A few years ago, this would have been a Top 10 list, or something like that. I used to have more time (and money) and was able to sample a lot of more of what the entertainment world had to offer. Well, suffice it to say that kids and a mortgage do not support this kind of lifestyle, so things have to change. And so I present -a list of things I enjoyed in 2016.
This list may (and in fact does) include games, music, TV shows, books, and movies released in 2016, but is not limited to 2016. Just because something wasn’t released in 2016 doesn’t mean it’s not worth raving about, does it? Anyway, enough lollygagging; on with the show.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I don’t watch a lot of movies at the cinema, but Star Wars is always an exception. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first major spin-off for the series, and while it is overly long it does two things perfectly — expand the Star Wars universe significantly; and capture the feel of the original trilogy. Not really one for the little ones, but definitely a must-see for Star Wars fans.
I watched this one on a flight to Tokyo, and I was not prepared to be impressed. I expected Creed to be a bit schlocky and was just looking forward to a Rocky spin-off as popcorn entertainment, but what I experienced was far more impressive. The story is sincere and believable, and the acting (Stallone’s included) heartfelt and emotive. Again, a little on the lengthy side, but the heartstrings were pulled and it left me pondering life in general — not something I expected from a boxing flick.
Rick and Morty
Quite possibly the best show currently on TV — animated or otherwise. Not only is it hilarious at times, but it’s smart, irreverent, and the kind of insane that you absolutely want in your life. I can’t believe I waited so long to watch it.
The Internet had a love affair with Stranger Things, and as much as I try to resist getting as excited about things as much as the Internet (because, let’s face it — the Internet “hive mind” is just a lot of people looking to fit in, while trying to avoid thinking for themselves as much as possible), resistance is futile. A charming sci-fi thriller, especially for those that grew up in the ‘80s, Stranger Things offers a touch of horror, a touch of sci-fi, and a whole lot of nostalgia.
I’ve already written up my impressions in regards to The Expanse — basically it’s gritty sci-fi that takes itself seriously, like sci-fi should. Also verging on the horrific at times, The Expanse is an alternate reality I’d like to see more of.
Ready Player One
Wow. Many of my friends had told me to read this book, and as much as I believed that it would be good, I didn’t think I’d demolish the whole thing in one day. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One describes an alternate reality in which an MMORPG (played in VR) has essentially taken over the world — most people live much of their lives in the simulation (the main character even attends school there). Thoughtful, well-planned, and peppered with ‘80s references (again, one for those that grew up in the ‘80s), this is a great, easy read.
Perturbator is hard to define. Essentially electronica with a cyberpunk angle, somehow managing to feel both nostalgic and futuristic at the same time. There are elements of metal at times, as well as elements of trance. Give the album “Dangerous Days” a listen and see what you think. Gamers should note that Perturbator was featured in the game Hotline Miami, if they want a better idea as to what the music might sound like.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yeah, I’m pretty late to board this train, but in the late months of 2016, I begun to listen to more blues (likely as a result of The Rolling Stones’ “Blue & Lonesome”, which unexpectedly turned out to be a pretty great blues cover album). My brother turned me on to Stevie Ray Vaughan — but I wasn’t instantly hooked. The kind of blues I was listening to at the time was slow and soulful, while Stevie Ray Vaughan played kind of an upbeat blues rock… Until I came across the songs Dirty Pool, I’m Crying, and Lenny, from the album “Texas Flood”. These songs were more of what I was looking for, but Lenny in particular opened my eyes — here was evidence of a man able to make a guitar sing.
Nine Inch Nails – Not the Actual Events (EP)
Having been a diehard fan of Nine Inch Nails since the early ’90s, this was an exciting, but long-awaited release at the end of the year. Not easy listening for many, but a welcome change for fans that have been following NIN for some time, “Not the Actual Events” is a harrowing, noise-filled EP that contains elements of the NIN sound from throughout their discography. Most importantly, it’s heavy again, which is something I was hoping for, given the relative “tameness” of recent NIN releases. For what it is – harsh, raw, heavy – I’d suggest it was a return to the explosive release that was the “Broken” EP, but for a more mature NIN.
Oxenfree is a game I’d heard bandied about on a podcast I was listening to, and whoever it was talking about it was RAVING. Later, I heard it compared to Stranger Things, and it was on sale at the time, so I gave it a try. SO glad I did. Oxenfree is a weird little horror thriller about a group of teens stranded on an island overnight. They are separated due to reasons, and need to then spend time trying to escape the island. It is a kind of “point-and-click” adventure, in a way, with conversation choices and multiple endings (apparently). I found it charming the whole way.
I’m a big Civ fan, so this is a no brainer for me. Civ 5 was my favourite of the series, and the changes applied to 6–while not completely game changing–were large enough to make the game even better.
I’ve always loved sim games, and in particular, I really enjoy THEMED sim games, particularly ones that let me create my own little theme park… I’d been waiting for a really great theme park sim to come out, and heard wonderful things about this one. Turns out the rumours were true – it’s pretty hardcore if you want to beat all of the challenges (so much detail), but if you just want to screw around and create a theme park, you can do that too.
Salt and Sanctuary
While I tried Dark Souls years ago, I couldn’t get into it. Still, there’s always been a part of me that wonders that all the fuss is about. Still not ready to lay out my hard-earned cash on Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3, I heard many good things about this little side-scroller, particularly mention that it was essentially a 2D Dark Souls. While relentless and unforgiving, Salt and Sanctuary is an underappreciated marvel – level design teaches you where to go without getting lost, and the mechanics are so spot on that every failure feels like your own damn fault. So you continue in the hope you’ll get better, and get past that giant boss, again, and again, and again… Brilliant.
I wasn’t alone in expecting this to be a big flop. Doom 3 was OK, but nothing fantastic, and the cancellation of Doom 4 suggested there was no way a great Doom game would ever be released again. Nothing in the initial announcements indicated that this would be any different. I was wrong. While fresh and new, this felt exactly like Doom did in the ’90s. Brutal.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
I’ve always been intrigued by this title – particularly because I love side-scrolling beat-’em-ups, but also because of the deep RPG elements and classical storytelling that were apparently involved. When I saw this on sale for PS4, I had to grab it immediately, but I do wish it was cross-buy… This would be a wonderful title to take on the go on my Vita.
While I’m not sold on VR just yet (I still think it’s going to end up being a bit niche and undersupported), I am blown away by what Sony has managed to achieve with PlayStation VR. I had my family over for lunch one weekend and it was so impressive that every single person wanted to have a try, including my mother. I’d really love to watch some mind-blowing documentaries on there – even more than games, to be honest.
Destiny: Rise of Iron
I’m nothing if I’m not a helpless Destiny addict. I spent much of the year clamouring for more content, and Bungie delivered with Rise of Iron. It wasn’t quite enough to keep my addiction at 2015 levels, but it was a content injection that was sorely needed.
Ratchet & Clank
I’d never played a Ratchet & Clank game to completion before. Generally I would get distracted, and a little bored by the storyline. However, the new Ratchet & Clank for the PS4 brought not only a new visual sense (verging at times on cinematic quality), but also a new feel for storytelling. A pleasure from start to finish (although it did drag on a little in later levels).
Final Fantasy XV
I’ve been an on-again, off-again fan of the Final Fantasy series for a long while now, but the last title I really put effort into was Final Fantasy X. As a result, I really pumped myself up for this release, followed all of the announcements and built my expectations to a crescendo. While many others were ultimately disappointed by the final release, I felt it was an amazing achievement. Sure, it’s rough around the edges at times and missing certain story components, but for a game of that kind of complexity, it’s a marvel, and probably my Game of the Year.
Dragon Quest Builders
I don’t, and will never, understand Minecraft, even though I own it on multiple platforms. However, I was intrigued by Dragon Quest Builders, mainly due to the fact that there was a story involved, and it wasn’t just building for the fun of building (I guess I need guidance). So I grabbed Dragon Quest Builders for my Vita to enjoy on my trip to Japan, and was enthralled – not only does it look great, but it plays so well, feeling like a cross between an RPG and a sim game, in some ways.