Category Archives: Top Tens

My Top Games of 2017

As usual for late December, here’s my take on my favourite games I’ve been playing this year. As always, some games weren’t 2017 releases but ones I’ve only just got around to this year. It’s not been a vintage year for gaming (Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront 2 both fell short of the mark for different reasons) but there’s still been some really fun entries. So here’s my top 6 and, as a bonus, my favourite bit of DLC too!

6: Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series

Telltale games may not be your thing if your main focus is gameplay (or graphics for that matter), but for story and character values they always excel. Having breathed new life into the Borderlands series and told interesting tales in the Batman and Game of Thrones universes, they’ve now turned their hands to the Guardians of the Galaxy series. I’ll forewarn film fans that this isn’t tied to the Marvel Film adaptions – the characters are the same, but aren’t voiced by the same actors nor do they look all that similar. But that isn’t an annoyance, as it allows the game makers to push the characters further than they have been in the film series. As you’d except with the Guardians, the dialogue options are often hilarious, but its the strength of the storyline that will grip you. As well as delving into Quill, Rocket, Gamora and Drax’s backstories, the 5 episode series features run-ins with Thanos, the Nova Corp, The Collector’s agents and newcomer Hela the Accuser, a Kree warrior who serves as the main antagonist. Choices in Telltale games often feel emotionally tied to characters rather than having a major impact on the overall plot, but there’s a few here that have lasting impact on the way the last two episodes play out (including whether Nebula and Mantis join the Guardians). Overall the story and characterisation make this a good entry in the series, if admittedly not a perfect one, as the quick-time events are very mixed in quality (they aren’t particularly difficult, and while the melee combat is good enough the shooting mechanics are terrible). I still enjoyed it enough though for it to scrape into sixth place on my list.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

5: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4 Exclusive). Uncharted 4 may have wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story, but given how much of a success the series has been for Naughty Dog, it seemed inevitable that a spin-off would turn up. So does the series work without its leading man? Er – yeah, of course it does. Chloe Frazer was one of the reasons Uncharted 2 remains the highlight of the series, so having her headline the 1st spin-off was a superb choice, and the less predictable pairing of her and Nadine Ross (i.e. one of the villains from A Thief’s End) works wonderfully. The game isn’t perfect – the first few levels are by-the-numbers and a touch slow, but once you get to the open-world (yes really) area of chapter 4, the game really starts to come to life. The combat is pretty much the same as Uncharted 4, with the only major addition being the ability to use C4 late game. The treasure/collectable hunting is as good as ever and the game is visually stunning (there’s a reason a screenshot from it is my current screensaver). Unlike previous uncharted games, the action takes place in only one country, India, giving it a different feel to earlier games (there’s a big focus on Indian History, Religion and Mythology – replacing the supernatural elements featured in games 1-3 and the pirate storyline from 4). Asav is a workable but not particular memorable villain, though the boss fight with him is challenging. While I agree with other reviewers that the game can sometimes seem like ‘Uncharted’s Greatest Hits’, for the most part its its own beast, and Chloe and Nadine’s turbulent but ultimately engaging relationship coupled with the stunning setting means its well worth your time (and money).

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: Injustice 2 – DC’s track record of making good video games is still intact even if its film efforts are still falling short. Injustice 2’s improved graphics and combat and its enlarged character roster make it worth the upgrade from Gods Among Us. The story mode is fun, and the multiverse events mean there’s basically hundreds of hours worth of gameplay on offer here – and that’s without factoring in the multiplayer modes. Yes the games currency and loot systems aren’t perfect, but they are far from the confusing, cash-grabbing disaster of some games we could mention (cough *Battlefront II*). It can get a little repetitive after a while, but the wide range of characters with different special moves mean its easy to switch things up a bit. Overall a great 1v1 fighting game that certainly gives you your money’s worth.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3: F1 2017 – The latest F1 sim improves on its impressive predecessor in basically every way. It adds two new practice programmes (Race strategy and fuel saving) ensuring that completing all three practice sessions is actually worthwhile, and completely rejigs the R&D tree, so you can no longer get 80% of the upgrades just from one successful season, which makes numerous seasons with the same team actually worthwhile. The difficulty slider is far less rigid that last year – you can now select any level between 1 and 100, which makes small changes possible and gets rid of the large jumps between difficulty levels that lessened my enjoyment of the 2016 edition. The best addition is the championships mode, which allows you to drive classic F1 cars from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s in a variety of short championships (hot lap championships, reverse grids events, sprint races, endurance races etc.) which is also an easy way to settle into the game and find what difficulty level is best for you. Overall, the game is a refined, polished version of its predecessor, which barring a few minor quibbles (overtaking can be a bit too easy on lower difficulty or with driver aids on, the safety car periods do drag on a bit) has delivered a great sim for any F1 fan. Worth the upgrade from any previous version.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Skyrim Special Edition – While the Special Edition doesn’t add much beyond vastly improved graphics, it fixes a lot of annoyances the original had (loading times have been cut to about 10% of what they were, while game-ending crashes are now far-rarer if still an occasional factor). Ultimately its worth a £20 upgrade if you liked the original but got frustrated with those issues, never brought the DLC for the original (the Special Edition includes all 3 expansion packs, including the sublime Dawnguard) or want to try out some mods without buying the PC edition. As I did a full review on this already, I won’t say much more, save that Skyrim is still as fun as ever, and with no new Elder Scrolls game in sight yet, this might be a fun way of getting back into the series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4 Exclusive) – There was only going to be one game that could get the top spot this year. It may not be absolutely perfect (the difficulty of individual missions can jump about a bit, the new game plus mode isn’t really necessary), but it’s bloody close and more inventive that anything else on the market (seriously, if uncharted and the last of us weren’t already enough reason for PC/Nintendo/Xbox gamers to get a PS4 on the side, this is). In what was a bad year for Sci-Fi on television (excluding Black Mirror) Horizon Zero Dawn delivered one of the most compelling science fiction storylines I’ve seen in YEARS. But then again, to quote Honest Trailers ‘it takes a shit-ton of plotting to make tribal girl vs. Robot dinosaurs make sense’. Yep its that game. Set on a post-apocalyptic earth where human tribes have lost almost all knowledge of technology and are forced to survive in an oddly tranquil but dangerous environment which is roamed by robotic dinosaurs and other mechanical constructs. But as the game’s labyrinthine story unfolds, both the nature of the apocalypse (no its not a fallout-esque nuclear war) and the reasons for the dinosaurs creation (nope not aliens or anything stupid like that) become clear and are, in a way, strikingly and terrifyingly plausible in the same way some Black Mirror plotlines about rogue technology can be. The storyline is also anchored by main character Aloy, a tribal girl searching for the simple answers (who she really is and who her parents were) who is both an immensely likeable lead and probably the best new videogame character from 2017. The game’s missions range from taking down bandit camps, hunting down a mysterious sun cult, killing rogue robots and exploring ancient ruins to uncover clues (holograms, recordings, notes etc.) about the apocalypse. The robots range from the small scale Watcher and Grazer to the mighty Behemoth and Bellowbacks. While early levels feature foes you can take down with basic bows and spears, later levels see you having to employ everything from bomb slings and tripwires to shock arrows and mines to take down the humungous beasts. Part RPG (open world setting, optional side missions, various dialogue choices and upgrade options) part linear survival/stealth, it looks wonderful, is really fun to play and is extremely engaging. Add the Frozen Wilds DLC if you want an extra challenge.

Rating: 5 out of 5

And my favourite DLC is…

  1. Far Harbor (Fallout 4). Far Harbor is a rarity – a DLC that’s actually better and more engaging than the main game. Fallout DLC’s are often hit-and-miss, but Far Harbor absolutely nails what you want from a DLC: a new, exciting location to explore, new, challenging enemies and a good central storyline to get into. The location for this DLC is an island north of the main commonwealth that is covered in radioactive fog, making exploration of the monster infested island dangerous. It also adds three new major factions: a Synth refuge, the Children of Atom, and the Islanders themselves, who have been pushed back to one measly settlement by the fog and the monsters. The main storyline is engaging and it isn’t clear cut what the optimum moral choice is: the Islanders aren’t always sympathetic, the Synth leader has a pretty immoral past and not all of the Children of Atom are the antagonistic zealots their leaders are. The game gives you a lot of scope for resolving the conflict between the three factions (you can destroy the Children of Atom, allow the fog to overrun the island and kill the Islanders, make peace between the three factions or even call in the Brotherhood or Institute from the main game to wipe out the Synths). The side quests are also good, whether it be slaying the islands wide variety of mutated sea-creatures, helping out the various settlements or playing detective in a vault filled with Robobrains (one of the weirdest and most fun questlines). Far Harbor also avoids several of the pratfalls which weakened the main game: the crafting system plays a minimal role and is far less annoying than usual, while there are three major settlements to align with and do quests for, which is actually more than the main game gave us (let’s be honest, any settlement outside of Goodneighbor and Diamond City sucked in the main game). Overall, this might just be the best DLC a fallout game has given us, even if its attached to one of the weaker entries in the fallout series.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Hopefully 2018 will be a stronger year for games. With the new Spider-Man, Vampyr, Days Gone and maybe even Last of Us Part 2, it looks pretty promising…

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Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured both the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and had the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacular cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

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: 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!

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. 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. 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 good. But it’s not clear-cut the best game in the series as I’d expected it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3. 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 gay human 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

 

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 decent game but I feel like it could have been so much more).

 

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 Season 4, 4: House of Cards Season 2, 3: Game of Thrones Season 4, 2: Doctor Who Series 8, 1: Arrow Season 2. 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.