2016 a look back


Regular visitors to this blog will already know what my major highlight of 2016 was … hey, I still can’t stop talking about it.  Yes it was going to watch my favourite band Garbage perform at the Troxy theatre in London and to actually meet them.  Wow, I still pinch myself that it actually happened but it did and I feel so proud of myself for achieving a true dream of mine.  Their latest studio album ‘Strange Little Birds’ also impressed.

garbage troxy

Other than that event, I think 2016 has been a decent year for quality movies, something that will be reflected in my end of year Top Ten coming on New Years Eve (make sure you check back here then!).  But it hasn’t all been great.  There’s also been a number of disappointments and rubbish I’ve had to sit through just to bring my opinion to you, my readers.  Particular disappointments include the rather poor Legend, a new movie about the British gangsters Ronnie & Reggie Kray, and despite the casting of Tom Hardy in both roles, this was a borderline insulting Hollywood-isation of a violent and gritty true story that was done so much better when the Kemp brothers from Spandau Ballet did it in the early nineties.  I really didn’t get much out of The Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar! either, which should have been a fun, fascinating snapshot of old Hollywood, but had a limp script and a confusing plot that just felt like a slog despite good production values.  Also along the way I felt underwhelmed by Deadpool … probably the most hyped and acclaimed comic book movie of the year that left me a little ‘meh’ despite finding it funny, it just seemed a bit of a one note show.  The summer also brought with it some further disappointments … let’s all agree that Batman V Superman could have been better, and well, wasn’t Suicide Squad a let down, promising so much and delivered so little?  I wasn’t that impressed with Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! either – a deflating spiritual follow up to his classic Dazed & Confused.

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It was also the year that I tried to branch out, listen to more music (not just the aforementioned band) and discovered new artists like Kristin Kontrol, PVRIS and Against The Current … yeah, thankyou Apple Music.  So broadening my horizons has been fun, even if in the music industry it has been sad to see the passing of legends such as David Bowie and Prince this year.  With that said, the music industry continues to irritate me however and I find myself left cold by much of today’s most popular music (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and to an extent Gwen Stefani all delivered rather ‘average’ albums despite plenty of publicity and hype).  Yet I find solace in those artists existing outside of the heavily publicised, record label controlled mainstream and well, there’s some really good stuff to find if you’re willing to look beyond what you’re told to listen to.

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On the TV route highlights of the year for me have definitely been the last season of Game of Thrones, arguably the best yet and some of the best TV I’ve witnessed all year.  I also got a lot of enjoyment out of House of Cards (I’m still behind…currently on season 3).  Daredevil was also good, despite a slow start.  However the big surprise this year has been just how good West World turned out to be, of which I’m due to watch the final episode any day now.    Orange Is The New Black was underwhelming this year though and despite some shocks towards the end, really needs to step up it’s writing and characterisation for the next season or I can see myself switching off.

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Oh and hasn’t it been a packed year for videogames?  I enjoyed and completed the following:  Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Titan Fall 2 … but have played many other titles, some of which have been too huge to finish (yet) or have caused me to lose interest.  One such game like that has been The Division, which managed to lose it’s appeal after a while and I haven’t gone back to it in ages … something I can’t say for the similar Destiny which with it’s expansions and still-intriguing concept keeps on pulling me back even two years since release.  The news of updated versions of current systems wasn’t so good however, having spent a great deal of money on owning the PS4 and Xbox One only to have the advent of PS4 Pro and Xbox One Scorpio to eventually replace them.  But for now I’m still happy with what I’ve got and will continue to be until games stop getting released for these machines.

I wanted with this post to touch on the various things that have interested me and stood out for good or bad this year and with that I’ll sign off for now.  There’s some more reviews on the horizon and of course my end of year Top Ten.  So watch this space for much more soon.

Craig.

PS4 @ E3 2015


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Well having watched what Microsoft were bringing to the table yesterday, I have recently finished watching rival Sony’s briefing at the hyped and famed convention in Los Angeles.  Riding high on strong sales figures that have been way ahead of Xbox One, Sony were seeming to be getting a little too smug … with last year’s e3 offering very little beyond Destiny hype and Bloodborne.  So with another twelve months since then, what have Sony delivered?

FFVIIThe vibe it seems this year was a lot of old, and a handful of new.  Answering hard-core gamer’s wish lists for dream games was firmly on the agenda as two much desired franchises got a mention and new games being announced that we never thought we’d see.  Yes namely Final Fantasy VII getting the remake treatment and finally there will be a Shenmue III.  Both niche projects it may seem, but exciting none the less.  Also surprisingly we got to finally see the much delayed, rumoured cancelled but highly anticipated The Last Guardian in action … and underwhelming graphics aside, looks as engrossing and as powerful as Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus that proceeded it.  The only thing missing from such wish-fulfilment was Half-Life 3.  Oh well, we can’t have everything it seems.

Horizon

Thankfully then Sony did have a few new titles up their sleeve, most notably Killzone Creator Guerrilla’s very promising looking Horizon: Zero Dawn – which seems like a post-apocalyptic transformers, with tribes people up against mechanised dinosaurs in a somewhat Monster Hunter vein.    Yet Media Molecule’s game making painting-thing Dreams looked pretty, technically interesting but well, didn’t Project Spark do all this a while back?  Then we come to Street Fighter V … which looked, dare I say it a step-back from the visual cartoon beauty of SF IV…  I was expecting to be blown away by a franchise that has been close to my heart for decades, and it looked old and out-dated.

Adobe Photoshop PDFThankfully then it was down to some old faces from last year and a few multi-platform titles to liven up the show with a newly announced Hitman – always a yay from me, a very Advanced Warfare looking Black Ops III and erm, no in game footage and just a cut scene for Assassin Creed Syndicate?  Bizarre.  Although Star Wars: Battlefront looked amazing.  So naturally Sony closed the show with what was easily their best chance for a win – Uncharted 4: A Thieves End – and despite what I’d seen over at the Xbox briefing – this was the killer game of the show for me.

Sony also had Project Morpheus which they demo’d to interesting results and an extended look at No Man’s Sky, the ambitious space travelling simulation that wowed everyone a couple of year’s back.  Still no release date on that one though.

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Sony did a good job but felt like beyond Uncharted and Horizon, were trapped on the promises offered up in the past and not kept.  Pinning their hype on a former PS3 game that was rumoured dead (The Last Guardian) and giving us games only the hard-core care about anymore (FFVII and Shenmue) seemed a gamble.

It didn’t excite me as much as what the Xbox briefing did … no real welcome surprises and a lack of new IPs.  We’ll see.  Either way PS4 has little to worry about, but for me Microsoft just pipped them this year.

My gaming year 2014


It’s certainly been a very fun year on my gaming calendar.  I had only got my Xbox One in December 2013 so by the time 2014 rolled around it was still very new to me.  One of the first games I played during the year was Dead Rising 3, an open world zombie slaughter-fest with immediately impressive visuals mostly down to the number of zombies all after my blood, and the tongue-in-cheek storylines and comical weapons and outfits kept me coming back.  Then we got the remastered edition of Tomb Raider, arguably Lara Croft’s best adventure yet and it looked incredibly detailed on the XB1 and meant I went on to complete it a second time, having previously owned it on PS3.

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As the months rolled by, I got my hands on the much anticipated Titanfall.  Now this game may have lacked a story of any particular significance, and it’s single player was pretty dire – but the multiplayer, wow … really grabbed me, I felt for a shooter it had real depth and the inclusion of parkour, titans and some great maps kept me playing for a good while.  I’d even go as far as saying it’s the best multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played, and for me I felt I could be good at it and it was fair and easy to learn.  I haven’t played it in a while, and well, I really need to get back in there.  One other similarly hyped game was Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, which although visually and concept-wise impressive left me feeling it could have been much more.  It didn’t have the replay value I had hoped, was way too easy to get spotted whilst sneaking around and well, despite an interesting (short-lived) campaign that set the stage for MGS #5, I sold it after a short while owning it.

Titanfall

I got Battlefield 4 with my Xbox and that certainly got a lot of time in the drive.  I must have played through the excellent single-player campaign at least twice, because I got almost to the final mission then a bug caused me to lose my progress, so I had to restart.  I thought it had a great story with really good characters and some top-flight visuals.  One of the best launch titles for the XB1.  The multiplayer also was very addictive, but as with the likes of Call of Duty, after a while it just seemed to get too popular and too difficult to be fun anymore.  Another game I had with the XB1 was Forza Motorsport 5, which I still dip into today, and is a great, serious racer with some sharp visuals and lots of fast, meaty cars.  Certainly a game I can really lose a lot of time to and has depth and a lengthy career mode that I’ll admit I still haven’t finished.  I played it recently to compare it with the PS4’s Drive Club, and not being biased whatsoever – Forza was just immediately more accessible and more ‘fun’.

During the year, off and on I had a lot of fun with the ‘Record That’ and ‘Upload’  features of the XB1, which is very easy to play around with and the inclusion of being able to edit several clips together or narrate them etc. has been endless fun.  I also like how XB1 allows you to upload said clips not only to their own Upload service but also to Youtube.  Xbox Live’s Games with Gold was also very welcome as I pay almost £40 a year for the service and have enjoyed getting my hands on freebies like Guacamalie, Limbo and Super Time Force to name but a few.  It’s a great incentive and I look forward to what Microsoft gives away in the future.

Another highlight was Watch Dogs … yes, it was downgraded following the E3 2012 reveal but damn if it didn’t have a great cyber-hacker story and some great characters.  I think the whole hacking the city game mechanic set a blue print for the future and any sequels will only build on such an interesting concept.  I think I was fairly on my own for liking Aiden Pierce – he was an anti-hero, a troubled character, flawed but believable and I thought he was a great lead for the story.  I still come back to this one as the rendition of Chicago is very well done and well, let’s be honest here, at night, with it raining and the lighting etc. – this game can look amazing.

watch dogs

In recent weeks it’s also been a case of too much choice not enough time or patience to really get some games completed.  Good examples of this are The Evil Within, which I’ll admit has scared the crap out of me more than any game this year (yes, even more than Outlast) and the onset of the horror survival genre has meant I’ve purposely avoided similar titles.  Evil Within is different though as it still plays like a classic Resident Evil game, has action not just scares, and a great atmosphere.  Still not finished it though.  Another is the polar opposite Sunset Overdrive, probably one of the most unashamedly ‘fun’ games I’ve ever played, with a perfect mix of Dead Rising meets Jet Set Radio in probably the most colourful city I’ve ever visited in a video game.

Destiny remains my biggest disappointment of 2014 as far as gaming is concerned.  Initially yes, it was all wow for me … gorgeous visuals, decent shooter gameplay and the ability to upgrade your character, weapons etc. within an always online open world.  Then after a few weeks, repetition crept in.  The single-player which seemed to promise so much was over and a big let down and then I’m meant to just keep playing the same raids and missions over and over until I cap out my character’s level?  I also didn’t like how Bungie pretty much promised the earth and delivered something ultimately very bland.  It’s still on my XB1 dash board … I may pick it up again just for the sheer beauty of it, but it’s not a game a have much of an urge to rush back to.

Of course I ended the year very similarly to how I ended 2013 … by getting a new console.  I purchased the PlayStation 4 and am very glad I did, having a lot of fun with the impressive Assassin’s Creed Unity.  The machine itself seems a simpler design to much of the ambition of the XB1 and despite more power under the hood, plays it very safe, very PS3 in comparison.  2015 will be the real time it get’s to spread it’s wings, so for now XB1 is still my console of choice.

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It will be interesting to see how 2015 shapes up.  The big games I am looking forward to are the XB exclusives Quantum Break and Rise of the Tomb Raider, as well as the PS4 exclusives Uncharted 4 and The Order 1886.  I’m a bit on the fence on how the much anticipated, heavily hyped The Division turns out, it being by Ubi Soft who do have a habit of over-hyping stuff and not entirely delivering … but it was one of the best looking games on show at both E3 2013 and E3 2014 … but I’ll wait and see if the final product looks (or plays) anywhere near as good.

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So with 2015 on the horizon, this gamer / blogger is very excited to see what it delivers.