody was expecting a great performance by both of the McLarens, with Hamilton starting in first and Button in second, while Sebastian Vettel, who was starting from sixth, was able to gain four positions at the end of the race.

After a very disappointing qualifying, Fernando Alonso finished in fourth, gaining eight places from his starting position, while his teammate at Ferrari, Felipe Massa, retired after a collision with Bruno Senna.

Michael Schumacher started in fourth (his best starting position since he came back in 2010) but suffered from a gearbox failure after a few laps.

Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen was probably the best of the rest: started from 18th, he finished his comeback race in seventh.

The first race of the year does not tell much about the real values of the teams, however, we can make some deductions.

Red Bull appears to have lost its supremacy of last year, when they had the most reliable and unbeatable car of the field; McLaren has repeated the consistency shown during the winter tests, whilst Mercedes has not, but it has room to improve.

What about Ferrari? They are lost. Team principal Stefano Domenicali  admitted that they have problems with the balance of the car, and this was clear in the qualify (with the drivers starting from 12th and 16th), while the race pace was slightly better, thanks to Alonso’s determination.

“Today the car was better than yesterday; however, we still have a lot of work to do to reach those who are ahead of us in terms of performance,” Alonso told the press.

Felipe Massa was never able to find a suitable set up all the weekend, and his “DNF” in the race standings is just not surprising.

The 2012 season is already in the record books because six World champions (Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen) are taking part in it for the first time in the F1 history.

The next weekend, the Formula 1 “circus” will move to Malaysia, for the second round of the season.

Porn for kids!

What spoils little girls more than anything else when they are young, pure and innocent?

The anwer is: fairy tales. They grow up thinking that real life consists of hansome and gallant men, who normally ride horses (or, more recently, powerful cars with plenty of these horses under the hood) and who are ready to fulfill every single desire of them; and, obviously, these desires have nothing to do with sex, ever, because “Prince Charmings” are some kind of asexual people.

So, why can’t little boys dream like girls do? I mean, it’s hard to deal with girls who have grown with this idea of men in their corrupt minds.
I am here asking for educators to teach their little kids using pornos! Which are nothing but fairy tales counter-part.

Girls want their ideal man to fulfill every single desire they have? Let’s make boys dream about this as well…
Girls wish their man to be with them whenever they need him? Ok, we want our woman to be with us whenever we need them…
Girls think the ideal man always rides a horse? Boys will think the ideal girl always rides a… don’t make me say it!

The point is: pornos corrupt men’s minds in the same way fairy tales corrupt female minds. It’s not fair for them to be allowed to dream of something that does not exist in nature.

Girls grow up with a wrong idea of men; I wish I had grown with a wrong idea of women. So, let’s allow both of them, or none of them, it’s not fair that half of the population can dream out in the open, and the other half has to hide away from everybody!

In the Wintertime, when the weather is fine

I am simply amazed how this city can surprise you, even just by doing nothing but being weather-friendly.

Before coming here, in September, I was expecting that I would have found bad weather every day, strong wind, rain, storms, snow, locusts, aliens… Instead, except few days of rain and strong wind recently, the weather has been absolutely nice, nicer than expected!

I do not want this to be a sort of a weather update, but I want to debunk the myth of London = Bad weather.

This is not true! It is cold, obviously, but no more than at home. At least it is not raining: I have not seen as many Englishmen with their umbrellas as I used to imagine in my childhood dreams (which means, until last September).

So, stop with the bad myth of the gloomy and rainy London.

Next myth to be debunked? The “No Sex, please, we’re British” one… But I still have to work on it!

When things mean more than what you might think

I have recently lost  a gift given to me by my best friend and his family for my 18th birthday, and I have just realised how some things could be more important than people themselves.

I am still friend to this person and his family, although we don’t hang out together anymore and we barely see once a month; but that gift reminded me of a period when things were different, we were younger and maybe also closer to each other.

This friend and his family has meant so much to me: they have helped my family when we needed some help and I have spent some excellent time with them.

I am wearing many other things given to me by them: but that particular gift had a meaning nothing else has.

If you are reading this post, but I don’t think you are, just excuse me, I am feeling like shit for many reasons and one of them is this.

Me and my fucking carelessness. I am hating myself right now.

Man! I feel like a woman…

Fashion has never been my friend: honestly, I have never paid much attention to what clothes I wear, except when I have to hit on girls… but that is an exception.

I found myself in a Tesco supermarket (they have just opened a new one in Harrow, called “Tesco express”… the big one is no more than 5 minutes walk from there, but they don’t seem to care much about that), and I came upon the magazines section.

In front of me there were all the magazines the new metrosexual man needs: GQ, Men’s Health, FHM… and I started to feel something strange in me.

No, it was not hunger or any other physiological need; I was actually thinking of buying one of them, and precisely I was undecided between GQ, who had Daniel Craig and his “dangerous year” in its front page, and the more appealing Men’s Health, with Mark Wahlberg, a supplement with tips on how to start growing your perfect 6-pack, and a complimentary 16-blade razor.

If the price hadn’t been so high (something like £5), I think I would have gone for it.

I have already treated the topic of the 21st century metrosexual man, but now, the question is: why should a 23-year-old guy be seriously interested in buying a £5 magazine full of crap on how to look like David Beckham in 10 days (hahahahaha), what clothes to wear to have all the female kind at your feet (this is more interesting), and what electronic devices to buy to impress your new conquest in case you are lacking of something else?

I don’t know, and I thought this kind of magazines (where 50% of the pages are actually advertisements) was women’s stuff exclusively; I mean, I’d really like to look like David Beckham, have my perfect 6-pack (and why not an 8 or a 10-pack? The higher the number, the better it is!), and maybe add 10 centimetres to my height (ok, this is a bit more difficult).

But £5 pounds are definitely too much… so please, publishing houses, lower the magazine prices, so that all the poor students like me can become the perfect 21st century metrosexual man!