Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2016 upon us, now is the time to reflect on 2015. College may have prevented us form writing as many reviews as before, but that won't prevent us from talking about the releases of the past year. Our only limitation is whether or not we've seen or played it. As usual, the list is in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2015

Inside Out

Coming off a wave of less-than-stellar movies, Pixar shows with Inside Out that they have fully returned to form. The movie follows the rather interesting premise of telling a story from the perspective of a character's emotions rather than that of the character. While the movie is capable of making the viewer laugh one minute and cry the next in true Pixar fashion, it's also a pretty useful way to visualize the effects of emotions on human behavior.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

While I did have my reservations about this installment in the Star Wars canon, a lot of which came from the inescapable hype train unleashed by Disney, The Force Awakens managed to be much better than I thought it would be. The plot makes several echoes to the original trilogy, but the movie is enjoyable anyway, partly thanks to the thrilling action and top notch special effects. Unfortunately, we'll need to wait for the upcoming Episode VIII before receiving any sort of closure or explanation for some of the new plot threads introduced, as well as any semblance of a concrete backstory for some of the new cast.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'

Following Battle of Gods and partially inspired by a Maximum the Hormone song, Resurrection 'F' is the second canon Dragon Ball movie follwing the ending of the Buu saga from the famous "Z" portion of the original series. The plot may be a little rusty in this installment, but the real highlight is the action. It feels very satisfying to watch Goku once again defeat the resurrected Frieza, though there are a couple minor hangups within this section that don't detract too much from its enjoyability. Though not required, watching Battle of Gods will enhance the relationships with the characters Beerus and Whis and reading the 9-chapter Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (also by Akira Toriyama) will help the title's character's appearance make more sense. Knowledge of the Frieza saga is also required to fully understand Frieza's actions, though fortunately Mega64's companion video can get those unfamiliar to Dragon Ball Z sufficiently up to speed.

Top Games of 2015

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I had actually played the PS3 version, but wanted to honor Hideo Kojima
by using the original box art (before Konami removed his name).

The debacle between Konami and Hideo Kojima, not to mention Konami's business practices, is pretty well-documented, though the details aren't entirely known, and, as a result, The Phantom Pain is an unfortunate crossfire victim, resulting in cut content that would have provided better closure to the story and elements of gameplay and story that feel a little under-cooked. That said, this game provided some of the most fun I've had all year. The gameplay is the most polished in the series yet, taking everything Kojima learned from previous Metal Gear games and applying them while still adding new elements like the Buddy system and adaptive enemies to keep it fresh and exciting. It may not be as iconic as previous entries, save for maybe Metal Gear Sahelanthropus, the intriguing character Quiet and the loyal buddy DD, but this was an experience I simply had a hard time putting down and in the end, that's what really matters.

Batman: Arkham Knight

The finale of Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Trilogy doesn't quite match the experience of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but the game still manages to be fun. The addition of the Batmobile is excellent and the side missions are interesting, though the payoff can feel a little underwhelming and the Riddler trophies are still annoying. Road bumps aside, this is a very polished game, particularly in the combat, and well worth playing.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Taking place in Victorian London and starring twin protagonists, Syndicate is a drastic improvement in nearly every way over Unity. The gameplay takes some cues from the Batman: Arkham games by Rocksteady and focuses somewhat on gang warfare to help the experience feel fresh and tweaks to the graphical output (ex. less dense crowds) help the experience run much smoother than before. Plotwise, it's not quite as engaging as some of the other games and it puts up a rather PC front that at times sounds like it's pandering for no reason, but the latter actually happens much less than I thought it would and the experience is still enjoyable.

Top Disappointments of 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

While not exactly a bad movie, Age of Ultron is certainly a disappointment when compared to heavy hitters The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. An overly ambitious plot filled with character/plot details with no foreshadowing and an overdose of special effects and choreography, the last of which also makes Black Widow look too perfect, results in a movie that feels too unrealistic, even by the standards set by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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