Category Archives: Top Tens

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I only did a top 5 last year but I felt I’d watched considerably more this time, so a top 10 seemed more appropriate.

Minor spoilers for all shows – no real specifics though, don’t worry.

10. Gotham (Season 2 Part 2/Season 3 Part 1) Gotham has often been considered the problem child of the DC universe – it isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the movies and thus sits awkwardly in the middle. Its tone tends to be wildly uneven – one episode gave us the hilariously OTT ending of Butch blowing up a villain with a Bazooka while another had the incredibly tense sequence where the Mad Hatter forced Jim to choose which of his two love interests was shot. However, this year has seen arguably its best run of episodes yet, with a superb Mr. Freeze origin story, a very sweet romance between the teenage Bruce and Selina, a great main villain in season 3 in the Mad Hatter and the winning combination of Penguin and Riddler, who are arguably the best villains on any superhero show right now. The show has miss-stepped a fair few times (the godawful Gordon in prison episode, two lacklustre season finales) but overall its showing great promise, and the first six episodes of season 3 were simply amazing.

9. The Grand Tour (Series 1) Clarkson, Hammond and May’s return may be a mixed bag of the hilarious and the cringe worthy, but overall its been a very welcome addition as well as the main reason to fork out for Amazon Prime. There’s been a few duff moments (particularly in the second episode ‘Operation Desert Stumble) but overall its given us all of the comedy, cars and catastrophe we wanted. It goes without saying, its completely trounced (and savagely mocked) the travesty/pile of excrement which was the Chris Evans version. Serves the BBC right.

8. IZombie (Season 2 Part 2) Anyone who’s not tried IZombie due to the stupid sounding title should really give it a second thought. The unique plotline it has (Zombies gain temporary memories/personality traits from the brains they eat, which allows main character Liv to solve the murders of people who end up in the morgue she works in) really opens up a wealth of storytelling potential, while also leading to some great comedy (the episodes where Liv eats the brain of an erotic novelist spring to mind, though there’s plenty of others with great comedy from similar ideas). The second half of season two in particular ramps up the drama element as more of the main cast find out about Liv’s true nature and the company that created the Zombie outbreak comes under the spotlight. Roll on season 3!

7. The Great British Bake Off (The final series that anyone will bother watching) Second only to the terrible Top Gear reboot in the list of BBC cock-ups this year was the loss of Bake Off to Channel 4 (seriously, who the fuck will watch it with no Mel, Sue, Mary as well as having to put up with sodding ad-breaks). I may have been a late-comer to the series, but the sheer charm of it all won me over and as it is it’s unofficial swansong, I thought i’d include it in my list. Full of the brilliant Mel/Sue interplay with the contestants, lavish desserts and culinary disasters (Andrew forgetting to put the oven on was hilarious) it also gave us a real character in Selasi (to cool to put into words) contestants who were easy to root for in Andrew and Benjamina and my personal favourite, pout-queen Candice Brown (too sweet for words – simply adored her!). This series was the perfect send off to a teatime treat of a show.

6. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1 Part 2/Season 2 Part 1) The Arrow/Flash spinoff took a few episodes to get going in 2015, but it blew it out of the park in 2016 and surpassed both its parent shows (I sense a pattern emerging – expect Supergirl to be high on this list next year!). The first season gave us a thrilling climax as the team contended with the time masters and Vandal Savage, and the second gave us one of the best supervillain team ups in history as Malcolm Merlyn, the Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk joined forces (Legion of Doom!!!) It also has some of the most colourful characters from the Arrowverse in anti-heroes Snart and Mick (Captain Cold and Heatwave), Captain Rip played by Rory from Doctor Who!! (usually amusingly muttering ‘oh bloody hell…’ as the teams plans fall apart every week) and Sara/White Canary, who continues to be one of my favourite superhero characters (who else can seduce both the Queen of France and girls in Salem in the same episode? Her becoming temporary captain also really gave her character some great material this year. A very silly superhero show, but isn’t that just what we need after 2016?

5. Black Mirror (Series 3) The first of 3 Netflix series in my top 5, Black Mirror’s move from channel 4 to Netflix looks increasingly inspired. Not only has it got rid of ad-breaks and freed up the episodes running time, but increasing the series length to 6 episodes seems to have improved the quality rather than detracted from it. Even weaker episodes like ‘Playtest’ are still worth watching, while there’s some classically dark instalments with clever stings in the tail like ‘Shut Up and Dance’, for those who want more of what series 1 and 2 gave us, as well as new concepts and episode formats. The highlight for me, has to be ‘San Junipero’, sad and heartwarming in equal measure and a very neat sci-fi idea. Overall though, its a sublime run of episodes and well worth your time.

4. Game of Thrones (Season 6) Thrones might not have had a particularly consistent run of episodes (a real slow-burner mid-season with a bit too much padding, particularly in the Arya and King’s Landing storylines) but who cares when it still gave us exactly what we wanted in a kick-ass and explosive finale, a scintillating clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay, Daenerys being awesome for the first time in a while and the sheer horror of the white walkers attack leading to the tearjerking ‘Hold the Door’ moment. If season 7 can keep up the work of episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ or ‘The Winds of Winter’, then we’re sitting pretty for a thrilling penultimate series.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 4) Orange is the New Black has got stronger every season and the fourth series doesn’t buck the trend. Despite being arguably one of the darkest series we’ve had from the scriptwriters, it balanced comedy and tragedy as effectively as ever. Any series that combines tear-jerking mental health plotlines and that horrifying twist at the end of episode 12 with laugh out loud moments such as the unlikeliest threesome probably ever seen on TV (I won’t spoil it, its so much better if you aren’t expecting it) is clearly onto a winner. Well done OITNB, yet again you’ve been one of the Netflix highlights this year. Just not as good as…

2. House of Cards (Season 4) After a mixed third season, House of Cards turned things around and delivered what may be its best season so far. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s acting was first class as always, but this time the writing was on par with their performances as the shows version of the US presidential election provided great drama and plenty of shock narrative twists. The way they utilised characters from previous seasons like ex-president Walker, Lucas Goodwin and Raymond Tusk was both expertly done and a real treat for long-term fans. I’ll credit them for not simply caricaturing Trump and Clinton either, instead giving us Joel Kinnaman’s Republican candidate Will Conway who seems like the ideal potential president, but has weaknesses/flaws that become apparent over the season, and was a far more engaging type of figure for Francis to face off with as he was continually at a PR disadvantage. Bring on season 5!

1.The Americans (Season 4) The most consistent series on television was a stand-out this year as the Russian spy pair/American married couple dealt with more problems than ever before as their lives increasingly teetered on the edge of unravelling. Dylan Baker was the stand-out guest star as a Soviet sympathiser working in an American viral lab, while the main cast was as great as ever, particularly Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Alison Wright. The Jennings had to deal with their daughter’s struggle to accept their true identity, the loss of one of their closest informants and missions they worth becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. A slightly lacklustre season finale aside, it was a flawless run with several shock character exits and plot twists, can’t wait for the final two seasons of this thrilling if slow-burning drama.

Missing out on the list was Arrow (still rebuilding after a so-so year), Flash (ditto, Zoom was the most disappointing villain I’ve seen from DC’s TV universe), Red Dwarf (promising but not back to its best yet) and Jessica Jones (too much padding). There are some shows I haven’t got round to watching yet (Supergirl and Westworld for example) and some I just don’t watch (like Walking Dead).

As for the disappointments of the year, my worst offenders have to be the Chris Evans Top Gear (for obvious reasons – what a TWAT!), Doctor Who spin-off Class (very pointless – even Torchwood Series 1 was less awkward) and Luke Cage, which completely wasted its potential and contrived to make sure whichever style of show you like, you would hate half the season. (Congrats Marvel, you have made something worse than Agents of Shield… can’t you just give us Jessica Jones season 2 already?!)

My TV Awards 2016

Best Actor: Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)/Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Best Supporting Actor: David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Best Supporting Actress: Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black)
Best Episode: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones)
Best Hero: Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain: Ramsay Snow (Game of Thrones)
Best Scripting: The Americans
Best Direction: Black Mirror
Best Soundtrack: Game of Thrones

If you’ve got your own list or disagree with mine, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year!

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My Top 10 film moments of 2016

I’ve missed a few of the major films this year (notably Arrival slipped by me) so instead of doing a top 5 films I’ve instead decided to pick out my favourite moments from films this year, as even the weaker blockbusters like Dawn of Justice had their moments. Enjoy.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One, Major Spoilers for Batman vs Superman.

10. Jacob and Queenie (Fantastic Beasts) While Newt and Tina were the lifeblood of the film, Jacob and Queenie stole every scene they were in and were undoubtedly its soul, and their pairing was both sweet and believable. Jacob’s smile at the end when Queenie strolls into his bakery and seemingly restores his memory is the icing on the cake for arguably two of the best characters JK Rowling has given us. They better be back in the sequels!

9. Wolverine’s Cameo (X:Men Apocalypse) The X-men series is always accused of over-using Wolverine, and somewhat ironically, his best two appearances have now been cameos (him telling Xavier and Magneto to fuck off in First Class and here, where Wolverine’s psychopathic rampage through Stryker’s bunker reminds us of just how badass/terrifying/awesome the character is). Hugh Jackman now is so intrinsically associated with the character I doubt anyone else will be able to play him for a good 20 years (and they shouldn’t, hopefully next year’s Logan is a worthy send-off to both the character and the actor). Anyway, while Apocalypse was a very fun movie, this was the sequence that will stick in my mind the most.

8.Doomsday battle (Dawn of Justice) Doomsday may have had a completely different origin from the comics, but his threat level was actually genuinely impressive for a superhero film in 2016 (he wasn’t easily beaten in 5 mins in a final confrontation – looking at you Enchantress in Suicide Squad and Kaecilius in Doctor Strange!!!) as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman team up to stop him and barely survive… and Superman doesn’t. We all know he’ll be back in some form for Justice League but his heroic sacrifice, backed by Hans Zimmer’s haunting ‘This is My World’ still made this a very emotional moment. Also nice to see a superhero film where not every hero makes it out alive (basically EVERY MARVEL FILM EVER apart from X-men), bold move DC, bold move. Even if the first half of the film was a total mess, you did nail the ending.

7. Inside the Case (Fantastic Beasts) The beasts were appropriately the centrepiece of the film, from the cheeky niffler to the amorous Erumpent to the magnificent Thunderbird, with those and many others stunningly showcased in the heartwarming sequence where Next shows Jacob around the inside of his travelling case where he keeps the animals for their own protection. A very sweet interlude in this loveable film.

6.Vader Returns and Kicks Ass (Rogue One) After the tremendous battle of Scarif sequence, Rogue One could have easily ended as the Death Star opened fire. But it didn’t, instead giving us the best scene with Darth Vader since ‘No, I am your father’. Vader’s first scene in the film where he threatens Krennic was tense/awesome in its own right, but the second is full-on terrifying as Vader is unleashed on a group of rebels and scythes through them with brutal ease. It might be the best 40 seconds of cinema in 2016, hell maybe ever. If it wasn’t so short a scene it would have been much higher up the list, but still, damn that that was awesome!

5. The Fight in the Cistern (Inferno) Inferno may have been a relatively weak film, but was saved by its riveting climax as a betrayed Langdon allies with the WHO to try and stop a viral breakout in a cistern in Istanbul. Hans Zimmer’s superb track ‘Cistern’ really makes this a heart-stopper and the divergence from the book really leaves you with no clue how it will play out as Langdon and co fight with Zobrist’s extremists. Hell of an action scene.

4. Everything K2 does (Rogue One) K2 was easily the best character in Rogue One (not that that was easy or anything) and made the film sassier and more hilarious that I’d have ever expected it would be. His constant deadpan humour and the brutal way he took down imperial soldiers were the icing on the cake in one of the best films of the year.

3. Airport Battle (Captain America: Civil War) Civil War was the best superhero film of the year, and its highlight was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man in a deserted airport, which was both highly amusing and seriously cool. Spidey and Ant-Man arguably stole the show, but every character got a chance to shine even if, as usual with Marvel, there weren’t really any lives at stake here. Still, this was a high point of an excellent film – shame they bottled out on giving it a memorable ending afterwards, but still, perfect popcorn cinema here.

2. Batman takes down Superman (Dawn of Justice) Despite the controversial way the fight ended with the whole ‘Martha’ scene, the fight itself between the two giants of the DC universe was the high point of the film. Batman uses a state of the art battlesuit and some Kryptonite gas-grenades to not only pose a genuine threat to superman, but after a titanic struggle, actually beats him. The whole ‘Man VS God’ thing the film was going for paid off beautifully here, even if the film as a whole still has a wealth of problems, this scene alone was worth it.

1. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One) Wow. Now that is how you do a finale! The battle between the Rebels and the Empire had everything: awesome visuals, high stakes, tension and good direction. An epic way to cap off the first Star Wars spin-off film and without doubt the best sequence in film this year. Well done Gareth Edwards, Felicity Jones et al, this was simply amazing!

I’ve seen a fair few films that don’t have appearances here (Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Doctor Strange etc.) but I couldn’t think of any stand-out moments in those films – they are entertaining throughout, but there aren’t any moments of greatness. Suicide Squad was too poor to merit a place here, and I haven’t seen many other films this year, so there may be some omissions.

My Film Awards 2016:

Best Film: Rogue One
Best Director: Gareth Edwards (Rogue One)
Best Script: Captain America Civil War
Best Special Effects: Doctor Strange
Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Inferno/Rogue One)
Best Actor: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
Best Voice Actor: Alan Tudyk (Rogue One)
Worst Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Actress: Holly Hunter (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Script: Suicide Squad
Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)
Worst Soundtrack: Suicide Squad
Worst Film: Suicide Squad (noticing a pattern here? Well done DC…)

My Top Games of 2016

As with last time, this isn’t specifically 2016 releases but rather games I’ve been playing for the first time this year (though all of them have had recent releases). Spoiler-free.

6. F1 2016 (PS4) Formula One, like FIFA, realises a new game every year. Unlike FIFA fans I don’t waste my money buying every single one (Hell, I’ve only purchased 2010, 2012 and 2016) but F1 2016 got strong reviews and looked amazing, and given the lack of racing games on current-gen consoles atm, I gave it try. Boy was I glad I did. As an F1 Simulator, its all you could ever want, with practice, qualifying and the race all tuneable to your personal preferences (you can use aids like automatic gears and racing lines but they are easily switched off if you want the whole experience). Practice sessions now have a point (unlike previous entries) with 3 optional practice programs/mini-games that help you learn the circuit and earn resource points which you can use to upgrade your car. The random weather effects have never looked better or felt more real either (heavy rain is now genuinely challenging). Another welcome addition is the ability to save mid-session, even while on the racetrack, which makes longer-distance races and realistic qualifying sessions less of a challenge. The only slight problem is the AI difficultly, which can jump between difficultly levels somewhat steeply (particularly between Hard and Expert) but its easy enough to fix by altering the game settings in other areas. Admittedly the racing might seem a bit bland if you’re just looking for a fun racer, but for an f1 fan, its a thrilling recreation of the actual sport. Overall, a great F1 sim, though not one that will win you over if you aren’t a f1 fan already.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Batman: A Telltale Series (PS4) I’ve really got into Telltale games this year (for those who don’t know, they’re basically interactive episodes which play out dependent on the choices you make in game, with the main gameplay usually composed of quick-time events in the action sequences). The Game of Thrones one from 2014 interested me (as life-or-death choices/plot twists work well in that universe) and Tales from the Borderlands was a hilarious 5-episode romping spin-off from the game series. But its their 5-episode Batman tale that ends up in my games of the year, simply because it does something better than ANY of the Batman films (even the Nolan trilogy) in the way it focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Its the best I’ve seen it covered and surprisingly the Bruce segments are in a way more memorable that Batman’s as Bruce gets embroiled in a scandal involving his deceased father’s connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, while supporting Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. The Batman combat segments vary in quality (an early fight with Catwoman is underwhelming, but fights with new villain ‘Lady Arkham’ late game are very tense) and the best combat sequence in the game is actually where Bruce and Selina Kyle get in a downtown bar brawl. The game has Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker (who has a small role but will probably return in the inevitable sequel) in addition to the ‘children of Arkham’ who serve as the main antagonists. A great story makes this the Telltale game to pick if you want to give the series a try. Can’t wait for their Guardians of the Galaxy game next year!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4.Bioshock: The Collection (PS4) We’ve had a fair few remasters this year (Skyrim, The Ezio Collection and Modern Warfare) but the Bioshock Collection has to be the best value of the lot. I brought it to get my hands on the DLC for the third game, Infinite and the collection is simply a delight. Bioshock looks amazing and the sequels are nothing less than cinematic in graphics quality. Several issues involving longer loading screens have been dealt with as well. It doesn’t include 2’s attempt at multiplayer but that’s probably for the best. If you missed this series first time round, don’t repeat that mistake – its a riveting shooter/rpg with a great storyline and superb dlc.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) Uncharted’s fourth entry (and the final one with Nathan Drake) fixed a lot of the problems I had with the third one. The gameplay wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of the story this time, and this time the story was far more engaging. The exploring element factored in some of the Last of Us’ features such as optional conversations and collectable journal entries, adding considerable replay value. The fact this was theoretically a series finale also added much tension to the story, with the incredible graphics and cinematic score from Henry Jackman making this feel like a movie even more than the previous entries did. A few minor problems aside (the final third of the game is slightly too long and the final boss fight isn’t the best – admittedly a problem most uncharted games have) it’s one of the best in the series if not the best. Should they return to the series, it also gives us a new character  suited to carry on the adventures and if they don’t, it gives me even more confidence for the Last of Us 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) Part-reboot, part remake of the first game, Ratchet and Clank was a joy to play. It was sheer fun – the guns are as wacky and varied as ever, while some very memorable missions (collecting brains for a blarg scientist has to be the highlight) are complemented by the insanely good visuals. The film may have been a disappointment but this is one of the best games in the series, even if the difficultly is minimal, you’ll have so much fun playing it that it might just be the best way of relaxing 2016 gave gamers.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

1. Shadow of Mordor: Game of the Year Edition (PS4) Ironically, Shadow of Mordor feels like the best Assassin’s Creed game we’ve had in years. The free-climbing, execution style kills, stealth gameplay etc. all feels like what we loved in games like AC II and Brotherhood, while the Lord of the Rings setting and innovative Nemesis system reals adds another level to things. Melee combat is very similar to the Arkham games (if not a touch better implemented) and the whole game feels like a sublime mesh of those two titanic gaming series. The challenge factor is decent too (though not anywhere as high as something like Dark Souls) as failure is punished by your enemies levelling up, to such an extent that if you bugger things up in the early game restarting isn’t the worst idea. The Nemesis system is particularly punishing, as the Ork who survives the most encounters/kills you most often will continually ascend in rank and power till you dispatch him. The dlc included with the GOTY version is worthwhile, the Beast-Lords campaign, while only a few hours long, adds an enjoyable if more of the same storyline with a few interesting monsters like the wretched Graug and the Ghul Matron adding additional challenges, while the Bright Master dlc fills in some backstory to the events of the main game while bringing Sauron to the forefront as never before. Overall, the main game itself is stellar, and the GOTY edition is a fine addition to your collection. Appropriately enough, Shadow of Mordor is my favourite game that I played this year, and i’d thoroughly recommend it to fans of LoTR, the Arkham Series or Assassin’s Creed!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

2017 hopefully should be a good year for games, with hyped sequels such as Injustice 2 and promising new entries like Vampyr. Personally though, I can’t see past Mass Effect: Andromeda… the game we all need after the last 12 months! If we’re lucky, COD might finally remaster MW2, accepting they can’t do any better. Regardless, should be a promising year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news on when the Last of Us 2 might come out (end of next year if we’re lucky?).

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.

 

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.

 

Top Ten: Arrow and Flash episodes!

DC is winning the TV war atm. Agents of Shield and Agent Carter simply haven’t matched the standards set by Season 2 of Arrow and Season 1 of Flash and with Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow coming soon it’s only likely to get better from DC. To acknowledge this, here’s my top ten Flash/Arrow episodes!

Warning: Some Spoilers!

10. The Odyssey (Arrow Season 1) An episode that focused mainly on flashbacks to Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson joining forces in an attempt to escape from the island of Lian Yu, this remains a stand-out moment of season 1 and the best use of flashbacks on the show to date.

9. Al Saheem (Arrow Season 3) Oliver has turned to the dark side (or has he?) and his friends have to deal with the consequences as the league of Assassins arrives in Starling City to capture Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Nyssa… Excellent for it’s unpredictably and for finally making the Hong Kong flashbacks in season 3 interesting and relevant to the main plot.

8. The Climb (Arrow Season 3) Oliver is forced to confront Ra’s al Ghul atop a mountain peak, leading to a massive cliffhanger… epic, season finale level quality and a great performance from Matt Nable as Ra’s – plus a jaw dropping final 5 minutes.

7. Sacrifice (Arrow Season 1 Finale) The Arrow faces a final battle with the Dark Archer as the undertaking begins and the plot to level part of Starling city nears completion. A shock character death and a last minute twist make this a great finale to cap Arrow’s first season.

6. Rogue Air (Flash Season 1) A mass ensemble of villains escaping and Firestorm, The Arrow and the Flash teaming up against the Reverse Flash? Great performances from Wentworth Miller and Tom Cavangh included. Pure comic-book fan-service but i loved every second of this episode.

5. Unthinkable (Arrow Season 2 Finale) The best finale from all 4 seasons of Arrow and Flash, this contains some great Oliver-Felicity moments, a epic fight in a tunnel with Deathstroke’s super-soldiers, a fun suicide squad cameo and a great flashback to Oliver’s battle with Slade 5 years previously. Everything a finale should have!

4. Out of Time (Flash Season 1) A mid-season episode that was a game changer in every way. A great turn as a villain from Liam McIntyre as Weather Wizard, the best Iris-Barry interaction of the series and THAT scene between Cisco and Dr. Wells… if you had any doubts about Flash’s quality this episode got rid of them permanently.

3. Deathstroke (Arrow Season 2) Arrow’s season 2 was one of the best TV seasons i’ve ever seen – the quality barely wavered for 23 episodes (all of which i would give at least 4 out of 5) – only Game of Thrones has had a run that good. Deathstroke was one of the highlights of season 2, a great main villain (despite being a somewhat minor character from the comics) and this episode was perfect as he made his move against Oliver Queen and built momentum which Arrow carried through all the way till the final showdown in ‘Unthinkable’, 5 episodes later.

2. The Trap (Flash Season 1) After discovering the Reverse Flash’s lair and seeing a glimpse of what the future holds for Barry, Team Flash attempt to trap the Reverse-Flash into confessing to the murder of Barry’s mother – only to find him yet again ten steps ahead of them. Season Finale worthy, this episode surprisingly surpassed the excellent out of time and remains the best episode of Flash so far.

1. Streets of Fire (Arrow Season 2) Following on from the multi-part cliffhanger to ‘City of Blood’ the opening ten minutes are something special. The return of a major villain from season 1 adds to the already high stakes, and Deathstroke’s super-soldiers attacking the city led to some great fight sequences. Unsurpassed by anything Arrow’s done since.

Top Ten Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings Moments

Peter Jackson finally brought his middle-earth journey to an end with ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’. After 3 very successful LOTR films and three Hobbit films which got a more mixed reaction, i thought to celebrate their ‘last goodbye’ i could pick out some of my favourite moments from the two trilogies. I picked 5 moments from each trilogy.

Warning: Major spoilers (seriously how have some people not seen these films by now…?).

Anyway here’s my top ten…

10: Riddles in the Dark – Just when you were ready to give up on an unexpected journey after the fiasco which is the goblin tunnels – Gollum appears to engage Bilbo in a game of riddles – unaware Bilbo has stolen his precious ring… – the tensest, darkest part of AUJ and one of it’s redeeming features that make the previous two hours of filler seem almost worthwhile…

9: Sauron Revealed – The Desolation of Smaug’s final hour is arguably the finest hour in any Peter Jackson film – the sense of foreboding is overwhelming (yet ebbs away in 5 armies after 10 minutes!). Here we see Gandalf confronting the Necromancer of Dol Guldur and his servant Azog, only to discover the Necromancer is Sauron himself, who defeats Gandalf with ease…

8: The Death of Boromir – Well it was Sean Bean. He was never going to survive. A downbeat note to end the 1st LOTR film on but a very poigniant one – Boromir’s ultimately futile last stand and his touching farewell with Aragorn makes it a very memorable ending.

7: Shelob – Between this, the Hobbit films, HP and the Chamber of Secrets, how do some people still like spiders!? The only part of the 3rd LOTR film which scared me as a kid – Frodo, alone, having sent Sam away and been abandoned by Gollum, cornered by a giant spider in her cavern… absolutely terrifying!

6: The Forest River sequence – Hilarious but action packed, the dwarves escaping the elves by river in barrels while an Orc Horde attacks make this the moment you realised DOS was a cut above AUJ. Cinemasins famously just said ‘everything about this sequence’ when they tore into this film on Youtube. Guilty pleasure? Maybe, but i still love this part of the film.

5: Forth Eorlingas – The Battle of Helm’s deep was such good cinema it meant neither the Siege of Minas Tirith nor the Battle of the Five Armies seemed as epic by comparison. It was that great. But if i had to pick one standout moment from the awesome battle, it would be it’s ending when Gandalf and the riders of Rohan rode forth to smash the Orc army attacking Helm’s deep. Simply Epic…

4: Bilbo meets Smaug – Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant. As if Sherlock, Alan Turing, Khan etc. weren’t enough, he brought Smaug to life in a way Andy Serkis would have been proud of. Smaug is easily the best villain in any of the Peter Jackson films, and his confrontation with Bilbo is a highlight of DOS in terms of character, dialogue and tension.

3: ‘That still only counts as one!’ This is dedicated to Legolas (ah a time when Orlando Bloom wasn’t constantly playing irritating pricks in films…) and Gimli, and their on screen bromance. After Legolas fells a Elephant and all it’s riders single handed Gimli is immediately on hand to diminish his achievement – the funniest one-liner in any of the films!

2: Smaug destroys Laketown – In my review of the final film, i said the opening 10 mins were it’s best. I stand by that – Smaug’s fury being unleashed on Laketown combined with a pulsating emotive soundtrack (‘Fire and Water’) from Howard Shore led to the best opening scene i can remember from any film. Epic in any sense of the word – but still not as epic as…

1: Gandalf vs. the Balrog – Iconic. With a famous line that is constantly spoofed or stolen and another brilliant piece of music from Howard Shore, Gandalf and the fellowship fleeing the Mines of Moria, only to be chased by the fearsome Balrog (with pretty impressive CGI for 2001). Then when Gandalf turns to face it and seemingly conquers the beast… only to be dragged down with it… if people don’t appreciate Fellowship after watching this scene then there is something very, very wrong with them!

You can probably tell which films are my favourites now. Not that i dislike any of them – all would get at least 4 out of 5 – (ok – maybe not an unexpected journey – but it would get a valiant 3.5). Think i overlooked anything? Feel free to comment any of your own favourite moments!