Time (Isn’t) On My Side… Quantity Or Quality?

Alien Isolation Main

I have been having a game related problem for a few years that really came to a head in 2015. The issue is that the equation of my gaming life (time spent enjoying gaming in proportion to the length of the games I’m playing) seems to have reversed. Now, I am not one to often complain that games are too long but there does seem to have been a trend recently that has seen more and more games increase in size but not in quality.

There have always been, and hopefully will always be, games that sprawl in length and give you a chance to spend dozens of hours soaking up the world and the stories within it. Titles from the Fallout, Dragon Age, Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto and Witcher series spring to mind immediately. These are games I love playing and can completely lose myself in. However they are also games I can set aside and know I won’t be finishing any time soon. They are a known quantity. Titles I can dip into as and when (I’m still thoroughly enjoying 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition despite being 50 hours in with the end nowhere in sight!). For me these titles aren’t really part of this problem – although the fact there are so many of them being released means I have to pick my battles in terms of what to play!

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The titles that have been more of an issue are games that, traditionally, you would expect to end a lot sooner than they did. Single player, non-RPG experiences – you aren’t creating a character, choosing a storyline or having a say in the way things unfold. These are games where I’m signing up to be told a story. To play through a set experience and take on control of a character in a world created to tell their tale. Games that have, up until recently, usually hit somewhere around the 10 hour mark. The Uncharted games are a perfect example of this, with the three titles in the series having playthrough times of 8, 9 and 11 hours respectively.

More recently I’ve encountered titles that, while very enjoyable for the most part, outstayed their welcome by a few good hours. Batman: Arkham Knight was a great example of this – a game with a memorable cast of characters and solid gameplay. I really enjoyed how the side mission activities linked in with the game world but the main story… Well, to be frank, quite a lot of the main missions genuinely felt like time fillers that were simply not needed. Stuff that was there to just pad out the hour count – especially the repetitious and tedious Batmobile missions.

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Watch_Dogs was another of these titles, clocking in at a quite unnecessary 18 hours of play for the single player campaign. And that’s without any side missions. The game itself was fairly middle-of-the-road, with some interesting ideas in a disappointing story with a poorly developed main character. Would these problems have been solved by a shorter campaign? Something more like 10-12 hours? No, certainly not but I do believe they could’ve been greatly alleviated because you wouldn’t have had the same level of repetition during gameplay.

However the worst offender for me over the last few years was Alien: Isolation, a truly phenomenal title that was damaged but it’s length. The game saw you take on the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen – the main character of the Alien movies and general badass. However in this game you weren’t fighting the Alien, you were hiding from it, sneaking around. Hiding in lockers and creeping through the spaceship was thrilling and scary. The problem was the needless backtracking that added so much time to the campaign. If this game had been around the 15 hour mark it may well have been the best horror title around. But by the time I finished it (at around 20 hours) I was just glad it was over, those last two or three hours genuinely felt like a slog – which is a real shame in a game that good.

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As I said before, I’m all for long games and making sure consumers get their money worth. There is a place for games of all sizes and when you’re talking about top quality, open world titles then it’s all good. What’s troubling to me, and has impacted my gaming time, is the number of games that are simply padding their campaigns out just to increase the playtime in the hope of avoiding ‘The Order-gate’.

In case you missed it, allow me to explain. The Order: 1886 was a highly anticipated game from Sony’s Santa Monica Studios, a developer with great pedigree, that worked previously on the God Of War titles. However almost all the reviews criticized the short length of the game, leading to a flurry of forum posts and articles as to whether the game was worth paying full price for and whether consumers were being ‘ripped off’. The toxic conversation plagued the game and became what the title was known for. Which is a shame because it was graphically stunning and had a wonderful script.

For me The Order’s length, around 7 hours, was perfect for the game. Despite the positives I mentioned above, I actually thought the gameplay itself was quite mundane. However, when the credits rolled I genuinely thought, ‘you know what, if they made a sequel I would definitely play it’. I doubt I would’ve felt that way if the game had been twice the length. Another great story driven title from last year, Until Dawn, clocked in at 8 hours (and even gave you choices within the story) which was just the right size for the game.

I appreciate that as consumers we need to get our money’s worth from the games we purchase but should the length of a game be the main yardstick by which we judge titles? What about glorious experiences like Journey? Admittedly it’s not a full price title but it’s a good example of a powerful, moving game that only lasts a few hours. I guess my issue isn’t that these games are getting longer, it’s that I feel like the extra hours are being filled with boring, repetitive gameplay. And that is a waste of a gaming commodity even more valuable than my money… my gaming time.

GregHorrorShow: Game Awards 2015

GAMES2015 THE WITCHER 3

What a year 2015 was for gaming! I feel like I open my awards post with that every other year but the last twelve months saw the release of some truly astonishing titles. The breadth of titles was stunning and the depth of the games themselves left me wondering when I would get to play everything!

As is always the case there are titles I simply haven’t had time to get to or that I started but only put a small amount of time into. Things like Mad Max, Just Cause 3, Mortal Kombat and Borderlands: The Handsome Jack Collection may well have made it into these awards somewhere but alas not this year.

So as usual let’s delve back into 2014 for a title I missed at the time but ended up being a firm favourite early in 2015…

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MISSED GEM OF 2014

GAMES2015 WOLF

WINNER: Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

I had no real knowledge of the Fable comic series before the announcement of The Wolf Among Us and even then I thought it sounded like a cool premise but wasn’t sure if I’d want to play a game based around it. Having loved The Walking Dead (yes, even the much maligned season two!), I just didn’t know if I could care about a cast of characters in such a far fetched setting… Well, as it turns out I definitely could! You play as Sheriff Bigby, the wolf of the game’s title and fairy tale legend. You are charged with keeping fairy tale characters in check as they settle into life in the real world alongside Humans. They do such a good job of dragging you into this world and it features all the hallmarks of a Telltale game – narrative choice, good writing and memorable characters.

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BEST GAME INNOVATION

GAMES2015 MGS SCORE

WINNER: Metal Gear Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Until Dawn came close to nabbing this award, with the best use of the motion function of the controller in years. In tense moments of the game you are tasked with remaining still and not moving the gamepad. If you do you will be caught/trapped etc. In a game where all the characters can die at any time it led to some extremely tense moments! Life Is Strange‘s unique use of time travel also impressed, just the fact that you could rewind dialogue choices more than once gave you a sense of freedom to explore the possibilities and take your best option. Again, Batman: Arkham Knight might have taken this in another year. I don’t recall a use of audio/visual cues that was as good as it was in Arkham. In addition to the radial wheel to choose missions there was an abundance of in-world feedback that I loved. So many times I’d be on my way somewhere and see or hear something odd, a building on fire or a strange flying shape, that I investigated and suddenly found myself in a side mission. Great stuff. But there is only one game that could take the award for 2015. In a year of amazing games Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain rewrote the rulebook for open world games. There is so much I could say here; the amount of buddies you can take on missions, the customisation of weapons, the base management and so on. It all boils down to one thing: giving players the flexibility to take on missions, or salvage ones gone awry, in their own way. Want to capture that colonel and get his Intel? Go for it. Oh, you’d rather just shoot a rocket launcher at him and jump in a jeep to speed off? Just as valid. Amazing.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn (Don’t Move)
  • Batman (Audio/Visual Cues)
  • Life Is Strange (Improved Rewind Mechanic)

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BEST DLC (CONTENT)

GAMES2015 DESTINY

WINNER: Destiny: The Taken King

There could only really be one winner in this category. With The Taken King, Destiny has been revitalised. With fresh content and a re-working of the game’s original story stuff this really was DLC worth having. New multiplayer maps and modes added extra value to the mix and this was a fantastic addition to the game. DriveClub: Bikes also bought a wealth of new content in the form of Bikes to the game. Another full tour mode, challenges and multiplayer bring a different spin on the original game and for the mid-range price point. If you’re into DriveClub and fancy something different, you can’t really go wrong here. Rocket League has been extremely well supported by the developer with both free and paid for content. I’ve taken advantage of both and found them to be excellent. Sure a lot of it is smaller things like cars/decals etc. but with the new content that allows you to mix it up and make the game more fun (low gravity/huge ball etc.) I feel it’s a worthy nominee. The same can’t really be said for Star Wars: Battlefront but it’s the only other DLC I played this year. A free addition that gives you a new map and few new game modes, it’s perfectly fine and apparently more free content is coming.

RUNNERS UP:

  • DriveClub: Bikes
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Rocket League

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THE JOE DANGER AWARD

GAMES2015 ROCKET LEAGUE

WINNER: Rocket League

This was previously my Best Downloadable Only Game category but it kind of felt redundant, with so many great games in the spirit of the award also getting physical releases. So from here on out The Joe Danger Award will be for games that are mid level price but captured my attention in terms of hours spent playing or polish. This year the award came down to a head-to-head between Life Is Strange and Rocket League. As much as I enjoyed Helldivers it didn’t stick with me and Steins;Gate is awesome but it just doesn’t fly in the same way as the two frontrunners. In the end I have to give it to Rocket League – I had no expectations for that game and it pretty much took over my gaming schedule for the entire Summer! With no story or characters to divide opinion, Rocket League seemed to be enjoyed by everyone that played it and for good reason.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Steins;gate
  • Helldivers

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MOST ANTICIPATED GAME OF 2016

GAMES2015 UC4

WINNER: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Well because of its delay in 2015 through to Spring of 2016, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes this award for the second year in a row. I love the Uncharted series and the footage that has been released, along with the multiplayer beta I played before Christmas (footage here) have stoked the flames even more. I can’t wait for this… No Man’s Sky was a runner up in this category back in 2013, another game that has been confirmed for 2016. This space exploration sim looks set to explode this year as gamers clamour to name new planets and creatures. Should be good fun! I couldn’t get enough of Persona 4 Golden a few years back so the sequel, Persona 5, is big news for me. I look forward to building up those Social Links all over again! I also think Horizon: Zero Dawn looks astounding, and the creators of Killzone are well worth backing in their new game universe. Another one to look forward to in 2016.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Persona 5
  • No Man’s Sky

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BEST GAME TRAILER

WINNER: Star Wars Battlefront

As someone who isn’t even a Star Wars it was a surprise just how much of an effect that Battlefront trailer had. I suppose everything Star Wars is so much a part of pop culture’s make up that just seeing the characters and hearing the music triggered my brain – nonetheless it’s a great trailer that was the best I saw this year. I’ve been hoping for a second installment of Dishonored and it was finally revealed at E3, with the awesome news that this time out you’ll be playing as Emily Kaldwin – hopefully it can live up to the trailer, which is the same thing I’m hoping for Hitman. This game looks amazing graphically and I really enjoyed the last one. With the PS4’s improved sharing functionality, this could be a game that benefits and the trailer does a good job of giving a glimpse of the world that awaits. I was always going to get Fallout 4 but I thought this trailer was really well done and deserves a spot on the list.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Fallout 4
  • Dishonored 2
  • Hitman

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BEST VITA GAME

GAMES2015 helldivers

WINNER: Helldivers

My Vita was sadly underused for new titles during 2015. I had a lot of game time on the handheld but it was mostly spent playing older titles I’d missed – things like Persona 3, Muramasa Rebirth, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and the previously mentioned Wolf Among Us. So unfortunately most of the new stuff I played didn’t get a huge amount of screen time. I really enjoyed my time with Helldivers and thought it was a great port. It ran fine for me and I used it offline to level up my character before logging in when possible to update it. Steins;Gate has been really cool so far but I’m under 10 hrs in and don’t feel I can give it the award without having seen the whole story. I also thought Broken Age was impressive – it looked gorgeous and had a very engaging setting. Some of the puzzles were a little bit taxing for me but I’ve never been that strong on logic stuff in games. Olli Olli 2 was more of the same but why change a working formula? The introduction of manuals gave a further level of control to an already difficult, but fulfilling, game.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Broken Age
  • SteinsGate
  • Olli Olli 2

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BEST GRAPHICS

GAMES2015 BATTLEFRONT

WINNER: Star Wars: Battlefront

That Star Wars Battlefront trailer that you watched above? Most people dismissed it as CGI and said the game would never look that good. It looks that good. No question. Fair enough the game only has four environments but they are jaw droppingly stunning. The fact that The Order: 1886 didn’t win this category is still a surprise to me. I just didn’t see anything surpassing it, least of all a multiplayer title. But don’t let that detract from Sony Santa Monica’s eye melting depiction of an alternate history Whitechapel in the late 19th century. It has to be seen to be believed at times and while the gameplay wasn’t great, the graphics certainly were. Until Dawn had some ridiculously good facial capture and looked absolutely gorgeous, both in terms of the characters and the environments. Another game that had fantastic environments was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which at times looked unreal – especially with it’s day/night and weather cycles.

RUNNERS UP:

  • The Order: 1886
  • Until Dawn
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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BEST STORYLINE

Life Is Strange 2

WINNER: Life Is Strange

I seem to be in the minority when talking about the story of Batman: Arkham Knight. I enjoyed Rocksteady’s final hurrah with this character and found the tales told over the course of the game to be fun and interesting. Although I should also say it was mostly the side stuff that held my interest, the main storyline not so much. Until Dawn was another story I enjoyed – the mix of main storyline and background information found via collectibles was great and felt natural. The Order: 1886 told a solid story and was possibly the best written of the bunch this year. It’s such a shame everyone focused on the, supposedly, short play time of the game and not it’s positive aspects. Which brings us to the winner of this category, Life Is Strange. What a story. This was one full of twists I didn’t see coming and with some lovely character moments. Max’s story is well told and something that everyone can relate to, even if you’re not a teenage girl yourself.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn
  • The Order: 1886
  • Batman: Arkham Knight

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BEST MUSIC (SCORE)

GAMES2015 MGS GOTY

WINNER: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It wasn’t a huge year for music scores in the games I played. I enjoyed Life Is Strange‘s incidental music a lot and Batman: Arkham Knight had some powerful cues that really lent some atmosphere to the events on screen. Jason Graves delivered with Until Dawn and had me jumping out of my skin on several occasions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes it though – some of the score when out on missions is fantastic and that music when you’re preparing for a mission is insanely good. I have high hopes for this category next year with titles like Uncharted 4, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Rise Of The Tomb Raider and Horizon: Zero Dawn hitting the PS4.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Life Is Strange

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BEST MUSIC (LICENSED)

GAMES2015 LIFE IS STRANGE

WINNER: Life Is Strange

Battlefield: Hardline set the bar for licensed soundtracks early in the year with songs by Jamie N Commons, Public Enemy, Judas Priest, Run The Jewels and The Clash before being usurped by the 80’s-fest that was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain which included artists like Hall and Oates, Kajagoogoo, Kim Wilde, A-Ha and The Cure. The use of them in game was great as well, which made a huge difference. Battlefront had the benefit of licensing in some of the most well known film score in history. Those songs just fire something up in people and add a huge amount to the experience of playing the game. But the winner here is undoubtedly Life Is Strange, which has an array of fantastic music from artists like Syd Matters, Amanda Palmer, Sparklehorse and Foals. It all suits the game so well and the opening of the game is possibly the best use of music I’ve seen in a game. It’s flawlessly executed and helped me fall in love with the game even more.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Battlefield: Hardline
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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BEST VOICE ACTING

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WINNER: Until Dawn

It makes a change when looking at the best voice acting category to have a selection of games NOT featuring Nolan North or Troy Baker! As great as those two are we have some fresh blood. First up I want to give a shout out to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and in particular the twins Evie (Victoria Atkin) and Jacob Frye (Paul Amos). Both compliment each other really well and it’s a refreshing change to have such engaging lead characters in the series. Also props to Battlefield Hardline, which I felt was a little overlooked in 2015. I liked the episodic TV format of the game and thought the voice performances were strong – especially Adam Harrington and Travis Willingham. Life is Strange nearly took this category with some wonderful work from Ashly Burch and Hannah Telle, as Max and Chloe, but in the end I had to go with Until Dawn. The game has a fantastic cast and some memorable dialogue that is delivered pitch perfect. Hayden Panettiere is great as Sam and Brett Dalton gives a good performance as Mike. For me though the best two lines were from Galadriel Stineman’s Ashley (“What are you tweeting? Hashtag there’s a freaking ghost after us!”) and Nichole Bloom’s Emily (“Understand the palm of my hand, bitch!”). Wonderful stuff that really added depth to the characters.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Battlefield: Hardline
  • Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

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SINGLE PLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

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WINNER: Life Is Strange

I haven’t finished The Witcher 3 but have played enough to know it’s deserving of a place on this list. I never had a chance to experience the previous games in the series as they were PC only but that didn’t seem to hold me back at all. The Witcher 3 has an in depth and interesting combat system that takes into account potions and well as sword-play. It can be challenging at times but is definitely worth sticking with, complimented by some cool story beats and side missions. As I mentioned earlier, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain took the opening world genre and redefined it. While it’s story wasn’t strong, I felt gameplay wise this was possibly the best thing I played this year. Until Dawn was also an absolute blast, which is surprising coming from someone who is not into the horror genre at all. I’m still annoyed about my ending to that game, thinking about the characters I lost, which is always one of the signs of a great game. The winner of this year’s award is another game that stuck with me for weeks after I’d finished it. Life Is Strange sucked me in like no other game this year. The mix of setting, characters, music, story and gameplay had me hooked from the very first episode. Seeing your choices make a difference, no matter how big or small, was always cool and some of those cliffhanger endings to episodes were jaw dropping. Checking the online stats and seeing how many people made different decisions was an eye opener. An amazing game, I can’t wait to see what comes next from the developer.

RUNNERS UP:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Until Dawn
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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MULTIPLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

GAMES2015 ROCKET LEAGUE 2

WINNER:  Rocket League

It was a much improved year for multiplayer gaming, with Destiny continuing to satisfy and increasing the level of content with The Taken King expansion. I had a great time with the game in 2015, jumping on to do a few Daily Challenges in the multiplayer Crucible modes. It remains the best shooter currently out there, the handling and control I would say are on a par with my other favourite FPS series, Killzone. At the other end of the spectrum we had Star Wars Battlefront, which was aimed at a much more casual market. With looser shooting and helpful mechanics like no reloading, Battlefront might have been something you could dismiss but DICE do a stunning job of creating the most authentic Star Wars experience out there. Now, admittedly, that is the view of a non-Star Wars fan but for me when you look around the battlefield and see Storm Troopers, AT-ATs and then that music swells as Luke Skywalker bursts round the corner… Well that’s Star Wars and it works. I still feel Metal Gear Solid Online was a little under-appreciated this year but then again I’ve been waiting years for a good SOCOM style multiplayer shooter so I was always going to like this. Having said all that the game that dominated my online time in 2015 was a football game. And it wasn’t FIFA 16. The award for best multiplayer goes to Rocket League, a game in which you play football (soccer) with cars. It sounds simple because it is but the developers nailed the control of the cars and the way the ball reacts. Scoring a goal is quite something else in Rocket League. This was the most fun I had this year online and the game also posed a great challenge as I started to get better at controlling the cars. And that’s the amazing thing about Rocket League – you can be good, bad or great. You can pick up a pad for the first time and play the game, having just as much fun as a seasoned veteran. It’s easy to get into, tough to master and generally an all round excellent game.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Metal Gear Solid Online
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • Destiny: The Taken King

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GAME OF THE YEAR

GAMES2015 MGS INNOVATION

WINNER: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

As I said at the start of these awards, it really has been a great year for gaming. It was tough to whittle this list down to four and even tougher to decide a winner. In the end it could really only be one title though, the game that delivered on both single player and multiplayer fronts. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Hideo Kojima’s swan song at Konami and the final instalment in the Metal Gear series was stellar. A few mis-steps aside (would’ve preferred keeping voice actor David Hayter as Snake and well, the less said about Quiet’s outfit the better) it was a masterpiece and has given other developers of open world games a lot to think about. The sheer flexibility of the game is unreal – what would be a ‘Game Over’ screen and restart in other titles (including previous Metal Gear titles) is here a chance to try and salvage the mission by improvising. The AI is clever enough but never feels unfairly advanced or, equally, too stupid. The online is also an achievement, with the slick control from single player coming over. Add into the mix the Fulton system and how that effects things in Bounty Hunter mode and you have mechanics that keep the game interesting beyond your usual 3rd person shooter stuff. This is the best game of 2015 overall and a worthy winner.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Until Dawn
  • Rocket League

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So there you have it! 2015 is done and we can now look forward to 2016, which is shaping up to be another big year for games. Titles like Uncharted 4, Deus Ex, No Man’s Sky, Hitman, The Last Guardian, Gravity Rush 2 and The Division, among others, will be hitting and I can’t wait! It’s a great time to be a gamer and I’m already wondering which of 2016’s titles will make the list next time out!

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GregHorrorShow: The Music Of 2015

Music 2015 Chvrches

It’s been a pretty fantastic year for music in 2015. Returning artists like Adele, Justin Bieber, Florence + The Machine and Ellie Goulding saw huge success and the further rise of streaming took an interesting turn as Apple finally joined the fray.

I have put together a playlist on Spotify of my recommended tracks for the year, give it a click below to listen.

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I saw a lot of new bands this year and while I really enjoyed Clean Cut Kid, Aurora and Solomon Grey, the best new band I saw live in 2015 was Slaves at the Scala. It was a brilliant gig with a friendly, upbeat vibe. Overall though the best thing I saw live was Health, which, with a combined audio/visual performance, really was something special.

Music 2015 Oh Wonder

I really liked what we’ve heard so far from Jack Garrett and I found the Oh Wonder album to be a wonderful listen. Halsey stepped into Lorde‘s shoes and delivered a really great album, for me it lacks a little of the punch of Lorde’s stuff but Castle is a superb track.

Disclosure returned with a brilliant album and, after an extended absence, so did The Chemical Brothers. It’s a really cool album with lots of great featured artists on vocals. As well as being stunning live, I loved the Health album this year – it’s definitely worth checking out.

Tame Impala came back with a chilled out bang and Kendrick Lemar continued his hot streak of releases with ‘To Pump A Butterfly’. Another returning band was Sleater-Kinney, whose album I enjoyed.

Music 2015 Kendrick

Robyn returned with ‘Love Is Free’ which was one of my favourite songs and, of course, The Weeknd‘s ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ was huge. There were also great songs from Petite Meller, Kagoule, Charli XCX and Duke Dumont, among others.

You can check all these tracks out on the playlist above, if you haven’t already.

And so to wrap things up I’ll move onto the awards…

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BEST ALBUM

Music 2015 Best Album

It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on social media that I love Chvrches. I thought their previous album was brilliant and I wasn’t sure how they would follow it up. Thankfully ‘Every Open Eye‘ didn’t disappoint. Retaining their trademark sound but varying it enough to sound fresh, Chvrches delivered my album of the year.

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BEST SONG

Music 2015 Best Song

I had to think long on this one as there have been so many great tracks this year but the one I returned to over and over again was ‘Stonefist’ by Health. It’s an assault on the ears in the best possible way, a clarion call that keeps you hooked until the end.

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What you have you guys been listening to? Let me know of any albums I’ve missed or that you think are worth checking out!

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GregHorrorShow: The TV Of 2015

TV 2015 Blacklist

What a year it’s been for TV, with traditional television production companies feeling the heat from new shows made for Netflix – it’s certainly an interesting time and the only clear winner is the consumer, as we get tons of amazing new shows to watch!

Before we launch into those new (and returning) shows, let’s take a look at some older stuff I caught up on that I’d recommend.

I mentioned both of these last year and I’ve stuck with them – A Town Called Eureka (Season 3) and Arrow (Season 2). Both shows deliver a nice dose of light hearted escapism, although Arrow did tread a few darker paths in it’s 2nd season. I also delved into Continuum‘s first season, which is a wonderfully cheesy sci-fi romp involving a group of time-traveling criminals and the cop stranded in the past trying to catch them!

TV 2015 Fringe

However the award for most captivating show I’d missed first time around it goes to Fringe, of which I devoured the entire 5 seasons in the course of the year! A cross between the X-Files and Warehouse 13, it lost its way a little in Season 4 but finished strong and the White Tulip episode is one of the finest episodes of TV I’ve ever seen. I know it’s old but that takes this year’s title for Best Episode.

Wow, with new shows where do I start?!

Well, I absolutely loved Agent Carter, which is a fantastically stylised trip through an alternate 1940’s in which Peggy Carter spends her time tracking down top secret weapons and generally kicking ass. It was a short season but I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the show returning in January. Sticking with Marvel, I thought Daredevil finished strong but it seemed to take an age to get there, I really had to stick with it as those first 5 or 6 episodes involved a lot of set up. It was worth it in the end and the characters came into their own in the second half of the season.

TV 2015 Agent Carter

Rounding out the Marvel trilogy is Jessica Jones which is truly amazing TV. I’m only halfway through the season as I write this but it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a while. This is a superhero show that tackles some really heavy issues and doesn’t shy away from any of them. Also it’s a private eye with superpowers – just… genius.

On a completely different superhero vibe, Supergirl is midway through it’s first season and it’s been quite enjoyable, if a little light. There’s a good dynamic between the characters but this is at the other end of the spectrum to Jessica Jones or Daredevil – Supergirl is definitely more of a Saturday afternoon kind of show! Sens8 arrived this year and The Wachowskis (of The Matrix fame) delivered an experience that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It was a fun, if at times confusing, tale of 8 individuals from around the world that are psychically linked. It certainly looked great, especially with it being shot in different locations across the globe.

TV 2015 Newsroom

I thoroughly enjoyed the final season of The Newsroom, which arrived too late for last year’s round up. The cast, as always, delivered some superb episodes and the writing was as sharp as ever. What a fantastic show and while I was disappointed it was finishing, it was the right time to go out. Defiance also wrapped up this year and while this season was stronger than the last, it also felt like the right moment to end the show. I appreciated the return to form of some of the main characters but it was hard to maintain the impact that first season had.

I managed to catch both Season 2 and Season 3 of the amazing Orphan Black this year. As the story becomes more complex I just come to appreciate the characters even more and especially the performance of actress Tatiana Masley – who plays the majority of roles in the show. I can’t wait for Season 4, which should be great fun judging by how this season ended! I also got stuck into the first season of Gotham, which I think is a great idea for a show and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it from here.

TV 2015 Blindspot

Blindspot was another highlight for me – the story of a woman with amnesia, covered in tattoos that lead the FBI to different clues and cases as they try to work out who she is and why she landed on their doorstep. The Blacklist returned for its third season and although we only got the first half of it this year it was quite something. Consistently one of the, if not the, best show on my television, it always brings great storylines and solid character development. And well, Raymond Reddington – who is one of the best anti-heroes in recent TV history. Shout out also to the music supervisor on The Blacklist, this season has been fantastic on the soundtrack front.

The Middle continues to entertain and, along with New Girl, remains my go-to light, half hour shows. Also keeping things light were Castle (Season 7) and Haven (Season 5), with the latter coming to the end of its run this season. Firstly Castle though, and as usual the cast keep that close-knit chemistry going which really helps to keep you interested in the show. There were a few lulls over the course of the season and the stuff about Castle going missing turned out to be a bit of a waste of time in my opinion. I did enjoy it though and look forward to more cop/writer adventures soon.

TV 2015 Librarians

Haven got back to form in its final season and concentrating on the main trio of characters was definitely a wise move. It was a shame to see it end but it had a good run across the five seasons it was on our screens. Another light hearted show I’ve been enjoying is The Librarians (Season 2) which is such wonderful, silly fun and a perfect replacement for formerly watched shows like Warehouse 13 or Charmed. This season has definitely been improved and the writing has come on leaps and bounds.

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BEST NEW SHOW

TV 2015 Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones just about steals it for 2015. It was a tough choice this year and became a three way fight between Jessica Jones, Agent Carter and Blindspot. All three have their plus points and I really enjoyed all of them. For me though, Jessica Jones was a real breath of fresh air. So much darker than I imagined and with an awesome twist on the gumshoe detective genre, it was my favourite new show this year.

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BEST SHOW

TV 2015 Orphan Black

It could only be Orphan Black. I love this show so much and having the benefit of two seasons in one year gave it the edge. It was this or The Blacklist. Both are unbelievable TV and both find me desperately wanting to see the next episode as soon as possible. Orphan Black tells a complex tale but it is well worth sticking with – the pay off is just too good. The characters, the situations… brilliant.

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So what have you guys been watching, let me know what else I should be checking out below or give me a shout on Twitter – @greghorrorshow

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GregHorrorShow: The Films Of 2015

FILMS 2015 INSIDE OUT

It’s been a busy year on both the big and small screen. There were some fantastic films released in 2015 and while I found myself drifting more and more towards TV content I did still see some quality titles.

In terms of big budget blockbusters I thought Mad Max was a real stand out. This is an example of what I want from a cinema experience – bombastic, over the top and wildly colourful. It was also a wonderful performance from Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy filled the role of Max admirably. I did enjoy Avengers: Age Of Ultron but in the end it was scuppered by my expectations.

 

FILMS 2015 BOND

Spectre delivered for me, I felt it was the best Bond since Casino Royale and brought a lighter touch than Skyfall, which was too serious for my liking. I absolutely loved The Martian, as I mentioned in my book round up I preferred the film in this instance – the casting makes it, with a stellar ensemble that brings the story to life.

I did some work on both Listen To Me Marlon and Amy, two of the best documentary films I’ve seen in years. Listen To Me Marlon is the story of legendary actor Marlon Brando, told in his own words via voice recordings he made throughout the years. It’s an interesting look at one of the most well known actors Hollywood ever produced.

FILMS 2015 AMY

Likewise, Amy Winehouse remains a household name long after her death in 2011. Amy is her story, told after sifting through hundreds of interviews with the people that were there with her. It is one of the most heart breaking films I’ve seen, watching someone slip into addiction and lose themselves. It’s also a fantastic look at the dark side of fame and I’d recommend anyone who wants to be famous to check this out to see a glimpse of what it’s really like.

In the interests of full disclosure I also worked on Man Up and Legend, both of which I really enjoyed. Lake Bell has been in some great films and while Man Up was marketed as a Simon Pegg film, it’s really her vehicle as the main character. A series of crazy events unfold after her character decides to pretend to be Pegg’s blind date. It’s fun film with a good heart. Meanwhile Legend tells the story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the infamous East End gangsters that fought for control of London in the middle of last century. Both twins are played, impressively, by Tom Hardy, who really brings everything to the roles. It’s a brutal film and there were aspects to the Kray brothers that I had no idea about, which kept me interested.

FILMS 2015 BROOKLYN

All of my family adored Inside Out, the latest tearjerker dressed as a kids film from Pixar. A memorable cast of characters delivers an interesting look at the thoughts and feelings of children on the cusp of growing up. As a father it certainly hit home and gave me something to think about for in a few years time!

My most pleasant surprise of the year was Brooklyn, the story of a young girl from Ireland getting passage to the New York in the 1950’s. Saoirse Ronan is superb in the main role and there is a nice cast around her, including the ever awesome Julie Waters. I really enjoyed this film and it was a well told story, perhaps I felt it tugging at my Irish roots!

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FILM OF THE YEAR

FILMS 2015 MARTIAN

As much as I enjoyed Brooklyn, Inside Out and Amy, the best film I saw this year was The Martian. A great cast, a great story and truly stunning visuals meant that it had everything I want in a film.

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So what did you guys watch this year? I know I wanted to see other films like Carol, Ant-Man, Chappie and The Lobster but just didn’t have a chance to. My most anticipated film of 2016 hits early, January in fact, with Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ which I can’t wait to see. Let me know below if there are any films you’re especially looking forward to.

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GregHorrorShow – The Books of 2015

GHS Books 2015 Main

I’m opening this piece with a confession – I have read a lot less books in 2015 than in previous years but there have still been some standout stories that I loved and a fair bit of non-fiction that caught my eye. So the list is a little shorter but there’s plenty to recommend!

I’ve mentioned Hugh Howey before and after thoroughly enjoying his Wool trilogy I was a little hesitant as to whether his new book ‘Sand’ could deliver. I’ll be honest, for the opening few chapters I wasn’t entirely sold but as things developed the story gripped me and I had a great time reading this one.

GHS Books 2015 Misery

A friend suggested reading an old sci-fi classic, Joe Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ which I also really enjoyed. Telling the story of William Mandella as he fights in the ongoing war between Man and a race called the Taurans. As time passes differently in space, the four years Mandella spends fighting is the equivalent of several centuries back on Earth. Seeing how he deals with that, as well as several other war related issues, was pretty interesting.

Another older book that I’d never read previously but have now caught up on was Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, which I thought was amazing. It was tough to read at times as Paul Sheldon lived through a nightmare scenario, some of the things that happen during the course of the story are horrific but it was a great read and I couldn’t put it down.

GHS Books 2015 You Hero

On the non-fiction front the highlight of the year for me has been Jonathan Green’s ‘You Are The Hero’, which tells the behind the scenes story of the rise of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the 1980’s. Crammed with interviews with writers and artists, alongside awesome artwork, this is definitely recommended for fans of the book series. I also found the anonymous tell-all football book ‘I Am The Secret Footballer’ very interesting. Written by a professional player, it gives a glimpse into the murky world of football and the cash that runs through it all.

Oliver Sacks is a well-respected writer for a good reason – he is excellent at shaping real life stories and bringing a deft touch to sensitive subjects. ‘Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain’ is a glorious but poignant look at people affected by music in debilitating ways. It really is fascinating and well worth checking out. Another non-fiction title I really enjoyed this year was ‘Console Wars’ by Blake Harris, which tells the story of Sega’s rise with the Genesis/Mega Drive in the early 90’s. As a big Sega fan back in the day it was amazing to get a look into the process of how the console came to be such a success and the internal struggles that the company faced. If you were a gamer at the time this is well worth a read.

GHS Books 2015 Masked

Speaking of games I was fortunate enough to be gifted ‘Dragon Age: The Masked Empire’ for my birthday which I thought was fantastic – it also did a great job of fleshing out one of the main story missions in the Dragon Age: Inquisition game. It was fun to see the characters from the book in game form and be able to interact with them in the course of the game’s story as well. Keeping on the game theme I also enjoyed ‘Armada’ by Ernest Cline, not quite as much as his previous novel, Ready Player One, but then my expectations were much, much higher this time. Armada tells the story of a game obsessed school kid who gets recruited by the real life government to fight an alien invasion. It has Cline’s trademark geek style all over it and it was a fun read.

Robin Sloan’s ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’ is a bit of a mouthful of a title but was a book I had a good time with. Clay Jannon takes a job in a small bookstore and discovers a secret that sends him on a wild adventure around the globe. It’s a great book for a bit of escapism. Another novel that should’ve been perfect for escapism was Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’. However, while I did enjoy the book, I just didn’t think it warranted the praise it got from all quarters. In fact, in a rare turn of events, I actually preferred the film to the book!

GHS Books 2015 Bookstore

Lee Child always almost delivers with his Jack Reacher novels and ‘Personal’ was another good instalment in the series. While the plots do at times become a little formulaic, I felt moving Reacher to different European locations was a smart move that helped freshen things up. Probably my favourite novel of the year was ‘The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August’ by Claire North, which I felt took the concepts of last year’s Life After Life to another level. A gripping story, another that I couldn’t put down, as Harry August comes to terms with living over and over… and everything that entails.

Here’s the full list:

Joe Haldeman – The Forever War
Lee Child – Personal
Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Robin Sloan – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Patrick Weekes – Dragon Age: The Masked Empire
Hugh Howey – Sand
Blake Harris – Console Wars
Stephen King – Misery
Claire North – The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August
Anonymous – I Am The Secret Footballer
Ernest Cline – Armada
Jonathan Green – You Are The Hero
Andy Weir – The Martian

What have you guys been reading this year – any recommendations?

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Batman: Arkham Knight – Review (PS4)

Batman AK Main

Rocksteady had a real job on its hands back in the late 2000’s – superhero games were generally very poor and the developer had been tasked with delivering a new Batman game. It was a challenge they relished and they ended up revitalizing the game genre, with seamless combat and tight scripted encounters, in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The second game in the series, Arkham City, opened the game world up to a part of Gotham and laid the groundwork for the latest instalment. 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight is the culmination of Rocksteady’s trilogy of Batman games and a showcase for the graphical capabilities of the new generation of consoles.

Set a year after the events of the previous game, Arkham Knight sees Scarecrow threatening to release a poisonous toxin throughout Gotham. When another, previously unknown, villain – the titular Arkham Knight – lends his weight to Scarecrow’s campaign of terror, it becomes apparent Batman is going to have his hands full. Luckily you’re not on your own, Alfred, Oracle, Robin and more are on hand to offer assistance.

Batman AK 1

In the panic and chaos, all of Batman’s greatest enemies come out of the woodwork to take advantage. These villains could easily have been written in throughout the story but are instead optional side content, called ‘Most Wanted’ missions. I felt that this was one of the strongest aspects of the game, as it allowed you to delve into Batman’s relationship with those villains when you wanted to and gave you a choice as to how far you wanted to pursue them. Each villain has 4 or more missions each before you finally get to bring them to justice.

I really enjoyed the side content in Arkham Knight, even more so for the fact that along with specifically choosing to do a side mission, you might just stumble across them because the game does a great job of delivering on visual/audio cues that you might naturally gravitate towards out of curiosity. It felt really great when, for example, I noticed a building on fire in the distance and went to investigate. When I got there it triggered the option to start a Most Wanted mission. Very cool.

My main complaint of the game was the way the Batmobile was handled. Introduced as a new way of getting around Gotham, it does a serviceable job – although I preferred to just glide over the city which was just as quick, in my opinion. Unfortunately the controls never quite felt right for me, with L2 switching the vehicle to ‘Battle Mode’, as opposed to braking – which is usually L2’s function for car based control in other games. It led to numerous occasions where I ended up failing a mission because, in the heat of the moment, I instinctively hit L2 to brake and instead the Batmobile came to a stop and transformed into a tank.

Batman AK 2

There are needlessly large car battles and even stealth Batmobile sections, both of which felt clunky and always seemed to break the pacing of the game. At one stage I almost walked away from the game entirely after an extremely draining chunk of time trying to finish one mission. Frustrating doesn’t cover it, especially as for most of the game you feel powerful and in control of combat – the Batmobile stuff just didn’t really work, sadly.

Thankfully that is the only real complaint I had with Batman: Arkham Knight, for the majority of the game I was having a blast and another of the new mechanics, Fear Takedowns, was a big reason. This ability allows you to cherry pick enemies to take out in order. Time stops and as you select targets Batman will automatically knock them out. As you upgrade the ability you can string more attacks together, mainly to be used for face to face combat. This means you can stalk your enemies first, taking them out with stealth attacks, and then confront the last four or five, taking them out immediately in quick succession.

Rocksteady do a fine job of bringing all of the Batman characters that you know and love into the final chapter of their trilogy. I’m not a big fan of Batman but I knew most of the characters here and even the ones I didn’t had interesting enough missions that I got to learn a little about them. There is a huge amount of content in the game, my playthrough was probably around 16-18 hours but that was doing a fair chunk of side content. I had finished the main storyline and completed almost half of the Most Wanted missions with an overall completion stat of 69%, so that gives you an idea of how much is here.

Batman AK 3

As much as I loved Arkham Asylum, for me Arkham Knight is a superior game overall. Not as ground breaking as the first title in the series but more fleshed out in terms of game world and content. To have the freedom of Gotham to explore, stumbling across villain missions or just taking in the (gorgeous) sights of the broken city, is a wonderful thing. This is a game to take your time with, to savour your surroundings and the world Rocksteady have created. Unfortunately a lot of the pacing and general enjoyment is ruined by the Batmobile missions – they are forced on you too much and leave a bad, frustrating, taste. Arkham Knight is the ultimate Batman game but be prepared to suffer through a few sections to be able to appreciate it all.

Rating: 8/10

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