2016: The Year in Review, Part One: The Hateful Eight to Batman v Superman

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As many people will tell you, often, everywhere, all over the internet, all the time, 2016 has been a brutal year. We’ve lost many great actors, artists and musicians, we decided to fuck off out of the EU, and a bumbling, racist idiot has been put in charge of one of the world’s superpowers. It’s also been a year in which pretty much nothing has happened on this blog, and for that you can blame muggins here’s futile skirmishes with motivation (or, more appropriately, lack thereof).

It can’t all be bad though, right? Even when we’re in the shit, there’s always entertainment to keep us chipper… right? Until recently, the pervasive doom and gloom of the year had me thinking that 2016 has been kind of a dud for films. Now though, the more I think back on the films I’ve seen over the past 12 months, the more I realise how great some of them have been.

I’ve faced the pitchforks for defending two of the most hated releases of the year, found a modern horror film that actually scared me, and had the pleasure of watching what is, I fully believe, the best sci-fi since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps most significantly, it was at the beginning of this year that I fully discovered my love for the films of Studio Ghibli, and getting to see their latest on the big screen, as well as going on a Ghibli adventure of my own, are memories I will keep with me for a long time. How are those for teasers?

Lo and behold, it’s time for me to crawl out of hiding and commence my annual tradition of reviewing every film I’ve seen in a cinema from January to December. Writing over 30 reviews in one go is a mammoth undertaking, and once again I regret not starting this earlier as it can be incredibly hard to remember a mediocre film seen almost a whole year ago. No battle is easily won, of course, and I shall power on for all that remains good in the world. There will inevitably be sacrifices, mostly the time that I could be spending playing Overwatch or watching One Piece, but I will write for what is right, and become legend.

As King Theoden once said:

Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… ‘ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!

Forth, Eorlingas! (more…)

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Almost…

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‘Almost’ is an interesting word. When I was at school, dressed in paper-thin sports kit and forced to run the circumference of the playing field at the behest of sadistic P.E. teachers, the mental reassurance of ‘almost there’ was just powerful enough to keep an unfit nerd from keeling over. On the other hand, all the guys who ‘almost’ reached the summit of Everest before dying a frigid death – well, that just sucks.

Getting close to success before failing miserably is one of the worst things a human being can experience, along with anything Minions-related and dragging your scrotum across broken glass. It’s a feeling that crops up all too often in video games, as players accidentally and idiotically leap into a hole right before the end of a level, or get wasted by a troublesome boss with only a sliver of its health bar left.

The latter example is perhaps the most frustrating, scream-inducing, controller-throwing occurrence that can happen in a game, and no series knows that better than Dark Souls. Yesterday, I spent around two and a half hours dragging my balls over the broken glass that is Dark Souls III’s Dancer boss, and I’m glad no one else was in the house because I must have sounded like James Bond in Casino Royale’s torture scene.

As the twirly-swording bastard repeatedly and metaphorically hit me in the groinal area with a knotted rope, I managed to ‘almost’ defeat it numerous times. With only a few stabs needed to bring it down, I could smell victory like a dog can smell anuses, but the proximity of success only made the prospect of failure more worrying. Trembling, with beating heart in overdrive, I desperately rolled and rolled and rolled to avoid the boss’ flailing arms, praying to the deified Hidetaka Miyazaki that I might survive just long enough to land that final blow… But Miyazaki is a cruel spirit, and with the fear of imminent death lingering in my broken mind, I got sliced apart like a melon and had to start all over again.

Though I grunted like a tennis player and swore under my breath, the controller creaking in my vice-like grasp, I didn’t give up. Part of me wanted to rage quit, turn off the console and ride away into the sunset, but I didn’t. I sat there on my sofa a resolute warrior, like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, and powered through the hours as the Dancer taunted me with its deadly ballet.

Like everything else in this marvellous series, I had to appreciate its exquisite design, but in those moments I hated the Dancer with a burning passion. Death was too good a fate for that prick. I didn’t, however, hate the game. The Souls series, including Lovecraftian spin-off Bloodborne, are infamous for their high level of difficulty, but (and I apologise, because literally every Souls fan yammers on about this) it is never unfair.

While they seem like it at times, no boss is impossible, with each one presenting you with a series of attack patterns that can be learned and reacted to accordingly. When you first encounter your adversary, you’ll get wiped within seconds like a pooper in a hurry, but as your mincing becomes as prolonged and repetitious as a John Cage composition, you’ll start to pick up on clues that will help you read the boss’ behaviour.

With time, these get wired into your brain, and you’ll start surviving longer. The boss will still deal out an obscene amount of damage, and have more HP than the HP Sauce factory, but you as a player will improve. There’s a lot riding on your skills of course, as a single cock-up or break in concentration will turn you into dungeon pizza, but knowing that gives a sense of personal, meaningful progression that few other games can boast.

Every time you almost win, and it feels like that little chip of boss HP is judging you as you fade into a loading screen, the crushing disappointment is always accompanied by a powerful determination. You may have just been kicked down for the umpteenth time, but that ‘almost’ victory reassures you that you are ‘almost there’. Just roll a little earlier; be a bit more defensive. Use the environment to your advantage. Play better.

Even when it feels like you’re freezing and suffocating to death atop a mountain, remember to listen to the sweaty, shorts-wearing kid inside your head.

You got this.

And thus endeth the Word of Tom.

Here’s my triumphant fight with the Dancer in full. Get rekt.

A Colossal Pain in the Neck

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When I sold my PlayStation 2, I sold a piece of my heart with it. Being neck deep in the Xbox 360 phenomenon at the time, and playing such great games as Lost Odyssey and Bioshock (the latter of which I never actually finished after a friend ‘kindly’ spoiled the twist for me), I didn’t think I would miss it. How wrong I was, for with the console also disappeared some of the first games I ever genuinely loved.

I can remember well the first time I was properly excited for a game. It must have been around 2002, when ten-year-old Tom was discovering the magic of gaming through his swanky new PS2. It was my first console, having only previously owned a trusty GameBoy Colour, and the effect it had on me could be likened to the Spanish discovering America. No, not the brutal pillaging of the native population, but the window into a whole new world of opportunities. That, and a demo disc featuring some game called Airblade, which I definitely gave more time than it probably deserved.

Anyway, demo discs were, as Super Hans says of crack cocaine, really moreish, and I soon started building up my collection of official PS2 mags. I would put hours upon hours into these little game snippets every month, playing demos for games like War of the Monsters religiously until I could fork out the pocket money to buy the actual game. Aside from the demos though, it was all about screenshots. In the ages before YouTube and video reviews, these little squares were portals into the games of tomorrow, teasing us to the point where we just had to see them in motion.

One day, I opened an issue and saw the coolest thing my little eyes had ever seen – Devil May Cry 2. I’d never played the first installment, but I became totally consumed with these images and counted down the days until the game’s release. When I finally played it, it was everything I ever hoped it could be and more, and it completely changed the way I felt about video games. After I rinsed it, I bought the original Devil May Cry and my first proper gaming obsession was born. Along with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, it’s probably one of the main reasons I’m such a disgustingly massive nerd.

Post-DMC, images of another, more unusual game began to captivate me, and its eventual demo sold me on my next fixation. This was a title that changed my views on gaming in another, very different way, and is still one of my favourite games of all time. It was, of course, Team Ico’s majestic Shadow of the Colossus. (more…)

2015: The Year in Review, Part Two: Insidious to Star Wars

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Haven’t read Part One? If not, you’re trespassing! Fifty lashes of the whip! Get back there and read it now, or else it’s waterboarding for you!

Look what I’ve gone and done. Whereas last year’s post had some reviews that were only two sentences long, I’ve inadvertently spent far more hours and written a lot more for the films of 2015 in an attempt to do them justice. I’m sure this is a good thing though, because it will give all of you lovely people a better impression of what these films are really like, even though I’m a nobody whose opinion means fuck all in the grand scheme of things.

For fears of being TLDR, I decided to split the year into two halves to make things more manageable. This second part is a real emotional roller coaster, with as many soaring highs and plummeting lows as a moderate drug user. There’s disappointing dinosaurs, a couple of bad puns, a Satan reference, two Michael Fassbenders and even a certain science fiction film that is apparently a big deal. It’s riveting stuff, believe me.

I’d like to take the opportunity here to thank all of you who have ever read anything that I’ve written. Every time someone reads one of my posts, it really means a lot to me and makes all this work I put in worth it. If you like my content and agree with my arguments, great! If not, well, we’ll arrange a fight some time. I’ll probably lose, but my dignity will be intact.

Enough preamble, let’s get on with the show… (more…)

2015: The Year in Review, Part One: Birdman to Mad Max

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Well, well, well. 2015. It’s been a fantastic, multiple record-breaking year for movies, and there wasn’t a James Cameron in sight. It is also the year in which I – the lad who keeps banging on about how Transformers 4 is an excellent piece of cinema – was very sniffy about two super-successful blockbusters I by all accounts should have loved (more about those later). A handful of films that were released this year (and at the very end of last year) have already entered my pantheon of absolute favourites, heralded by trumpeting and angelic choruses, while a small few have plummeted to the dank, fecal depths of pure awfulness, heralded by a single insignificant fart, squeezed out and forgotten.

As with last year, I’ve been saving up my cinema tickets in the hope that I’ll fall off a toilet and have some eureka idea of something cool I can do with them, so I have a paper record of every film I’ve seen this year and when I saw it. With this, it is my intent to succinctly review each one of the blighters for your reading pleasure or displeasure. That’s 36 reviews, some of which are of movies I’ve seen almost a whole year ago. It’s going to be tough, like SAS boot camp, but it’s all for the good of humanity and, amazingly, that includes you.

Ready? We’re in for the long haul… (more…)

Four Guys One Sofa: My Top 5 Local Multiplayer Games

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It seems weird these days that most games would rather your friends be countless miles away than right on the sofa next to you. The glory days of the split-screen seem to be behind us, moved over in favour of push-to-talk chat and ping. I still don’t even know what the fuck ‘ping’ is, just that I often have a problem with it.

While pwning noobs can be a lot of fun, and online multiplayer is a cool way to socialise with friends you don’t often see, nothing beats having some mates over for some good old couch co-op or competition. Whether you’re working as a team or dicking each other over, games are inherently more enjoyable if you’ve got chums to share them with, and if they’re in the room with you it means you can punch them, too.

With split-screen multipayer seeming rarer and rarer in the big releases, it’s great to see it returning to form as the focus of many new games, especially independent titles. What’s more awesome, is that even more games are beginning to be intrinsically geared towards having up to four players. If you’re lucky enough to have three friends and multiple controllers in the same room (I know it’s hard, both are expensive), it means a far more involved and exciting game session, with a lot less pad-passing and a lot more ‘friendly’ punching.

As Christmas and New Year’s shenanigans are fast approaching and, for a short time, people will pretend each other don’t smell, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top 5 games to play in four-player local multiplayer. Every one of these has a hefty mileage at mi casa, and are the bread and butter of my game nights. If you’re looking for something new to play with the lads/gals, look no further. And don’t punch too hard. (more…)