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
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
Accomplished, charming NZ indie comedy that wears its influences well.
1st Feb 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Inspiring doc about the kids remaking Raiders over 7 summers.
24th Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Eight Days a Week
Inspiring reminder of the sheer volume of trail blazing laid down by The Beatles.
22nd Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Seminal kids movie that I underrated in '85. Shot with an easy pace, until the free-swim at the end.
Halliwell says: The bottomless pit of the Spielberg genre, a silly tale which takes forever to get going and is acted by children who have not studied elocution. The trick effects when they come are OK, but it's a long annoying haul to that point.
22nd Jan 2017Read more 3.5 star reviews
Glacially paced, pretentious arthouse fluff, that fritters away a potentially interesting set up.
21st Jan 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Unremarkable potboiler from Le Carre, with a disappointingly bland turn from Ewan McGregor.
17th Jan 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Small scale period drama, anchored around strong central performances.
15th Jan 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Ambitious small scale sci-fi that drags a bit before it all gets a bit wacky.
11th Jan 2017Read more 3 star reviews
Tarantino zeros in on the most-tedious-film-ever award. Someone get the guy a new editor.
7th Jan 2017Read more 2 star reviews
Inventive ensemble drama, as David O. Russell takes another shot at Scorsese's crown. Great soundtrack too.
7th Jan 2017Read more 4 star reviews
Dawn of Justice
Mind-boggling, convoluted actioner that seems to have been written by picking ideas out of a hat.
4th Jan 2017Read more 1 star reviews
Extended super hero punch up, not dissimilar to the news man brawls of 'Anchorman'.
1st Jan 2017Read more 2.5 star reviews
Seamless CGI remake, lacking in humour and executed with the seriousness of LOTR or Apocalypse Now.
30th Dec 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Text-book rom-com that rebooted the genre and set the template for the next 3 decades.
26th Dec 2016Read more 4.5 star reviews
Decent enough animated parable from Disney. Lacking the usual emotional Pixar punch.
25th Dec 2016Read more 3 star reviews
A Star Wars Story
Second viewing and it's still holding together well. The third act is incredible.
22nd Dec 2016Read more 4 star reviews
A STAR WARS STORY
Impeccable world building and a nail biting finale mark a solid expansion of the universe.
18th Dec 2016Read more 4 star reviews
Solid Cold War drama. Unfortunately lacking the impact of both Spielberg and Hanks' best.
18th Dec 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
From 3 minutes in this was the best film I've seen in ages. Nostalgic indie sci-fi.
13th Dec 2016Read more 4 star reviews
Arkward and occasionally hilarious Duplass-esque LA comedy. And only 75m long.
26th Nov 2016Read more 3 star reviews
Worthy, watertight journo movie. Full of great performances, but staying well between the lines.
21st Nov 2016Read more 4 star reviews
Derivative, badly cast cops + robbers pic. A pale imitation of Heat, without the style or performances.
12th Nov 2016Read more 2.5 star reviews
Glacially paced re-hash/follow up to Dazed and Confused, with moments of fun. Great music.
11th Nov 2016Read more 3 star reviews
Stupid action movie that never stops winking at the audience.
4th Nov 2016Read more 2.5 star reviews
LA Confidential meets The Big Lebowski in the best way possible. Great turns from Reynolds and Crowe.
4th Nov 2016Read more 4 star reviews
A classic story and allstar cast, but John Sturges' vintage western seems slow and dated now.
2nd Nov 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Beard-heavy special ops bloodbath, with more than a passing nod to the equally impartial Black Hawk Down.
26th Oct 2016Read more 2 star reviews
Boring, meandering re-tread of The Departed. Wannabe Scorcese, with a typically OTT Johnny Depp.
19th Oct 2016Read more 3 star reviews
Smart-ass financial drama. OTT Bale, reasonable turn from Pitt, Reynolds steals the show.
2nd Oct 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Terrifying post-nuclear drama. Dated to the mood of its era, but still effectively realistic.
30th Sep 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Intense indie drama. Pacing is a little lopsided, but the sentiment and strong performances carry it through.
24th Sep 2016Read more 4 star reviews
Electrifying script, captivating performances and effortless, accomplished direction. Outstanding.
18th Sep 2016Read more 4.5 star reviews
It's only episode 2, but it's Dirty-Harry-by-numbers. Luckily those numbers still add up to something.
Halliwell says: Toned-down sequel to Dirty Harry; the violence is still there but the hero no longer commits it.
18th Sep 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Superior kids movie. ET meets King Kong. Bit slow, but ten times deeper than the wafer thin original.
1st Sep 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Half baked British thriller. Some decent ideas, but it's all a bit studenty.
28th Aug 2016Read more 2 star reviews
Another disastrous Peter Pan reboot. Nonsensical gibberish, trying to capture some Baz Luhrmann weirdness.
18th Aug 2016Read more 2 star reviews
Super sharp teen movie, bursting with style and originality and loaded with an impeccable soundtrack.
17th Aug 2016Read more 3.5 star reviews
Thoughtful, creative, mainstream indie from Mike Mills. Lovingly performed and put together.
8th Aug 2016Read more 4 star reviews