2015 was a good year for many things – for women to take lead roles in major films, for non-whites to do the same thing, for the best-written game ever to have been released and for the strange explosion of Asians onto TV.
Gaming was weird in 2015. We struggled with some massive droughts of where there just weren’t any good multiplayer games, or even single player games. In May – that changed.
I’ve talked about Witcher 3 before [link], but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate just how damn awesome the game is. It is so well made, with pinpoint execution, loving care and massive scale. Never before have I played a game world that actually felt like a world that changed and reacted with your decisions. (Remember when BioWare claimed Kirkwall did that in Dragon Age 2? Yeah, no.) It’s actually hard to explain just how good the sidequests are, because they’re not ‘kill 10 rats’, but each one can become a large, branching event that you can follow up until they sprawl around the game world.
The world itself is beautifully written, with many subtle Easter eggs. Or not so subtle.
Plus Gwent. Never underestimate Gwent.
Fallout 4 got a strange critical reception, but it really worked for me. It’s your usual Bethesda game, huge open world, unimportant main quest, hundreds of tiny hidden stories to find and explore. There were some nice innovations I liked – the companions, while not BioWare level of virtual bae – are deeper than usual, with more backstory and a simple affinity system. Plus there’s this whole new base building part which made the game for me.
I’ve always loved a game that gave you a base, but this one lets you actually build one. I could spend hours clearing a ramshackle area then adding new buildings and furniture and shops. The controls were beyond awful but the game itself worked well. I really hope they keep expanding this part of their engine.
Fallout 4 also had a lot of great Easter eggs. For a game all about synthetic humans, my favourites were the Blade Runner ones.
This one was a nice surprise. It’s basically an archive of videos that you slowly unlock, which allows you to solve a crime.
It’s a cold case where a man died under mysterious circumstances. You’re given access to the interviews with his wife. As you listen, you might spot keywords to search on again which might unlock more videos. Because of the way you build the database, it’s a completely non-linear narrative and works perfectly as a game.
Life is Strange
This is an episodic story about a high school girl Max who can rewind time, which may or may not be because of, or causing, the giant swirling vortex coming up in her future.
It’s actually a game where I’d wish they’d kept it just as an episodic story – some of the puzzles were a little ropey – but it’s still a top notch game that covers everything from boys with a crush to lifelong friendships, suicide, and time manipulation. The last episode (barring a short puzzle/maze bit I didn’t care for) was a cracking piece of storytelling.
I had every intention of noting all my books on Goodreads, I managed in 2014, but I failed about halfway through the year, so this bit, which should be the longest section is strangely empty. I am aiming to do better this year.
I’m also keeping this very spoiler free because books should be a surprise. First, there were four excellent books out by my Clarion West family. They’re all amazing and worth reading.
Other books that really stood out for me were a new David Mitchell – Slade House. Like Matryoshka nesting dolls, the stories fit inside each other, growing closer and closer to an incredible climax. Made all the worse for having followed his twitter set up story. Heartbreakingly good.
I’ll mention The Martian and link to my earlier review. It’s also got a cracking film out now that captures a good part of the spirit of the book. I’d recommend reading the book first if at all possible.
I found Patrick Ness due to twitter. He started a campaign for Syrian refugees and it was so lovely to see him drumming up support. He was funny and it made me pick up his books. After reading one, I went out and got all his books. This was a big chunk of my reading last year.
Finally, I’ll link to a wonderful obituary for Terry Pratchett.
Mad Max: Fury Road.
The really impressive franchise reboot this year remains ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ — which had a fantastic story and structure, two great performances, old-fashioned practical effects, and the original auteur at the helm.
George Miller achieves an unparalleled act of world-building with his return to post-apocalyptic Australia 30 years after ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.’ It’s a testament to how well made the film is that it’s earned 10 Oscar nominations, surprising considering action blockbusters aren’t often recognised.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The second big franchise of the year was of course Star Wars. I’ll stick with Nige’s breathless review for now, but I’ve seen it four times in all and while it’s not perfect by any means, it’s a great attempt at bringing some life back into the story. I’ve got a lot of hopes for a more character-driven episode 8, so let’s hope for that.
Plus we had a lot of fun at the midnight showing.
— Graham Walker (@GW1962) December 17, 2015
What We Do in the Shadows
A brilliant fake documentary chronicling the lives of the undead, “What We Do in the Shadows” is fresh and funny.
New Zealanders Jemaine Clement (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”) and Taika Waititi (“Green Lantern”) co-write, direct and star in the mockumentary which is full of sight gags, straight-faced silliness and pretty solid character development. Some of my favourite moments were the interactions between the ancient vampires and the werewolves they run into.
I’m actually sad I didn’t love this more. I tend to love Alex Garland’s scripts – Sunshine being a real favourite of mine, and while Ex Machina has some neat ideas, it’s ruined for me by drawing from the boring old trope of sexy robots. If I’ve seen one ‘man wants to shag a robot’ film, I’ve seen them all.
Admittedly, Ex Machina is better than most for the brilliant acting, beautiful cinematography, lovely special effects – but at its core it’s a film about two horrible misogynists fighting in their own way over a sexy ‘female’ robot.
Probably worth watching just for Oscar Isaac’s dancing alone, but one day it would be nice to see a film about a female AI that isn’t instantly about how sexy she is.