Happy New Year! As you may have noticed, we had a quiet second half of the year here at Awesome Friday, but that’s not to say we weren’t busy. It’s the opposite, actually; between work, and kids, and writing an entire bloody book in November, I’ve barely had time to indulge in my twin pleasures of games and movies, let alone write about them. Looking back over the year, there are a number of titles that I wish I’d had the chance to watch and play, but I also discovered I engaged with enough entertainment to put together a list.
So, here is it: my Best Of 2015.
1 – Mad Max: Fury Road
When I saw this in May – the first of three glorious cinema viewings, each better than the last – I joked that, in a year with a new Star Wars, Mad Max stood a great chance of being my film of the year. Turns out, I wasn’t joking. While Star Wars: The Force Awakens frustrated with a mix of over-reliance on callbacks to the original trilogy and inexplicable narrative decisions (why even have Captain Phasma in the film at all?), Mad Max told an original tale that was strong in its simplicity, yet dazzling with creative energy. An amazing ride from start to finish.
2 – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
I didn’t see this one coming. The Mission Impossible franchise has produced one great movie (1), one bad movie (2), and some interesting sequences in largely forgettable sequels, but Rogue Nation easily wipes them all away. Fantastic pacing and brilliant direction roll out a story that’s almost identical to Spectre‘s, yet superior in every way. The setpieces in particular are stunning, including a ten-minute opera setup that’s truly fantastic. Director Christopher McQuarrie has also signed on to direct the next in the series, so I can’t wait to see what comes next. One of my all-time favourite action movies.
3 – It Follows
There’s not much to say about It Follows that I didn’t already cover in my review, but it’s safe to say that its power still resonates even months later. That’s a sign of a great horror movie. It Follows takes a simple premise and slowly tightens the screw until you’re gasping for air along with Maika Monroe’s wonderfully-portrayed protagonist.
4 – What We Do In The Shadows
Probably the only movie this year that I had to pause because I was worried I would wake up the kids through laughing so hard. The faux documentary about vampires housesharing in New Zealand has some absolutely glorious lines, including my favourite where virgins are compared to sandwiches. A great comedy for a sleepy New Year’s Day, if you’re so inclined.
5 – Ex Machina
Took me a long time so finish watching Alex Garland’s fantastic exploration of AI, but it was totally worth it. Beautifully written, directed and acted, Ex Machina is full of secrets and lies and has an ending that will leave you open-mouthed for a long time. In particular, Alicia Vikander is breathtaking as the AI that seeks to learn about life, love and art. Don’t make my mistake and wait – get comfy and take it in.
There have been bad movies this year for sure; I haven’t seen Pixels but it sounds atrocious, and Terminator: Genisys was such a mess that I’m surprised it even got greenlit. However, there hasn’t been a movie for a long time that’s made me as angry as Jurassic World. It’s not just that, technically, the direction, acting, CG and scripting are measurably terrible. It’s the characters. It’s the assumption that they can interact in the absolute worst way possible and we’re expected to enjoy it. It’s the massive turnarounds in their motivations that make you think it was written by fifty different people, none of which talked to each other. It’s the way Chris Pratt’s “character” talks to Bryce Dallas Howard’s female lead in such a demeaning way you start to wonder if it’s meant to be a parody. Unfortunately, the fact that only the behemoth of The Force Awakens could topple it from the cash crown means that we’ll be getting more of the same in a few years. Steven Spielberg’s original was a masterpiece of plot, action, technology and pacing. Jurassic World is the absolute polar opposite.
1 – Mad Max
My favourite game and movie of 2015 were cut from the exact same cloth, just telling two different stories. I came to Mad Max after the disappointment of Just Cause 3 (it turns out the explosions were good enough for seventeen hours of play, though), and my experience with the two were night and day. Both were open-world games made by different teams within Avalanche Studios, but where Just Cause 3 faltered with severe technical issues, rapid repetition problems and some of the worst story missions I’ve ever played, the team behind Mad Max (which, incidentally, was the same team that made Just Cause 2) added some beautiful touches that make it an absolute dream to play. The world is beautifully realised for a start, all dust and fire, but it’s the play structure that compels. Just like in the second Just Cause, it caters for whatever type of play session you feel like. You can explore the wasteland, hunt down scrap and collectables (which somehow manage to be meaningful and useful, for a change), get involved in glorious car battles and the best Batman-style melee combat since Arkham Asylum. Or, you get get stuck into the exciting missions, fast travelling to your destination and making some progress. Or you can just lose a hour to the fantastically-realised photo mode. I’ve played many other great games this year, but none has captivated me like Mad Max. It’s wonderful.
2 – Splatoon
Look, just buy a Wii U already, OK? Poor console. Even Nintendo are waving it goodbye, its successor – codenamed NX – being revealed next year. However, it’s easily got the best selection of exclusive titles out of all the main systems, and Splatoon is worth the price of the console alone. It’s so charming as you dive around spraying squidgy paint everywhere, and also has a lovely story mode that ends with one of the best bosses of all time. Just try getting the soundtrack out of your head.
3 – Grow Home
If game quality was measured by amount of smiles generated, then Grow Home would win by a mile. A simple game, but utterly engrossing. I adored every single minute of controlling my clumsy little robot higher and higher into the stratosphere, growing my gargantuan plant as I went. Just try to hold yourself together when you see your ship – called “MOM” – has pictures of you all over her interior.
4 – Halo 5
The first half of Halo 5 is the best Halo ever. After the disappoint of Halo 4, to see 343i get their version of the magic formula so perfectly right is nothing but pure pleasure. However, frustration creeps in when the game’s structure starts veering towards co-op multiplayer battlegrounds that are tough as nails for a solo player, but the game as a whole is still a revelation. And, as a long-time Halo fanboy, I love how they created their new antagonist. Hopefully Halo 6 will concentrate a little more on single-player.
5 – Nuclear Throne
I usually don’t get on with roguelikes – where the levels are randomly-generated each play – but Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne is so perfect for quick arcade thrills that it’s easy to love. Great characters, perks and weapons in short, punchy levels means that it’s something I’ve been coming back to time after time. A great fit for the Vita.
Hotline Miami 2
It’s not badly-made – if anything, it’s way more polished than the first title – but success has ruined the formula. Instead of the Pac-Man-like planning and movement of the brutal Hotline Miami, the sequel is stuffed with enemies hiding offscreen with insta-kill guns. The epitome of frustration, and a massive disappointment.