Category Archives: Top Tens

My Top 10 TV shows of 2019

Here’s my annual top ten list of the shows which have most impressed and captivated me this year. As is becoming increasingly common, a lot of them come from Netflix, but not all.

As usual, I will keep the spoilers to a minimum – only oblique references to events, no details included.

10: His Dark Materials, Series 1: With a fantastic cast, His Dark Materials succeeded where the Golden Compass failed and did justice to the first book of Philip Pullman’s renowned trilogy. Dafne Keen proved, just like she did in Logan, that she’s arguably the best young actress out there at the moment (perhaps only rivalled by Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown). Backed up by great turns from Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, His Dark Materials takes a few episodes to get going but eventually starts delivering great hours of TV, particularly episodes ‘the daemon-cages’ and ‘betrayal’ which was one of the best series finale’s I’ve seen in a while. It’s decision to bring forward elements of book 2 does slow things down a bit too much, but ultimately means that series 2 should hit the ground running. Can’t wait for it!

Rating: 4 out of 5

9: The Grand Tour, Series 3: The Grand Tour’s third outing (and final one – only specials from this point onwards) is by far its best. Its standout episodes involve Clarkson, Hammond and May building their own RV’s in America, going Wildlife Photographing in Colombia and, most memorably, building an off-road vehicle and driving across the great empty expanse of Mongolia. While not flawless, the series made several positive steps, including better use of test driver Abby, more reliance on natural rather than scripted humour and more diverse topics during episodes. There’s the occasional bit of naff banter or an overly scripted segment, but overall i’d happily rewatch most of these episodes again, which I couldn’t necessarily say about series 1 and 2. As the last run which will feature power tests, studio audiences, and the studio setup itself, it feels like Clarkson, Hammond and May ended things on a high. I’ll check out future specials, but if this was indeed the last full series for the trio, it was a fitting one.

Rating: 4 out of 5

8: Killing Eve: Series 2: Killing Eve might be the next spy drama I get hooked on, now that the Americans has finished and Homeland is winding down. Its superb leads Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are very compelling, flawed characters who its easy to root for. Their increasingly will they, won’t they relationship and mutual obsession makes for great television, even if series 2 perhaps gets a bit too bogged down by the emotional side of things – the plot isn’t as good as series 1’s, even if the characters are just as gripping. Quality varies between episodes, but overall series 2 was a good follow up, if a slight step back in quality, but with a new showrunner taking the reins in series 3, I’m definitely excited to see where Villanelle and Eve go from here… assuming they survive each other’s company that is…

Rating: 4 out of 5

7: Orange is the New Black, Season 7: Orange is the New Black may have increasingly split fan opinion since Season 5, but I’ve always found it to be an enjoyable, consistent Netflix series. Focusing on some issues we haven’t seen before (dealing with such difficult topics as FGM, treatment of illegal immigrants in the US, dementia etc.) it remains a hard hitting drama. There were plenty of lighter moments to balance out the seriousness, and new characters to complement the old. Ultimately I can’t say this season was a perfect send-off, but it was a good one which did justice to its characters and tied things up well, and didn’t cop out and give everyone an unrealistic happy ending (3 things a far more high profile TV show failed to do this year…). Orange is the New Black has always had one of the best ensemble casts on Netflix, and remains one of the best female-led shows you’re likely to have seen, with particularly good work from Taylor Schilling, Taryn Manning and Natasha Lyonne – though if you asked, I wouldn’t pick out a single weak link amongst the wider cast. The highest compliment I can give this show is that I’ll miss it now that its gone, but I’m glad it ended on a relative high.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6: Black Mirror, Season 5: Despite only having a three episode run this year, Black Mirror remained a highlight, as all three episodes were of very high quality, if not the very best that the series is capable of producing. Starring such talent as Anthony Mackie, Andrew Scott and, bizarrely, Miley Cyrus, all three have a star quality feel to them, but remain grounded as lesser known talents round out the casts in all three cases. All touch on different issues, from the possibilities of advanced VR to the tragic side effects of social media to auto-tuning and exploitation in the music industry. Striking Vipers and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too are quite easy to watch despite a couple of darker scenes, while those after the classic Black Mirror tension and sting in the tail should check out Smithereens – which features a masterclass in acting from a mentally tortured Andrew Scott. After the disappointing Bandersnatch, this was a timely return to form for Black Mirror, and I can’t wait to see what season 6 has in store, whether it comes with 3 episodes or 6. Hopefully Netflix doesn’t make us wait too long.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: Swamp Thing, Season 1: Swamp Thing was unjustly cancelled before episode 2 had even aired, which is both baffling and a crying shame, as its pilot was the best I’ve ever seen from DC, and the first season as a whole was a cut above the arrowverse’s recent efforts. Crystal Reed is excellent as lead character Dr. Abby Arcane, who gets drawn back to her hometown to investigate a viral outbreak, only to become increasingly tangled in local criminal machinations and the supernatural events occurring in the swamp, where she encounters the titular character. Swamp Thing himself is wonderfully realised onscreen and while the action scenes aren’t as common as you might expect, they are very strong when they occur. A darker tale than most superhero shows, this is definitely geared more towards adults rather than CW’s shows are, while its shorter episode count works wonders – there’s very little padding here, though perhaps 1 or 2 subplots could have been streamlined slightly. Overall I was very impressed, and disappointed that we probably won’t get a resolution to some of the cliffhangers the show ended on. But if you have Amazon Prime, I’d highly recommend checking it out anyway!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

4: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3: The third and final season was leaps and bounds ahead of the first two. Freed from the need to play a different version of Count Olaf in disguise every story, Neil Patrick Harris is better than ever here, while Esme and Carmelita are fabulous supporting villains. The episodes reduced runtimes also do the show a massive favour – whereas some installments in seasons 1 and 2 felt padded and stretched, everything feels tight and pacey here. Given the plots of books 10-13 all vary far more than 1-9, it feels like every story is its own special – not just variations on a recurring theme like the stories in the first two seasons. The show also adds flashbacks which fill in some of the gaps in the books narrative and show some of the events leading to VFD’s schism, which I found utterly enthralling. Overall, the show ended on a real high, which given its slow start, was quite impressive.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5:

3: Jessica Jones, Season 3: Jessica Jones’ third season is arguably the best of the three, with a stronger villain than season 2 and better pacing than season 1. The new characters are interesting, Jessica’s development goes in a different direction than before and Trish, Malcolm and Jeri get good material for their individual arcs. The direction and writing are as good as ever and while the main villain is less flamboyant than David Tennant’s Kilgrave, he’s far creepier and challenges Jessica in different ways. Trish arc’s is what the season hinges on, as her conflict with Jessica varies between reluctant cooperation and open hostility between the two, with the series good at keeping you guessing which way things will go till the last 3 episodes. Overall, it’s my favourite superhero show from this year, just edging out Swamp Thing.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Crown, Season 3: The latest series of the Crown switches out most of the main cast, but remains as compelling as ever. Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies and Helena Bonham Carter nail the roles of Elizabeth, Philip and Margaret just as well as their predecessors. It has a very strong run of episodes in the early part of the season, until ‘Moondust’ which is quite dull, but the only damp squib in the 10 episode runtime. The new cast-members playing Charles, Anne and Prime Minister Harold Wilson are all superb additions and steal the show at times, and left me eager to see how the show will handle Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom will have key roles in Season 4. The show visually looks as good as ever, with excellent direction, location filming and editing. The new composer perhaps isn’t quite as good as his predecessor, but still does a solid job. Series Highlights include the Margaret’s visit to America, the Royal Family and the Government reacting to the Aberfan tragedy (which I must admit I knew nothing about previously) and Charles being sent to study in Wales and learn the language and history. This might just be the best of the three seasons so far. Keep it up!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Fleabag, Series 2: I wasn’t hugely enthralled by Fleabag’s first series, which started well but had an underwhelming second half. Nevertheless I decided to give S2 a go, and the premiere blew my socks off. Andrew Scott’s sweary, charismatic (and according to most women who’ve seen it, extremely hot) priest was just the addition needed to bring the best out of the existing cast, who all perform extremely well. Funnier and a touch more upbeat than series 1, this was great from start to finish, mostly due to Waller-Bridge’s performance and excellent writing. At a time when classic BBC series like Doctor Who and Top Gear have completely lost their appeal, it’s nice to know the national broadcaster can still sometimes produce the goods. Though that may just be because Waller-Bridge is working with them. For god’s sake BBC, don’t you dare lose her! Or the licence fee might as well be scrapped. But, thinking positively, this is the first time since 2015 that a British TV show has topped this list, so that’s an encouraging sign. Hopefully Waller-Bridge’s input reaps similar rewards for the upcoming James Bond film…

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Shows which narrowly missed out on this list included Big Mouth (lacked cohesion), Stranger Things (too light hearted), Game of Thrones (too divisive + weak finale), The Witcher (confusing timelines + boring Ciri plotline), Gotham (inconsistent) and iZombie (could’ve ended more strongly).

Best Actor: Henry Cavill (Geralt of Rivia – The Witcher)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (The Priest – Fleabag)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Villanelle – Killing Eve)

Best Young Actor:  Lewin Lloyd (Roger – His Dark Materials)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Lyra – His Dark Materials)

Best Ensemble Cast: The Crown

Best Hero: Jessica Jones (Played by Krysten Ritter)

Best Villain: Lex Luthor (Played by Jon Cryer)

Best Direction: The Crown

Best Writer: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Special Effects: Game of Thrones

Best Composer: Lorne Balfe (His Dark Materials)

Best Soundtrack: The Long Night (Ramin Dwajadi – Game of Thrones)

Best New Theme Tune: His Dark Materials (Lorne Balfe)

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best Episode: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Bryan Cogman – Game of Thrones)

Best Scene: The Hound vs. The Mountain (Game of Thrones – The Bells)

Best Finale: Fleabag – Episode 6:

Next Up: You’ve had my film, video games and TV picks for the year, now it time for my thoughts on the best the past decade has had to offer…

Starting with my top ten films of the decade! Featuring Superhero smackdowns, cerebral character studies and fierce competition between the hits of DC and Marvel, hope you all check it out. Should be up in the next 3 days, depending on hangover status.

 

 

My Favourite Video Games of 2019

As people familiar with my end of year blogs will know, my top video games list always features a mix of games from the year in question and the couple of years preceding it. My reasoning? No one can play every game the year its released – even if you had the money, you’d probably lack the time and vice versa. All gamers buy releases and don’t get round to them for a while, myself included. So I always highlight recent games that have had as large an impression on me as current ones this year.

Hope you enjoy my highlights of the best games I’ve been playing this year. Most are releases from the previous couple of years, but that’s mainly due to my sustained (if futile) attempts to get through my backlog of games.

6: The Council (2018): The Council is an odd one. Its a story led game which sees you interacting with famous historical figures such as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, all of whom are part of a mysterious ‘council’ secretly manipulating the direction of Western society in the late 18th century. Set on an isolated island owned by the mysterious Lord Mortimer, you’re tasked with not only navigating political intrigue, but also finding your missing mother and deducing the identity of a murderer at large. Playing main character as Louis de Richet, you gain experience which can help you unravel clues, decode ciphers, persuade others to assist you or enable you to retrieve items from hard to reach areas. You can develop Louis as an Occultist, Diplomat or Detective style character, each with their own benefits and drawbacks i.e. detectives will notice things other styles won’t, but might be unable to persuade important figures to reveal crucial information the way a diplomat can. You can mix and match talents, but this will often leave you struggling to maximise your abilities. The game is a mix of mystery, puzzles, diplomacy and, especially later on, supernatural elements which really turn things on their head in episode 4 of 5. While initially an episodic release, its all available as one now, and has considerable replay value. If you love story-driven games, I would whole-heartedly recommend this. Some puzzles can get frustrating, but persevere. And try not to screw up, lest Louis loses a hand. Or worse.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5: GreedFall (2019): GreedFall was a conspicuous attempt to fill in for the lack of Mass Effect/Dragon Age games at the moment. With Bioware’s star diminished after the mixed response to Andromeda, the critical mauling of Anthem and the seemingly never ending wait for Dragon Age 4, Spiders bravely stepped into the breach with this back to basics, pseudo-colonial fantasy RPG. Colonial era settings are somewhat rarer than medieval inspired ones in RPG’s, but Spiders did a good job here of imagining a plausible fantasy world where gun-wielding colonists come into conflict with magically skilled natives. You have complete freedom in how you approach things – you can side with the natives, the colonial powers or try to build some kind of accord between the various factions. While the game is geared towards finding diplomatic solutions to things, there’s no clear cut best way to handle things, with extremist factions amongst the natives and family ties to the colonists blurring the lines between where your loyalties should lie. Combat isn’t hugely in depth: you have choice about whether you play as a magic user, expert swordsman/woman, or gun-wielding trap expert, or indeed a combination, but there are only 6 or so abilities per style. Enemies do present a welcome challenge even on normal (I would not recommend Hard difficulty on first playthrough, that’s for sure) with a mix of humans, natives and creatures providing different problems to deal with. There are some limitations due to the small size of the company producing the game (invisible barriers, area exploration rather than open world environments etc.) but it has more to offer in terms of content than say the base version of fallout 4. Overall this is kind of a barebones Bioware game – you get 5 companions, 4 of which are romanceable – but it gets more right than wrong. You can craft and upgrade gear, choose between using stealth, diplomacy and combat and resolve missions in a variety of ways. A bit slow and talky for some people, but overall, a good first effort from a company with way, way less resources than the companies its trying to emulate.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: F1 2019: F1 games have now made this list 4 years running, mainly because they have been slowly refining what was already a very good game in F1 2016. The 2019 version makes the interview mechanic more bearable, wet weather more challenging and enables AI driver swaps between teams to make it feel more immersive and ensure you aren’t constantly competing with the same 2 drivers over multiple seasons. Its main additions however, are a Formula 2 mode, where the cars feel slower but are much easier to control, and two invented drivers who serve as rivals to your one in campaign mode – both of which help make career mode feel like more of a journey rather than just a co-ordinated set of races. As usual, it isn’t worth a full price upgrade from 2018, but if its on sale, it adds enough that you should check it out.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3: Modern Warfare Remastered (2016): It’s very rare for me to go 3 years back on this list, but since Modern Warfare Remastered came out free on PS PLUS in March, I checked it out. While the multiplayer has been slightly revamped with classes and new modes, the single-player and maps are all the same, just with better graphics. The campaign still ranks as one of the best in the Call of Duty Pantheon (and I’ve played through 4 this year with Black Ops 3, Infinite Warfare and the new Modern Warfare – none came close to this original) with famous highlights like the stealth mission in Pripyat, the AC-130 gunner sim, the cargo ship raid more vivid than ever in HD. But the main draw for downloading this was the multiplayer, which crushes games like COD:WW2 into the dirt. The maps, including classics like Shipment, Vacant and Showdown are very good and allow most playstyles to have a pretty even difficulty (snipers can’t dominate too easily, while campers are easy to flush out or outflank). The old-school killstreaks, limited to UAV, airstrike and helicopters, leave things way more balanced than in more recent COD games, and being on the worse team isn’t always a death sentence for strong players. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting this now, as the player base is likely to fall off a cliff with the rebooted Modern Warfare’s release, but its good enough to make my games of the year nonetheless.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Total War: Warhammer II (2017): Now I finally have a PC capable of running it, I’ve put some serious hours into Warhammer 2, and I can safely say that its the best Total War game of the past decade – perhaps the first since Medieval 2 that I can see myself putting hundreds of hours into. With 4 main races you get to play as Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven (sneaky, untrustworthy ratmen with a genius for artillery) while DLC adds the pirate factions of the Vampire Coast and the Egyptian inspired Undead hordes of the Tomb Kings. The sheer variety of units, artillery, magic users and monsters make this, like its predecessor, immensely fun during battles, while the campaign design has been greatly improved, making this both easier to get into that Warhammer 1, and more involving during the middle part of the game: whether you’re scouting ruins for treasure, performing rituals or fighting quest battles, you’ll rarely just be spamming the end turn button. The Mortal Empires campaign, available for people who own both Warhammer 1 and 2, is a great addition, as many of the original factions have been revamped in the sequel and play better than ever. Overall, its still perhaps not the best TW game for newcomers, but for series veterans its a must have. Be sure to get the Tomb Kings DLC – they are one of the coolest factions I can remember playing as!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Spyro: Reignited Trilogy (2018): The Spyro trilogy was originally released on PS1, hence remastering it to play and look as good as modern games was a Herculean task. Fortunately, the developers proved equal to it – all three games are brilliantly recreated. Whether you’ve played the originals or not, this will be entertaining – every level and enemy has been lovingly remade, with a host of collectables to find, and platforming and combat challenges aplenty. Difficulty varies from level to level and boss fight to boss fight – you might initially think its a cakewalk geared at kids – halfway through you won’t think that – getting to 100% completion will take serious work, as will earning all the skill points and trophies – these games really reward full exploration. All 3 games bring something different to the table too, with different mini-games, enemies and mechanics – it’s hard to pick which ones best to be honest – 2 was the hardest to get into but had a superb 2nd half. As someone who never played the originals, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this remaster works and the trilogy – sold as one item (which is a great deal as you’re getting tons of hours for not much money) – was very high quality. Overall, while some elements are a bit frustrating or simple, its easy the most fun I’ve had gaming this year, so tops my list.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Feel free to comment your own lists – there’s plenty that could have been here – I’ve elaborated on some glaring omissions below for those who are curious.

There are plenty of games I’ve played from this year (Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Catherine Full Body) that I felt weren’t quite good enough to get on this list.

There were also some I’ve started playing but haven’t put enough hours into to recommend yet, such as Control, Borderlands 3, Modern Warfare and Rage 2 – expect to see some of them on next years list (particularly Control and Rage 2).

There’s also plenty I still haven’t got round to, like Devil May Cry V, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Jedi Fallen Order – again, you’ll probably see them on a future list if they live up to their reputation.

If you enjoyed this, keep an eye out for my upcoming post: My Top 20 games of the decade – featuring my favourite games from 2010-2019 on PS3, PS4 and PC, which i’ll upload in the next few days, along with similar lists for Film and TV.

But before that: tomorrow will see my Top 10 TV shows of 2019 – which features some shows I’ve never put on that list before – see you all then.

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Books and Authors

For the second part of my 5 year anniversary of this blog, I thought i’d give an overview of my top 5 books and authors. I don’t review novels that often on this blog, so I felt this was long overdue.

Contains no spoilers for the books mentioned other than brief plot or genre overviews.

Top 5 Authors:

5: Dan Brown: Dan Brown’s work can be divisive, but you can’t deny the success of his Robert Langdon novels (or his other works such as Digital Fortress or Deception Point). The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and Inferno are great romps with satisfying plot twists and hunts through glamorous locations like Paris, Rome and Venice. While Origin and The Lost Symbol fail to match up, all were engrossing first-time reads and whenever one of Brown’s new books comes out, I take notice, so he gets the fifth spot on this list.

4: Rick Riordan: Riordan’s works are mainly geared towards teenagers, but as a classist I can’t help but love his fiction focusing on modern day adventures of Greek and Roman demigods. Awash with humour, pop-culture references and characters who are easy to root for, his Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series are excellent ways to encourage younger readers to learn about Greek and Roman mythology, while his entertaining style makes them a joy for all ages. He takes a couple of books to really hit his stride, but once he does, he delivers really consistently.

3: George R.R. Martin: While I haven’t sampled his other series, Martin makes this list solely for his Game of Thrones related work – there’s very little that matches the sheer scope and scale of his world-building, gargantuan casts of characters or detail-rich prose. If the man wasn’t so damn slow at finishing his ‘magnum opus’, he might be a bit higher on this list. Nevertheless, there’s a reason his books inspired one of the most successful TV series of all-time – one that could never hope to match the complexity of the original novels.

2: Simon Scarrow: Scarrow is a master of military focused historical-fiction. Whether its his long running ‘Eagles of the Empire’ series focusing on two Roman soldiers or his 4-part series contrasting the careers of Wellington and Napoleon, his works are always engaging. Scarrow’s knowledge of military tactics and structures helps create believable narratives and conflicts, and has written stories with settings as varied as Ancient Britain, Imperial India and WW2 Greece. There’s no better writer of military fiction.

1: Robert Harris: Harris rarely fails to deliver. His Cicero trilogy is a sublime piece of historical fiction that eschews more famous Romans like Caesar and Pompey in favour of focusing on one of the greatest orators who ever lived and presenting a compelling tale of his strengths, failures, flaws and triumphs. The variety of his work is notable – novels have focused on Chamberlain’s dealings with Hitler prior to WW2, a fictional papal election, and most memorably a murder investigation in Germany in an alternate history where the Nazi’s won WW2. Harris is a prolific writer who can turn his hands to many a setting, and in my opinion is the best of the authors whose work I follow closely.

Top 5 Books:

5: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin: Containing the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Daenerys’ conquest of Slaver’s Bay, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance and Jaime and Brienne’s journey to King’s Landing, this 3rd entry in the Song of Ice and Fire series is still the undisputed highlight, with compelling twists, great character development and a great overall story. Martin has yet to better this, but then again it would take one hell of a book to do so.

4: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn: Zahn is one of the most established and beloved Star Wars novelists – his work in the 90’s helped sustain interest in the series while it was off-screen, mainly due to his ‘Thrawn Trilogy’, which Heir to the Empire is Book 1 of. The Thrawn trilogy is no longer canon after Disney brought the franchise, but to be honest the three novels (and the two-part Hand of Thrawn which follows it) make for a far better follow up to Return of the Jedi than Force Awakens and Last Jedi. Set 5 Years after the Emperor and Vader’s deaths, Heir to the Empire focuses on Luke, Leia and Han’s efforts to protect the fledging New Republic from a resurgent Imperial Remnant led by the tactical and strategic genius Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn is arguably the most popular Star Wars character created in the novels, primarily because he’s a villain who isn’t a Sith Lord but presents a real threat to the heroes. This first entry is my favourite Star Wars novel, simply because it presents a believable follow to Return of the Jedi and presents the Empire in a more nuanced way that simply being evil for evil’s sake.

3: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: The Harry Potter books are still a good read as an adult, and Half-Blood Prince was always my favourite of the 7. While the film wasn’t as good, the book shines with a lighter tone to balance out the increasingly dark plot, greater emphasis on Dumbledore than previous books and significant revelations that set up the final book perfectly. If I’m feeling Nostalgic, this is still one of the first books I’ll turn to.

2: The Generals by Simon Scarrow: Scarrow’s four-part tale of Napoleon and Wellington is at its apex in this second entry, which follows both men as they begin to forge their careers in earnest and win great successes in Italy, Egypt and India. Napoleon’s story is definitely a shade more compelling, but Wellington’s tougher journey to the top still has dramatic value. A great piece of military fiction – if you’re interested in the Napoleonic Era, this is a must read.

1: Inferno by Dan Brown: Inferno’s mix of hellish imagery, Dante’s Inferno influences and over-population fears combine to create Brown’s best novel, and the one I’ll probably return to most often. I won’t claim its the best book ever written (Langdon’s amnesia is a lazy plot device, even if it works wonders) but its arguably my favourite and one I will happily pick up again and again. A real page-turner, this isn’t a book you will find easy to turn down. Pity the film adaptation was so weak and disjointed by comparison. Please don’t get put off if you’ve seen the film but not read this – its got far more depth and its ending plays out completely differently.

Hope you’re enjoying this series, I’ll be back tomorrow with my Top 5 PC Games and Game Developers. See you all then.

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Racing and Shooting Games

It’s five years ago this week that I started this blog, way back in 2014. To mark this, i’ll be doing a week long series of Top 5 lists, with topics ranging from gaming to tv to films and books.

Hope you all enjoy it – not sure how much longer I will keep doing this blog, depends if post views improve or not, but either way I’ll make the most of it for the rest of 2019.

Without further ado, here’s my top 5 racing and shooting games (feel free to disagree, as with any list of this type, its subjective).

Top 5 Racing Games: (Pure racing games only – excludes games like GTA which have racing but are mainly focused on other things)

5: Motorstorm (PS3) Motorstorm was the first racer I brought on PS3. The fact I still play it speaks volumes about its quality. Races in Motorstorm games are utter carnage, with vehicles ranging from Bikes to Trucks crashing through circuits set in Monument Valley, which range from deserts to mudpools to huge, massive cliffs. Still very fun, with player needing to finish in the top 3 to gain points and progress, which isn’t easy. While its sequels, Pacific Rift and Apocalypse have their moments, the first one is still my favourite. If it had split screen, it would be perfect.

4: Onrush (PS4) Onrush is an unusual racer in that of its four main modes, there’s none which requires you to cross a finish line first. Instead the modes (which are all team-based, both online and off) have targets of wrecking opponents, crossing checkpoints, capturing mobile zones and scoring more points via wrecks, overtakes and reaching new top speeds. The game actively will sling you back into the action if you fall too far behind, so its easy to pick up, but hard to master. This also means there’s few cheating or balancing issues online, making it one of the most balanced multiplayer racers I’ve played. With bikes, buggies, cars and trucks available, there’s something for everything. This is Motorstorm evolved.

3: F1 2018 (PS4) F1 games have come a long way. The first one I played in ’06 was pretty hopeless, but since 2016 the series has peaked to the point where each new release is merely a case of refinement rather than revolution. With every circuit, car and team lovingly recreated and an AI difficulty and assist system which gives you total control over how realistic and challenging you want the sim to be, this is an extremely accessible racer, if not one that will win you over if you aren’t an F1 fan. Fortunately, race length and rules are easily customisable, while mid-race saving makes full-length races genuinely possible. Only weak driver models and a pointless interview mechanic hold it back. 2019’s version adds a few tweaks, but the two are of very similar quality.

2: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3) This is still the best single-player racer I’ve ever played – its lack of a split screen mode is all that hold it back from the top spot on this list. Playing either as a racer or a cop, you compete in various events, such as time trials, duels, races, interceptors and hot pursuits. All are fun – time trials are challenging because of the penalty for collisions, duels and races can really test your abilities to manage boosts and use shortcuts, but the most fun has to be hot pursuits. Both racer and cop cars are outfitted with weaponry and gadgets to use to either takedown the opposition or evade them. This includes spike strips, EMP’s, jammers, turbos and in the police’s case, the ability to call in roadblocks or helicopters. There’s a huge range of cars too, particularly with the three dlc packs, which add a host of faster cars such as Lamborghinis, Porsches and the mightily fast Bugatti Veyron.

1: Mario Kart (Wii) It had to be. I got into Mario Kart a bit late, but ever since, I’ve absolutely loved it. There’s no better split screen racer out there. The Wii version had to win (later versions have all been disappointing slow or bland) with plenty of great tracks, including Grumble Volcano, Maple Treeway and one of the best Rainbow Roads in the series. The single player mode is a lot of fun, with mirror mode being hard to master initially, but the games core is split screen with your mates. I’ve had some epic battles on this thing, whether doing a series of 4 race grand prix or the absolutely mental option of doing a 32 race marathon with Items switched onto frantic. You’ll have some great memories from playing this game, whether its the first time you dodge a blue shell, recovering from 12th to gain an unlikely win or hitting a friend with a fake item box on the final corner of rainbow road [sorry Oscar ;)] you’ll have a great time – if you put the effort it. In my experience, people are either great at this game or hopeless, so your only problem will be finding a balanced group to play with.

Top 5 Shooting Games: (Again, these are all shooting-focused games  – games like Uncharted and Mass Effect have shooting, but its hardly the main point or appeal of them so I’m not counting them for this category).

5. Borderlands 2 [PS4] The best ‘loot shooter’ I’ve ever played, Borderlands poses a genuine challenge but throws in a memorable story, compelling villain and hilarious side-quests to distract from the occasional frustration. It’s ‘second wind’ mechanic where your character gets fatally injured but has a limited time where they can heal themselves by killing an enemy, is a great way of rewarding aggression. Its vast range of weapons (Shotguns, Snipers, Pistols, RPG’s, Assault Rifles and SMG’s, all with fire, corrosive, shock and explosive variants) prevents things from ever feeling too same-y. With a host of excellent DLC, this is a single player or co-op shooter that you could sink well over 100 hours into. For a shooter without competitive multiplayer, that’s a lot of bang for your buck.

4. Resistance 2 [PS3] The resistance trilogy were PS exclusives that (briefly) proved a rival to more established shooters like COD, Battlefield and Killzone. The first and third games had more of a horror-shooter vibe to them, but Resistance 2 doubles down on fun weaponry, huge boss fights and wacky sci-fi gadgets to deliver a memorable campaign, a great 8 player co-op mode and a chaotic but memorable competitive multiplayer. Alas, the player base ran out a few years back, but its still one of the best shooters I’ve played, and if the PS5 ever includes a remake, reboot or remaster of these games, i’ll be sure to check it out.

3. Star Wars: Battlefront (2015) [PS4] The game may have its detractors for its lack of a good singleplayer mode or campaign, but frankly, this was the most fun multiplayer I’ve experienced on PS4, and was a damn sight more satisfying than its more ambitious sequel. Focused solely on the original trilogy, the game lovingly recreates battlegrounds on Yavin, Hoth, Tatooine and (if you buy the DLC) places like Bespin, the Death Star and Scarif (from Rogue One). While not all its modes were great, there were so many of them you were bound to find one you liked (my favourites where capture-the-flag-esque Cargo mode and Heroes vs. Villains, which pitted Luke, Leia and Han against Vader, The Emperor and Boba Fett, with more characters like Lando and Chewy being added via DLC). Having sunk a lot of hours into this game, it had to get a spot on this list, but its back-to-basics approach for the series limits it to 3rd place.

2. Bioshock 2 [PS3/PS4] Bioshock was one of the most consistent gaming trilogies. The settings (an unwater metropolis and a city in the sky), characters (including Andrew Ryan and Sofia Lamb, two of the best villains in gaming) and plasmids/vigors (which give you abilities to hurl fireballs, unleash swarms of bees or crows, freeze enemies in ice and hurl enemy missiles and grenades back at them, just to name a few). At its heart though, its a shooting game, just one with an unusual amount of depth (pun intended). Bioshock 2 may be the least innovative of the 3, but its still my favourite, mainly because of how fun the combat is (though its still a decent challenge on normal and hard). Dual-wielding guns and plasmids gives you a host of combat options (the guns include a rocket launcher, shotgun, speargun and heavy machinegun, with a mechanical drill for melee). All can be upgraded and have multiple ammo types, so most playstyles are viable.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [PS3] I didn’t expect 4 of these 5 to be the 2nd game in a trilogy, but clearly that’s where gaming keeps hitting the sweet spot. Modern Warfare 2 takes everything that was good about Call of Duty 4 and makes it bigger. Adding touches like thermal scopes, airdrops, chopper gunners and nukes made the multiplayer insane at times, but the maps were brilliant and the challenges fun to pursue. It all introduced the Special Ops mode, which to be honest has never (yet) been bettered as a series of co-op COD challenges. The campaign is equally strong, and had some serious balls to simulate a realistic conflict between the United States and Russia. With a soundtrack by HANS FUCKING ZIMMER, this game had some serious atmosphere and kick-ass music which really ramped up the intensity of the gunfights. Sure, there were a few balancing issues and OP perks, but there’s very few multiplayer shooters where that isn’t the case. If the servers on PS3 weren’t hopelessly hacked, I’d still be playing it today.

Hope you enjoyed, feel free to comment your own lists below.

My Top Video Games of 2018

As usual, this list is compromised of favourite video games that I’ve played in 2018. I should say this doesn’t mean only video games that were released in 2018. I normally also throw in a couple from the last few years that I’ve just got around to. It doesn’t include every game that’s been a hit in 2018 either (I haven’t really played enough of Spider-Man to have an opinion of it yet, nor have I got Red Dead Redemption 2). Equally there are plenty of games which I’m just not interested in (Black Ops, Fortnite, FIFA etc.) so don’t expect to see them here.

7. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Odyssey is easily the best Assassin’s Creed game in a long time. The combat finally feels fluid, the game looks amazing and Ancient Greece is a really interesting setting. You can finally choose the lead (either Kassandra or Alexios. But I’ll save you time – choose Kassandra) and the game is now pretty much a full on RPG with a revised skill tree, better weapon/crafting systems and the ability to not only choose dialogue but even romance/flirt with NPC’s. Naval combat is back too, with a fully-upgradeable ship again. Unfortunately, the game’s still not perfect. The approach to in-game quests is unfortunately one of quantity over quality – there’s actually too much to do in a single playthrough, but the problem is that the quests tend to be quite repetitive – go to this location and wipe out this bandit camp, fetch this item from this location etc. while the setting and characters make a fair few of the quests memorable, I doubt you’ll remember even half of them by the end of the game. Ultimately, it’s a beautiful game world and the gameplay is a definite improvement on Origins, but I must say, Origins handled side quests better and had a more involving main questline. On the plus side, Kassandra is possibly the best lead we’ve had in the series – yes, including Ezio.

Rating: 4 out of 5

6. Onrush: Onrush isn’t so much a racing game as a full vehicular combat sim. For example, it has four different event types, none of which have a finish line you need to cross first. The game is far more unique than that. Instead, you gain points for boosting, rushing, jumping, performing tricks and wrecking opponents. If you fall behind the pack, the game simply respawns you back into the action, so there’s never a need to restart a match. It has four event types: Overdrive (two teams compete to earn a higher score), Countdown (teams race through gates, each of which adds time to their clock until one team runs out of time), Switch (each player starts with three lives, first team to run out of lives loses – but everyone you lose a life you switch to a tougher vehicle, and once you’ve lost all three you switch to the mega-tough trucks and must hunt down the enemy team) and Lockdown, where teams must compete to capture moving zones. They’re all great fun, and fans of Motorstorm games in particular will love it. Best of all – if you have PS Plus, you can get it for free right now as its one of the monthly giveaway games!

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Titanfall 2: The only entry from 2017 on this list, I picked up Titanfall 2 for £4!!! Best buy I’ve made all year. Sure its campaign may be relatively short, but this is a far better shooter than COD or Battlefield games have ever been, and it has a good story to boot! Set in the future, there’s a mix of high-tech weapons for you to play around with, but the main draw for this game is the ability to control a titan – a hulking robotic weapons frame that seriously gives you an edge in combat, which can be upgraded with a wide variety of weapons. Before you buy tat like Black Ops IV or overpriced releases like Battlefield V, give this a shout. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Hitman 2 (2018) I’ve really got into Hitman games this year. First off I completed Hitman Absolution on PS3 (which I’ve been meaning to get round to for years) and enjoyed it quite a lot, so I thought I’d give the 2016 sandbox a look. I loved it over the summer, and happily picked up this year’s sequel once it was on sale. Not only does Hitman 2 give you 6 new areas to play around in and plan/improvise your assassinations (the most memorable of which include a slum in Mumbai, an expo park + racetrack in Miami and a medieval castle on a French island) but it also throws in legacy additions of Hitman 2016’s levels for anyone who already owns that game. Given that Hitman 2 has really improved the graphics and the shooting mechanics, this is extremely welcome. The game gives you a ridiculous amount of freedom in how to assassinate your various targets (please take note Assassin’s Creed) and whether your weapon of choice is a sniper rifle, explosives, poison, silenced pistols or 47’s signature garrotte, you’ll still stumble across some incredibly inventive ways to complete your mission (the standouts so far have been throwing a drug dealer down a mineshaft, locking a ruthless businesswoman in a medieval spiked effigy and subtly manoeuvring your targets out in the open to help a rival assassin execute them with a sniper rifle). You’ll need patience, and often things will go dramatically wrong and you’ll have to improvise, but perfectly your strategies if half the fun here. Best Hitman game ever, if not one that is particularly revolutionary.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. F1 2018: F1’s simulation games have got stronger year on year since 2016, and this year was no exception. The addition of ERS management added another degree of difficulty to racing, while the rain and car damage effects feel more realistic than ever before. The R&D mechanics have been streamlined and it now feels legitimately possible to turn a middle-field car into a frontrunner over a few seasons. There’s still the odd niggle (driver AI could be slightly better when there’s several cars following close behind each other) and the interviews are overused, but to be honest, given how much freedom you have to scale back or disable parts of the sim you aren’t interested in, any problems are mildly inconvenient rather than consistently irritating. As a bonus, the number of classic cars you can drive in the championships mode and time trials has gone up too. Its a refinement of F1 2017 rather than a huge leap forward, but ultimately, its the best F1 game on the market, and is well worth the upgrade.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Detroit: Become Human: Made by the creators of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human is set in 2038, where androids have become an integral part of human society, but, predictably, are starting to rebel against their servile situation and become ‘deviants’ outside human control. The game follows three very different strands which cross over with each other at various points. First off, there’s Kara, an android housekeeper charged with protecting a young girl called Alice, who becomes a deviant to defy her owner: Alice’s abusive father, Todd. The two then must go on the run together. The second story follows Markus, a prototype android who initially has a pleasant existence tending to his pleasant human owner, Carl, but then sees the callous disregard other humans have for androids and begins encouraging them to rise up against their creators.  Finally, there’s investigative android Connor, who’s paired with a human detective called Hank and assigned to investigate the cause of android deviancy. The amount of choice the game gives you is staggering – as is the number of places you can screw up, especially on harder difficulty. All three of the lead characters can be killed if you make the wrong choices, and the way the game ends can vary markedly depending on your choices. Markus can either lead a peaceful protest against humanity or a violent revolt, while Connor can either obey his programming and hunt Markus down or become a deviant himself. Kara and Alice may escape together or one or both of them may die depending on the choices you make. As is usual for story-driven games, the gameplay is mainly focused on quick-time events, but its the story where this really shines – there’s tons of replay value here and trust me, even though the ideas here are very common sci-fi tropes, they’re done so well you will get sucked into the setting.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1. God of War (2018): Kratos is back, only this time he had Norse Gods and monsters to contend with rather than Greek. Moving from a bloody hack-and-slash to a violent RPG was a bold move for the series, but boy did it pay off. The gameplay is wonderful, with players either utilizing Kratos’ Leviathan Axe (which works a lot like Thor’s Hammer) or his more traditional Blades of Chaos to dispatch enemies. The game world is absolutely beautiful and epic in scope – not only can you explore a sizeable area, but you get chances to explore several of the ‘nine realms’ of Norse mythology including Muspelheim (Realm of Fire) and Helheim (Realm of the Dead). Combat is challenging on normal but not inaccessible to either newcomers or existing fans of the series. There’s a vast range of enemies, ranging from undead to giants to the awesomely powerful (and crucially, optional bosses) Valkyries. You’ll need to switch up your strategy for a lot of enemies, with good tactics and timing more important than button mashing. But its the story where this really shines, as Kratos struggles to deal with his wife’s death while trying to be a good father to his son, Atreus and fending off attacks from various Norse monsters and Gods, including two very irritating sons of Thor. It’s been a good year for gaming (especially on PS4) but nothing could outdo this. A stone cold classic.

Rating: 5 out of 5

My Game Awards:

Best Looking Game: Titanfall 2

Best Level Design: Hitman 2

Best Story: God of War

Best Combat: God of War

Best Hero: Markus (Detroit: Become Human)

Best Villain: Baldur (God of War)

Best Soundtrack: Detroit: Become Human

Best Character (Female): Kassandra (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey)

Best Character (Male): Connor (Detroit: Become Human)

I won’t do any ‘Worst’ awards because I haven’t played any particularly bad games this year. Just assume they’d all go to Fallout 76 and Bethesda. Congrats guys. You managed to temporarily replace EA as gaming’s signature villain. Good job. You’re second only to Doctor Who’s Chris Chibnall in not listening to what the fanbase wants.

Overall though, it has been a fantastic year for gaming, with numerous classics and good instalments from long-running franchises. If your still messing around with COD and Fifa… wake up people. There’s far, FAR better things to spend your money on. Finally, if you’re a Xbox gamer… you have my sympathy – because the amount you’ve missed out on the past few years isn’t even funny anymore (God of War, Spiderman, Detroit: Become Human, Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us…) no amount of console loyalty is worth that. Microsoft better buck up their ideas – because Sony is killing it right now!

Anyway, that’s it, my last blog post of 2018. Thank you all for reading and subscribing in what’s (just about) been a record breaking year for this blog.

Have a happy new year everyone. I’ll be back in 2019!

The Best and Worst TV of 2018

So, after films, we’re onto TV. I’m not going to run through all the stuff I’ve seen for this one, mainly because I’ve not caught up with a lot of US TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, so I can only review half the episodes from this year. Bear in mind I’ve not seen some of the best received stuff this year (The Bodyguard, A Very English Scandal etc.) so this is basely solely off what I’ve seen and is my opinion, not a definitive list! Feel free to comment your own best/worst shows below.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Top Five:

1. The Americans (Season 6) – The best way to some up the quality of this sublime spy drama set in the cold war is as follows: even if Game of Thrones absolutely nails Season 8 next year with battle scenes above Lord of the Rings intensity and standard, I’ll probably still name The Americans as the TV show of the Decade. It’s been that good. It’s had 5 great seasons and 1 that was merely good, but that’s still a better hit rate than any other six season show I can think of. I’ve given perhaps one episode in its entire run 3.5/5. Everything else has been 4/5 or (usually) even higher. The final season somehow managed to ramp things up a gear while still remaining the slow burning tense classic its always been. Not only did it use the masterstroke of having lead KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth on opposite sides for most of the season, but we finally saw FBI agent Stan Beeman close in on them, leading to an electrifyingly tense and devastating finale, as the Jennings finally had to face the consequences of their actions. It didn’t tie up all lose ends, but this show has always been too clever for that. After all, how many spy operations do you think have a definite, clean ending? Either way, it was utterly unmissable television, and while its one for the connoisseur rather than the mainstream, it still seems a shame that most people still haven’t had a chance to see it.

2. I’m a Celebrity (UK Series 18) – I’m not normally one for reality TV, but this had such a good line-up that I just had to give it a go. I do like I’m a celeb, but usually they have truly detestable celebs on there, like Katie Price or Gemma Collins, so I’ve avoided it for the past few years. This year though, has to be the best run the shows ever had in the UK. Not only did we have Harry Redknapp turning himself into a true national treasure with his stories, but we had Anne Hegerty battling against the odds to overcome some deep personal challenges. The show was largely heart-warming because everyone there was genuinely pleasant for the most part. Even Noel Edmonds, who you could tell was only brought in to stir things up, proved to be a pretty nice guy for most of the run. Even more surprisingly, the celebs were all very good at the trials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many full houses of stars! Though admittedly, they were amusingly awful at the dingo dollar challenges. The best thing of all though, had to be the cute friendship between John Barrowman (who had a song for every occasion) and Emily Atack (who was adorably cute and mischievous). If 2018 needed something, it was definitely this series, which for a few blissful weeks almost made you forget about Trump and the mess being made of Brexit.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 6) It may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it was still Netflix’s top effort this year. Throwing all the inmates into maximum security really allowed the show to mix this up with a tenser atmosphere and some new inmates and guards. With the usual mix of comedy, dark storylines and romance (including some very surprising pairings – who’d have thought 5 years ago that Caputo and Fig would be the easiest couple on the show to root for?). ‘Badison’ made one of the show’s most detestable villains in years (probably the nastiest one since Vee in season 2) and the shows closer focus on some of the characters really allowed them to shine more than normal (Daya, Freida and Nicky in particular). Ultimately, it could have had a better overall plotline, but its set the stage for the final season well enough to scrape into my top 3.

4. Big Mouth (Season 2) Easily the funniest show on Netflix at the moment, Big Mouth is a hilarious send up of puberty that only an animated show could get away with (for obvious reasons). It has its share of family guy-esque gross out comedy and your typical teenage awkward humour, but what makes this unique is the fact it takes time to focus on both genders difficulties (usually these kind of comedies only go with one or the other) and actively personifies those awkward, stupid teenage impulses in the form of ‘hormone monsters’ who actively encourage the characters to ask each other out or to do any number of stupid things, usually with hilariously destructive or embarrassing results. It may sound ridiculous, but its worth a shot and will probably have you poking fun at your own awkward teenage experiences subconsciously – while answering all the questions you’d wished you’d had answers to ten years ago. 

5. Jessica Jones (Season 2) Despite the lack of a signature villain to rival David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Jessica Jones managed to be the most compelling superhero show this year (bearing in mind that I don’t watch Daredevil). Krysten Ritter remains one of the best actresses in Netflix’s employ, and Jessica’s self-destructive tendencies remained firmly in sight this year, particularly with Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth all having various crises of their own around her. Trish really became one of the most hateable characters on TV this series, and whether season 3 pulls off one hell of a redemption story or has her go full villain it’ll be interesting to see. The icing on the cake though, had to be Jessica’s Kilgrave hallucinations in episode 11. It was great to have David Tennant back even for just one episode, and having him play the devil on Jessica’s shoulder was a stroke of genius! Sure the first episode wasn’t great and it was still 2 or so episodes too long, but overall the series was less padded than arrow verse shows, more interesting than Luke Cage and less ridiculous than Gotham or Black Lightning.

Bottom Three:

3. Lost in Space (Netflix) – Netflix’s Lost in Space remake looked amazing, but felt hollow. It was billed as old-fashioned sci-fi, and to be honest that’s what it felt like. It was an adventure with plenty of threat and peril, but little substance or innovation. The cast worked well for the most part, even if Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith was an underwhelming villain. It was well directed and had good special effects, but ultimately, it was a very forgettable ride. Netflix can do a lot better.

2. Doctor Who Series 11 (BBC One) – Oh god, where to start with this one. How to ruin a 50+ year old show in one series? The most miscast actress possible in the title role? How to lose all the shows’ hardcore fans in a single series and achieve an audience score of 28% (and FALLING!) on Rotten Tomatoes? This isn’t Doctor Who. Its a Politically Correct Nightmare of ham-fisted dialogue, woeful villains, weak companions and patronising themes. Chris Chibnall shows his mishandling of Torchwood Series 1 and 2 was no accident – he’s even worse here. Bradley Walsh is the sole redeeming factor, but he can’t save this mess by himself. If you get past episode 5 without giving up, you’re probably a masochist or someone who’s never seen the show before. Utterly dire.

1. Britannia (Sky) – This is one mindf*ck of a show. Set during the Roman Invasion of Britain, it features a heavy emphasis on the Celts’ reaction to the Roman threat and the druids’ influence over the Britons. It has an all star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Morrissey and Ian MacDiarmid, but its just so weird. The plot makes no sense, the supernatural elements feel decidedly out of place, the theme music is dire and some episodes are a real slog to get through. You might be intrigued by it initially, but honestly don’t bother. Its a total waste of your time.

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Keri Russell (The Americans)

Best Supporting Actor: Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage)

Best Supporting Actress: Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black)

Best Special Effects: Lost in Space

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best TV Show: The Americans

Best Episode: The Americans – Dead Hand

Best Writing: The Americans

Best Soundtrack: The Americans

Best Theme Tune: Big Mouth

Best Direction: The Americans

Best on-screen pair: Emily Atack and John Barrowman (I’m a celebrity)

Best Hero – Jessica Jones

Best Villain – Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

Worst Hero: The 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

Worst Villain Tzim-Shaue/Tim Shaw (Doctor Who)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lee Kaas (Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actor: Tosin Cole (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Parker Posey (Lost in Space)

Worst Writing: Chris Chibnall (Doctor Who)

Worst Episode: Britannia – Episode 7

Worst Soundtrack: Britannia

Worst TV Show: Britannia

 

Best and Worst Films of 2018

This is a run-through of all the films I have watched that were released this year – and a quick comment about each one, plus the rating I would give it. Films are ordered from worst to best. Needless to say, this isn’t a definitive list – there’s various films I haven’t seen this year (Aquaman, Venom, Into the Spider-verse etc.) but it includes all the ones I have managed to catch – either in cinemas or on Amazon/Netflix.

The Death of Stalin: I expected better from Armando Iannucci. I really can’t work out this film’s intended audience or why critics loved it so much. Its not funny enough to be a comedy, not cutting enough to be a satire and not believable enough to be historically accurate. The thing is wonderfully shot and well-directed, but ultimately that isn’t a big comfort. The cast by and large try their best, but Jeffrey Tambor is a total waste of space and the whole thing is just dull and uncomfortable.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: You know, after watching this, I’m glad Star Wars fired Colin Trevorrow. The film is pretty much your standard B-Movie: entertaining, but utterly ridiculous and so, SO STUPID in places. Still not the worst Jurassic Park Sequel (III will always be the series nadir – at least you’d hope so) but it came close. Its cast keep things watchable and the special effects are good, but the villains are way too cartoonish, the script laughable and the direction flat. Talk about a fall from grace.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Deadpool 2: Oh dear. I really wanted to like this one. In places, it’s up their with the first movie. Josh Brolin is great as cable and Zazie Beetz perfect if underused as Domino. But the rest of the cast are not on form – Firefist is a very forgettable villain, Morena Baccarin is wasted in a thankless and predictable role and TJ Miller is still the biggest waste of space in acting. It makes an effort to have a less predictable (if still cliched) plot than the first movie, but isn’t anywhere near as funny. The action sequences are better, but honestly, I’m not sure I’ll bother with the inevitable third film.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Slaughterhouse Rulez: The latest Pegg/Frost film gives the duo less screen time than normal, but the young cast by and large make up for it, particularly the wonderful Asa Butterfield. The script isn’t their best, but its still involving and funnier than some of their previous efforts (looking at you World’s End) if nowhere near their best work (Paul and Hot Fuzz).

Rating: 3 out of 5

Solo: A Star Wars Story: Once it stops pandering to its intended audience with on-the-nose fan service, this actually becomes quite an involving heist/action film. The cast are good value and the direction and soundtrack work well, but ultimately, it’s all a bit too predictable and lightweight. Alden does the impossible in actually playing Han Solo in a way that feels plausible but not a parody of Harrison Ford. Donald Glover nails Lando (who really should have been the main star in a spin-off) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a nice role as a comedic, rebellious droid companion of Lando’s.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: An entertaining if convoluted film. The cast all perform well, but the variable direction and an overpacked script let things down a bit. Depp and Jude Law are the standouts as Grindelwald and Dumbledore, and the final act is worth waiting for. Not bad by any means, but not one of JK’s best either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Black Panther: A milestone for cinema, but a very overrated one. While the script was quite good, its execution could have been a lot better. With a forgettable soundtrack, predictable plotline and some of the worst CGI we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film, Black Panther was entertaining and thought-provoking, but nowhere near the classic some reviewers seem to have tried to frame it as.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tomb Raider: While this didn’t prove video game films are good, it did prove they aren’t universally terrible. Alicia Vikander is perfect in the role of Lara Croft, and the film is well-structed and shot beautifully. That said, the script isn’t the most original, and the dialogue could definitely be better in places. Still a pleasant surprise though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Avengers: Infinity War: Probably the most ambitious superhero film ever made, Infinity War is a bombastic crowd pleaser that mixes Marvel’s first truly great villain Thanos with tons of fan-service and excellent action sequences. Its still a Marvel film though, and pulls its punches too much and is hampered by very much being ‘part 1’ of 2, whatever the film’s title says.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Incredibles 2: It doesn’t match the original, but boy, they gave it a good go. Incredibles 2 features some of the best animation I’ve seen in a long time, and is a very engaging, slick ride. Its humour is on-point throughout, and while the villain doesn’t match Syndrome, the films plot and script have few flaws. Very entertaining stuff.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Top of the pile again? Ant-man remains the best and most undervalued of Marvel’s franchises, with this funny, heartfelt sequel. Like the original, it takes 45 minutes to really get going, but once it gets there, its utterly brilliant. Paul Rudd remains an extremely likeable lead, and Evangeline Lilly is ever bit his equal. The villains aren’t that memorable, but for once, I didn’t really care.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Overall, I think its fair to say this hasn’t been a classic year for cinema. Most films I’ve seen have been underwhelming or distinctly average. The rule of increasingly inferior sequels has definitely reared its head again (aside from the odd exception like Avengers and Ant-Man). Here’s hoping for better in 2019. To finish off, here’s my awards for the standout actors, actresses, soundtracks and direction from films this year.

My Film Awards 2018:

Best Actor: Josh Brolin (Thanos/Cable)

Best Actress: Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider)

Best Supporting Actor: Asa Butterfield (Slaughterhouse Rulez)

Best Supporting Actress: Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Best Animated Film: Incredibles 2

Best Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Best Script: Black Panther

Best Director: Ron Howard (Solo: A Star Wars Story)

Best Special Effects: Infinity War

Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)

Best Hero: Iron Man

Best Villain: Thanos

Worst Actor: Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

Worst Actress: Amber Heard (Aquaman) – I haven’t seen this yet, but given her performance in the trailer, it seems like a sure fire bet. Also – I couldn’t think of anyone in the films I have seen who deserves it.

Worst Supporting Actor: TJ Miller (Deadpool 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool 2)

Worst Film: The Death of Stalin

Worst Script: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Worst Director: David Leitch (Deadpool 2)

Worst Special Effects: Black Panther

Worst Soundtrack: Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)

Coming up next, my look at 2018’s TV highs and lows before I sign off the year with my take on the hit Video Games of 2018.