So, here we are, the beginning of a new year. It's a cliché, but as the years progress, they seem to pass by at a proportionately quicker rate. Jeez, I must be getting old!
Anyhoo, as it's a new year, I thought I would have a look back at 2015 and let you know what films, games, TV shows and books I enjoyed.
Now I don't know about you, but I made a concious effort to go the cinema with my good lady a bit more this year, nights out and all that. We did discover that the local cinema offers a discount Tuesday offer where tickets are just £4. Since most local services seem to operate on a "use it or lose it" basis, we decided to do our bit (and the cheap ticket prices help!)
The film we enjoyed the most was Kingsman: The Secret Service. I liked the premise and we had heard good reports, so off we went. It takes the spy genre and runs with it as a self aware, hyper kenetic, fun packed two and a bit hours. From Colin Firth's suave action hero to Mark Strong's pitch perfect "Q"-alike, Kingsman ticks every box. Even Sam Jackson's lisping bad guy works a treat. It was one of those films that we bought on day of DVD release. I just hope the sequel doesn't spoil that feel.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. The fifth film in the series, it had the usual mix of action set pieces, double crossing, convoluted plot twists and buddy humour. And the most visceral vehicle chase I have seen in a long time. Love him, loathe him, or just meh, Tom Cruise can still carry the series. He can also take the piddle out of himself and his age, to brilliant comic effect. It's a great continuation of a film series that continues to adapt and get better.
Spectre: You may think this is controversial, but Skyfall wasn't the be all and end all of Bond films for me. Don't get me wrong, it was good, one of the better Bond films, but it lacks that spark. With that in mind, I approached Spectre with an open mind. The opening did it for me, a long tracking shot through the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City. The rest of the film held up that promise, with the exception of Christoph Waltz, who wasn't in it enough. Other than that, I haven't enjoyed a Bond film this much since Goldeneye.
Funnily enough, as a fan of games, I didn't play that many new games during 2015. With a combination of work, house moves and life in general, there hasn't been the time. However, the year did see me join the current console generation so it wasn't entirely a game free year.
Batman: Arkham Knight is my favourite game of the year. The final game of the Rocksteady developed Batman games, Arkham Knight is, in my eyes, nearly perfect, from the free flowing combat system to the pacing and game design. Even the addition of the Batmobile added to the mix, even if some did find it more of a nuisance. On the downside, the actual Arkham Knight was a bit of a disappointment, but even so, as a culmination of the trilogy, it hit almost all of the right notes. Let's not dwell too much on the Season Pass though, over-priced with poor additional story missions.
Rare Replay was a pleasant surprise, chocked full with 30 games from developer Rare (and it's previous incarnations). From the early 80's Spectrum hits like Sabre Wulf and Jetman, to the halcyon Nintendo 64 days of Blast Corps and Banjo Kazooie, to the more recent Perfect Dark Zero and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, the only disappointment was the lack of Goldeneye 007 and the Donkey Kong series, but as they don't hold the rights to the titles, their omission was to be expected. Overall though, a lovely reminder of how gaming has progressed over 30 years and how good game design never ages.
Tomb Raider: Rise of the Tomb Raider added to and surpassed the excellence of the Tomb Raider re-boot of 2013. The combat was more refined, the look and feel benefiting from two years of increasing familiarity with the X-Box One hardware and generally a more confident outing. This was a fun game.
As with films, TV shows tend to get missed out as life tends to get in the way. However, as the winter months closed in, we had a chance to see what TV shows were out there.
Sense8 was the killer TV show for me. Well, the good lady picked it and after two episodes, I was hooked too. From the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and J Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5), the pedigree was impressive. A story following 8 characters linked mentally and emotionally across the world, it is initially a tad confusing and more than a little graphic (the first episode sets the tone and sticks with it from there), but as the back stories are revealed, and the strands come together, the show reaches a crescendo that meant binge watching became the norm. There is a second series coming, and the plan is for a 5 year arc (familiar for Babylon 5 fans...) so I would definitely recommend this to anyone (over the age of 18, obviously).
Jessica Jones was a series I had reservations about, but like Sense8, after a couple of episodes, it became binge-watchingly good. With a flawed central character and a villain that was selfishly anarchic with massive parent issues, the show was well produced, plotted and acted. Purely for the lack of scale in story telling and reach is this a honourable mention.
Two more shows caught our attention: Scorpion, following a band of super intelligent, socially stunted individuals working for Homeland Security, is formula television, but formula done well, and we watched the first season on Netflix in just over two weeks. Just don't Google the real Walter O'Brien, it'll spoil the show... Gotham was also a must watch, telling the tale of a young Jim Gordon a good 15/20 years before Batman makes an appearance. With a superb cast of villains and enough twist, turns and geek spots for future enemies, it turns a police procedural into an exciting origins tale for the Batman universe. And Sean Pertwee is brilliant as Alfred. Just saying.
Sad to say, only one book stood out for me this year. The Silent Deep is a history of the Royal Navy Submarine Service post 1945. Well researched and written, it is a must for anyone with any interest in the period, detailing the operational and political machinations that defined the Royal Navy and Britain's role in the Cold War.
What I haven't done is list a favourite wargame played. There is a very simple reason for this. I'm not picking one. For me, each game played with the TWATS is an event in itself and each is as enjoyed as the others. It's not just about the game but the atmosphere of a groups of friends enjoying a hobby, whatever they individually take out of it. And it's the fine ale and food too!
Let me know what you think of my list, and what your favourites of 2015 were too.