It’s a wonderful time. Finally, after years of neglect and half-assed mobile entries, the space game is back. *EVE Online*’s held the ground for a few years, but its systems and politics are incomprehensible to all but the most devout of players. These emerging titles, together with seemingly mandatory support for the Oculus Rift VR headset, hold the promise that’s been burning in the hearts of everyone who’s been raised on a diet of *Star Wars* and *Battlestar Galactica*: to sit in the cockpit and twirl through the stars in the hot bloom of a thousand enemy lasers.
Best film – Looper
There’s so much to like about my film of 2012. Great script, stellar cast, strong direction from a relative newcomer…but Looper‘s best trick was what it didn’t tell you. The trailer would have you believe that you’re going to be watching a time travel action movie, young self hunting old in an indie twist on Terminator. What you actually got was a slow-burner that certainly had these elements in the background, but was really an exploration of family loyalty, the consequence of action, and how love can mutate and save at the same time. It gave us a further element to the age-old nerd dilemma: kill or spare young Hitler? Looper dares to suggest an alternative – change him, before it’s too late? It’s really something special, and the final message that Love Is The Answer resonated deeply over the weeks that followed the closing credits.
Also, it blatantly sidesteps the inevitable discussions on the holes in its time travel: Bruce Willis tells us directly that it just doesn’t matter. Deal with it. Watch the damn movie.
Ghost Rider 2 – Really, one of the most enjoyable cinema experiences I’ve ever had. Take away the need to “act”, let Nic Cage be crazy and mo-cap the shit out of him, use the Crank directors, combine for great success.
Avengers – Awesome superhero ensemble party with Whedon serving fine cocktails. High art? Nope. Amazing, enjoyable, thrilling and genuinely funny? Yep. In spades.
Skyfall – Not just a great Bond film, but a fantastic action thriller that will hopefully act as a blueprint for the future of the franchise.
Best Game – Super Hexagon – iPhone
What’s the meaning of life?
Sorry, let me backtrack a little and give you some context. Super Hexagon has a simple premise: don’t die. Walls of death approach and all you can do is rotate your tiny triangle around a central hexagonal spoke. Inch through the space, repeat. Score is time. One touch is death, game over. Press to restart. Over and over and over again. Time slows and seconds become milestones. First twenty, thirty, forty. Sliding forward, each instant restart a chance to improve and slice away at your best score. Last a minute, and the game tells you you’re wonderful. You feel it too, with a sense of elation that is unmatched by many other “deep” games. And that’s just the first level – knowingly labeled “Hard” – before you fling yourself further down the rabbit hole in comparative, superlative and Hyper versions.
How can something so simple – an iPhone version of a Flash game, for God’s sake – leave such a lasting impression on so many gamers? I think it’s the purity. There’s absolutely zero fluff or filler in the design. Story, character, Freemium DLC (spit) – all eschewed in favour of a single beating heart. It reminds me of the hours I spent playing the version of Geometry Wars Waves buried in Project Gotham Racing 4 (if you haven’t tried it, I recommend throwing five bucks on a used copy and heading straight to the arcade cabinet in your garage). It’s almost like it contains the very root of everything I love about gaming, distilled and concentrated in one single action.
But, then, it goes even a little further. It feels like its trying to tell you something about yourself, about life. The desperation to stay alive, the fact that you have to read the situation, make your decision, move and live by the consequences. You can never go back. Indecision is the enemy and leads to failure. Read, move, act with instinct and trust that deep, deep voice inside.
There have been a few times where I’ve looked at the encroaching walls and my brain has given up. You can’t do it, it says. That’s it. Game over. Then I watch passively as my fingers take over and lead me through the gaps with millimetre precision. Maybe that’s why the iPhone version is actually my favourite – the timing windows for the gaps are buried somewhere very deep in my nerve endings. It’s also with me all the time, and is the perfect distraction for the occasional spare two minutes between being an effective teacher and responsible parent. I play it and the world shrinks away for ninety seconds, the music vibrates my fingers, my heart pulses in time with the screen.
What’s the meaning of life? Who knows. But for me, this year, it’s been Super Hexagon; keep moving, trust your instincts, make your decision, and go. You can never go back.
Journey – PS3 – Beautiful, moving and meaningful. So rare to get this from a game these days.
FTL – Mac – Just getting into this, but it’s already worming its way into my thoughts. It’s certainly made me consider doors as a higher priority.
Biggest disappointment (game or movie) – The Dark Knight Rises
I’m sure Matt’s chosen the same. You only need to listen again to our podcast to hear the abject disappointment hanging on every groaned syllable. His analysis will no doubt act as a highly-detailed magnifying glass over one of the year’s biggest films, but let me be the blunt hammer to his scalpel. The Dark Knight Rises ultimately does the unforgivable – simply put, it is just A Very Bad Movie.
Not a rarity, not this year or any year, but let me tell you why this badness is especial:
This is a Christopher Nolan movie
Inception has spoiled me. It’s practically ruined anything remotely in a similar genre. The last film that had that effect on me was Fight Club, especially as I was then a student of filmmaking who, right up to that point, arrogantly thought I could improve on anything with my unsurpassed dynamic vision and seemingly limitless talent. Fight Club left me physically shaking in a taxi, wondering how the hell I could ever be that good. Inception did the wondrous thing of telling a story that could only have been told in that medium, by that director. Insomnia, Momento, The Prestige; all additional rock-solid signs that Nolan utterly understands the silken weave between pace, time, story, setting and character. How could all this vision, this experience, result in something as wooden and splintered as Rises?
The Dark Knight exists
Batman Begins sowed the seeds of new Batman, moving away from Schumacher day-glo pyrotechnics to a version more grounded in the real. TDK then took this formula and dared to cast some young actor from A Knight’s Tale to continue Jack Nicholson’s Joker legacy. Do you remember the furore surrounding Health Ledger’s casting? I’m sure I even contributed to it. All the whining stopped immediately when the second film finally released. But was it just Ledger holding it together? No. Nolan’s a director who can bring out the best from all his actors (a reaction by Al Pacino in Insomnia is still the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever seen on film) so Ledger’s star turn is not a singular lynchpin. The script, slow and steady and full of malice. The characters, so well-rounded and interesting. The movie fit together as an intricate Chinese puzzle box. You left the theatre feeling like you’ve been exposed to what happens when the best are allowed to work together.
Conversely, DKR felt like I’d just read the readers’ questions section in Cosmopolitan.
The story is bad
I’m not going to list all the problems with this script and plotline (pro tip: Google them), but suffice to say they have more holes than an infinite golf course.
Disappointment is an understatement, then. An altogether dreary and unsatisfying ending to one of the most invigorating superhero reboots in cinema history.
Cabin In The Woods – Great premise, wonderful execution, terrible ending that negated the actions of the previous fifty minutes. Shame.
Promethius – Went in with low expectations, found the end result to be even lower. Very beautiful but ruined by a terrible script with some of the worst space scientists I’ve ever seen.
Halo 4 – Halo is all about story for me. Note to 343 Industries -“story” does not mean “go here, do this set of three things, repeat”.
Top 3 I haven’t seen/played:
Cloud Atlas – I’m reading the book at the moment – and it’s entirely wonderful – so I’ve delayed watching the movie as I don’t want my imagination forced to picture Halle Berry instead of my own Luisa Rey. Really curious to see how on earth anyone could ever think they could make a movie of this book. Adored Run, Lola, Run, so it’ll be a visual feast if nothing else.
Smashed – I’ve been saying for a long time that Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the best young actors working at the moment, and this seems to the film that finally supports this claim. It only had a limited run here, so looking forward to catching it before the Oscars so I can throw some support behind it.
Tokyo Jungle – The PSN title that lets you play as a Pomeranian, trying to survive post-human Tokyo amidst hyenas and lions. It sounds like an utterly unique gaming experience that could only have emerged from Japan.
Happy New Year!