Master Chief Collection on PC?

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Remember the release of the Xbox One’s Master Chief Collection? Remember the countless updates, the public apologies and getting to play ODST for free? It was perhaps one of the worst releases for the Microsoft, up until it was finally fixed months later. Despite these bugs and endless updates, the game was praised for its sheer quantity of content and graphical updates.

It was a blast to play, and with it came tidal waves of nostalgia for fans of the series. There’s still nothing quite like encountering the Flood for the first time. Well, despite being available on the Xbox One for almost five years now, fans may get to relive that nostalgic feeling all over again on PC.

Next week, Microsoft has promised some exciting news on Inside Xbox, regarding the Master Chief Collection. According to Xbox expert and YouTuber Brad Sams, Microsoft has been developing the game, intending to make an announcement during this year’s E3.

Will they eventually bring it to the PC? Will gamers end up updating it numerous times through the delightful Windows Store? Well, it’s quite possible. Brad Sams is renowned for being correct with his reports, due to revealing the name of Halo’s next game, Halo: Infinity, before it was even announced at last year’s E3. He has reported on several reveals in the past, which are usually all accurate.

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The potential release of the Master Chief Collection on PC is a thrilling thought, and there’s certainly a market for it. Getting to replay Blood Gulch on PC? Cursing at Halo 3’s Cortana’s level on Legendary again? Sure, it sounds like a welcome idea. Microsoft has been very open to the possibility of sharing their games onto different platforms, so this seems like this is almost a given.

Are you interested in the possibility of the Master Chief Collection on PC? Think Microsoft is just announcing that they’ve fixed a different minor multiplayer bug? Want to play Reach again? Let me know in the comments.

Apex Legends? Drop Into Titanfall 2 Already

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Battle royale games! All the kids are doing it. They’ve been flossing their hearts off, they’ve been glued to streams of screaming adults on Fortnite, and now Respawn Entertainment has joined the fray, to help finally change their perception of the genre.

Apex Legends dropped on PC and consoles during the beginning of February, and it has already boasted over 50 million players. You honestly wouldn’t believe this comes from the same developers of Titanfall 2, but heck, Respawn have cracked the battle royale code with an engaging, exciting and ultimately fun free-to-play shooter.

But wait, we’re not here to talk about Apex Legends! Everybody has been doing that. Twitch has been on fire with the new game since streamers realised Fortnite isn’t the sole videogame in existence. No, the focus here will be on Respawn Entertainment’s underappreciated Titanfall 2.

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Titanfall 2? That’s correct, the sequel to 2014’s first game, Respawn Entertainment brought forth a game that expanded the universe’s lore, the gameplay and multiplayer aspects heavily. Under development for two years, the decision was made by the studio to expand on the franchise with a fully-fledged single-player campaign completely.

Basically, despite several accolades, I am under the firm belief that not enough people gave Titanfall 2 the time of day. If we are to examine UK sales though, it rings true. Despite EA expecting the game to sell approximately 10 million copies, they stupidly decided to stick its release slap bang in the middle of Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. You know, those two forgetful inclusions to their respective franchises.

During its release, Titanfall two fell behind one version of Skyrim, Fifa 2017 and Battlefield. Titanfall 2 had only reached a quarter of the original game’s sales, and for a new sequel that was released on three different platforms, that’s horribly disappointing. If anything, it was deemed a complete and utter financial disaster.

You can blame a bunch of factors. Heck, you can point at Todd Howard and then shake your fist, but EA’s release schedule was way off. They were under the impression that gamers would happily drop their cash on two new releases, but due to the marketing and sheer thirst for Battlefield 1, it completely eclipsed Titanfall 2.

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EA didn’t do much as a publisher to help drive sales, either. With Battlefield 1 impressing the suits with its sales figures, Titanfall 2 had a half-price reduction just one month after release on their digital platform. Despite two years of hard work, it honestly felt that EA pushed it away to one side, in favour of a generic WWI shooter (sorry BF1 fans).

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Sales improved ever so slightly, but Titanfall 2 soon made its way onto EA’s Origin Access program, allowing for a whole new range of players to give it a go. It’s been in the game vault for some time now, and with Apex Legends making such a huge impact, hopefully, others will look back at Respawn’s previous titles. Why should you play it though? Well, where to start?

The Titanfall series revolves around the idea of utilising huge, hunkering mechs to take down your opponents. Pilots can either traverse across maps by utilising a grappling hook, or by stylishly wall-running to their objective. Of course, Respawn added the ability of the grappling hook into Apex, but wall-running was not transferred, due to developers believing it would ruin the pace of the battle royale game.

When the time comes, pilots can jump into their mechs, which adds an impressive arsenal to their collection. Each mech is different, and in the campaign, pilot Jack Cooper is joined with the trustworthy BT-7274. Sidekicks are a dime a dozen in single-player campaigns and mostly 90% of the time, they’re completely useless. BT-7274 however, is one of the greatest buddies you’ll ever play with.

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Injecting the Titanfall mechs with personality is a stroke of genius, and you can tell that BT-7274 will be with you every step of the way throughout your journey, due to the simple protocols in his software; ‘link to the pilot, uphold the mission and protect the pilot’. On more than a few occasions, BT-7274 will make sure to prove his usefulness and reliability.

The main protagonist of the story, Jack Cooper, is thrust into the duties of his captain, who is killed by a mercenary group known as the Apex Predators. Now taking control of BT-7274, Cooper must make rendezvous with Major Anderson, who appears to have uncovered plans of a new deadly device, which has the destructive capabilities to dispose of entire planets! We haven’t ever heard of that plot before, right?

During Jack Cooper’s mission, gamers will experience some truly unique level design, which incorporates time travel, crazy platforming and a whole bunch of wall-running. Each level has a different objective, all unique to the last. There are numerous highlights, but one of those includes Cooper and BT trying to determine the whereabouts of Major Anderson.

Effect and Cause is the name of the fifth level in Titanfall 2’s campaign, and it incorporates gigantic flying beasts, killer robots, a whole bunch of clever exposition which is complemented by time-travel shenanigans. Unsurprisingly, things haven’t turned out very well for Major Anderson, but Cooper receives a new time travel device, allowing for the player to hop from the present to the past at a flick of a switch.

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It’s a clever mechanic, and inaccessible areas can be reached with time-travel trickery, allowing for Cooper to traverse across platforms across time! It’s a fantastic addition to the level, and you can have loads of fun by surprising enemies by sneaking back into the past and then surprising them in the present. It’s an excellent moment in the game, which in general hasn’t been lauded enough for its ingenuity.

It is around this point in the game, where you begin to realise that BT starts referring to Cooper as simply ‘Jack’. After Cooper has placed his trust in the mech, you can see their bond clearly evolving during the story. Of course, this means that you’ll now come to expect BT throwing you to your next objective at almost every opportunity. You’ll also start wanting to hug BT.

It’s refreshing to see such a bond between the player’s main character and sidekick, and videogames have always struggled to find the balance between useful and downright annoying. Some great examples are Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth, whereas others, such as Resident Evil 4’s Ashley should just be left with the evil cult that kidnapped her.

Unfortunately, Titanfall 2’s campaign could certainly be a little longer. It just feels that it comes up a little short, with average gamers finishing it within 5 hours. It’s much more rewarding on a harder difficulty, but the story just needs that extra chapter or two. Still, that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding. The level design is just magnificent, and the gameplay? Well, it’s always nice to have an FPS game with this much polish.

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These days, poor FPS gamers have buggy games shoved down their throats. Fallout 76 and Far Cry come to mind, but Respawn Entertainment have proven themselves with Titanfall 2 and Apex Legends. Titanfall 2 looks incredible, and it plays so smoothly on PC. It helps that the pace of the game never really falters, without tiring out the player. Take a hint, Bioware.

Here’s the thing, though. Another problem with current shooters is the inherent need for it to be a damn sandbox. It becomes really tiring going to point A to B and having to unlock certain areas before continuing. Far Cry has become one of the more recent offenders, offering nothing new to the table with its tired mechanics. Let’s make FPS games linear again. If Titanfall 2 can present gamers with an interesting and awesome campaign, why can’t other FPS games?

Still, Titanfall’s roots are the multiplayer modes. In this game, there are several different modes for gamers willing to test out their mettle in the online gauntlet. Some of the best multiplayer features are Attrition, a standard deathmatch mode with AI and Titans, and Frontier Defense, where four players must survive against five waves of lethal enemies.

Attrition was my most-played mode, with the game starting with a Titan meter for every player. Once that meter has been filled by completing objectives and obtaining kills, you can summon your Titan of choice. There’s quite a selection to choose from, and it’s all based on the player’s personal preference. Want to go in guns blazing? Go for Legion and get that Predator Cannon on the go. Want to snipe from afar and deal deadly amounts of damage? Northstar is your mech.

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It can all seem very daunting at first, and first-time FPS players may struggle to get to grips with the fast-paced action, but the game rewards those who put the effort in. Don’t be afraid of the load-outs, just find out what’s best for you and you’re ready to go. A personal favourite Titan would be Northstar, whose sniping capabilities made it easy to clear out the battlefield.

Frontier Defense is a decent alternative to those who struggle with some of the higher-skilled players seen in Attrition. Waves of enemies come in all shapes and sizes, with players having to fight off Titans and even Nuclear Titans, which are about as much trouble as you could imagine. Frontier Defense is a blast to play with friends and is recommended for newbies before they get their teeth into other modes.

Whereas Titanfall 2’s campaign is only 5 hours long, gamers can be expected to find themselves playing multiplayer for much longer. It’s just very engaging, combat is satisfying, and it’s a pleasant reminder of a bygone era of fast-paced, fun multiplayer. Sure, Call of Duty and Battlefield certainly has its fans, but Titanfall 2 just feels like a completely different breed.

You can obviously see the influence of Titanfall 2 on Apex Legends. Sure, it’s apparently set in the same universe, but it feels just as good to play. Perhaps Respawn will implement Titan drops into a new game mode, and heck, maybe one day that may even happen. I can only dream, right?

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Titanfall 2 reportedly sold at least 4 million copies on all platforms after a year of release. It’s a shame that such a well-produced game failed to capture the attention of most gamers. It does feel that EA failed Titanfall 2, but at least Respawn Entertainment has proven to the masses that they’re one of the best up-and-coming studios around right now.

So, if you like Apex Legends and heck, you’ve been one of the few to make it to the end of a match, then check out Titanfall 2. Are you getting joined with awful squads in Apex and keep dying? Heck, still give Titanfall 2 a go! Respawn Entertainment know how to produce a quality FPS game, and the underappreciated Titanfall 2 deserves your time. Sign up to EA Origin/Access today and get to grips with one of the best FPS games in recent years.

Top 10 Films of 2018

Another year passes and with it comes a list of my favourite films of the year. It’s certainly been a bizarre one because we received a Transformers film that wasn’t a horrendous, CGI-infested mess! That’s correct; Bumblebee arrived in cinemas this Christmas, and it didn’t sport any egregious use of product placement or unnecessary explosions!

It’s still hard to believe, but this year Disney even had a Star Wars film that flopped miserably in cinemas. Despite being an enjoyable little romp, Solo failed to impress in the box-office. Unfortunately, this impacted any ideas for upcoming spin-offs, but perhaps, this will push Disney to adopt a more careful approach with their projects in the future.

A24 had another solid year yet again, with the indie flick Lady Bird and their twisted horror, Hereditary. They somehow have a secret for distributing great films (such as The Witch, The Lobster and so on…), but we’ll see how long that continues. 2019 is looking pretty good for them though, with the director of It Follows’ upcoming neo-noir Under the Silver Lake, which will feature the underutilised Andrew Garfield.

Netflix was a bit of a mixed bag this year though, as Alex Garland’s ambitious Annihilation was a hit with most, but the streaming platform had its fair share of duds. Remember when everybody got excited over the surprise announcement of a new Cloverfield? How naïve we all were. Even Duncan Jones half-baked Mute failed to impress. Heck, after Moon and The Source Code, he was supposed to be the chosen one.

Sony Pictures even managed to somehow time travel back to 2003 with Tom Hardy’s Venom. Back then, the film would’ve been acceptable, and it would’ve even featured some Drowning Pool, but there’s clearly a new standard for superhero movies. It’s evident that Tom Hardy had something going on there, but Venom was ruined by shoddy editing and unfortunately, some of the worst CGI of the year.

2018 also reminded us that Spielberg hasn’t had a great film in a long time. Ready Player One came rolling in earlier this year, and it only took five minutes for my shoulders to physically ache from all the winks and nudges to popular culture. It’s quite hard to believe the man behind Jurassic Park made Ready Player One, but here we are.

Still, we did have some stellar releases this year! That’s correct, it wasn’t all bad. Below you’ll find a list of my top ten films, based on UK theatrical and Netflix releases only.

10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The wonders of Netflix never cease to amaze. It’s still hard to fathom that subscribers can instantly get a new Coens movie, delivered straight to Netflix. How have we deserved such treatment? Regardless, Joel and Ethan Coen did well to fill the vast hole left by completing Red Dead Redemption 2, with their anthology Western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

The film features a grand selection of talent, such as Zoe Kazan, James Franco and Liam Neeson, amongst other notable actors. Each story sports a different theme, all touching upon certain aspects of the Wild West. Highlights include a grizzled gold prospector and another story concerning a wagon train.

Don’t expect joyful tales throughout, though. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs maintains the Coens’ trademark black humour, so prepare yourself for some melancholy endings. Still, it’s another fine addition to the Coens’ ever-expanding filmography, and let’s hope this kicks off a new tradition of their films being released on to Netflix.

9. A Quiet Place

It’s been a mixed year for the horror genre, with misfires such as The Cloverfield Paradox, but word of mouth and fresh concepts helped some films get noticed, such as Upgrade and especially, in this case, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place. Featuring Krasinski and Emily Blunt, the film involves a small family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by horrific nightmarish creatures that rely on sound to feed.

Of course, this concept lends itself to some truly tense scenes. Viewers will be able to hear a single pin drop during some moments of the film, as the family must utilise different methods to survive. Krasinski manages to really tap into something special here, as the importance of family even allows A Quiet Place to be surprisingly heart-warming.

A Quiet Place is a special little film, which needs to be viewed in complete silence. Admittedly, it may not be the most original concept (surely there’s a similar film out there), but it is undoubtedly a strong directorial debut for John Krasinski and an overall great horror experience.

8. Avengers: Infinity War

It’s hard to believe that we’ve come this far with Marvel Studios, but 2018 saw the release of the most ambitious and biggest superhero blockbuster to date, Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by the Russo brothers (perhaps Marvel’s biggest asset in years), the film broke new records while bringing along with it a plethora of memes, burning questions and anticipation for the following instalment.

Infinity War was Marvel firing on all cylinders. It boasted some of the finest CGI work to date, a great ensemble cast and huge action sequences that had fans grinning from ear to ear. How the Russos managed to balance out such a huge cast evenly is mind-boggling, but they deserve all the credit for it.

Will Avengers: Endgame live up the hype? We’ll see whether the Russos manage to wrap up the story properly, but considering their track record, they might just pull it off. There’s just no telling where Marvel goes from here though, as next year we enter the next phase.

7. Coco

Unfortunately, us British peasants didn’t receive Coco in cinemas a full three months after its initial US release, and it’s not the first time that fans have had to wait for Disney releases. It’s infuriating, but the wait was worth it. Coco is without a doubt one of Pixar’s most visually stunning films to date.

Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Coco told a pleasant, touching story of family and its meaning, with some of the finest art direction to grace our screens this year. Coco managed to carefully respect Mexican tradition, while also maintaining all the simple characteristics of a great Pixar film. It was funny, endearing and beautifully put together. While The Incredibles 2 was a fine sequel; it was Coco that took the award for best Pixar/Disney film this year.

6. Bumblebee

It has been stated already, but it’s hard to believe that a Transformers film is being placed on this list. Finally, the franchise was handed to someone who had great respect for the source material, and someone who wasn’t swayed by heaps of cash.

Yes, it’s a relief to say that Bumblebee is a fun, family frolic and that’s all thanks to director Travis Knight. Known for his work on Kubo and the Two Strings, Knight helped provide us with a movie that felt like an eighties Amblin Entertainment film, with Spielberg watching from afar, nodding in approval.

The film stars Hailee Steinfeld, who has been making waves since she starred in the True Grit remake at the age of thirteen. She plays Charlie Watson, a young teen who has been traumatised over the death of her father. Down her luck, she finally finds hope and friendship in Bumblebee, a mute Transformer from the planet Cybertron.

Of course, trouble arrives in the form of two evil Decepticons and the morally ambiguous Jack Burns, who is played by none other than John Cena. It really shouldn’t work on paper, but John Cena pulls of an aggressive government agent with ease, who is leaps and bounds better than the overbearing shouty father of previous Transformers films.

Bumblebee fell behind Mary Poppins Returns and Aquaman this Christmas, but hopefully, this means there’s still some more Travis Knight Transformers on the way. It still had a decent box-office return, and the reception has been great so far. We need more blockbusters like this and less Michael Bay in anything.

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout

Somehow, the Mission Impossible franchise appears to better itself with every instalment. Despite Tom Cruise now being 56 and injuring himself on set with his crazy stunts, Mission Impossible: Fallout turned out to be the best outing yet.

It might be hard to believe for some, but it was one of the finest action blockbusters of the year. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie, MI: Fallout is undeniably more of the same. Ethan Hunt saves the world from doom in some bombastic manner and looks great doing so. This time around though, Ethan is joined by August Walker, a CIA operative played by the ruggedly handsome Henry Cavill.

Henry Cavill was a fine addition to the movie, and he excels at playing any character that isn’t Zack Snyder’s Superman. The film broke box-office records this year, and it even resulted in becoming one in Tom Cruise’s highest grossing film in his career. Critics regarded Fallout as one of the greatest action movies ever made, and while that’s being a tad generous, there’s no argument that it’s the best of the franchise.

Can Tom Cruise surpass it next time with the inevitable sequel? Perhaps if Henry Cavill reloads his fists again as he does in Fallout somehow, then I’m on board. Every action movie needs Cavill doing that, in all honesty.

4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Having directed cult favourite In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, it was clear that Martin McDonagh was a director whose work needs to be closely followed. This year saw the release of his third feature, and it’s a strong contender for one of his finest films yet.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri focuses on Mildred Hayes (played by the fantastic Frances McDormand), a mother who rents three billboards to bring attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter. The film also stars Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell as two police officers who engage with Mildred, hoping to find some sort of resolution. Peter Dinklage also makes an appearance, but his character does deserve a little more screen time.

Martin McDonagh is no stranger to strong scripts and terrific one-liners, and Three Billboards is no exception here. It’s a stellar black comedy, featuring some of the strongest performances of the year. Frances McDormand is remarkable as the lost mother looking for answers, and Sam Rockwell is simply brilliant as the prejudiced police officer. There’s one specific long take featuring Rockwell which is beautifully put together, and it helps remind viewers of just how capable he is when he’s playing a complete degenerate.

The film has also had a positive impact with activists and advocacy groups too, who have adopted the same method of using billboards to get their message across. Whatever Martin McDonagh does next, be sure to check it out. So far, he’s managed to have some of the sharpest scripts in black comedy to date.

3. The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water deserved all its accolades this year, and then some. That’s correct, The Shape of Water might be one of his greatest films yet, and it had nothing to do with the Hellboy universe.

Del Toro has always been a favourite despite some recent missteps (here’s looking at you, Crimson Peak), but The Shape of Water showcases all the director’s clear talents into one delightful, mesmerising feature. It displays his clear eye for intricate set design, his love for bizarre but beautiful creatures, and his knack for creative storytelling.

The film focuses on Sally Hawkins’ Elisa, a mute cleaner who falls in love with an amphibian man, who is held in a secret government laboratory. The amphibian man, played by the terrific Doug Jones, goes through a traumatic time at the hands of Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland, who seeks to abuse and exploit the unique individual.

Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon does his best ‘crazy Shannon’ impression during the movie, but the film truly excels with Sally Hawkins’ depiction of the cleaner, Elisa. She brings forth an award-winning performance, and it’s evident that Andy Serkis clearly has nothing on Doug Jones. Step aside, Gollum, Billy Butcherson is where it’s at.

The Shape of Water is a touching, inimitable romance filled with some of the best set design showcased this year. There’s inspiration from all sorts of mass media, but del Toro makes The Shape of Water his own, visually-distinctive piece of work.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

2018 was a strong year for animation, with films such as Teen Titans Go! being a breath of fresh air for DC, and Ralph Breaks the Internet showcasing the incredible talents of Disney’s animation studio. However, Sony Pictures Animation rolled in this year to cleanse our pallets of Venom, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which impressed critics and viewers alike with its unique visual style and exceptional storytelling.

Since his cinematic debut in 2002, Spider-Man has had a mixed reception. Fans have been put through the wringer with reboots and horrendous Goblin wannabes, but Spider-Verse managed to find the perfect mix for hardened veterans and newcomers alike. It successfully introduced the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, into the fold, while appealing to those who were still longing for more of the same with Peter Parker.

Into the Spider-Verse is visually ground-breaking, and it is paired with an outstanding voice cast, a bold script and a catchy soundtrack. It comes as no surprise to see that Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) played a part in the production of this film because it’s hilarious and charming throughout.

As a miserable, die-hard Spider-Man fan, it takes a lot to impress me. Into the Spider-Verse did more than that. It swiftly became my favourite Spider-Man film. It ticked all my boxes, including an edgy Spider-Man Noir voiced by Nicholas Cage. It’s a pleasure to see an animated film so far on this list, so hopefully, Sony Pictures Animation focuses on more of this and less of The Emoji Movie from now on. Yes, it’s easy to get confused as to how one studio can create both of those films.

1. BlackKKlansman

Honestly, if someone had informed me that a Spike Lee movie would be making one of these lists, I wouldn’t have believed them. Still, here we are, and Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman became my favourite film of the year, if not one of the most important films of the year too.

Loosely based on real-life events, BlackKKlansman features newcomer John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a police officer in the 1970s that sets out to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. With the aid of his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), they manage to cultivate a relationship with some of the KKK members, including some of the more reckless ones.

Of course, the theme of working undercover lends itself to some truly nail-biting scenes during the film, as the KKK begin to poke holes in Flip’s identity. The film is often frightening at times with its harrowing imagery, but it also manages to infuse some comedy in the mix. Alec Baldwin helps set the tone of the film at first, as he plays a race theorist waffling on about how the Jews and black people are ruining the dearly beloved United States of America.

Topher Grace also appears in BlackKKlansman as KKK leader David Duke, and the resemblance is uncanny. He’s come some way from Eric Forman, and it’s a pleasure to see him in such a role. Hopefully, Grace ends up landing similar roles in the future. It is also worth noting how Adam Driver masterfully becomes Flip Zimmerman; a Jewish cop who goes undercover as a racist redneck. There’s no doubt about it, but Driver does certainly feel like the highlight of any film he stars in.

The cinematography is magnificent in BlackKKlansman, and it’s yet another film set in the 70s that will make you want to live during that era. The script is chock full of sharp and witty dialogue, and obviously, it’s just so damn provocative. Heck, it wouldn’t even be a Spike Lee film otherwise.

There’s no doubt about it, but Spike Lee drives home the message of racism with a sledgehammer. Perhaps that’s what we need right now, and to elicit an emotion as such is a testament to the power of cinema. Spike Lee follows up the end of the movie with a reflection of recent events, and it has been said that audiences are left in stunned silence. Rightly so. Spike Lee’s BlackKKlansman is an entertaining, thought-provoking piece of work that couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, do check out BlackKKlansman.

 

 

Honourable mentions include of 2018 include Isle of Dogs, Love Simon, First Man and Annihilation.

 

 

HISTORY OF X-MEN IN GAMING – PART ONE

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The X-Men made their first grand appearance on comic book stands way back in September 1963, and since then they’ve taken over the world by storm with some of the most significant characters and stories that the industry has ever witnessed.

It spawned successful action figure lines, several animated cartoon series and even a huge movie franchise that has led to box-office hits and unfortunately some of the worst superhero offerings that the genre has ever known. Here’s looking at you, Wolverine.

They’ve had it all, but for a long time, they’ve also made numerous appearances in the video game business. From arcade machines to mobile phones, the mutants have made an impact in the gaming industry. Due to my love of the uncanny mutants, I decided to tackle the long and arduous task of analysing and briefly reviewing almost every X-Men video game ever created.

I must be mad, right? Perhaps, but I’ve had the pleasure of growing up amongst some of these X-Men titles, and we’ve had quite the veritable cornucopia of mutants in video games. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the X-Men’s first ever foray into the strange and unique world of video games, with The Uncanny X-Men, on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

THE UNCANNY X-MEN – NES

It was the summer of 1989 when the X-Men first appeared on our tiny CRT television sets, and their first outing was rough. Released in the same year when the animated series pilot aired (Pryde of the X-Men), Uncanny X-Men was a multiplayer game that was published by LJN. A well-known American toy manufacturer and game publisher, LJN had produced several lines of Thundercats and WWF action figures and playsets.

Strangely enough, there is no record of the development team behind the game. Presumably, it was developed in Japan and then shipped to American audiences only. The title screen showcases several different playable characters, but that’s where the excitement begins and ends. Unfortunately, as it turns out, The Uncanny X-Men game is utter garbage.

The level design in the game is non-existent, and the game is slow and downright clunky. Enemies consist of floating blocks, robotic caterpillars and mysterious little orbs. The sprites naturally fit for a game developed in 1989, but then there’s no excuse for Cyclops resembling the Mad Titan, Thanos.

If you had no friends back in 1989, the game assists you with an AI character, which does nothing to help the player. I guess you can’t complain too much, because back then the concept of AI in video games was stuck in the Savage Land, but this adds to the misery of playing the game.

Perhaps this was just a pure cash grab for the upcoming mutant phenomenon, as this game is just a miserable reminder of how some licensed games were back then. Do not waste any time tracking down the first ever X-Men game. It’s mind-numbingly boring, and your ears will be pained by the horrible screeching sound of Cyclops’ optic blasts, too. You don’t need that in your life.

X-MEN: MADNESS IN MURDERWORLD

From the second gamers load up X-Men: Madness in Murderworld, they’re treated to a sweet little title screen and carnival music! Yes, it appears that some more care was taken with this Commodore 64 and DOS video game, which was developed and published by Paragon Software way back in 1989.

Recurring comic book villain Arcade (imagine Jigsaw – but a bit nicer) takes centre stage in the game, as he’s somehow miraculously managed to kidnap the leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier! It’s up the player to use their wits and expertise to save good ol’ Chuck, with the small team of Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops and…Dazzler!

Madness in Murderworld is a side-scrolling, awkward little video game which is extremely unforgiving. If gamers aren’t up to the task, losing a life means permanently losing a vital member of the X-Men! Of course, they would probably turn up again in the comics after dying, but this isn’t the point here. It’s life or death.

Combat in Murderworld isn’t fun, not even in the slightest. Engaging with an enemy is a headache, as players can only select specific mutant abilities by pausing the game. I was immediately thrown against a mutant-killing robotic Sentinel, and let’s say; it was a sad day for the mutants. The control panel for the game is a mess, and players will fumble over them continuously.

There are many different areas that the X-Men have to traverse through to find Charles Xavier, and in all honesty, at least there’s some sort of narrative here. There’s a decent enough range of characters to use, but it’s just too difficult and awkward to play. Paragon Software must have seen some success with the game though, as they attempted to improve on this formula with a sequel exactly one year later…

X-MEN II: THE FALL OF THE MUTANTS

The second game from Paragon Studios, Fall of the Mutants, was released in 1990 and was loosely based on the comic book story of the same name, by Chris Claremont. This time around, they had dramatically increased the roster, including Rogue, Psylocke, Havok and even Longshot, amongst others.

The game begins with an introduction from Uatu the Watcher, who was always synonymous with significant events in the Marvel comic book universe. After his brief introduction, Uatu lets you pick five different mutants for the game, and three different areas to choose from. You can visit Dallas, the Ice Age and the Galleria where you can fight the likes of dinosaurs, demons and…the Viet Cong.

Your end goal? To rescue Storm and the man with the cheapest mutant ability, in the history of the X-Men, Forge. No seriously, he can make machines with his mutant gene because of comic book logic.

Fall of the Mutants allows for gamers to explore a top-down map, where mutants can utilise their powers to get through obstacles, and also get handpicked for certain fights. The fight sequences are similar to the previous game in the series, but this time around, it’s a little more fluid. The backgrounds have a bit more detail for them, which is also welcome.

Again, for the nineties, it wasn’t that terrible a game. It’s a definite improvement on Murderworld, and Paragon Studios paved the way for some of the most popular franchises we play today, such as X-Com and Civilisation, which was brought forth by the acquisition from developers and publisher MicroProse. However, nothing had compared to the next X-Men game, which ended up emptying the wallets of comic book readers in arcades all over the world.

 

NieR: Automata Review – Do Androids Dream of 2B?

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Originally released on the PlayStation 4 console in February 2017, NieR: Automata is an action RPG developed by Platinum Games, which received critical acclaim upon its release. Published by Square Enix Games, NieR: Automata is the sequel to Nier, and is the brainchild of the hugely talented and somewhat peculiar, Yoko Taro.

NieR: Automata kicks off the game with the female android 2B, who is chucked straight into a firefight between androids and robots. Sent by the remnants of humanity, androids are on a mission to help reclaim the planet Earth years after an invasion. She is joined by her helpful male companion 9S, and during their journey, they encounter unlikely friendships, shocking turns and gut-wrenching hardships.

It’s an unconventional piece of work, and it stands as being one of my most unique gaming experiences in some time. Throughout NieR: Automata, players will find that it likes to mix up the gameplay a little bit to keep things fresh. There’s third-person hack-and-slash, and top-down shooting mechanics, and those segments honestly feel like Ikaruga’s forgotten child.

In Yoko Taro’s second game in the series, players are thrown into a ridiculously deep storyline, that covers multiple themes; society, humanity and existence. It’s one hell of a ride, that can be repeated numerous times for different endings. Yes, that’s you’ve heard that correctly – NieR: Automata boasts 26 different endings.

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A substantial number of these endings aren’t even canon, but they do showcase that Yoko Taro likes to have a little fun with these characters. These endings can range from self-destructing 2B to offering a new perspective on a previous storyline experienced by a different android. There are around 3 important endings to the game, which allows for further insight into this weird little universe.

There’s a lot of joy to be had with experimenting in the game, and thankfully it’s not a chore to replay either. Thanks in part to Platinum Games, the combat is fluid and entertaining from start to finish. Switching up the gameplay style also helps, including exclusive elements which allow players to even hack their robotic enemies.

Various characters get to wield a variety of weapons, and their small Pods, which can shoot projectiles, allow for players to mix it up a bit. It may come as no surprise that the combat is enjoyable because we are talking about the same developers who provided us with the Bayonetta series.

It’s a lot of fun to revisit, but the beauty of the game cannot go understated. It’s simply gorgeous, and players get to explore a planet that nature has tried to reclaim. Now thousands of years into the future, greenery has covered cities. Small animals will often flock to some areas too, which helps build a tranquil atmosphere when no robots are involved.

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If you feel it necessary, 2B and other characters can mount some of these animals in the game. If you haven’t experienced drifting on a wild boar, well, you’re in a for a treat.

For example, the amusement park which 2B first stumbles upon envelops the screen with bright fireworks and a vibrant colour palette. The game brilliantly manages to mix in those darker tones in some parts, and there’s a certain feeling of dread when you’re greeted by some of the passive robots at the park.

Rust has taken over parts of this amusement park, and when 2B ventures down into the depths, the game decides to provide the player with endless android corpses, and a depraved robot with a twisted backstory. The robot’s design is terrific and haunting, and there’s much more where that came from.

The character design is superb, and 2B’s appearance alone has resulted in her being plastered across many gamers’ bedrooms. Her fashion sense is reminiscent of the popular Japanese Gothic Lolita style, and the camera often takes note of her short skirt. Still, it’s a strong look and it’s certainly helped shift copies of the game.

Yoko Taro’s discusses 2B’s design.

Whilst a lot can be said how NieR: Automata looks, its biggest strength might just be its soundtrack. Now having won several awards, it goes without saying that this is the best soundtrack that I have had the pleasure of listening to in years. It is simply phenomenal, and composer Keiichi Okabe has presented in the industry with one of the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time.

Sure, it’s easy to cry hyperbole on behalf of this praise, but in all honesty, NieR: Automata’s music was one of the biggest things I took from my experience with the game. Composer Keiichi Okabe simply nails it throughout, as he perfectly ramps up the tempo for action sequences, whilst utilising more peaceful melodies which help reflect upon the quieter moments. In some cases, you really can’t separate specific moments from its music. It all fits so well.

Vocalist Emi Evans also provides NieR: Automata with her serene voice, which is added to a majority of the tracks. It’s all very haunting, and it fits perfectly into the tone of the game. Whilst I’ve never purchased a video game soundtrack on vinyl, now might be the time to change that.

Perhaps some gamers will have issues with trying to decipher its complex narrative, and that’s fine. It can be treated as a hack-and-slash visual snack, but it is fascinating to dive in deeper into Nier’s lore through multiple playthroughs and internet searches. Unfortunately for fans though, Yoko Taro has helped expand on the rich universe in unusual ways, exclusively to Japan.

Want to find out more about male androids? Well, there’s a stage play for that now. Thankfully, there are official translations of the novelisations available soon, but it’s a minor nuisance for fans who are so invested in the game.

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NieR: Automata shares weighty themes which are found in other popular Japanese media, such as Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Reportedly, Yoko Taro has cited Neon Genesis Evangelion as an influence, and that is clearly evident. Both display the same ideas, and they’re almost as bleak as each other. Of course, the parallels between the game and Ghost in the Shell are obvious, and the music also sounds similar.

Whilst the game tackles these heavy, underlying subjects, Yoko Taro likes to have some fun with some more unconventional ideas during the game. Want to make some money to purchase a specific upgrade? Well, you can sell sections of your heads-up display. If you’re desperate, for 28G you can even sell your operating system chip. Although it’s not recommended.

There are many moments littered throughout the game which will leave players wondering just what Yoko Taro was thinking, but that’s what helps make this game so distinguishable from the rest of the rubbish that gets released nowadays. It’s nice to be kept on your toes, and NieR: Automata just dares to be different.

NieR: Automata reminded me that video games can be art. It’s something I’ve always believed, but this video game is a strong argument for those who don’t believe the medium is more than cheap first-person shooters and pathetic iPhone applications. Yoko Taro has presented to the industry a weird and wonderful creation, and Platinum Games managed to bring his vision to life with exceptional gameplay.

If you do get the chance, check out NieR: Automata. It feels like it fell off the radar for some, but it needs to be experienced. Some gamers may not enjoy what Yoko Taro has offered out to the table, but I enjoyed every second of it. Apparently, work is already being done on a sequel, so here’s to seeing what’s next for our stupid, sexy androids.

Also, a word to the wise. The PC port hasn’t been updated since it was released. That means there are some framerate issues, display problems and a few glitches. This link below is a fan mod which should help clear some of those problems so you can go ride boars in full screen, on the highest settings.

https://steamcommunity.com/groups/SpecialK_Mods/discussions/3/1334600128973500691/

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TOP 20 FILMS OF 2017

This year, cinema has given us jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals, heavy drama, hysterical comedy and unfortunately, Ridley Scott’s horrendous Alien: Covenant. 2017 has been a mixed bag for blockbusters, with Warner Bros. failing to deliver the goods with the mind-numbingly boring Justice League, and Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi managing to divide its fanbase in two.

Amongst the midst of the CGI-filled blockbuster movies released this year, there’s been a vast selection of indie films that have fallen under the radar for many. We’ve had truly fascinating documentaries, and Netflix has now become a major platform for film releases. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, but they’ve provided viewers with some interesting documentaries, some spectacular indies and David Ayer’s Bright. As it appears, you can’t win ‘em all.

World cinema has yet again reminded us that there are some spellbinding stories to be told across the border, and we’ve had films such as the visceral Raw, The Lure and Blade of the Immortal. Anime has seen yet another boom, with the wonderfully poignant A Silent Voice and many more releases impressing regular cinemagoers.

Television has also played its part this year, with David Lynch’s ambitious and stunning Twin Peaks: The Return. Running at 17 hours long, some critics consider it Lynch’s finest ‘film’ in years. The jury is still out on whether The Return was a success, but in years to come, I believe it will be revered as Lynch’s masterpiece. Got a light?

So, what has been my personal top 20 films of the year? What has left me dazzled and in sheer awe of a filmmaker’s brilliant scope and vision? Well, you’ll find out by scrolling down below, with a list that is mostly based on UK releases, in cinemas or on streaming services.

  1. AMERICAN MADE

Starring Tom Cruise, American Made is a biographical tale about Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who ends up working for the CIA. Not content with working alongside the government, Barry ends up smuggling drugs for the Mexican cartel, which unsurprisingly, doesn’t end very well.

It’s a riveting flick, and viewers will be left charmed by Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry Seal. Despite his criminal exploits, he’s extremely likeable, and amusing to watch when everything falls apart around him. The rest of the cast is terrific too, with Domhnall Gleeson further proving that we need to have him star in more supporting roles (he was easily a favourite character in The Last Jedi).

American Made brilliantly chronicles Barry Seal’s out of the ordinary life and its proof that director Doug Liman and Tom Cruise need to work together more often. After providing us with Edge of Tomorrow and now American Made, it appears that Liman manages to present to us the best version of Tom Cruise, and not the one we received in that garbled mess that was The Mummy.

  1. LA LA LAND

We kicked off this year with the dazzling and stupendous La La Land, which arrived a little later over here in UK cinemas. Directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical starred the spectacular Emma Stone and the charming Ryan Gosling, who play two lovers with their own separate aspirations, which may or may not lead them down their own separate paths.

La La Land establishes itself as a future classic, as it harks back to the golden age of Hollywood musicals. There’s sound chemistry and footwork between both Gosling and Stone, and their performances are splendid. Of course, the musical numbers a sheer delight, as the film opens with an outrageous sequence which perfectly sets the tone of the film.

Damien Chazelle blew us away with Whiplash, and he’s managed to do it again with La La Land. We can’t wait for his next project featuring Ryan Gosling again, in a biopic about Neil Armstrong. After the success of La La Land though, Chazelle can probably tackle any genre and produce gold.

  1. COLOSSAL

Colossal presented viewers with one of the more unique ideas of the year, as director Nacho Vigalondo managed to blend an indie drama with a monster movie for one marvellous cocktail. In this unusual comedy, Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an unemployed writer who returns to her hometown. Attempting to break free from her drinking habit, she befriends the friendly Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis.

As she attempts to string her life back together, chaos ensues over in Seoul. A gargantuan monster has appeared and is leaving death and destruction in its wake. For some strange reason though, Gloria has a connection to this monster, so she attempts to make amends with the hope that everything gets fixed.

It’s a surprisingly dark little film, boosted by an excellent script and solid performances from Hathaway and Sudeikis. Colossal manages to take the best aspects of both genres, and in doing so creates something totally different. It’s engrossing, and it might just be one of Hathaway’s strongest roles in a long time. Colossal needs more love and appreciation, so track it down right away.

  1. THE LOVE WITCH

A compelling contender for cult film of the year, The Love Witch is written and directed by Anna Biller and stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a beautiful young witch who uses her love magic on vulnerable men. Shot in the style of a 1960s camp horror film, The Love Witch is an exemplary piece of work, and it switches up the genre conventions of exploitation movies, by putting us in the mind of women and their desires, for a change.

It’s wickedly dark, as it embraces the technicolour 60s style, and Samantha Robinson is a pure delight to watch. It just oozes with style, and it’s a provocative piece of filmmaking, which couldn’t be more relevant today. It’s a film that feminists can be proud of.

The Love Witch certainly flew under the radar for many, and it only made a few appearances during film festivals in the last year or two, but it is worth tracking down. Anna Biller is set to be an interesting new auteur to follow, and The Love Witch will soon be revered as an enchanting insight into feminism in film, as it soon receives the credit it deserves.

  1. IT

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, It, appeared in cinemas earlier this year to a thunderous box-office taking. Now one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, Andy Muschietti’s It amazed viewers with just how carefully it tackled its source material, keeping in all the unwavering horror throughout.

Bill Skarsgård plays the grotesque Pennywise in this remake, and he deserves all the credit he’s received for such a performance. The casting director also deserves an accolade, for giving us a splendid ensemble of young actors who portray the kids who are traumatised by the evil that haunts the fictional town of Derry.

It doesn’t necessarily rely on cheap jump-scares either, and despite being classed as an outright horror movie by some, it takes plenty of tropes from different genres as well. It’s a coming-of-age comedy/thriller, with a spooky scary clown and floating children. It may depend on how a viewer perceives its themes, but there’s a well-balanced combination throughout.

The film is now classed as Stephen King’s most impressive movie adaptation yet, and it’s easy to understand why. It stays true to the book, it’s frightfully eerie in places, and it’s also surprisingly funny. It’ll be interesting to see how they tackle the upcoming second part, considering the 27-year gap. We can only hope that the Losers are as brilliantly cast as they were in this film.

  1. SILENCE

A historical period drama directed by Martin Scorsese, Silence is not for the faint of heart. It’s a gut-wrenching, punishing tale of two missionaries who embark on a journey to locate their missing mentor, whilst spreading their religious beliefs across Japan. It’s set in 1637, and it stars Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver in some of their toughest parts to date.

It’s Scorsese’s third work based on religion, and he tackles some extremely heavy themes throughout. It feels like his most personal work yet, and it might not be for everyone. At two hours and 41 minutes, viewers will have their endurance tested by the numerous scenes of torture, and the moments where faith is tested.

Unsurprisingly though, the cinematography is gorgeous. Scorsese masterfully tackles the source material with great care, and in doing so presents us one of his most remarkable films to date. Andrew Garfield is brilliant also, reminding us of just how talented an actor he is. It’s easy to say, but it might be Garfield’s greatest work yet.

  1. INGRID GOES WEST

Aubrey Plaza has always been wonderful to watch onscreen, but she’s also been accused of consistently playing the awkward weirdo in most of her roles. However, in 2017, she proved all the naysayers wrong with a variety of performances that blew people away. She surprised us all in FX’s television series Legion as the seductively dark Shadow King, and she even played a foul-mouthed nun, in The Little Hours.

Still, it was Ingrid Goes West that boasted her best performance of her career to date, as she plays the social media stalker Ingrid, whose obsession with an Instagram model slowly ends up taking over her life. It’s a biting comedy directed by Matt Spicer, and it takes an unflinching look at how social media has negatively impacted society.

Plaza is captivating as Ingrid, and despite her shortcomings, she’s quite relatable. It’s a topical piece of filmmaking, and it even features one of the funniest sex scenes of the year. It’s nice to see Aubrey Plaza getting the recognition she rightly deserves, so here’s to seeing more unconventional roles from her in the future.

  1. DUNKIRK

Perhaps Christopher Nolan’s greatest work to date, Dunkirk is a war film based on the events of the evacuation of Allied forces on the beaches of France during World War Two. It’s a suspenseful, gripping tale of human survival, starring a grand selection of actors, such as Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.

The evacuation effort takes place across the land, air and sea, and viewers are left on the edge of their seats, as Nolan lets the cinematography and music create the atmosphere. It’s a gut-wrenching film, and it surprises everyone with Harry Styles’ commendable performance as one of the distraught evacuees.

It’s an intense movie, and at times it’s eerily quiet, allowing for thunderous bellows of gunfire to be heard booming over the speakers. The evacuation effort is all perfectly recreated down to the finest details, such as the aircraft and ships used throughout the film. It’s a meticulous labour of love, and Nolan clearly put his all his heart into Dunkirk.

  1. GOOD TIME

Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time is a fast-paced, character-driven crime drama starring Robert Pattinson. In Good Time, Pattinson plays the hapless criminal, Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas. After inadvertently landing his disabled brother in jail, Connie attempts to bail him out, whilst adding a few more criminal offences to his long resumé.

Good Time is a slick, stylish picture, which is tightly put together with a sharp script and some solid cinematography. Pattinson is simply incredible as Nikas, and he’s pretty much unrecognisable, reminding viewers of just how versatile an actor he can be. Nikas’ various attempts at rescuing his brother will leave viewers squirming, but it makes for one hell of a story.

It’s neat to see Pattinson branch out a little more, and he’s also accomplished that in The Lost City of Z. The studio behind Good Time, A24, has provided us with some of finest first-rate films in recent years, such as Swiss Army Man, Ex Machina, The Lobster and more recently, The Disaster Artist. So, rest assured that any film bearing that logo will be practically unmissable.

  1. SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING

This year, the web-head returned to its rightful owner, Marvel Studios, with Jon Watts’ Spider-man: Homecoming. Starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture, this high-school superhero comedy had shades of John Hughes crawling all over it, and it stands superior over previous Spider-man films. Sorry, Doc Ock.

It’s a much more grounded superhero film than the ones before it and having Parker portrayed as a much younger kid helped change up the tired formula from previous movies. Whereas Tobey Maguire’s Parker was just awkward, and Andrew Garfield’s was slightly annoying, Tom Holland’s portrayal of the beloved character was extremely likeable. We had already seen snippets of Holland’s Spidey in Marvel Studios’ Civil War, but in Homecoming, he may have proved to be the definitive actor for the role.

It will come as no surprise, but Keaton manages to hit all the right notes as the deadly Vulture, a character who feels betrayed by the government. To protect his family financially, he creates and sells advanced weapons technology, salvaged from the original alien attack witnessed in Avengers Assemble. Of course, that becomes a problem when a certain high-school hero attempts to put a stop to his criminal activities.

Spider-man Homecoming was the film that fans have desired and deserved for so long, and they’ve finally got their wish. It stars an impressive cast, the superb Tom Holland, a stellar script and some solid jokes to boot. Here’s to Marvel Studios finally acquiring all their original comic book properties, just so they can get the proper treatment.

  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2

Marvel Studios kicked off their amazing year with James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which brought back the weird and wonderful heroes for yet another insane adventure. The fate of the universe rests in the hands of the Guardians yet again, but first Peter Quill has some father issues to get through.

Volume 2 stars the much-loved cast from the previous film, but this time around, we’re introduced to Kurt Russell as Ego and Pom Klementieff as the pleasantly cute Mantis. The story mainly revolves around Star-lord, who meets his father Ego for the very first time. At first, it seems to be a happy reunion, but other members of the team aren’t convinced.

James Gunn provides another tremendous soundtrack here, along with his trademark style and humour. It’s one of Marvel Studios prettiest films too, as the vibrant colours quite literally burst out from the screen. The team dynamic is further explored in greater detail here, and the merchandise machine Baby Groot surprisingly turned out to be inoffensive.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are one of the greatest families in cinema today, and Volume 2 showcased action, drama, and a surprisingly emotional climax that nobody was ready for. It’s a mighty fine addition to the impressive Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there’s no telling where Gunn will take this much-loved dysfunctional space family in the future. Either way, we’ll be patiently waiting for more Mantis, because she is delightful.

  1. KONG SKULL ISLAND

Kong: Skull Island was one of the biggest blockbuster surprises of 2017, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts reminded us that not all monster movies need to be an exercise in mindless CGI scraps. Taking place in the seventies, the film concerns a group of explorers and Vietnam vets who travel to an uncharted island full of mysterious and magnificent monsters.

Skull Island featured one of the most distinguished cast ensembles of the year, with heavy-hitters such as Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and Brie Larson. Remarkably, each character in the film has a well-balanced and developed storyline, with Jackson’s character playing out like Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab.

The visuals are stunning, and it’s evident that the director took inspiration from Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. The CGI is ace, and Kong undoubtedly looks the part. He’s an intimidating figure, and thankfully there’s no hackneyed love interest with this version of the great ape. There is, however, one scene in Kong: Skull Island which really shouldn’t work on paper because it’s utterly ridiculous, and yet somehow, Vogt-Roberts pulls it off.

Don’t be put off by the fact that this the nth Kong to grace our cinemas. It’s an exceptional movie, and it will be interesting to see where they take the ape when it comes to his inevitable encounter with the almighty King of Monsters, Godzilla. Hold onto your butts.

  1. DEATH OF STALIN

Directed by Armando Iannucci, Death of Stalin is a political satire concerning the Soviet power struggle after Stalin’s death, and it’s one of the funniest films of the year. It’s a strange mixture of English-speaking actors placed in the role of Russian officials, and you haven’t experienced anything yet until you’ve seen someone with a Yorkshire accent playing the leader of the Red Army.

Armando Iannucci is the king of political satire, and Death of Stalin is yet another crowning achievement. It sports a sharp and witty script and some of the most amusing lines of the year. The cast is stellar, featuring the likes of Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Isaacs and Paddy Considine. They’re all on form, and when the film slightly lowers its comedic tone, the realisation of this utterly bleak situation comes to light.

It’s dark and grisly in parts and a miserable reminder that despite it being set in the 1950s, it’s still a relevant piece of filmmaking for today’s political climate. Based on the graphic novel of the same, Death of Stalin is compulsory viewing for anyone who has enjoyed Iannucci’s past work, such as BBC’s Thick of It. When Gerard Butler’s Geostorm outperforms Death of Stalin in the UK box-office, you must wonder what’s profoundly wrong with society, but do check out this hilarious material as soon as possible.

  1. YOUR NAME

Now the highest grossing anime movie of all time, Your Name is directed by Makoto Shinkai, and was available on limited release in IMAX theatres this year, after having a brief stint throughout UK festivals in 2016. It’s one of the most visually striking movies of the year, and it deserves all the credit it’s currently receiving.

The film follows two characters, city boy Taki and country girl Mitsuha, who mysteriously end up swapping their bodies. It’s not an atypical body swap story though, and it is peppered with some truly touching moments, as Taki attempts to locate Mitsuha in rural Japan. It is as emotionally satisfying as it is beautiful to look at.

The soundtrack in Your Name sticks out, too, and helps reflect on the characters developments through the film. The animation is simply mesmerising, and it’s quite surprising to see that director Shinkai wasn’t happy with this project, especially considering just how magical Your Name is. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s an anime, either, as it’s easily accessible by anyone.

  1. THE BIG SICK

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick impressed cinemagoers this year with this down-to-earth romantic comedy, which included a sharp and hilarious script and some fantastic performances.

The film stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, as it tells the true story of Kumail and Emily’s unusual courtship. It has an interesting concept too, which helps revitalise the standard rom-com formula. After a rough break-up, Kumail and Emily are brought together yet again when she suddenly falls ill.

Kumail Nanjiani is a charming, disarming lead character who eventually engages with Emily’s parents whilst she’s in a coma. Of course, this results in some particularly awkward, humorous scenarios and the important question hangs over the viewer – will they get back together if she survives?

The Big Sick isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it sports a clever script, endearing characters and it’s an interesting insight into Kumail’s heritage. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and Ray Romano even makes an appearance as Emily’s dad. What more could you want there? It’s a fine addition to the romantic comedy genre and a nice reminder that it’s not all idealistic shlock.

  1. FREE FIRE

Directed by Ben Wheatley, Free Fire was one of the shortest yet most explosive films of the year. Starring Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, Free Fire takes place in the 1970s, during a dicey arms deal. As weapons are about to be supplied to members of the IRA, everything goes terribly wrong when a dealer recognises a deadbeat from a previous altercation.

It’s a fast-paced movie, full of bullets, explosions, and Sharlto Copley’s beautiful hair. It’s another A24 title, and it’s a big departure from Wheatley’s previous film High Rise, which divided a few critics upon its release.

There’s a favourite actor for everyone in this cast, with Armie Hammer providing some of the funniest lines during the epic shootout, further demonstrating that he’s the gift that just keeps on giving (The Lone Ranger is still misunderstood, damn it).

Free Fire plays fast like a climax from one of Tarantino’s movies, and it’s almost unrelenting once the first bullet is fired. There’s plenty of thrills to be had with Wheatley’s Free Fire, and it boasts some of the strongest gunfire sounds ever recorded. It’s ridiculous, action-packed and straight to the point. Don’t miss out on this smooth little comedy shoot-out, which again, needs more appreciation.

  1. THOR RAGNAROK

The mantle of superhero film of the year belongs to Thor: Ragnarok, and it might just be one of the sweetest Marvel Studios productions yet. The third movie in the Thor franchise, Ragnarok took the God of Thunder into brand new terrain, at the hands of director Taika Waititi.

Some may know that I constantly praise Waititi’s work, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople positioned as my number one film of 2016. Unsurprisingly then, his bizarre take on the much-loved Marvel character turned out to be utterly incredible.

Thor: Ragnarok does away of the tired conventions of the comic book character, by throwing him into the unknown. Without his trusty hammer and now lost on an alien planet, Thor must find his way back to Asgard to put a stop to Hela’s evil plans.

It stars the handsome Chris Hemsworth, Tumblr favourite Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, and introduces some new faces into the mix. The striking Cate Blanchett adopts the role of Hela, and the magnificent Jeff Goldblum is the ruler of the alien planet Sakaar, the Grandmaster.

Again, Marvel Studios attempts to subvert the superhero genre and it works to their advantage. Ragnarok feels like a fantasy comedy, with dazzling visuals, side-splittingly funny gags and the big green monster, the Hulk. Taika Waititi gave us one of the sweetest villainesses in recent years with Hela, and he was kind enough to portray the role of new fan-favourite, Korg.

It’s just pure escapist fun from start-to-finish, and it’s what the superhero genre should aim to be. Whereas films like DC’s Justice League somehow set us back a decade or two, Marvel takes it in new and interesting directions. If Marvel does continue the loosen the reins on their directors, then hopefully we’ll get to see such marvellous visions more often.

  1. BABY DRIVER

Edgar Wright returned to our screens for the first time since 2013’s The World’s End, with this rambunctious, high-energy octane heist movie, Baby Driver. With one of the most impressive intros of 2017, Baby Driver straps viewers in for a wild, melodic and gripping ride.

The film stars Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, who are all at the top of their game. The story mainly follows Baby, who acts as a skilled escape driver for bank heists. Working for a noxious kingpin, Baby’s actions gets himself and his new love interest in deep trouble.

Baby Driver is now Edgar Wright’s highest-grossing movie, and that really comes as no surprise. From the second ‘Bellbottoms’ hits the speakers, it’s all go from there. It’s an electrifying ride, and it features the finest soundtrack of the year. Each track has been carefully selected by Wright, as he even meticulously manages to add not only the beats but lyrics into his sequences.

It’s one of the best blockbusters of the year, and Ansel Elgort is an outstanding lead character. It’s a shame he wasn’t chosen by Disney to play Han for the doomed Solo film, but with The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver behind him, we’ll be sure to see him in future feature films.

Edgar Wright’s movies always benefit from a bit of academic deconstruction, and this is no exception. He’s a master of his craft, and I personally look forward to viewing all the details I’ve missed before. Once you’ve finished Baby Driver, steer yourself in the direction of the playlist by using the link below:

  1. GET OUT

A film that will be on everyone’s list this year, Get Out was written and directed by comedian Jordan Peele. It’s a horror/thriller film, that follows Chris, a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s family. However, not everything seems to be above-board, as Chris notices a few occurrences that just don’t seem to add up.

Chris is played by the fantastic Daniel Kaluuya, and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, is portrayed by Allison Williams. Rose’s family, the Armitage’s, have some familiar faces, such as Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford and Caleb Landry Jones. Daniel Kaluuya, who has already made waves in one of Black Mirror’s strongest episodes, is truly excellent in the film.

Considering Get Out is Jordan Peele’s first directed work, we cannot wait to see what else he has planned. It’s a provocative movie, that deals with the weighty theme of racism. It’s tactfully done, and unfortunately, it’s still a very much relevant piece of filmmaking in this current day and age.

Get Out was wrongfully nominated as a comedy by the Golden Globes, which just goes to show how well award ceremonies understand the film. Peele corrected the Globes, by defining his movie as a documentary. Admittedly though, even if it has all the right horror beats to it, it does feel a little more like a thriller. Regardless of whatever genre it is though, it’s an imitable piece of cinema.

Since its release, Get Out has become one of the highest grossing films of 2017, and it’s now one of the most profitable movies as well. It’s topical, brilliantly-acted and it’s one of the fiercest directorial debuts from a director in years. If you haven’t checked out the thrilling Get Out yet, then do not hesitate to track it down.

  1. BLADE RUNNER 2049

This year, Denis Villeneuve proved to Blade Runner fans that he understands the universe better than they do and in doing so, managed to create one of the most divisive films of this year with his sequel to an old cult favourite, Blade Runner 2049.

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – Blade Runner 2049 performed terribly at the box-office. The marketing was all wrong, and the original film wasn’t massively popular, to begin with. It’s a shame because Villeneuve’s film is a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of work.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a Blade Runner who retires rogue replicants. In his assignment, K discovers a surprising find that could change everything humans know about replicants. Living alone with his holographical girlfriend, Joi, K starts off an investigation that reveals a hidden secret.

Blade Runner 2049 runs at almost 3 hours, and there were many reports of its slow-pace upsetting some cinemagoers. Perhaps some people desired to see more explosions? However, Blade Runner 2049 is a pure visual feast, with the smartest script of the year. Of course, Ryan Gosling is terrific as K, and he manages to portray the character’s arc spectacularly.

In all honesty, Blade Runner 2049 feels very much like The Godfather Part 2. It takes aspects of what made the original work and improves and expands on it. Officer K has a fleshed-out storyline, and there’s less ambiguity here. It may be sacrilege to put Blade Runner 2049 on a higher pedestal than the first, but Denis Villeneuve gives us a sci-fi movie that we desperately needed, especially after this year’s dreadful offerings.

Ridley Scott has gone on record to mention the film’s length is way too long, and he has numerous issues with the film. Apparently, Villeneuve has a much bigger cut which won’t see any release anytime soon, but Scott should just focus on his own work – like running the Aliens franchise into the ground.

Blade Runner 2049 is my film of 2017. It reminds me why I enjoy cinema. It’s thought-provoking, it’s beautiful to look at and the story is stimulating. After giving us Arrival and Enemy, I can’t wait to see what Denis has up his sleeve next. If you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet, do yourself a favour and get the biggest screen you have, get comfortable, and get ready to be enveloped in a rich universe.

Sonic Mania – Review

It may have taken them a long fifteen years, but Sega has finally released a Sonic the Hedgehog game that fans can be incredibly proud of. Developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, Sonic Mania is a true return to form for the blue speedball, receiving rave reviews almost everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, like the previous games, Sonic Mania revolves around stopping Dr Eggman (Robotnik) and collecting the Chaos Emeralds. As they attempt to thwart Eggman’s plans, Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are thrown back into the past. Now it’s a race through time to save the day once again.

The game is similar in style to the original 2D platform games that the franchise is renowned for. Players are able to play as Sonic, Tails or even Knuckles in a variety of different acts. Some old favourites return with some grand redesigns, along with a small selection of shiny new zones.

Sonic Mania kicks things off with a stunning little animated short, and immediately this feels like a fresh start for the franchise. Known for his work on the recently cancelled Archie Sonic Mega Drive miniseries, Tyson Hesse lends a hand in animating this fun intro.

There’s a clear labour of love behind the game, as it’s even developed by a number of fans who are known in the community for their hard work on porting and creating their very own Sonic games. Once lead programmer Christian Whitehead approached Sega about this unique idea, the company decided to help publish it.

Thankfully, Sega made the right choice here. After so many previous pitfalls, Sonic Mania finally gets it right. It’s a superb piece of work, which can provide fans with hours of entertainment. Having recently finished the game, it’s safe to say that it should be recommended to those who have even fallen out with the hedgehog.

The zones have such a clever design to them, meaning that Sonic can traverse across any of the acts however the player wants. Due to the way some of them are designed, zones can be ended in various different ways. Don’t care for the water on a certain level? Get dry and travel to the highest parts of the map.

There’s a huge sense of nostalgia when Sonic is revisiting the old zones, but honestly, the new ones are where the game truly shines. For example, Studiopolis Zone showcases just how great the level designs are, and how the developers have managed to add their own flair to an old recipe. There’s so much detail to be seen as Sonic whizzes on by, so don’t hesitate to pause once in a while to admire the vibrant colours and unique designs.

If there’s any criticism to be made about the game though, it’s that we’ve seen some of these old acts before. The nightmare inducing Chemical Plant and Hydrocity zones make a return, along with that horrifying drowning countdown sound. It’s nice to revisit these zones with a fresh coat of paint, but there was a certain desire to see more new content, especially considering the fact they’re so well made.

Despite this minor criticism, it felt that Sonic Mania was severely missing its very own Ice Cap Zone, so no valid complaints can be made there. Bonus stages make a return again and unfortunately, there’s been no improvement here with collecting the blue spheres. There’s also the addition of the Special Zone, which can be accessed in hidden areas. Special Zones consist of chasing down a UFO, which is a welcome change of pace.

The enemies in Sonic Mania are pretty much the same as their predecessors, but there are a few surprise appearances throughout. Fans of the series will be happy to see a myriad of old faces, and some of the more keen-eyed gamers will notice references to forgotten games.

Players will notice the change in difficulty later into the game, and in one case the final boss in Oil Ocean Zone resulted in some short gameplay breaks. When all lives are lost in Sonic Mania, players have to start from the beginning of the first act. It’s not as harsh a punishment from the previous 2D games, but it’s suitable. Practice just makes perfect with these games.

Unfortunately, a small number of glitches hindered my progress throughout the game. So far, Sonic has managed to completely skip an act one boss, and also get himself perpetually stuck in the spinning motion during a boss fight, presumably for the rest of his life. This can be put down to the fact that the game is brand new so glitches like this can happen. Hopefully, these get fixed though, as other players are having issues.

The sprites have never looked better either, and they’re completely fluid no matter what Sonic is doing.  The same applies to the enemies and especially the boss battles, and Eggman’s creations are meticulously put together brilliantly. Hard work and dedication has been spent on bringing this game to life, and people familiar with sprites will end up blushing during the game.

Of course, Michael Jackson isn’t around to help contribute to the music in Sonic Mania (was he ever?), but it is without a doubt the strongest soundtrack in around 20 years. Whereas Sonic Adventure 2 had some decent songs, Sonic Mania provides some solid remixes and fresh tracks that fans will be already adding to their personal playlists.

Sonic Mania took around five hours to complete, but thankfully there’s an awful lot of replayability here. There’s a Time Attack mode, allowing players to finish the zones in the fastest time possible. Competition Mode makes a welcome return (first appearing in Sonic the Hedgehog 2), where players can race to the finish line.

As is the case with all Sonic games, players aren’t truly finished until all the Chaos Emeralds are collected. Medallions can also be acquired in the game, unlocking special features for different characters. Some will even notice that playing as Knuckles results in a different layout for one level.

For those who fond of the original 2D games, it’s certain that they’ll fall in love with Sonic Mania. It’s even a great starting point for the younger player, who will enjoy the fast-paced action. Considering just how cheap it is, Sonic Mania is great value for money, and it deserves to be played. Hopefully, Sega picks these developers once again, and we’ll see more of this sort of thing.

Sonic Mania is available on all platforms, and it’s a downright bargain. Although I claimed that there have been no well-reviewed Sonic games in fifteen years, I’ve admittedly left out the Sonic & All-Stars Racing games, which deserves recognition for being amazing. Sorry about that.