I can't claim to be any kind of authority on video games. My history of gaming is patchy to say the least, having been an early gamer back when we used "home computers" for such things, but then never owning a PS2. Also, I tend to stick to games which involve shooting at things - so if you're looking for a well-balanced, concise round-up of the gaming year, you might want to look elsewhere.
My gaming life is divided between the Xbox and the DS. The DS is still the best hand-held gaming device on the planet - with an almost resolutely lo-fi approach both sonically and graphically, it's success is down to gameplay and elegant programming. The PSP (with it's high-end graphics and sleek design) is not pulling in the kid-gamer dollars. In the world of so-called casual games (video-crack, more like), the monkey on my back was mostly Peggle and Scribblenauts. Oh, and re-playing the mind-numbingly addictive Cradle of Rome line-'em-up. As for the Xbox, now I look at the amount of games I've been through this year, I can't believe I had much time for anything else.
The much hyped Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 has been ridiculously successful (sales-wise at least), but in my opinion they done jumped the shark. Brilliant, visceral and engaging for sure, but also short, non-sensical, and rather too easy. It certainly delivered plenty of "fuck me!" moments, with breathtaking use of lighting and sound, but they messed with the multi-player, which is clearly a case of fixing something that wasn't broken. Infinity Ward are edging dangerously close to believing their own myth rather like Bungie have with Halo - all self-aggrandising seriousness and stirring martial music that can't be optioned out of your gameplay experience.
Special mention for post-release support goes to two games in particular. Firstly, Burnout Paradise: here's a rare example of a games developer (Criterion) being willing and able to respond to feedback from gamers. On it's initial release, Burnout Paradise was laced with flaws (ie not being able to instantly re-start a race), but Criterion got on the case - addressing issues, improving gameplay, adding decent downloadable content, and then re-packaging the whole lot at a mid-range price. Excellent work those men in Guildford. The other impeccably supported game was Gears of War 2 - with regular DLC packs of high-quality maps, top-notch graphics and sound, and new gameplay features. Had a lot of good times with online friends fighting off the dirty horde.
We nearly saw the birth of something revolutionary this year, with the release of the most ambitious Xbox Arcade game yet - Battlefield 1943. This was only available as a download, and did not feature a solo campaign. Instead, 4 large maps of territorial contest, planes, boats, jeeps and bombing raids with 24 people fighting online. Sounds good, but bit off more than it could chew. To start with, this game didn't even work properly online for the first week due to "unexpected high demand" or something. Then, once it was working, it wasn't quite as smooth as it should have been. Call me old fashioned if you like, but when I point a machine gun at another player who is only 5 virtual meters away from me, I'd sort of expect him to fall down - all dead, like.
A couple of this year's releases didn't quite make the top-list but are worth a mention (a mention? Hey, thanks Pilton, they only took two years to develop). Wolfenstein (not Return to the Son of Castle Wolfenstein, or Wolfenstein 3 or...) is a game I was getting pretty juicy about. Loved the originals and raised my expectations. Turned out ok, but fell a bit flat for me when (after much enjoyable gameplay) my save file corrupted and I couldn't be arsed to go back through it. Batman Arkham Asylum looked great and played really smoothly - yet was the most on-rails game I played all year. Still good though. Also Flashpoint delivered some enjoyable play - the polar opposite of MW2 this is a game that strives for realism even if that meant spending a large percentage of your mission time walking or running over endless landscapes in order to avoid combat with enemy patrols. Realistic, yes, but essentially lots of dull moments punctuated by some very tough firefights. Halo:ODST was the game for which Blockbuster was invented. A week's hire, rinse it out and forget it ever existed. Nothing original about it, but nothing really wrong with it either. Halo is Halo is Halo - the game that thinks it can fart higher than it's own arse.
This year also finally saw the release of Resident Evil 5 - in which the musclebound Chris ventures into Africa for some wholesale zombie slaughter (sorry, 'infected'. They're not zombies anymore). Jill doesn't nearly become a Jill sandwich this time - and in fact those Japanese translation quirks are wholly missing from RE5 - it plays like a global release, looks like a global release and - my goodness - it was a global release. Once I got used to the lumpy control system, and acquired some decent weapons, I had a wail of a time wading through the increasingly ridiculous scenarios and quick-time fights right up until the bit where you get to fire two RPG's into Wesker's eyes (while he's in a volcano). Beat that.
So, you may ask, since you've wasted so much of your time playing video games this year, what turns out to be game of the year for Harris Pilton? The answer comes with the unexpected late arrival of a classic shooter - Borderlands. A first person shooter with a visual style somewhere between Tank Girl and Metal Hurlant. The joy of this sandbox shooter is that it never forgets it's a video game - never tries to be realistic, pitches it's dark humour just right, and constantly serves up new weapon variants and character abilities. It works well online as a co-op, and the game adjusts the enemy AI to match the skills of the human players - getting considerably tougher when gamers have more collective experience. Borderlands has already delivered an excellent download pack and has promised a sequel for release in 2010, and the completion of the trilogy a year later.
Sadly, there's only so much time a man can devote to the noble art of videogaming, and thus I can make no comment on a slew of other much touted releases including Assassins Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Forza 3, and Sheffield Wednesday nil.
15th Dec 2009 - Tumblr5
Belated sequel that remixes the original with some success, but the nostalgia runs a little thin.
15th Oct 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
A Beautiful Mind meets the A-Team. Convoluted actioner that doesn’t transcend its premise.
11th Oct 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Solid, uplifting biopic. Well structured with moments of real tension despite the inevitable ending. And 91m.
11th Oct 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Good visuals, nice music, flabby storytelling and a confusing plot. A worthy sequel.
6th Oct 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Convoluted, charmless sequel. A rare misfire from Pixar.
17th Sep 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Andrea Arnold transplants her class observations to the US. Unforgivably long, if beautifully shot.
17th Sep 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Billie Joe Armstrong plays a former star dealing with 40. Good concept, rendered as flat as possible.
16th Sep 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Woefully inept, on-the-nose sci-fi romance. A reasonable concept executed in the worst way possible.
10th Sep 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Nicely directed, but a true story often doesn’t make for a well shaped film.
31st Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Over-complicated, over-stylised mess from a director who clearly fluked his debut.
30th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Overlooked Dr. Suess adaptation from the Minions guys. Charming, but lacking a stand out character.
30th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Utterly standard undercover cop gets in too deep movie.
29th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Stylish modern sci-fi with a clever structure, but it's still a film about subtitled aliens.
24th Aug 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Clever, quirky, black comedy parable that runs out of steam.
23rd Aug 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Despite the good press, it's another shapeless, bloated one-dimensional rough cut from Christopher Nolan.
17th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Ambitious CGI can’t save this bland comic book entry. Cumberbatch’s accent strikes the death blow.
17th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Unchallenging drama investigating life with eating disorders. Occasional Keanu Reeves.
12th Aug 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Flawless new-generation animation from Disney. Action, heart, comedy and very catchy songs.
6th Aug 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Intense, terrifying, riveting thriller from Tom Ford. Great performances and assured direction.
22nd Jul 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Reasonable zombie drama. More rewarding than Walking Dead, but still a bit derivative.
14th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Intense, borderline arthouse Canadian kidnap drama from Atom Egoyan. Ryan Reynolds impresses.
8th Jul 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Self-important, slightly contrived mainstream indie with the one with the good hair from Friends.
8th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
More clichéd Terrence Malick. Amazing cinematography. Meandering improv. Great real-world settings.
6th Jul 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Brutal 80s TV movie, imagining nuclear winter. Age has blended the stock footage to horrifying perfection.
3rd Jul 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Surprisingly charming, sentimental, old style movie with no need for an antagonist. Plus, solid DeNiro.
1st Jul 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Never Go Back
Serviceable action sequel that ticks a lot of boxes without thinking outside of any.
27th Jun 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Totally predictable, thoroughly inspiring animated sing-a-long for the X-Factor generation.
24th Jun 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
B-list, mis-cast, low-ball girl gang comedy. Weak.
19th Jun 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Catastrophically miscast black comedy that fails at every turn. Big let down from star and director.
11th Jun 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Effortless retread of a show that survived well past it's sell-by date.
29th May 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Codswallop that's as indecipherable as every other recent DC movie. Terrible script, hammy acting.
22nd May 2017Read more 1.5 star reviews
Chaotic, bloated sequel. Low on humour and mostly involving bad guys flying through plate glass.
17th May 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Lazy, half-baked remake/reboot, totally lacking in charm.
17th May 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Wafer thin parenting parable, barely coasting along on the charm of Ferrell and Wahlberg.
16th May 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Classic western tropes burn slowly to an intense finale. Classic Jeff Bridges.
12th May 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Tired, pointless rehash of a franchise that long ran out of steam.
6th May 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Stooges doc that is interesting by default, but dull given that Jim Jarmusch is behind the camera.
28th Apr 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Poingiant doc of the latest Bad Seeds album. Still falls into the usual making-of box.
26th Apr 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Stylish, thought-provoking indie contemplating the weighty responsibilities of parenthood.
22nd Apr 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Great 90s blockbuster, with Harrison Ford carrying the movie on top finger-wagging form.
18th Mar 2017Read more 5 star reviews
Accomplished character piece. Almost stretches itself a bit thin, but it's stylish enough to transcend.
18th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Dated indie classic that uses music to create pseudo-sentimental highs of little real substance.
18th Mar 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Engaging, nostalgic doc which meanders through the rise and rise of 1995’s greatest band ever.
14th Mar 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Quintessential Gus Van Zant. Great art direction, acting and photography. Possibly better with age.
7th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Confident indie comedy-thriller that pitches itself perfectly.
4th Mar 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Thoughtful character study, with Eddie Marsan standing up for those who slip through the cracks.
26th Feb 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Brutally fast paced meta-fest, backed up by the most sensible bat-plot for a long time.
16th Feb 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Tenuous financial hostage thriller, that doesn't add up to the sum of its parts.
11th Feb 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Disappointing punk rock horror thriller, that doesn't make the best of its left field set up.
9th Feb 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Potentially forgettable buddy cop pic, elevated by a killer script and live wire performances.
1st Feb 2017Read more 4.5 star reviews