Monthly Archives: December 2015

My favourite games of 2015

First up, this isn’t entirely comprised of games that came out in 2015 – it’s simply the ones I’ve had the most fun playing this year (though all are from 2014 or later) and the ones I’d happily recommend to a friend. All games are the PS4 versions.

6. Driveclub

While its not my favourite racer (nothing can match Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit on PS3) its easily the best one available on PS4 right now. It has a lot of DLC, but most of it is really cheap (1.50 each) and you can end up plugging a lot of hours into the single player. Factor in Multiplayer and it’ll be a long time before you run out of stuff to do on this game. The game looks amazing and the range of circuits and courses is high enough that it never feels repetitive. Not the easiest racer at the beginning, but with practice you’ll be fine.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

This is a strong candidate for hardest shooter I’ve ever played. I died so many more times on this than Bioshock, COD or Resistance. It’s two games in 1 (Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel!) and both are pretty damn tough (levels 1-50, and if you’re level 25 a level 30 mission is basically impossible. That’s how quick the difficultly scales up). With literally millions of gun/grenade and shield variants with shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, smgs, rocket launchers, sniper rifles in various ammo combinations (fire, acid, shock) with The Pre-Sequel adding laser guns and Cyro rounds, it’s a shooters fantasy. It’s immense fun, but you NEED to be good at shooting games to play it. If you struggle on Recruit/Regular on COD, you’re going to be massively frustrated here. The game is rendered in a unique, almost comic-book/anime style way (watch clips to see what i’m on about) while the dark humour is up their with fallout.

The collection features 6 DLC expansions free, so in terms of value for money, it’s pretty damn good!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Dragon Age: Inquisition

In the same way Skyrim is the medieval style Fallout (or vice-versa) Dragon Age is the medieval style Mass Effect and if you liked that series, Dragon Age is the game for you. Inquisition is the third entry in the series, but you can drop right in without playing the previous two games and it won’t be that confusing (though my flatmate would say this was heresy!).  Set on the continent of Thedas, there are four races you can play as: (Male or Female on either) Humans, Elves, Dwarfs and Qunari (muscular warriors with pretty awesome horns who stand a foot taller than humans).

It’s got the same mix of colourful characters (ranging from charming rogue dwarf Varric, flirtatious human troll Dorian, crazy anarchist lesbian elf Sera, the prim proper and frequently exasperated Templar Cassandra and the brutal mercenary and potential ‘friend with benefits’ Iron Bull) as well as the epic storylines and breath-taking settings as Mass Effect.

If you love Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls Games or RPG’s in general, I’d recommend this! It has 3 DLC’s which are all either challenging combat expansions or crucial storyline additions.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Fallout 4

The biggest confusion I’ve had this year is when people say they love Fallout 4 but hate Star Wars: Battlefront because they changed too much from the previous games in the series? That makes no f*cking sense, because Fallout 4 scraps or alters a LOT of established things from 3 and New Vegas. Individual Skills, the Karma system and the endgame slides for side-quests and companions have vanished, while the perk system and power armour has been completely revamped. Conversations and companion loyalty are now a lot more like the systems in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Most of the changes are improvements, and the game looks and feels a lot better with the new game engine (far fewer freezes or annoying crashes than 3) but I still miss aspects from 3 and New Vegas. It’s a very good game, but at times it doesn’t feel like the same Fallout series (mind you, I had the same doubts when I first played Skyrim because I disliked a few changes from Oblivion, so this will probably change once I’ve done a few more playthroughs). Fortunately, it keeps New Vegas’ idea of having 4 separate factions to pick from (this time its The Institute, The Minutemen, The Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel) and each side has good points and bad (there’s no obvious evil Karma option like Caesar’s Legion in New Vegas) while even obvious good guys the peacekeeping Minutemen end up massacring the Institute in their final quest. I couldn’t pick who to side with till well into the games final act, and it was very close between the Brotherhood and the Railroad.

It’s very, very good. But it’s not clear-cut the best game in the series as I’d expected it to be. Only time will tell whether it actually has reached that level.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Last of Us: Remastered

Spoiler Warning (two plot points from the first 2 hours gameplay)

A zombie survival game with more tension than the whole Resident Evil franchise and more heart than anything the Walking Dead can offer. Two bold claims but this is a game that pulls at the heartstrings as you play it. And it’s a bloody dark game with suicide, child murder and various violent death scenes all present at points throughout. There are two protagonists, 50-something Joel, mourning the loss of his daughter in the initial outbreak, and 14-year old Ellie, who is the first human to survive a zombie bite without becoming infected. You have a few weapons in your limited arsenal, ranging from pistols to rifles and improvised weapons like spiked baseball bats, shivs and molotovs. And there are a lot of enemies ranged against you in addition to the zombies. Featuring Cannibals, hunters and ruthless post-apocalypse military organisations, the humans are almost bigger monsters than the zombies. Not that some of the zombie sections aren’t terrifying (a bit where you have to restart a generator in a partially flooded hotel basement, which wakes up a ton of zombies nearby, is particularly memorable) but arguably the most tense sequence is where Ellie is stranded, alone, in a burning building with a machete wielding cannibal hunting her (in the closest thing the game has to a boss fight).

Remastered Edition also features Left Behind, a DLC with Ellie’s backstory. There is an online part but that’s not the main attraction, the single player alone is good enough that you should get this (I don’t even like zombie/survival games all that much- but its one of the best single player campaigns I’ve played)

Rating 5 out of 5!

1. Star Wars: Battlefront

It may have its flaws (basically all of which are because its made by EA) but who cares if the servers are occasionally down because when everythings working, this is simply joyous. Soaring through the sky above Tatooine in X-Wings, Tie Fighters or the Millennium Falcon, racing through Endor’s forest on Speeder bikes, downing AT-ATs in Walker Assault on Hoth, it has everything you wanted to do in a game about the original trilogy.

The best thing has to be playing as heroes and villains. Whether your Force lightning your way through Rebels as The Emperor, clashing blades in lightsaber duels between Luke and Vader (this feels pretty epic 1 on 1, which happens a fair amount on multiplayer), gunning down Sith Lords as Han and Leia (who are much more of a match for them than in Battlefront 2) or racking up massive kill counts as Boba Fett ‘don’t get in my way…’ its immense fun.

Not all the online game modes are great but personally I find Fighter Squadron, Heroes vs Villains, Drop Zone and Cargo to be pretty amazing, and Walker Assault or Supremacy feel like proper all out battles from the films. Good job DICE, even if you are working for EA. Now give us a sequel with the prequels will you?

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Anyway that’s what I’ve loved this year.

Predictably as this is a personal preference list there are some notable absences in terms of big name releases this year. Why? Well I don’t count FIFA as a proper game (it’s just not), I lost patience with the Black Ops series of COD games after the first one and Batman: Arkham Knight just wasn’t as good as its predecessors (its a very, very good game but I feel like it could have been so much more). And Tomb Raider won’t be out on PS4 till next year.

 

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The Husbands of River Song Review

The Husbands of River Song by Steven Moffat

Starring Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston

Warning: Spoilers (how many people read that in the River Song voice? Its almost unavoidable when watching episodes she’s in!)

Christmas Specials are historically, one of Moffat’s weaknesses. While ‘The Snowmen’ is a classic, his other 4 efforts (A Christmas Carol, Last Christmas, Time of the Doctor and The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe) have all been rather middling if with the occasional moment of brilliance. It’s understandable – the Christmas specials have to be more accessible/light hearted than normal who because you get families tuning in who don’t watch it on a week to week basis, and after a brilliantly dark and convoluted series 9, you could argue this kind of episode was what was needed. It’s light on content, which means the middle sags a bit, but the opening 20 minutes are pretty damn funny, and the final 15 are rather touching as Moffat wraps up the last missing link in River Song’s storyline, as her and the Doctor visit Darillium, the planet they’re fated to spend their last night together on.

Given there was an in joke about flowcharts in the episode (something fans constantly joke you need to keep track of her storyline) here is my (hopefully correct) summary of episodes in order from River’s point of view:

Let’s Kill Hitler – The Wedding of River Song – The Pandorica Opens – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – A Good Man Goes To War – The Impossible Planet/Day of the Moon – The Angels Take Manhattan – The Husbands of River Song –  Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – The Name of the Doctor. And now my head hurts!

See? All over the bloody place! While I am a fan of Moffat’s writing style – I can see why casual viewers get put off by stuff like this – I’m not even sure I’ve followed that correctly! Now back to the episode itself…

Capaldi and Kingston had a natural chemistry together, yet a very different kind of chemistry than that between her and Smith. Greg Davies was a splendid addition as the OTT ‘head in a bag’ King Hydroflax, whose rants and threats of death were hilarious. Matt Lucas is something more of an acquired taste, but he was fine here, if slightly superfluous to events.

I’m not going to touch on the plot, because that just isn’t the point of an episode like this. Not as clever as Last Christmas or as funny as the Snowmen, it comes 3rd out of 6 for Moffat’s Christmas specials for me. Shorter review, than normal, but hey, this isn’t the kind of episode that its fun to pick apart.

One final note: the Doctor’s explanation of his new regeneration ‘a thing happened’. A hilarious statement that sums up the mess that was ‘Time of the Doctor’ that I will use from now on when referring to that episode.

Overall, a light hearted Christmas treat with little substance, but plenty of flavour. River Song’s story comes to a fitting conclusion (at long last we can put those flowcharts away!).

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ll be back with a review of Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, after New Year. Merry Christmas everyone.

My Top TV shows of 2015

Everyone else on review sites does a top 10 this time of year, I don’t watch enough shows to do that justice, so here’s my top 5. If your favourite shows like Downton Abbey or the Walking Dead aren’t on here, its probably because I haven’t watched them.

If I’d done this last year for TV in 2014, the order would have been 5: Homeland, 4: House of Cards, 3: Game of Thrones, 2: Doctor Who, 1: Arrow. What a difference a year makes…

I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but there might be some minor ones in here (only minor plot details though, no character deaths have been mentioned) so warning: Minor Spoilers.

5. Orange is the New Black Season 3: While House of Cards is normally my Netflix go-to, Orange is the New Black’s third season was everything I wanted from the show, while House of Cards made a couple of small missteps that means it isn’t on my list this year. Dispensing with the villain driven plotline from season 2 (much to my relief as that got a bit wearing) it refocused on Piper and Alex, while throwing new character Stella (Ruby Rose) into the mix to create a love-triangle (though a more interesting one than Larry-Piper-Alex was in season 1). Background characters like Caputo, Nora and Pennsatucky really came to the fore this season, while we got some hilarious plotlines like Piper setting up a covert used panty business for online weirdos and Crazy Eyes writing sci-fi based erotica that becomes a hit amongst the prisoners and some of the guards. Can’t wait for season 4!

4. Game of Thrones Season 5: It might have been Thrones weakest season since season 2, but people were unduly harsh on Season 5. Based on two of the slowest books in the saga (including Feast of Crows, which is almost indisputably the worst GOT book), it did (in my view) a fine job of condensing two novels into 10 episodes, and gave us the stunning Hardhome battle sequence in the bargain. The Jon Snow storyline never put a foot wrong, Tyrion and Daenerys meeting was a delight, while Stannis and Sansa’s storylines contained some surprises even book readers weren’t prepared for. Yes the sand snakes were disappointing and Arya’s storyline didn’t really go anywhere, but overall I liked this season, even if it wasn’t the show at its best.

3. The Americans Season 3: Arguably the most consistent show on TV, it’s hard to name a bad episode of spy drama the Americans. For those of you unaware it focuses in on two soviet spies who have integrated into US society in the 1980’s, whose neighbours, co-workers and kids are unaware of their true nature. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are excellent as the couple in question, who have to wrestle with several new problems this season: the prospect of revealing their true identities to their increasingly suspicious teenage daughter Paige, one of their informants realising their identity, Elizabeth (Russell) being told her mother back in Russia is dying and Philip (Rhys) grappling with an assignment to seduce the teenage daughter of a CIA director, which he is in no way comfortable doing. Its a very morally grey show (as you are essentially rooting for the bad guys even if they believe what they are doing is right) that continues to please.

2. The Flash (Season 1, Part 2/Season 2 Part 1): Overshadowing its parent show in its first year? Impressive. Yes Arrow was suffering from its weakest series (though it has since improved), but Flash blew it out of the water, and has been the better of the two throughout two half series late this year as well. It’s core cast of Barry, Cisco, Joe and Caitlin work exceedingly well together, and while it was touch and go for a while season 2 has managed to prevent Iris becoming another Laurel and has massively improved her character. It’s had some great villains (which Arrow was lacking till Damien Darhk showed up) backed some terrific performances from Tom Cavanagh (Harrison Wells), Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold), Liam McIntyre (Weather Wizard) and best of all, Mark Hamill (The Trickster). Can’t wait till it restarts in January.

1. Doctor Who Series 9: Out of the 9 shows that were in contention for this list, this is the only British one, and I was glad to see how well it did this year. The best series of the show since its revival (and hence possibly its strongest ever) series 9 had no misfires and a marvellous 3 part finale, including Heaven Sent, which may just be one of the best episodes in the series 52 year history. For every episode, I know someone who would argue it was the highlight of the series (or at least the 2nd best after Heaven Sent!). Capaldi and Coleman were fabulous throughout, with the various directors, showrunner Moffat and composer Murray Gold all delivering as well. As for guest stars, the highlight has to be Maisie Williams. I’ve devoted a few articles to this show so I won’t go into too much more detail, but for me, series 9 was an absolute knockout!

Honourable mentions go to House of Cards, Arrow, Gotham and Homeland, which all narrowly missed out, though I enjoyed watching all of them.

I won’t do a top 5 films (I haven’t seen enough of them this year to really judge) though Force Awakens, Mockingjay Part 2, Spectre, Jurassic World and Ant-Man would have all been in contention. I might do a top 5 games, I’ll see how easy it is to write one.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

The Force Awakens starring Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Mark Hamill.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING!

Easily the most anticipated movie of the decade so far, this was always going to be momentous, whether it succeeded or failed. Thankfully, it wasn’t another Phantom Menace. It was true to the spirit of the original trilogy, even if it felt very different under J.J. Abrams. It wasn’t perfect, but it was immensely enjoyable.

It introduces a new cast: loner scavenger Rey (a brilliant Daisy Ridley), remorseful former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, who demonstrates a talent for being comic relief without being C3PO or Jar-Jar levels of annoying), skilled pilot Poe Dameron (a fun but underused Oscar Isaac – maybe X:Men Apocalypse cut into his filming schedule) and Adam Driver as villain Kylo Ren (who while being similar to both Anakin in the prequels and Vader in the Originals avoids straying too close to either). Out of the newbies, it is Ridley and Driver who impress the most (Rey is easily one of the best characters in the series, while Kylo Ren has a lot of potential and is easily a cut above villains like Dooku, Grievous and isn’t underused like Maul or Boba Fett). The new robot, BB8, is fortunately more of a cute R2 than another irritating droid like 3PO.

The original cast are back as well, though due to how much the script tries to cram into 2h 15m some favourites like Luke and R2 have only fleeting appearances (leading to a more substantial role in XIII and IX?). Its Han Solo and Chewbacca that get the lion’s share of the material here, arguably its the best of Chewy’s 5 appearances so far, so credit to Peter Mayhew and the scriptwriter for making a character with untranslated dialogue so likeable (amusing how he and R2 are more treasured than most of the characters we can actually understand!). It was fun seeing cameos from some of the minor characters like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nub (Lando’s co-pilot from Return of the Jedi) as well as a C3PO that isn’t on screen for too long (and hence isn’t as annoying as usual).

Abrams seems to have a talent for making good sci-fi movies. But he’s yet to make a great one (and while Force Awakens is no different, thankfully he tones down the use of lense flares this time!). The feel of the film is understandably different without Lucas at the helm and instead feels like a Star Wars film in the Abrams Star Trek style (and John Williams’ score, while having familiar elements is markedly different from previous films). The tone is different as well, with far more humour than previous instalments – mostly resulting from the banter between Poe, Finn, Rey and Han. None of this is a bad thing. Like ‘Into Darkness’ though, the film seems heavily reliant on a previous film in the series, in this case a New Hope rather than ‘The Wrath of Khan’. The similarities are obvious enough that I don’t need to list them, but the film stops just short of going into remake territory. The film’s different enough that this isn’t as overly irritating as it must have been to trekkies in Into Darkness.

It avoids the prequels’ error of underusing its main villain (though some of the supporting villains like Gwen Chrisitie’s Captain Phasma are woefully underused) and the revelation that Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son adds a welcome dimension to the interactions between the heroes and villains (similar to the way the ‘I am your father’ twist turned Luke and Vader’s confrontation on its head). Adam Driver is a definite improvement on Hayden Christensen (though he looks far less threatening without the mask). The lightsaber fights between Finn and Ren and then Rey and Ren are both believable and fun to watch as well.

The film does leave a lot of questions and loose ends that need answering though. Who is Rey? Who is Snoke and how did the First Order become so powerful again? What has Luke been doing the whole time? Why did Ben Solo turn to the Dark Side and who exactly are the Knights of Ren? I know people don’t like long films, but I feel a extra 15 mins to explain the origins of some of the characters or what happened in the 30 years between this and Return of the Jedi might have been helpful.

Now for the one major spoiler I’ve deliberately left till the end of the review. I had a feeling we’d lose a major character from the originals during this film (it kind of had to happen so there was a genuine feeling of danger – plus every first film in a trilogy has killed off a major character i.e. Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan) and it became increasingly clear that it was either going to be Han or Chewbecca here. Thank god it wasn’t Chewy, I’m not sure the fans would have coped with that (would have been Jon Snow all over again – we don’t need any more internet mourning this year!) and while it wasn’t an overly dramatic exit, it felt a fitting one (Han trying to do the right thing and facing the fight rather than running from it was always part of his character). Harrison Ford originally asked Lucas to kill Han off in Return of the Jedi, so I’m guessing he might have had some involvement with the decision to kill his character off here. I’ll miss him, but the stakes for Episode VIII feel a lot greater with him gone.

Overall, it was exciting, enjoyable and an excellent start to a fresh trilogy. Better than episodes 1 and 2 and on par/slightly better than 6, it’s not the best Star Wars film, but its definitely a good one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Star Wars: Battlefront Review

This game surprised me. We all thought the same things after it was announced: It looks amazing! But why no campaign? Why no prequels? Limited Single Player? Too much DLC? Bloody EA. But the naysayers and sceptics were wrong. This might not be the Star Wars game we wanted, but by hell, it’s the one we need!

EA have nailed it. The multiplayer is up there with the best I’ve played. If even a mostly single player gamer like me likes this game, they’ve done it right. It appeals to both the gamer and fanboy (or fangirl) within you. Even the training missions are a joy – racing speeders through the forests of Endor, taking down AT-AT walkers on Hoth or exterminating rebels as Vader and the Emperor, I had a lot of fun on them.

The single player is divided into 3 categories: 5 training missions, 8 battles (basically single player deathmatches as either normal troops or heroes) and 4 survival games (where you have to hold out against 15 waves of enemies as either a lone rebel or a pair). This might not sound like much, but thanks to 3 difficulty settings (Normal, Hard and Master – and Hard is challenging solo, Master you basically need two players!) it would take you a while to complete these.

The game currently has 5 planets (several maps for each one) though more may be on the way through DLC. These include Endor, Hoth and Tatooine from the Original Trilogy, Sullust (a volcanic planet from the Expanded Universe – apparently it’s where the rebels stole the Death Star Plans or something) and Jakku from Force Awakens. Hopefully future DLC might give us places like Coruscant, Geonosis or Mustafar from the prequels (those maps were great on Battlefront 2!).

I mentioned Heroes, and there are six you can play as in game, 3 for the rebels (Luke, Leia and Han Solo) and 3 for the empire (Vader, the Emperor and Boba Fett). While in Battlefront 2 Luke and Vader would have been the heroes of choice, here the others more than hold their own. This is best demonstrated in the Heroes vs Villains mode online, where you have two teams of six (three heroes that don’t respawn) and the side that wipes out the opposing teams heroes wins. You might expect Luke or Vader to survive the longest because of their ability to deflect enemy fire with lightsabers, but frequently its Leia, The Emperor or Boba Fett that are the last ones standing because of the special abilities they are granted (and Boba’s Jetpack makes him very difficult to pin down!). Han Solo isn’t bad either – in one match where I spawned as him I managed to gun down both Vader and the Emperor at close range (though Boba then shot me in the back). Another mode they appear in is ‘Hero Hunt’ where 1 player from 8 is selected as a hero, the other 7 have to kill them, and whichever player does becomes the new hero (and thus can rake up kills on the weaker normal troops).

Other online modes include Drop Zone (where both teams race to capture 5 escape pods that spawn in random places on the map), Droid Run (where teams have to try and capture 3 moving droids – the team that controls all 3 at once wins), Blast (standard team deathmatch), Cargo (basically a capture the flag mode) and Walker Assault (where the Rebels attempt to destroy 2 enemy Walkers while the Imperials attempt to overrun the Rebels position – whoever succeeds first wins). There’s also an aerial combat mode (X-Wings and A-Wings for the Rebels, TIE Fighters and Interceptors for the Imperials) which is very easy to get to grips with as two teams of online players and CPU opponents duke it out above the ground maps (the best players get to fly either the Millennium Falcon or Slave I (Boba Fett’s Ship), both of which give you a substantial advantage. There’s a supremacy mode which throws together everything from Ground combat, Heroes and Space and its utter chaos – I’d recommend levelling up on other modes before trying it!

While the game may lack a few features I’d have liked to see included, what’s there is excellent – hopefully the DLC can maintain the quality!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Review: Star Wars Episodes 1-6

Before the Awakening… It’s true. All of it. Hayden Christensen. Jar-Jar. The Special Editions. But we love them anyway, and here’s my thoughts on episodes 1-6.

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.

Don’t expect an entirely serious review here, its more a collection of my thoughts and some mild raging at certain fans. I love these films, even though they’re all flawed (yes even the originals – can you honestly tell me the dialogue is any better in those? And the bad guys can’t hit anything in any of them!). This is somewhat of a defence of the prequels (especially Episode 3) but don’t worry, I’ll happily admit 4,5 and 6 are better than 1 and 2. Just not as much as all the original purists make out. To get it out of the way, I’ll start with Phantom Menace…

The Phantom Menace

We all know this is the weakest one. A few argue that Attack of the Clones is worse but its hard to agree with that. But is it a bad film? Admittedly it helps if you watch it first rather than after the originals – low expectations help! It has several redeeming features – the pod race section, Darth Maul, Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) but for every cool moment there’s a uncomfortably racist alien portrayal, awful Jar-Jar ‘comedy’ moment or dull council meeting. Darth Maul is underused and Jake Lloyd is far from the best child actor, but Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor give good performances and the action sequences are mostly engaging. It’s a game of two halves – thus while its not terrible its definitely ‘average’.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones fixes a lot of Phantom Menace’s problems. There’s far more action to balance out the dull scenes and the final battle as a whole works better (even if the lightsaber fight doesn’t match Maul vs. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan). Lucas focuses less on set-up and more on getting things moving, which helps immeasurably. We finally see an action set-piece involving lots of Jedi, and a lightsaber fight with Yoda, two things we’d waited 5 films to see. It still has some major flaws though (truly terrible dialogue between Anakin and Padme, an underused villain again in Count Dooku) the young actor playing Boba Fett is awful and then there’s Hayden Christensen. To be fair, given Jake Lloyd’s performance in 1, Christensen keeps it consistent, but is far too whiny and obnoxious. He isn’t bad in the action scenes or when interacting with Obi-Wan, but when requiring emotional responses to Padme or his Mother his performance falls off a cliff. I blame Lucas 75% though, he writes Anakin so poorly, with such bad dialogue, any actor would struggle with him. The rest of the film, however, hangs together quite well. I really liked it as a kid and I still do now, so I’ll be generous and give it…

Rating: 4 out of 5

Revenge of the Sith

Its normally considered the best of the prequels. The fanbase seems pretty divided on whether it lives up to the original trilogy but personally i’d argue it does. The stakes are higher, the plot is more streamlined and Hayden Christensen’s performance isn’t anywhere near as bad as last time (though it wobbles a few times – but I’d be tempted to blame some of the abysmal dialogue he’s given in places). John Williams also delivers what is arguably his best score for the series (just listen to ‘Battle of the Heroes’, ‘Enter Lord Vader’ or ‘Anakin’s Betrayal’ – its a brilliant soundtrack). The first half is good, but from Order 66 onwards the film kicks up a gear and doesn’t falter from that point on. I could go on but sod it, yes its flawed, it isn’t clever and the dialogue is weak in places but its damn entertaining. I bloody love it and i’m giving it a 5/5 regardless of what any original trilogy purists might say (STFU and just enjoy the movie guys!).

Rating: 5 out of 5!

A New Hope

Iconic. Epic. The two words most commonly used to describe this film. And it’s really, really good. But there are some flaws. The first half hour is pretty dull (C3PO can be very annoying) and Mark Hamill’s performance isn’t great in the early sections (he can be almost as whiny as Hayden Christensen for the first hour!) but he gets much better as the film progresses. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford give assured performances, while Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan) and James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) give superb supporting action (if a pretty crap lightsaber duel). The final attack on the Death Star has a strong case for best scene in any of the films.

If only George Lucas hadn’t messed with it – the special edition throws in a load of unwanted, poorly rendered, pointless CGI animals filling up EVERY INCH OF THE DAMN SCREEN!!!!  But despite Lucas’ best efforts, this is still a classic. And btw, Han shot first.

Rating: 5 out of 5! (Special Edition Rating 4.5/5. F**k you Lucas).

The Empire Strikes Back

Some call this the best one. I can see why. It focuses on character, the acting is hard to fault and the sections on Hoth and Bespin are pretty damn good. Plus we get a good lightsaber fight between Luke and Vader, as well as the reveal that shakes up the original trilogy. But its not my favourite, mainly because the Yoda scenes on Dagobah are too drawn out (yes I know its necessary and there are some great lines of dialogue in those scenes, but it really kills the film’s momentum – did Yoda really have to hide his identity for 15 mins?). That aside, it is a very, very good film that gives Darth Vader some welcome extra screen time and introduces Boba Fett and the Emperor. Hell, even the special edition doesn’t particularly damage it (normalising the emperors appearance is a genuine improvement).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (both Normal and Special Editions)

Return of the Jedi

To think there was a time when this was considered the worst Star Wars film (suffering from disappointing Part 3 syndrome). It is hardly Phantom Menace level, but its easy to see why a lot of critics say 3,4 and 5 are better. Its story is very drawn out (Family Guy re-told it in about 40 mins and the plot still hung together) and the Ewoks defeating the stormtroopers isn’t exactly believable. However the Ewoks aren’t Jar-Jar and Gungans level of annoying, which helps immensely. Repeating the Death Star idea twice in three films could have been disastrous, but it works well enough here. A satisfying finale (until now) to the saga, but not a great one.

I’m more forgiving of special edition changes in this one, inserting Naboo and Corusant into the Victory celebration montage makes sense, while replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen doesn’t annoy me.

Rating: 4 out of 5 for both Normal and Special Editions. (It’s better than Attack of the Clones, but I like both about the same amount hence the same rating.)

There you have it. Where will Force Awakens fit in? Well, early reviews seem promising so fingers crossed, I’ll probably have one up by next week (I’m seeing it on Monday). May The Force Be With You.

Mockingjay Part 2 Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Liam Hemsworth

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS!

Let the 76th hunger games begin…

This two part finale felt justified. It avoided the Harry Potter pitfall of having a much weaker part 1 which didn’t build to much of an ending (mainly because Mockingjay had an obvious cliffhanger mid book that Deathly Hallows lacked) while also avoiding the Hobbit’s mistake of wringing too much running time from a single book. Unlike the first two films, Mockingjay doesn’t cut anything from the book – which both works in its favour and against it. I liked Part 1 (I gave it 4.5 out of 5 last year) and part 2 maintains the same kind of quality in its scripting, direction, acting and soundtrack. So rather than review all that again I’m going to say what I thought they adapted well and what I thought could have been better.

Before we get to the crux of the finale, there’s a short bit attacking the capitol’s forces in District 2 (featuring Brienne of Tarth/ I mean Gwendoline Christie as the rebel commander there), and Finnick’s wedding to Annie in District 13. Both bits are pretty faithful to the books and both worked well. The film really kicks off when Katniss joins a squad of rebel soldiers in the capitol, including Boggs, Finnick, Gale, Cressida, Castor, Pollux and a still fragile Peeta, determined to assassinate Snow herself. The only problem is that the city is littered with both peacekeepers and pods containing various Hunger Games style death-traps, one of which kills Boggs, leading Katniss to assume command of the squad. Afterwards comes the best section of the film, where while sneaking through the underground sewers to avoid the peacekeeepers, Katniss and the others are ambushed by mutts, this time creepy lizard-human zombie like creatures hissing ‘Katniss’ which cut down most of Katniss’ team, including Finnick. The scene did a good job of making it look like one of the main characters was going to die, and Finnick’s death is definitely the most emotional scene in the film – they got that bit perfect. Shame they didn’t get the second major death scene right – Prim’s death should have been both devastating and shocking  – but it just fell a bit flat. The ending itself is true to the book, with Snow’s execution and Katniss and Peeta’s reunion hitting all the right notes – but I can’t help but feel it would have flowed better if they’d cut the 7 tributes voting on a symbolic hunger games – because like with the book the ending is slightly too drawn out.

Overall an emotional, tense conclusion to the Hunger Games series – not quite up to the standard of Catching Fire due to its underwhelming ending but nevertheless its a very, very good film.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Next film I’ll cover will be Force Awakens at the end of the week – I’ll probably do a series review of episodes 1-6 first.