Consider this a companion piece to my games of the year list (coming soon). Once again, why restrict myself to 2015 releases? Those will feature prominently, but I’ve had time for lots of old stuff too. Even some updates from 2014! I’m also saving a few for the GOTY piece, so yeah. Woo hoo.
I really get into the weeds on a few of these “reviews,” frankly sometimes worse than I ever have before. If you don’t enjoy any of my past mini rants then reading this might simply lead you to believe that I’ve only gotten worse at writing down my thoughts, and I wouldn’t say you’re wrong. And if you don’t enjoy any of this, well, at least take a moment to reflect on the fact that you have self awareness and some sort of consciousness in a pretty unlikely existence, so celebrate that. Celebrate it every moment you can.
I haven’t enjoyed Rogue Legacy in the same way that I did Spelunky, but it’s another good example of what the appeal to these roguelike games is. It’s fast to get into, fast to get back into when you die, and it’s random enough to keep you unbalanced but not so random that it’s unplayable. Rogue Legacy, like the Souls games, puts meaning into your player deaths and teaches you something at least every few times you fail. The controls are tight and well designed which is one of the keys to the popularity this game has enjoyed. I put it on the back burner some time ago but it’s one of the games I played this year that I’ll keep installed and return to when I need some punishment in my life.
4 out of 5
The Order: 1886
I reviewed The Order shortly after its release earlier this year. My feelings on it haven’t really changed. I hold my opinion that this game was a punching bag for a lot of the general malaise of critics everywhere. It’s not that I think they’re all completely wrong, but that they reduce all the factors going into this game into bullet points about how it rounds into a disappointing story of a game that Sony ultimately did little to support. That last fact is clearly true, Sony did not market this game well at all. I believe that with the proper campaign the narrative surrounding this game could be very different. First of all, bite the bullet and lower the MRSP from $60 to $25. We’re deep enough into the indie era that any smart gamer knows the price of a game is not necessarily indicative of its value. Present The Order as the first in hopefully a long line of ultra focused, decidedly linear and bright-burning bursts of experimental third-person cinematic shooters (or something like that). Bring positivity to the word “linear” and own that shit. It doesn’t have to be lowering the bar either, simply adjusting it. Tell us what the fuck your game is, don’t just stay quiet and hope a bunch of people buy it before the confusion hits.
It’s disappointing to me reading and listening to year-end lists how much of a punchline The Order has become. It’s not deserved, and I lose respect for the people who speak in such hyperbolic terms about it. Adjust your expectations with what I’ve told you, and when the price drops to $20 or less– which it probably will soon if it hasn’t already– buy this game and spend the 5 or 6 hours it’ll take to play. Like I said in my review, if you’re not hung up on pure mechanics and don’t need every game to reinvent the shooting wheel like Gears of War, I think The Order will pleasantly surprise you.
A strong 3.5 out of 5
Wolfenstein: The New Order [2014 update!]
I ended up completing Wolf: TNO this summer and am glad I did. I can’t conjure up thoughts of any other shooting game that starts off as slow and boring as The New Order does, and then just gets better and better until it’s all done. It makes smart updates to the formula of its forebears and the swaths of games inspired by the old id formula, while unsurprisingly suffering from the occasional frustrating boss fight, though I was never held up to a point that made me quit. Once you’re into the third chapter (the game has sixteen if I remember correctly) the characters and story are compelling enough to keep you going until the end. Both major aspects of the game seemed to surprise critics, and I was no different: the gameplay is very good and feels both classic and new, and the story feels good to see unfold. That’s right, I described two things in one sentence both as “good.” Go fuck yourselves, English teachers. “Good” is a splendidly appropriate word to use in some situations, and it’s unpretentious, so you can shove your other fancy words up your ass. (Note to English teachers: I appreciate you and am sure you’re doing a good job. Heh.)
“You feel joyous. You feel elated. Your day was transcendent. Don’t say good.”
“No, I don’t feel those things. They have their definitions, and I don’t feel them. I feel good. So fuck off.”
“WOLFENSTEIN TEH NEW ORDERZ HAS A FEEL JOY STORY.”
GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD GOOD.
Shit, I feel good.
Anyway, at the heart of The New Order is the love story between B.J. Blaskowicz (you) and the empathetic caretaker Anya, who watches over B.J. in her parents’ hospital for fourteen years as he is comatose following the events of 1946. After Nazis come to “close down” the hospital B.J. and Anya escape, eventually discovering the remnants of the resistance. Like I said, the shooting in this game is solid, but the story and characters are so thoughtful and compelling. As if our reality wasn’t enough, we’re given a glimpse at a potential nightmare scenario where the Nazis not only won the war but more or less rule the entire world by 1960. Using this fictional scenario the writers of The New Order very effectively portray the horror and struggle of such disgusting and iron-fisted oppression, which makes the small moments of hope, humanity and tenderness quite powerful.
Wolfenstein: The New Order remains one of the best surprises of last (last-last I guess now) year, and an incredibly satisfying experience from not quite start (I’d say the second level) to finish.
4 out of 5
Tennis in the Face
Do you have a couple hours to kill? Have you always wanted to murder people with strategically served tennis balls? Well you were born on the right planet![insert details about Tennis in the Face]
Now that I’ve equipped you with all the possible information you could require about Tennis in the Face, go off and make your informed decision about purchasing this game!
(Don’t pay more than $1 for this game. But for a dollar it’s a totally fun waste of time for an hour or two.)
30 – Love out of 5
Demon’s Souls 2
When Miyazaki personally called me on my unlisted cell and said “Hello, Max, I’d like you to play a completely finished build of Demon’s Souls 2 that hasn’t been announced and nobody knows about,” I couldn’t say no. I mean literally, because he was speaking to me in Japanese, which I understand fully but can’t speak a word of. Under extreme pressure to spit out a response that we could both understand on the same level, I let out the hearty and jovial laugh of a knight of Catarina. Miyazaki laughed knowingly and nodded sagely (I could feel his nod through the phone). 24 hours later, delivered right to my door there it was: a pristine copy of the previously(-and-still) unknown Demon’s Souls 2!
First, the cover artwork. My god, what a beautiful sight! It’s like the original Star Wars poster version of Souls for Souls nerds. In the background a large tree with a certain crow flying overhead, in its talons a jade hairpin. Off center-left of the trunk, Thomas sits on his bottomless box, hands covering his face, downtrodden. At Thomas’ feet, leaning against the box is the distinct helm of Mephistopheles(!!), to the right a cliffside and manta-ray storm beasts circling. Front and center, a reborn Dragon God(!!!) lords over piles of dead horses. So many rotting horse corpses. I’ll hand it to them, FromSoftware knew what their fans wanted: more fucking horse corpses.
Right out of the gates level 1-1 is incredible; the new driving mechanics are so unexpectedly pristine that you’d swear the Gran Turismo team was directly involved in development. As if that wasn’t enough, the last thing I expected was to battle three dragons while on flaming, demonic horseback using the new Shadow of the Colossus-like sub-boss grappling mechanic. Ripping out a dragon’s heart and guiding the beast as it crashed down through a palatial window to the surprise first main boss fight was a thrill to say the least. But then the mind-blowing implications of what I saw, a health bar with the name above it clear as day: Murdered Halfbreed Priscilla(!!!!!!!), unspeakable!
After all was said and done, on top of everything that I experienced, I can’t tell you what emotions I felt when a post-credits scene revealed that I had unlocked a secret update file on the disc that was compatible with my PS3 and instructed me to insert it into the system to update the original Demon’s Souls. They restored the broken sixth archstone(!) and added the long lost land of the Giants(!!!). I’ve already gone on so much, I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, incredible as they are.
I reported back to FromSoftware with my review, stating confidently that Demon’s Souls 2 was an epochal moment for video games, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Super Mario Bros. in 1985. Unfortunately the decision was made that the game did not meet the team’s high standards and development was canceled with all work scrapped and the project indefinitely shelved. (I realize that this part of my story asks you to believe that Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne both did meet that standard – just bare with me.)
I’ve had a good life to this point, but I don’t know that anything will ever surpass being the only person who has played and will ever have played the once-real-but-now-canceled-forever Demon’s Souls 2.
6 out of 5
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts is one of my favourite games I played in 2015. It could be said that the two most devastating wars of the twentieth century are low hanging fruit for conjuring up lumps in throats and the whole feels department in general. But it’s with good reason. Aside from being a beautifully unique style of game (play and art) the stories of the characters in The Great War carry such a hefty weight, I dare anyone to walk away from this experience not drenched in tears, or at least something darn close.
I keep saying: I’m in it for these unique experiences that games can bring, and this is a perfect example. As a video game, Valiant Hearts is supremely simple in a good way, a sort of faux-action-adventure point-and-click. As a vehicle for a collection of stories– and a fair share of enjoyable historical facts about World War I (enjoyable in the sense that I’m glad I learned some things I didn’t know before)– this game hits the mark so powerfully. Its power lies in giving attention equally to all affected: combatants young and old, a prisoner of war, a determined medic, a worried daughter and child, and one loyal best friend that anyone who’s looked at the game’s promotional art knows about. Their stories intertwine and leave them all forever changed, obviously, and as the player I’m left knowing there were millions more similar stories, more often than not of heartbreak and sorrow shared by so many people, if not all of humanity.
Valiant Hearts handles its subject matter with elegance and poignancy. I give it my highest recommendation.
5 out of 5
Bloodborne: everyone knows pretty much everything about it. The most remarkable thing to me is that the story/lore is more batshit bonkers than any Souls game. I turned into a slug at the end, true story. After playing half of New Game Plus (NG+) I don’t think it’s as well done as Dark Souls 2’s NG+ which I think is important to the longevity of these games. But it’s obviously worth at least a single go-through.
My verdict on Chalice Dungeons is that they’re stupid and I don’t like them. They’re really boring, the layouts are awful and repetitive (which makes them confusing as well), and they take too long. The best part is that it adds more boss fights to the game, but they’re mostly easy one-offs until later dungeons it seems. I have by no means done them all, and I don’t really plan to, which is a bummer because I’ve explored every nook and cranny of the previous three games. The combat is amazing and the devs of every other shitty-but-for-some-reason-praised combat system (AC-blerg, Batman-Zzzzz) should play it and adjust their crap games accordingly. That said, I have to admit that the magic is really gone by the end of the game. I mean in a sense that this is the 4th game of this style by FromSoftware, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t mind repeating a good thing. I still love Dark Souls 2, but I don’t know that I love Bloodborne. On the other hand, it could very well be the Demon’s or Dark Souls for someone who has never played the series, and it would be a fine entry point. Like the two Dark Souls before it, the game is a bit too long in my estimation, and has a few too many undercooked bosses. I really thought this was an opportunity to simplify the Souls formula into a distilled shot of brilliance; turns out it was half that, but still half the insane sprawl we saw in Dark Souls 2.
I’m curious about Dark Souls 3 (obviously), and there’s obviously more interesting lore there that I very much enjoy, even throughout all of Dark Souls 2, but I’ll be most watchful of how many poor design decisions Miyazaki’s team reign in. I still think it should be more accessible. Bloodborne did well in having less item management, but knowing how certain aspects of the world work is still fucking crazy. Example: near the end of the game, in the Nightmare realm, if you figure out the correct way to vanquish the Mother Brain (the thing that shoots telepathic spikes or whatever into your face when you walk around in the open areas), you have to actually fall down into the pit that it falls into – right, the pit that you assumed is bottomless and that this thing died in – and the thing is still alive down there, and then you need to kill it again to gain a very important item that lets you gain entry to the most important chalice dungeon (remember how I said they were stupid); oh, and if you want a unique Rune from the Mother Brain you have to stand in front of it for half a minute making the Make Contact gesture, assuming you even found that gesture. Behind all that is one of the most well balanced bosses in the game which could have replaced one of the many terrible boss fights through the main story (Ahem, Rom the Vacuous Spider).
Cut. That. Fucking. Shit. Out.
The Painted World was a unique one-off, and so it was worth exploring and I think it was one of the best areas in Dark Souls. But it’s a one-off. The chalice dungeons are as dreary as they are numerous. I like a lot of things about Bloodborne, but the chalice dungeons detract from the experience. It’s as if the developers want to say hey want to see how fast we can churn this crap out? at a level that reaches parody and mimics some of the less imaginative arms of Dark Souls 2 – think down into the Gutter and Black Gulch.
I’m all for crazy stuff, but do you want people to play your game? I will go into Dark Souls 3 next year with appropriately checked expectations and hope for newfound greatness. They need to reign in the “more is more” philosophy that has been creeping into the series and focus on designing a tight, interwoven world, because that’s what’s going to excite fans and doubters alike.
3.5 out of 5
Skyrim (I finished it!)
And it only took slightly less than 4 years! It counts as the first Elder Scrolls game I’ve finished, after my dabbling with Morrowind, and my infamous meeting with that fucking crab bastard who halted my progress in Oblivion. I finished it on PS3 too, which I feel I deserve some kind of medal for, because that was a hell of a disaster on PS3.
Fus-roh-dah’ing Lydia off a cliff out of 5
Dragon Age: Inquisition
I’m a handful of hours in, maybe five, and it’s alright. The game seems to have been a success, but I don’t know that this series needs to be revisited. Even the numbers suggest Mass Effect is so much more popular (and better, in my sorta-qualified opinion). But what do I know? Five hours into Dragon Age 2 I was enjoying that game more, and it’s supremely fucking unpopular. And I’m not saying it to be a troll. Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2: BioWare’s unpopular games of the last generation, are my favourites.
I’m tired of the internet nerd intelligentsia. Dammit, get over yourselves, Baldur’s Gate 2 came and went. It was great in 2000. It’s time for new and different games. You petitioned a once forward-looking developer to be less forward-looking, and you won. They caved in the Mass Effect 3 debacle, in which I stand firmly against the Ending Complainers – it ended, you didn’t like it, too fucking bad, it was a fantastic game that fulfilled exactly the promises you should have expected in the 5 years the trilogy existed. It was a brave game for being predictable in ways it had every right to be. They caved in the Dragon Age 2 backlash. “Shit, you didn’t like that different thing we tried? Fuck what we think, you’re our super smart customers! What if we make it like Dragon Age 1 again? We’ll even drop the number, you liked that, didn’t you!?!”
It appears to me that the BioWare forums’ minority –which let’s be realistic, is probably highly composed of 12-18 year old boys, and any older than that probably fall on the less-well-adjusted-adults side of the spectrum — has changed the course of a great developer. I want my games to grow up. That can’t happen if artists are beholden to what is clearly a minority group of customers. I’ll happily bet that most Mass Effect 3 customers have no idea that there was an “ending controversy.” Because they’re like most satisfied customers: they move on, silently.
I’ve never felt more strongly about this issue than I do now. If you thought in 2012 that BioWare should change the ending of Mass Effect 3, and if you still hold that opinion today, I want you to ask yourself: why? Because you didn’t like it? BOO HOO. You all have the right to your opinion, and I have the right to chastise your shitty opinion. What do people overwhelmingly say they want in video games? “New IP.” Heard over and over. And that’s a good answer, it’s natural to want new ideas. But why can’t we always commit and put our money where our mouths are? I’ve done it myself– though never in such an egregious form as the Enders (guess that’s what I’m gonna call them that from now on)– and I’m trying to be better. I’m tired of what Assassin’s Creed is doing, so I’m not going to buy another Assassin’s Creed game. I bought Black Flag and Rogue, I wish I hadn’t bought either, and now I’m going to fix my mistake. Where do you think the Enders are going to be on the day that Mass Effect Andromeda comes out? I’ll tell you where they’re going to be: walking into a store and saying “one copy of Mass Effect Andromeda please,” and good for them, buy whatever you want. But what if by some miracle ME:A goes farther in the direction that ME3 did? Just what if? BioWare had the guts to heavily evolve the style of both Mass Effect sequels, so it really could go either way. If it doesn’t go your way are you going to get back on those forums and say that’s not how I asked for my art? If that’s what happens I challenge you to re-evaluate your tactics. Speak with your wallet individually, pointless as it may seem. You might feel something inside of yourself. Something stirring.
If you hated Mass Effect 3 so much, why would you buy the next one? You’d buy it because you didn’t hate Mass Effect 3; you hated that you didn’t get exactly what you wanted. That your fantasy wasn’t actually solely your fantasy. That you had a dream and it was broken by reality. Your fantasy for someone else’s fantasy. Well, that’s life.
That stirring is your brain’s heart, it’s trying to talk some sense into you.
When everyone else comes around in the future I’ll be here, on my high horse.
Adjusted-for-customer-response out of 5
I have no hot takes on Destiny. I’ve played it up until the point where I’m on Mars. I haven’t played it in about two months. It seems really boring to be honest, and I don’t enjoy the shooting a lot. I don’t deny what everyone says, which is that it’s mechanically solid. The game is apparently much less awful with the latest updates so I’ll give it another chance eventually, since it’s apparently just a thing that will keep being a thing for a decade, because Bungie has no other plans.
Why would he even include it if he didn’t have a solidly formed opinion out of 5
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls [2014 update!]
I’m upping the score I gave Diablo 3 last year because Blizzard keeps dropping great updates, I keep playing it and it keeps being fun as hell. I don’t know how PC Diablo 3 players cope with not being able to roll.
+4 to Critical Hit Chance out of 5
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
I’ve only played two hours of Ethan Carter, and progressed what would appear to be a few kilometers in the game world. It seems cool and promising (not to mention stunning to look at), but so did Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, so we’ll see.
Jaw-dropping graphics and draw distance so far out of 5
It was a long road to Broken Age Act 2. Releasing some 14 months after the first act, itself delayed a rather long time, the first big video game Kickstarter thing has come and gone. There was some fanfare, and then there wasn’t. I have to believe that’s because of how it wrapped up. I waited for the full PS4 release, so I didn’t even play Act 1 until April of this year. I miraculously fended off any and all spoilers, so I was very delighted to play through Act 1 and be hit with this great cliffhanger everyone was talking about. Playing BAA1 made me pine for adventure games of yore. The art and sound design of Broken Age are impeccable and I’m glad they undertook the project. It’s unfortunate that Act 2 is mostly disappointing. I say mostly, because the characters and dialogue are still a delight to behold, but the puzzles descend into adventure game idiocy, and most surprising of all is that no new locations are visited. You replay the exact same areas as the first act. This isn’t an inherent problem itself, but Double Fine didn’t do much to change up the locations you saw in Act 1. Some characters move around, and some minor characters from Act 1 emerge as major characters, but that’s about it.
I played the two acts about three months apart from each other, so I played the game a second time to see if my thoughts were true, and they were. Act 1 scratched that adventure itch and had me satisfied, albeit with mostly easy puzzles, and left me hungry for answers. Act 2, aside from the abundance of funny dialogue, squandered the promise of the first act and exited quietly.
Still, overall I was more pleased than disappointed, as Broken Age represented a nice change of pace, and hopefully a chance for Double Fine to continue what they do.
3 out of 5
See the phenomenon! Wooooooheeeee! Rocket League is the most pure, stupid fun there’s been in a video game since, well probably the game that the Rocket League team made before Rocket League which nobody played. This game took the internet by storm in July (myself included, clearly) and continues still pretty strongly. It’s a classic case of easy to learn, hard to master, which has lent it both praise and longevity. It’s one of the feel good stories of the year, maybe the best. It deserves any and all game of the year plaudits it receives. No words can describe it well enough so just look it up on YouTube if you were in a coma throughout July.
4.5 out of 5
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood
There’s one skateboarding game you should play this year and, according to what I’ve heard, it sure as hell isn’t Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5! No, it’s OlliOlli 2 (or Olli Olli 2, or OlliOlli2, I don’t know?), which I’ll just call OO2. “Ooh-too.” That’ll do. OO2 kept my Vita alive this year and is really quite ideal as a game you want to play in 15-30 minute chunks. Like Rocket League it’s easy to learn but very tricky to master. Tricky. Skateboard tricks. See? More than anything you need to warm up for a few minutes and get into a zone. Once you’re in the mode OO2 is simple to grind away at, while pleasures come fast and furious with every perfect juicy landing and picturesque launch; its greatest strength is that there is absolutely zero waiting time in between runs: before you’ve even completed a wipe out you’re a button press away from instantly taking off at the start of the level again.
High octane fun and a low barrier to entry (it’s also on PS4 and PC for a very low price, or you may have gotten it as a PS+ perk when it released in March) make for another easy recommendation. OlliOlli 2 has been my go-to on-the-go game in 2015.
4 out of 5
Crunchy peanut butter
Beats smooth, I’ll tell ya that much.
Yeah, I said it out of 5
DVDs / Standard Definition
Some shows just don’t need high def, man. The Wire is The Wire either way.
It’ll do out of 5
Assassin’s Creed, all of ’em
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck these games. In 2015 has anything come to symbolize the malaise of the annual 3-developer-shuffle quite like Assassin’s Creed? I think AC might beat Call of Duty in a poll asking which series is more reviled at this point. Every few weeks I take the cattle prod to my own flesh just to see if this will be the day the magic hits. Hasn’t hit me yet. I keep trying to find something enjoyable about Black Flag and I can’t. I don’t know what people saw in this game two years ago; I think everyone was just drunk off the euphoria of realizing they weren’t playing the previous Assassin’s Creed game (which I did not play). It’s a syndrome that is so alluring. It sets such a low bar. Here’s an example I can think of, so the dust has settled on Arkham Knight and it seems to have not met the standards set by the first two Arkham games that I hear people enjoyed (I played a few hours of the first game and indeed enjoyed it). And so with the very disliked game preceding it (Origins) the recipe is set: all it will take a fifth Arkham game is to surpass the low bar of Knight and Origins to have critics shouting from rooftops “THIS IS A RETURN TO FORM, THE BEST ARKHAM GAME SINCE 2011’s CITY!!”
I believe that’s what happened to Black Flag. That’s what has sort of happened to AC Syndicate, because how could you be as shitty as last year’s mess?
This series is a disease. Nine games (arguably more) in nine years.
What if: let the 2016 AC game come out, because it’s obviously far into development, cancel the 2017 and 2018 games in early development and redistribute their budgets to work on, say, 4 smaller experimental projects. Make them good. Word of mouth ensues (see: Valiant Hearts, Child of Light, Rayman Origins/Legends). Profit.
November 11, 2020 – Release a new AC game boldly titled Assassin’s Creed V. It’s the 11th main series game. It releases on 11/11. The teaser trailer illustrates that release date first, and then one of the 11s shifts into a V and the other 11 shifts into the upside down V logo of the series. Hype is back. Sell millions. Mic drop.
They call me the Genius.[edit: I wrote this before Kotaku leaked the plan that the 2016 AC release is going to be skipped to take a year off and improve the next game – genius confirmed!]
Series as it stands: 0 out of 5. My idea: 5 out of 5 (they also call me the Ego)
Master of None
I identify heavily with the characters from the Netflix original show Master of None: the main cast of characters are right about my age and having the same life experiences I’m having right now. But I think viewers of any age can appreciate the quality and aim of this show. We’ve been in a Golden Age of television for what seems like forever now, new acclaimed shows seem to start every season, and a classic seems to end just as often. I put off Mad Men for years, watching it only casually and not being terribly interested. I finally began diving deep into it in 2014 and finished it a few months after it ended in the middle of 2015; the more I reflected on it the more I thought it was one of the most entertaining, satisfying journeys of television I’ve ever enjoyed. As powerfully as it ended for me I don’t think it’s the best TV I watched in 2015; that honor belongs to Master of None. It’s a tight show: 10 episodes, all roughly clocking in at around 30 minutes or a bit more, and every one seems to be its own mini epic.
I’ve been recommending this show to every single person I know since watching it; I can’t explain why it’s so good. Every episode is funny, smart and touching, and many of them delve into areas I haven’t seen other shows dare or bother to. Please watch Master of None; if you’re not hooked on it after the second episode which is titled “Parents,” I will issue a personal apology, signed and delivered in the format of your choice. (I’d prefer the comments section here to the mail.) I learned things about myself watching this shit; you can’t say that every day. If I had to choose the single best piece of entertainment I consumed in all of 2015 it’s this TV show.
5 out of 5
I don’t really follow what Pixar is up to for 11 months of every year. I tune in sometime in early June, learn what their film for the year is, and then I see it or don’t see it. I get excited every time it’s not a sequel to Monsters Inc. or Cars. I genuinely think Wall-E is one of the best films that has been made in my lifetime. Up, though not as good as Wall-E, is great, and reaches emotional highs you don’t often find in big movies. When Pixar hits the mark they’re like The Beatles of film, their work is as groundbreaking as it is popular and digestible. Inside Out is the latest piece of proof in that argument.
I was at the movie theater more in 2015 than the previous three years combined. For films old and new. I got to take my grandmother to see 2001: A Space Odyssey (she’d never seen it!), my friends and I got to see Alien, and my girlfriend and I went to see Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Turns out The Director’s Cut (1992 version) is better; I can’t pinpoint why, it just is. True story: she went to the bathroom at one point and googled the phrase “Blade Runner rapey” (she had never seen it). That scene really stands out more and more as the years go by as uncomfortable to watch. Seeing Blade Runner in the theater was really cool, but the movie is losing footing on my all time favourites list.
Jurassic World was dumb fun, Star Wars was legit good fun, and Mad Max … what a fucking action movie. The last hour of Mad Max: Fury Road is the most exciting action I’ve seen in a movie in years. I can’t think of anything better; it probably ranks with my favourite action pieces ever. Second best movie of 2015.
But none of that was Inside Out. I’m not at this point yet, but if someone else wanted to argue that this is Pixar’s best work yet I would accept that. You can argue it’s better than all the Toy Stories, Wall-E, Finding Nemo and which ever other ones rank high. There is no other movie like Inside Out. I don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful for moments of comic relief in a movie that was billed as a funny movie. I haven’t seen every film in the history of film, so I’m not an expert, but god damn I have never cried throughout a movie more than this fucking movie. And like, the good crying. The crying that you can’t hold back because your brain is just like “fuck…I’m sorry…I can’t help it…I am so deeply touched and I can’t help this.”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. I haven’t watched it a second time either, and I know I’ll cry even more when I do because now I’ll expect the sad beats when they’re happening. And I’ve never been so okay with just balling my eyes out through a movie. I think this is the smartest movie that’s ever been made about the shit that goes on inside your head and the necessity of having great sorrow and sadness in your life as much as the opposite. I don’t even have kids yet. What will happen when I do and re-watch this devastating film? I think my heart will just be like “Lol are you fuckin’ kidding me bro? I can’t handle this shit, I’m shuttin’ down. See ya.”
Just wait and behold the irrelevance of the two coming award shows when they name something else Best Picture. There was nothing better in 2015. If you think there was it’s because you haven’t seen Inside Out and/or your opinion is stupid. It must be embarrassing to have a stupid opinion. I wouldn’t know though. Please see Inside Out.
5 out of 5 and film of the year
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was the second game in 2015 that I played with a pen and paper in front of me to take notes – that’s rare these days. That part was also probably the most fun I had with the game. I don’t regret investing the 5 or 6 hours I spent playing this game, nor do I regret buying it with money that I could have spent on precious food. But I haven’t exactly been left with pleasant feelings either. This is actually my most disappointing game of the year for a few reasons. I liked (and still like) the premise of the game: residents of a small town have vanished, I the player set off to explore the town and learn what happened. Complaints of the slow walking speed weren’t unwarranted, but I think they were largely misunderstood. I read and listened to at least eight reviews of this game and nobody mentioned what my experience showed me pretty obviously: that the walking speed is actually contextual in the game. You’re slower indoors and faster outdoors. Though I do grant that the requirement to hold the right trigger for 7 seconds to activate brisk-walk pace is strange.
Anyway, the exploring and discovering parts of the game are fine; I was intrigued throughout for the most part; like I said, I was taking notes trying to find patterns and decode radio messages, which really was a good little bit of fun. However, there are two major flaws with the game. [Sorta spoilers follow.] The first: one of the hooks of EGTTR is that there are a number of “soft” chapters, each of which loosely follows a particular key resident of the town. At the ending (or beginning?) of each there is a sort of concentrated burst of melodrama and character revelations, all of which is helped by Jessica Curry’s beautiful musical score. The problem is that none of these moments are earned. All the chips were put down on this design decision, on these moments, and they just don’t work. The second major flaw is the ending. I’m going to go ahead and spoil it because it’s rubbish, but if this game is on your to-do list and you want to go in blank stop reading here. Okay, so the ending. Remember how I said the most fun I had with the game was taking notes? Trying to decipher radio messages, Morse code, stopped clocks, constellation patterns and such. It was fun; the game didn’t ask me to do it, I just started doing it organically; but the game doesn’t really ask the player to do anything, which I did appreciate. But this good will is tossed away during the game’s epilogue. None of those patterns mattered, whatever happened to the townsfolk didn’t matter. Nosebleeds, dead birds, glowing orbs of light and energy and whatever the presence invading the town was … none of it mattered. What mattered in the end was the love we feel basked in the glow of the light of the destiny of the love of the light of the warmth of the glow of the love of the light of the people we love of the blah blah blah blah you get the point. A fascinating investigation culminates in a bunch of nonsensical bullshit about love. I’m not being my usual sarcastic jerk self either, go ahead and look up the last 10 or 15 minutes of the game on YouTube. It’s awful.
I’m not going to say that playing the game isn’t worthwhile, because like I said, I enjoyed the playing part enough, but if you ask me what I recommend between playing this game or just buying the soundtrack, I’d say go for the soundtrack. The soundtrack is beautiful and satisfying. The game has no payoff and doesn’t earn any of its forced gorgeous chapter-ending moments.
2.5 out of 5
Brief tribute to David Bowie
I’ll end on a sad note / high note: of course the one and only David Bowie died last night according to his family. That was just two days after he’d released a new album, Blackstar, which seems incredible to me considering his health problems in recent years and of course the cancer that took him. Bowie played a role in my life that I’m sure is identical to many others, that being his work expanded my musical taste in a way no other artist really comes close. His stuff was key in my mid to late teens; heck, with the exception of Sonic Youth and Tom Waits there’s no artist who I own more recorded works by.
His influence never seems far away, especially for me personally, so I wanted to briefly honor the man by mentioning his death. He’ll always maintain a prominent spot in my record collection for his musical exploration and bravery; I think if I had to pick a favourite album I would choose Low, with “Heroes” coming a close second. Go enjoy some of that, why don’t you.
I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision; And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision; Drifting into my solitude, over my head.
Don’t you wonder sometimes? ’bout sound and vision.
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