2020: Year of Halo – Part 1: A Bit of a Reach

Late in 2019 Microsoft did something rather devious – After a considerable period of drawn-out hype, the storied partnership between 343 Industries, Splash Damage and Ruffian Games bore its first meaningful piece of fruit for PC gamers; Halo: The Master Chief Collection took its first steps onto the wild plains of the personal computer. This was devious, of course, because it came roughly a year before the purported due date of the next Xbox console, and Microsoft has made a real point of saying that Halo Infinite will launch on the same day. What’s more, while only Halo: Reach is out on PC now, the remaining four-and-a-half Halo games are slated for staggered release over the course of 2020. Rarely has a pre-release run of hype dominoes been so tantalisingly lined up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a year of Halo.

Now I have only finished one Halo campaign in my life – ODST – and only because it was a mostly irrelevant sub-story. I’ve been playing Halo games for a long time, but the lore and plot hasn’t ever really had a chance to grab me. One of the reasons I was so readily able to rank Halo 5 so high in 2015, after all, was my complete disinterest in its campaign. To me, Halo has always been about the presentation and the multiplayer.

But with such a ready-made setup, I will likely never have a better chance to get into the main story of gaming’s most famous contribution to the sci-fi canon. The motivation just wouldn’t be there otherwise. So, Halo: Reach, here we go; it’s time at last for me to finish your campaign.
Continue reading

Best of 2019 Closer

And so we enter a new decade, full of fresh promise and plenty of as-yet uncertain change. At the end of the ’20s, what will all these mediums look like? How many of the movies we watch will debut on streaming services? Will we have another new console generation or will the next ones stand longer with half-upgrades? Who even knows what K-Pop will look like?

In any case, this is how the 2010s closed out for me; my favourite videogame, K-Pop and movie stuff of 2019:

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 4 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 11 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

Best of 2019: Top 10 Movies

Like any other recent year, I spent the majority of 2019 trying to see as many movies as I could, thoroughly enjoying posting an entry in my ten word review series every time I passed another ten-film milestone. I wrote up two of those this year – a decent effort I thought, given some years I’ve struggled to get to 20 movies.

Four of those 20 made this list.

Yep, although the first two thirds of the year were certainly no slouch, that final bit brought the goods like nothing else and turned 2019 into a banner year for worthwhile theatrical adventures (though sadly I haven’t seen Parasite yet). In the process it transformed this list from a Disney-dominated extravaganza to a… slightly less Disney-dominated extravaganza. Yay for a bit of competition, right?

Happy New Year!

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

.

10. Toy Story 4

This was a strong year for animation to be sure, but the most surprisingly good dose of it came from Pixar’s initially derided bonus sequel to the beloved Toy Story trilogy. Pixar is still doing a fair amount of good stuff in the modern era, but this still felt like a cash grab when it was announced. Then it actually came out, and wow. The team who brought you a heart-rending tale about growing up now brings you a heart-rending tale about parenthood and shifting between phases in your adult life. Oh, it’s also the prettiest animation you ever done seen, and it’s by far the funniest Toy Story movie yet. Unafraid to use only the legacy characters it needs in order to serve this particular story, it also introduces a hilarious set of new ones and none of them outstay their welcome. Toy Story 4 kicks a come-from-behind goal to beat 23 other movies to the tenth slot.

Continue reading

Best of 2019: Top 15 Games

Your mileage may vary on 2019’s strength as a videogame year. As I daresay my consoles list would suggest, that mileage will probably depend on whether you have a Nintendo Switch, but not just because that console enjoyed more exclusive new releases than any other this year. Much like the improved Xbox Game Pass, the Switch offered a raft of opportunities for time-poor players to enjoy older games in a new form. This definitely contributed at times to a feeling that I was helplessly drowning in stuff to play, but I do have friends who look back on 2019 with more laid-back attitudes and shrug. It wouldn’t have helped that the heavy-hitting North Americans largely sat 2019 out, taking up only two slots on my list; this was a year utterly dominated by Japanese and European developers, after all, with a strong line-up of perfectly toasted indie treats along for the ride.

To help me cut down this list to a usable 15, I always use the same rule: A game can make it on if I played it for 5+ hours or finished it (whichever comes first), unless it’s a multiplayer-focused game; then I just need to have played it once. I feel like this has always served me well as an indicator that I’ve given a title a fair shake, but it once again disqualifies a bunch of fantastic games that make me wince just typing them out: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Devil May Cry 5, Baba is You, Gears 5, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. If you don’t see a game either on the main list or in this paragraph, you can safely assume I just did not rate it highly enough or lacked the interest / awareness to try it.

Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

.

15. Rage 2 (XBO/PC)

2019 was positively laced with games that one might call 7/10 experiences; titles that do plenty right but have a noticeable permeating flaw or simply don’t do much to distinguish themselves (see the honorable mentions for a few examples). Many count Rage 2 among these, but I feel like it’s got plenty enough going for it to carve out a unique voice. The environments – especially outdoors – are absolutely stunning at times, thanks to Avalanche’s gorgeous Apex Engine; the popping colours in the most intense firefights are instantly identifiable to this game; and the gunplay is well fitting of Doom developers Id Software. Rage 2 was knocked by critics and audiences for repetitive open world design, but I often feel like modern criticism is too quick to undercut the importance of well-designed movement flow. Actually playing Rage 2 feels amazing moment-to-moment, gun-to-car, which is the main reason it makes my GOTY list in 2019.

Continue reading

Best of 2019: Top 11 K-Pop Albums

Yes, this is where I’m putting that extra point from the shortened consoles list.

2019 was in my estimation the craziest year for quality K-Pop mini albums I’ve yet experienced. For a significant chunk of this year I toyed with the idea of outright replacing this list with a top ten purely devoted to the EP format. With the extra point and more honorable mentions I’ve pretty much ended up with one anyway, which is great because thanks to an expanded K-Pop recommendation circle I did uncover a good amount of worthwhile full albums in the end as well. I may have bent some rules, but I’m really happy with the list this year. Happy listening!

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

.


MINI ALBUMS

.

6. Kill This Love – Blackpink

Yes indeed, once in a while a YG girl group actually releases enough songs at the same time to count as an album! In Blackpink’s case, the loooooong time between drinks just about paid off in 2019, because Kill This Love brings three A-game B-sides and a pretty decent remix to slot in under the bombastic title track and create a winning EP. First-change rumbler Don’t Know What To Do leverages the drop-happy stylings that have helped slide Blackpink out from under 2NE1’s shadow, while Hope Not finally brings back the all-too-brief magic from the group’s debut year acoustic B-side Stay. The sealer is the middle track, however: Kick It is a low-key better song than the actual lead single, Kill This Love, which is no dud itself. Uniting big drop with strumming flourish, it rocks.

Continue reading

Best of 2019: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Videogames are made up of tiny moments, each one hopefully engineered to keep you engaged in the overall experience of playing. But some unique slices of game design or scenario writing stand out from the smaller ones around them, sticking in our minds because they differ so wildly from our expectations, or because they encapsulate everything that’s great about a game in one neat package, or because they’re just fun to go through. Some moments are carefully set up by the developers; others completely unplanned, based on happenstance and/or the involvement of additional human players.

These are my ten favourite moments in 2019 video games.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE!

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

.

10. Out of the Blue – Apex Legends

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have any games to play at the start of February this year. But with barely a week gone since the year kicked off with Resident Evil 2, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Wargroove – each a big deal in its own way – EA decided the time was right to drop a new, free-to-play shooter with next to zero pre-release marketing or hype. Apex Legends represented a new step for developer-of-the-year Respawn Entertainment, previously of Titanfall fame; but diving into the game with a few friends on day one revealed a tasty basket of unexplored ideas in the battle royale genre that made it clear why EA had such confidence in the risky strategy. Using respawning pods, taking ziplines and especially the near-endless slope sliding were all a heap of fun, and they even let Apex take enough of the Fortnite and PUBG audience to rule the roost for a few months.

Continue reading

Best of 2019: Top 10 Movie Scenes

Now we arrive at the year’s most stacked and probably most fun list. I had a shortlist of 28 scenes from 31 movies to whittle down to ten, and it’s been a good time reliving these well-constructed moments of tension, emotional catharsis or just plain fun at the movies. But while sifting through the shortlist I had a wild realisation: 2019 was a real good year for movie songs. I’ve got three of them on the main list and two in the honourable mentions, but worry not – there’s plenty of other stuff too. Including, obviously, lots and lots of big fat spoilers.

Proceed with caution.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

.

10. All Hands on Deck – Shazam!

Like quite a few people out there, outside of Batman and friends I’m not a huge DC guy. There’s an awful lot about DC Comics characters that I don’t know. I also did not keep up with a ton of the marketing for Shazam! So I had no idea that the titular character has a super-powered foster family in the comics with whom he fights bad guys. But it didn’t take long for the movie to charm me – and make me well up a bit – with its regular human foster family plot. The movie’s portrayal of believably flawed kids living together in a community held together by a ridiculously patient couple really, really got me. So when the finale places a bunch of dominoes in a row in order to set up that power-dividing moment, it felt triumphant and earned. The fight afterwards is incredibly cheesy and a bit too neatly staged, but it was hard to care. I was having too much fun.

Continue reading