My Top 10 Games of 2015

I would be scared to find out how many hours I have put into some of the games on my top ten list this year.  No really, there were a lot of capital B big games that released over the course of the year. This was due to the influx of open world games, which might be daunting to some but I brought them in with open arms.  On the other hand, we had some smaller, more story-focused games that made way for some of the best gaming moments of 2015.  As usual, it’s worth noting that this list is my top ten games that I played this year and is not indicative of the entirety of games that released in 2015.  The simple fact is there were a lot of games that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time (or money) to play all of them.  I’m sure that my list would be different if I was able to play all of the games that I wanted to play over the course of the year.  I can’t speak for games that I haven’t played so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…

Best Game from a Previous Year: Grand Theft Auto V

gta 5 coverI was a little late to the party when I first dug into Grand Theft Auto V back in March, but I was instantly hooked.  Rockstar has developed a living and breathing Los Santos with seemingly endless activities to take part in and crimes to commit.  Since I was playing the PS4 port, I also had the ability to play the game in first-person, which was a real game changer.  Unlike previous games, players control three different characters; Michael, Franklin, and the crazy Trevor.  Each character is great in their own regard, bringing their own unique qualities to a surprisingly fun story.  I can’t believe I have gone this long without mentioning the elaborate heist missions, which were the highlight of what GTAV had to offer. Although I didn’t get too deep into the online offerings, GTA Online (a first for the series) offered some fun moments as well.

top 10 games 2015 gtav

10. Lego Dimensions

lego dimensions coverI’ve been playing this game recently, which makes it my last minute addition to the list because it deserves some recognition.  What makes this game different from all of the other Lego games is the fact that you can actually build the Legos, for real.  It’s a toys-to-life game which means the little Lego minifigures and models that you build outside the game can be put into the game via the Lego Dimensions gamepad through NFC technology.  The other plus about the game was the amount of properties that the game includes, like Scooby Doo, Dr. Who, Ghostbusters, The Simpsons, Batman, Lord of the Rings, The Lego Movie, and a lot more.  This made for some crazy situations, like Homer Simpson getting excited every time he passed Batman.  It’s a whole bunch of fan service that no other previous Lego game was able to offer.

top 10 games 2015 lego dimensions

9. Broken Age

broken age titleWhat started off as a mysterious Kickstarter turned into one of Double Fine’s best games.  Broken Age mixed adventure game tropes with some modern elements that didn’t make it feel out of place in 2015.  The story follows two different characters, Shay and Vella, whose paths connect thanks to destiny.  It was actually one of the biggest surprises of the game.  The two seem to be living totally separate lives, but you quickly find out that this might not be the case.  The writing is fantastic and the puzzles are clever and make you think, because this is a classic adventure game of course.  The game’s art style is gorgeous as well, with every screen mimicking the look of a painting that you could find in an art museum.  If you are a fan of the golden age of adventure games, then Broken Age should be on your radar if it wasn’t already.

top 10 games 2015 broken age

8. Life Is Strange

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life Is Strange is one of two episodic adventure games on this list, but this one doesn’t come from Telltale, but instead, Square-Enix.  This game probably provided some of the most memorable moments of the year as well.  You follow Max Caulfield, a girl who finds out that she has the power to manipulate time.  This power becomes one of the game’s main mechanics, allowing you to rewind time to change the decisions you make in the game, making it stand out from all of the other episodic games out there, where your choices are final.  Being able to rewind time makes you really think about your decisions, giving them more weight.  The game also isn’t afraid to get real and doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics like depression, suicide, and some other things that make you cringe.  The game has some minor flaws here and there, but they don’t detract from Life Is Strange’s best moments.

top 10 games 2015 life is strange

7. Until Dawn

until dawn coverI’m not the kind of guy that you’ll find playing horror games, but Until Dawn had a bunch of exceptions that made me want to get my hands on it.  Imagine your favorite teen slasher flick merged with a video game.  That is the best way to describe the game’s presence.  You play as eight different teens who get together to spend a night in one of the friend’s mansion on a haunted mountain.  Things quickly start to take a turn for the worse as tensions rise and the mountains horrors rear their head.  It turns into a survival fest as the hours count down until dawn.  Most of the action is handled through quick time events which do a fantastic job at providing thrills and excitement.  The game also revels in its horrific moments and there are plenty of them that will make you jump if you’re not expecting them.  It’s a game that you can poke fun at while being scared at the same time.  Also, play with a group of friends that can help you make decisions along the way.  It makes for a cool experience unlike any other on this list.

top 10 games 2015 until dawn

6. Undertale

undertale cover

The PC space is a perfect place for some good ol’ fashioned indie innovation.  Undertale, a small little indie game on the PC, was a game that blew me away.  I was not expecting myself to get so attached to it.  It has the look and feel of an 80’s era RPG but has gameplay elements that make it new and refreshing.  You play as a nondescript kid on a zany adventure, meeting some different and hilarious characters on the way.  It’s hard to put humor in a video game but Undertale was a game that really made me laugh out loud at certain points.  You can also go through the entire game without hurting a soul thanks to the game’s unique battle system, with each battle being different from the next.  Undertale’s ending goes places that I wasn’t expecting, topping off the neat little experience with a bang.

top 10 games 2015 underale

5. Tales from the Borderlands

tales from borderlands ep1 coverHere we have the other episodic adventure game, this time from Telltale games.  Up to this point I have never played a Borderlands game but Tales from the Borderlands actually made me care about the series’ lore and the story it has to tell.  You play as two characters, Rhys and Fiona, who with the help from their friends go on an adventure around the harsh world of Pandora on the search for a legendary treasure.  If you have ever played a Telltale game, then you should already know what you’re getting from this game.  This game however has some fantastic writing that makes it one of the funniest games of the year.  Rhys and Fiona are always getting themselves into trouble in hilarious ways.  If you have gotten tired of the Telltale formula, don’t let that stop you from playing Tales from the Borderlands.  The Walking Dead games that they put out are their best, but Tales from the Borderlands follows closely in their footsteps of greatness.

top 10 games 2015 tales

4. Rocket League

via IGN
via IGN

I’m going to be honest with you, I really wasn’t expecting Rocket League to be as good as it is.  It was released as a free PS Plus game so I decided to give it a fair shake.  What I got was one of my top games of the year.  The game’s premise is that of a pipe dream.  It’s soccer, but with rocket powered cars!  Sound fun right?  Yes, it’s as great as it sounds, and the fact that it is so simple to play makes it that much better.  Within no time I found myself getting better and perfecting my skills.  Let me tell you, nothing was more rewarding than score a goal.  I soon took my skills to multiplayer which was a ton of fun.  I might not play Rocket League as much as I did when it first came out, but it was still one of the best multiplayer games of the year.  Also, it was a free game!  I got my money’s worth, for sure.

top 10 games 2015 rocket league

3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

metal gear solid v coverThis was my first time playing a Metal Gear game but I got the sense from others that the series has come a long way.  Metal Gear Solid V is a massive game, with a huge sandbox for players to tackle missions in a plethora of different ways.  As Big Boss, you manage Mother Base and you can recruit people to your team to deepen the ranks of the Diamond Dogs.  You then put these people into different divisions to advance and improve your base.  You can also put people into research and development which churns out new gadgets and weapons that you can take to the field.  The game’s story might not rival some of the series’ previous entries but it is still epic in scale.  When all’s said and done, it’s MGSV’s gameplay that makes the game so special.  The game just feels good to play and I loved hearing how other people completed missions their own way.

top 10 games 2015 mgsv

2. Fallout 4

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

I can’t say I’m that surprised when I see Fallout 4 so high on my list.  This was probably my most anticipated game of the year when it was first announced back at E3 this year.  The game takes the best parts of the previous Fallout games and adds in a ton of new things to make it stand out as my favorite Fallout game.  The story this time around is similar to the story of Fallout 3, but instead of searching for your father you are searching for your son in a post-apocalyptic Boston.  Bethesda has created a fully realized city with Boston and I spent countless hours just walking around and stumbling upon unique buildings and settlements.  Junk that you find around the world also plays a vital role because now they can be used to craft everything from weapon mods to armor mods.  You also have the ability to build your own settlements, which is something completely new for the series.  The game has it’s issues with bugs and other jank, but that’s now why I come to a Fallout game.  I come for the exploration and the world, and Bethesda delivered.

top 10 games 2015 fallout 4

1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

via Daily Alt Report
via Daily Alt Report

If you think about it, this was a year of firsts for me.  Just like Metal Gear Solid V was my first Metal Gear game, The Witcher 3 was my first Witcher game.  Boy am I glad I took the dive because much to my surprise, The Witcher 3 actually surpassed Fallout 4 as my game of the year.  You play as Geralt, a Witcher who roams around taking down monsters harassing villages, usually for a nice reward.  The game’s story is basically a game of cat and mouse as you try to find Ciri, Geralt’s old friend, who is being pursued by the evil and ruthless Wild Hunt.  It’s CD Projekt Red’s non-linear storytelling that really shines however.  The game’s world is massive, spanning a whopping three open-world maps.  Each map, with the exception of the introductory area, is massive and full of people to meet, ruins to explore, and monsters to kill.  The combat has a little bit of a learning curve to it, but one you start to get the hang of it, it is super satisfying.  The game punishes you for rushing into battle unprepared, requiring you to step back and really think about your actions.  Each victory felt like an accomplishment, which is something I didn’t feel in a game like Fallout 4.  The game also wraps up with a super satisfying ending due to the choices that I made in the story.  The characters are super likable (The Red Baron is one of the best and most dynamic characters in the game) and the monsters you have to fight can be horrific.  The Witcher 3 might seem daunting to some, but it is a game that you have to play if you haven’t already.

witcher 3 featured


My Top 10 Albums of 2015

This year’s top ten album list was a little bit of a surprise to me.  If you don’t know already, I am a pretty big fan of rap music which means that most of the music I listen to during the year tends to be rap and hip-hop.  In turn, this leads to top ten lists that are mostly comprised of rap albums.  This year was a little different.  This year’s list, although still mostly rap, branched out a bit and brings some diversity to the table.  As usual, I should note that this list is my top ten albums that I listened to this year and is not indicative of the all the albums that came out in 2015.  The simple fact is there was a lot of music that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time to listen all of it.  I can’t speak for albums that I haven’t listened to so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Wonderful – Action Bronson, Ludaversal – Ludacris, Everything Is 4 – Jason Derulo, Revenge of the Dreamers II – J. Cole and Dreamville Records

10. Title – Meghan Trainor

title cover
via Idolator

The world was introduced to Meghan Trainor in 2014 but we didn’t get her debut album until 2015.  Title is a strong debut for one of the more trending pop artists of 2015.  Not only does it include “All About That Bass,” the song that put her on the map, but it also includes lesser known tracks like the album’s intro “The Best Part” and the fun “Walkashame.”  Not to forget, the album also contains “Lips Are Movin” and “Dear Future Husband,” two of her other more popular songs.  The album has a diverse sound and there is a lot to like about it.

9. Dark Sky Paradise – Big Sean

dark sky paradise
via Idolator

For his third studio album, Big Sean reflects on his life and gets a little introspective.  It’s a change of pace when compared to the rapper’s previous albums and this change works really well.  Dark Sky Paradise was also largely produced by Kanye West, a.k.a. the album has a great sound as well.  You are already familiar with “I Don’t F*** With You,” one of the album’s premiere tracks, but the atmospheric and deep “Blessings” is another song that deserves a listen.  The album also has a strong introduction with “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” where he reflects on some of the past decisions that he has made in his life.  “One Man Can Change the World” proves that Big Sean opens up big time on his album, making it a necessary album on Sean’s discography.

8. GO:OD AM – Mac Miller

good am cover
via Idolator

Mac Miller’s career trajectory has been a little hard to predict.  He started off small with his release of Blue Slide Park and then moved to bigger and better (and profoundly different) things with Watching Movies with the Sound Off.  With his latest release, GO:OD AM, Mac seems to have dipped a little bit in terms of mainstream recognition, but certainly not in quality.  This also marks his first major label debut. GO:OD AM is a nice collection of tracks that mix some of the “trippy” Mac with his older sound.  “100 Grandkids” is the song that I point to because it is a good representation of what you are going to get with the album.  Other standouts include “Brand Name,” “Rush Hour,” and “Weekend” featuring R&B superstar Miguel.

7. At.Long.Last.A$AP – A$AP Rocky

at long last asap cover
via Idolator

2015 treated rapper A$AP Rocky pretty well…for the most part.  The death of Rocky’s good friend A$AP Yams was a punch to the gut, but he seems to be doing pretty well with a starring role in Dope and a great album with At.Long.Last.A$AP.  His sophomore album not only shows off the rapper’s talent, but it also acts as a dedication to his late friend Yams.  The album kicks off with the deeply meditative “Holy Ghost” but then moves on to the trip-fest that is “L$D.”  The album also contains “Everyday,” a collaboration between Rocky, Mark Ronson, Miguel, and Rod Stewart.  Yep, you heard that right.  A$AP Rocky was not afraid to experiment with different sounds and feels on the album, making it a unique experience.  Finally, the project wraps up with a touching tribute to A$AP Yams.  It wasn’t the best track on the album, but the energy was there.

6. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

beauty behind the madness coverI will never stop being fascinated with The Weeknd’s voice.  It’s the single aspect that got me instantly hooked when I listened to his indie project Kiss Land.  For a time, The Weeknd was mostly underground, shying away from the mainstream light.  Beauty Behind the Madness is the artist’s first foray into the mainstream light, and he handles himself pretty well.  There’s a little bit of everything on the album to cater to a lot of tastes.  “Can’t Feel My Face” harnesses a strong Michael Jackson influence to cater to the masses while songs like “Often” and “The Hills” harken back to the artist’s previously dark sounds.  The album gave us the best of both worlds on top of some of the year’s best production.  All The Weeknd needs to do is just keep being himself and all will be good.

5. Tetsuo & Youth – Lupe Fiasco

tetsuo & youth cover
via Idolator

You’re probably looking at this album and probably wondering where the hell it came from.  I am going to go ahead and declare that Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth was the most underrated rap album of 2015.  I consider Tetsuo & Youth a smart man’s rap album.  There is everything from instrumental melodies to nine minute masterpieces.  Lupe also tackles topics like religion in tracks like “Madonna” and “Adoration of the Magi.”  The album’s best track is “Prisoner 1 & 2” which provides a unique perspective on incarceration and racial profiling.  These aren’t the only hot button issues that the album takes on either.  There is a lot to Tetsuo & Youth and it all comes together in a well-rounded package.  The album came out pretty early in the year and I knew the second after I finished listening to it that it was going to make it on this list.

4. Summertime ’06 – Vince Staples

summertime 06 cover
via Idolator

When I think about it, this might be the second most underrated album of 2015, although it gained wider mainstream acceptance due to word of mouth.  Vince Staples’ debut project is an interesting one because it is rooted in a story.  Over the course of the album, the rapper goes into the summer of 2006, a season that really changed him as a person.  Similar to some of the other albums on the list, Summertime ’06 is a reflective experience.  “Life Me Up” and “Birds & Bees” are great examples of the rapper opening up about his childhood and his life growing up on the North Side of Long Beach.  The double album has a cohesive theme that sticks the whole way through.  Summertime ’06 came out of nowhere for me and now I am looking forward to what is to come from Vince Staples.

3. Compton: The Soundtrack – Dr. Dre

compton cover
via Idolator

Who said the old man couldn’t hang out with the new guys?  Dr. Dre, who hasn’t released an album in almost sixteen years, proves with Compton that he hasn’t missed a beat.  Compton came out around the same time as the movie Straight Outta Compton, which really boosted the rapper’s resurgence in 2015.  The longtime producer was dormant for the longest time but he comes back with an energy uncontested by many.  Dre pays homage to his past with tracks like “Genocide” and “It’s All On Me” while at the same time looking where he has come since then in tracks like “Talking to my Diary.”  There is a lot of Dre on the album but there is also a bunch of guest features including the likes of King Mez, Justus, and Candice Pillay.  There is also a good bit of familiar voices like Eazy-E, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg that lead to some great collaborations as well.  The album has the old school Dr. Dre sound with a modern feel.  This could be the rapper’s last album, but what a way to shut it down.

2. Our Own House – Misterwives

misterwives 2What!?  An indie pop album from a New York based band as my second best album of 2015?  This was exactly the way I felt when giving this album a comfy spot high on the list.  My fascination with Misterwives’ music started with a free download of their song “Our Own House,” which later led to my purchase of the entire album.  It’s a really fun and energetic album.  “Reflection” and “Best I Can Do” are great examples of the energy that I am talking about.  The album goes to some deep places as well with “Oceans” and “Coffins.”  The group is super talented, fusing the fantastic voice of lead singer Mandy Lee with a mix of different instruments, yielding a final product that is unlike anything else on this list.  The album really resonated with me, making it perhaps my biggest surprise discovery of 2015.  The album is also great for blasting on long drives.  Trust me, it has happened.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

tpab cover
via Idolator

It’s almost like Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong, right?  Kendrick is probably one of rap’s hottest commodities, having himself one of the best years he has had in a while.  It wasn’t going to be easy to top his previous album good kid, m.A.A.d. city but he did it.  He topped that album with To Pimp a Butterfly.  What an album.  Kendrick Lamar is one of the best lyricists in the game right now with a deep talent for storytelling.  Almost every song on the album is phenomenal, with standouts like “King Kunta,” “Alright,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” and “The Blacker the Berry.”  Kendrick also dives into a bunch of cultural and social issues that have taken hold of our current society, making it one of the most relevant albums of the year as well.  I’m pretty confident in saying that this relevance won’t just stay in 2015 either.  I’m not lying when I say that this is an album that is going to be talked about years from now as one of the greats.  Yeah, the album is that good.  You should probably listen to it.

My Top 10 Movies of 2015

I know I say it almost every year, but 2015 was a great year for movies.  Looking at my list this year was interesting because there was a wide spectrum of releases this year.  There were movies about rap as well as espionage, and a new Star Wars to put the cherry on top.  As usual, it’s worth noting that this list is my top ten movies that I saw this year and is not indicative of the entirety of movies that came out in 2015.  The simple fact is there were a lot of movies that came out this year and sometimes I didn’t have the time (or money) to see all of them.  I’m sure that my list would be different if I was able to see all of the movies that I wanted to see over the course of the year.  I can’t speak for movies that I haven’t seen so I wouldn’t feel right putting them on my list, regardless of their critical reception.  With that out of the way, let’s get to the list…

Favorite Movie from a Previous Year: Boyhood (2014)

boyhood poster
via Pathe

Unfortunately, I missed seeing Boyhood last year when it first came out because it would have probably rose to the top of my top ten list from last year.  There have been a lot of great movies coming out in the past couple of years, but no movie was more fascinating or more unique than Boyhood.  The movie’s production spanned twelve years, documenting the life of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane).  We see his triumphs and his struggles as he has to deal with the life of being a boy.  With some fantastic supporting roles from Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, Boyhood is a movie unlike any other.

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service

kingsman poster
via Pathe

This might be the one movie on this list that will fly under a lot of people’s radars, which is a travesty because Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun movie with stylistic flair.  Releasing way back in February, the movie gave us a look at what a James Bond movie would be like if they were a more lighthearted affair.  No literally, the movie pays homage to the classic espionage films like no other.  Taron Eggerton plays Eggsy, a young spy who is sucked up into the secret organization known as The Kingsman, with the help from mentor Galahad, played by Colin Firth.  The movie even has a wacky and whimsical villain, played by Samuel Jackson.  There’s a lot to like in Kingsman and it’s a movie that you should probably go back and appreciate.

9. Jurassic World

jurassic world poster
via Pathe

Jurassic World was having all the fun in the box office for a good part of the year, until Star Wars came around to break all of its records.  Jurassic World was essentially the movie of the summer, bringing in thousands and thousands of theater goers.  Let’s just say a movie has to be pretty good in order to do that well.  Jurassic World took us back into the world of Jurassic Park, paying homage to its predecessors while giving us something new, like dinosaur handler Owen, played by box office superstar Chris Pratt.  A new theme park has opened up, managed by the park’s head Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), with a gigantic dinosaur as its premier attraction.  Things soon go bad as the big dinosaur escapes, putting the entire theme park in dire straits.  Things only getter better (for us) as the movie’s thrills are turned up to ten.  I should also mention that the movie’s two younger characters, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), managed to not be so annoying, which is a pretty big victory.

8. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

rogue nation poster
via Pathe

I guess 2015 was the year for movies about spies and espionage, with Kingsman: The Secret Service and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation providing us with thrills and excitement.  (I failed to mention Spectre because, well, it just doesn’t match up to the previous two I mentioned) Tom Cruise, who has pretty much proved himself to be immortal, has done it again, giving us a super exciting adventure involving the takedown of The Syndicate, a super-secret organization with the sole mission of taking down the IMF.  Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this movie is the fact that Cruise still manages to perform his own stunts, including the ridiculous scene involving a plane take-off, yeah…the one from the trailers.  It’s all him.  Tom Cruise and funny-man Simon Pegg still manage to steal the show, but series newcomer Rebecca Furguson, who plays the sexy badass Ilsa Faust, gave us a fantastic performance as well.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road

fury road poster
via Pathe

Mad Max: Fury Road is the no-joke movie equivalent of an energy drink.  The movie is literally a non-stop action fest from beginning to end.  Weird looking sand buggies and fire-spitting tractor trailers are moving all over the place while a bunch of mind-washed worshipers are jumping and twirling in every single direction.  It’s truly a visual spectacle, made even better due to the fact that most of the stunts you see in the movie are totally real and practical.  Director George Miller brings us the newest addition to the series, with Tom Hardy playing the part of Mad Max.  Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t even center around the character of Max, but instead, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.  Furiosa is probably one of the best new characters of 2015, leading the escape efforts of a band of princesses across the sand-stricken wasteland of the apocalypse, with some help from Max of course.

6. Ant-Man

ant man poster
via Pathe

Two Marvel blockbusters came out during the summer of 2015, but only one of them stood to prominence, and that is Ant-Man.  Don’t get me wrong, Avengers: Age of Ultron was a wildly entertaining movie but Ant-Man does a lot more to make it on this list.  The best part of the movie was Paul Rudd who played the con-man Scott Lang.  After stumbling upon the high-tech Ant suit that gives the user the incredible power to shrink down to the size of an ant, Scott Lang becomes the Ant-Man, on a mission to prove he is a changed man, while at the same time helping Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with a heist that will save the world from Darren Cross, a man up to no good.  The movie was humorous thanks to not only Paul Rudd’s personality, but supporting roles from Michael Pena and T.I.  Yes, T.I. is in this movie so that might be a good enough reason alone to watch this movie right?  Okay, maybe not the only reason, but Ant-Man is a pretty good movie worth watching.  What makes the success of this movie even sweeter is that it was conceptually a big risk, but one that paid off big time.

5. Steve Jobs

steve jobs poster
via Pathe

This is the part of the list where I try to defend one of the year’s biggest box office blunders, Steve Jobs.  Some thought that the world didn’t need another retelling of the story of visionary and Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  However, after the horrendous misfire that was 2013’s Jobs, I welcomed Steve Jobs with open arms.  Told through the backstage frame of three of Apple’s biggest product launches, Steve Jobs gives us a more personal look at Steve Jobs, with the actual history of Apple taking the backseat.  Michael Fassbender plays the genius visionary, capturing almost every essence of the real life Jobs.  Other great performances came from Kate Winslet as Job’s personal assistant Joanna Hoffman, Jeff Daniels as John Scully, and Seth Rogan as Steve Wozniak, who was probably the biggest surprise of the movie.  There are heated encounters and raised voices galore, keeping me on the very edge of my seat throughout.  The stress of a major product launch is already pretty high, but when you add in some of Job’s personal stress into the mix, it leads to a very honest and grounded look at the man behind Apple.  The movie also had a fantastic ending involving Job’s daughter, bringing a couple of tears to my eyes, a feat that no other movie this year has done.  So what you will about the movie’s run in theaters, but the underrated Steve Jobs managed to be one of my favorites this year.

4. Furious 7

furious 7 poster
via Pathe

Okay, this might be another movie that is lower on most people’s lists, but I am a little biased towards the Fast and Furious series.  Everything about series director James Wan’s high octane action movies are great in my eyes.  This time around, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (played by series newcomer Jason Statham) who is seeking revenge for his brother Owen Shaw who was taken out in the previous movie.  The movie does what the series does best, delivering some of the year’s biggest and baddest action sequences that will make any action movie junkie giddy with excitement.  Furious 7 will also hold a special place in the heart of any Fast and Furious fan as it is the final movie that will include Paul Walker, due to his death this year.  The movie almost acts as a tribute to the late actor, wrapping up with a heartfelt ending that will put a lump in your throat for sure.  It was these final moments that really sealed the deal for me, putting it pretty high on my list.

3. Dope

Dope Poster
via Pathe

A small movie with a big message.  That is one way of describing Dope, one of the smaller and surprising movies of the year.  Life is tough for ace student and geek Malcolm, played by break-out star Shameik Moore, living in Inglewood, CA.  He’s part of a punk band with friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) that gets caught up at a party with drug kingpin Dom, played surprisingly well by rapper A$AP Rocky.  After Dom gives them a mysterious package full of drugs, the crew is sent on a wild adventure around California.  There some great music to be found, with a soundtrack produced by Pharrell Williams.  The movie also has an eye-opening final scene that pulls the movie back and gives it a perspective that will keep you thinking long after the credits roll.  It was one of the best endings I have seen in a while.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

the force awakens poster
via Pathe

A new Star Wars movie in 2015.  What a thing to celebrate.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a late addition for me as it only recently came out earlier this month.  I pretty much had my top ten list finalized and I was just waiting to see where Star Wars would end up.  The movie does a good job at establishing the new characters while paying tribute to the characters that made the series the thing it is today.  Star Wars newbies Daisy Ridley and John Boyega played Rey and Finn respectively, two characters whose paths cross due to destiny.  We also have Adam Driver, who plays Kylo Ren, leader of the First Order.  Familiar characters like Han Solo and Princess Leia, played by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, make appearances as well, giving the movie it’s nostalgic feel.  The Force Awakens acts as a set-up for what’s to come and establishes the birth of a new hero who will be the foundation for these movies as the move along.  I have confidence that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who previously had almost no major movie experience, have the chops to carry the tremendous weight of the highly lauded franchise for years to come.  The Force Awakens is not perfect, but hey, if it wasn’t for some of the bigger plot holes it would be pretty close.

1. Straight Outta Compton

straight outta compton poster
via Pathe

This was a tough choice for me to make, considering the previous movie on the list was a big contender, but the biopic Straight Outta Compton edged out Star Wars as my favorite movie of 2015.  The movie documents rap group N.W.A’s rise to prominence in a society that wanted nothing to do with them.  They were one of the biggest and most feared voices when they were around, placing them in icon status.  The movie was produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre themselves, which gives the movie it’s brand of authenticity that makes it so special.  O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays Ice Cube while Corey Hawkins plays Dr. Dre.  Jason Mitchel plays Eazy-E while Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge, MC Ren.  Finally, Paul Giamatti plays the group’s manager Jerry Heller who is a key part of the story as well.  I mention all of these actors because they all give great performances around the board.  They capture some of the groups finest moments as well as some of their darkest hours.  The movie puts its focus on their music, but also highlights the groups personal struggles as well as life in the streets of Compton.  The movie also has a message that is still relevant in today’s social climate, which made the movie resonate with so many people.  I’m a huge fan of rap music and this movie was on my radar ever since the minute it was announced.  It lived up to my expectations and more by telling a story that needed to be told.

Review: The Order: 1886

the order 1886 cover
via 3D Juegos

The Order: 1886 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Shooter

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, SCE Santa Monica Studio

Developer: Ready at Dawn Studios

2015 has been a stellar year so far for gaming and it’s looking like 2016 might even surpass it.  With so many exciting things that have taken place this year, the number of disappointments has been relatively low, especially compared to what 2014 brought.  I think you know where this is going.  If you had to ask anybody what the biggest disappointment of the year for gaming was, they would probably point to The Order: 1886.  Ready at Dawn, the studio behind the game, has had some success with PSP titles in the past, but this was the first time they took an original game to the console, and perhaps it shows a little.  I’m not necessarily up at arms against this game as much as some are, but my time with the game was less than ideal.

the order 1886 1
via Siliconera

The Knights of the Order are an elite group of highly trained knights that offer protection to Victorian-era London.  The game takes place in an alternate history where technology has progressed farther along, giving the knights access to some high-tech weapons, a lot of them designed by the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who also happens to be a character that you meet in the game.  You play as Sir Galahad, a member of the Order.  He’s an older and more seasoned knight that has a lot of experience under his belt.  Other members of your Order include Lady Ingraine (Galahad’s love interest), Sir Percival, and Marquis de Lafayette, who hasn’t received his title yet since he is just an apprentice.

An ugly war has taken place in London between humans and these creatures called “half-breeds.”  These creatures start off as humans but take on animalistic traits.  The origins of this disease are not really explained but these creatures are not things you want to mess with.  With the help of Black Water, a weird substance that heals the drinker almost instantly, the Order has been able to turn things around, giving them the advantage in the bloody fight that has ravaged the streets of London.  (All traces of realism are thrown out the window with this one) There’s a whole bunch of twists and turns as you make your way through the eight to nine-hour campaign that make the story enjoyable and gripping.  Unfortunately, its capped off by a rather abrupt cliffhanger that blatantly sets up the prospect of another sequel.  I would have liked the story to continue on a little longer, but I was generally content with the game’s length.  There were a lot of complaints directed at the game’s length, but I don’t think the game would have necessarily been better if more content was tacked on to the game’s length.  It’s the game’s combat and gunplay that are the real problems with The Order.

the order 1886 2
via Game Zone

Uninspired and unoriginal third-person cover shooting makes up a good percentage of the gameplay.  For the most part it works, but boredom starts to kick in as you routinely have to take out a number of rebels and other enemies.  The game has an okay variety of weapons, however only a couple stand out.  As you progress through the story, some science-powered weapons are given to Galahad to try out and this is where the main fun can be had, although that feeling starts to degrade again as repetition kicks in again.

Maybe the most surprising thing is the lack of half-breeds that you have to fight.  The whole premise of the game revolves around the fight against these monsters, but here I was, shooting rebel after rebel from the safety of some cover…what!?  The couple of times where I actually was fighting the half-breeds were great and intense, making me hungry for more.  Maybe it was the game’s lack of creative direction, but the lack of half-breeds in this game seems like a major misstep that should not have been overlooked.

the order 1886 3
via GamersNet

The other percentage of gameplay that wasn’t cover based shooting involves quick time events and corridor walking…fun right?  Who doesn’t appreciate an overzealous use of quick time events and endless walks through corridors?  As it turns out, a lot of people.  There was not an offensive number of quick time events but it was starting to get a little out of hand.  The game’s shooting sequences were sandwiched between walks through city streets or dark corridors with some of the other characters.  This was not fun at all, but at least the game’s environments were gorgeous and highly detailed.  It would sometimes make me forget that what I was doing was just walking to the next large area where a shooting sequence was going to take place.

If Ready at Dawn would have put a little more work into The Order: 1886’s gameplay, this could be a whole different review.  The story is original and engrossing, set in the frame of Victorian London that pops off the screen with stunning visual appeal.  It’s the unoriginal and rote cover-based shooting and quick time events that largely bring the experience down.  I wouldn’t call the game my biggest disappointment of 2015 because it had a lot of good things going for it, but the game could have been a lot more.  Maybe the sequel will right its predecessor’s wrongs?

the order 1886 score

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

the force awakens poster
via iDigital Times

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

PG13 / 135 mins

Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac

Director: J.J. Abrams

Duuuuuuuuh-duuuh-duh-duh-duh-duuuuuuuuh-duuh-duh-duh-duh-duhhhh…. (Just imagine the rest of this review like it’s the iconic Star Wars intro title crawl with the iconic music in the background for added effect)

The Star Wars prequels left a bad taste in the mouths of fanboys across the world.  Episodes I, II, and III had their moments but they were largely underwhelming and incomparable to the original masterpieces of IV, V, and VI.  Making matters worse, it’s been ten years since Episode III came out, meaning the bad taste has just lingered and festered for years.  Fans started to become anxious for the next installment in the storied franchise, just something to cleanse their palette.  Enter Disney.  Famed Star Wars director George Lucas sold his baby to the entertainment juggernaut that is Walt Disney and soon to follow this news was the announcement that a new trilogy would soon be making its way to the big screen.

the force awakens 1
via Vanity

Star Wars: The Force Awakens slowly became one of the year’s most anticipated movies.  Directed by J.J. Abrams, the movie would continue the story of famed movie heroes like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, along with some newer characters joining the fray.  It is made clear that The Force Awakens is on a mission to set the series back on the right track of what made the classics great.  Now we have something else to talk about instead of the prequels sucking so much.  I don’t know if you’ve heard, but The Force Awakens has been selling gangbusters and breaking records left and right.  It has become one of year’s biggest movies.  J.J. Abrams has successfully accomplished his mission and has made a Star Wars movie to rival the classics.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi.  A lot has happened since then.  The First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver of Girls fame), is the omnipotent evil that spans the galaxy.  The Jedi are just a myth of the past.  The characters from the previous films are all doing their own thing now.  Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is still the general of The Resistance, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) are still the rebel bounty hunters that we came to love, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing, which is the main crux of the movie’s story.

the force awakens 2
via Daily Actor

Within the first couple of scenes we are also introduced to the new faces that will drive the new trilogy for the years to come; Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.  These two are the new fresh faces that this series needs.  Daisy Ridley plays Rey, a scrapper from Jakku who is under the impression that one day her long lost family will come back to find her.  John Boyega, on the other hand, plays Finn, a Stormtrooper who wants to change his ways.  The two character’s paths meet up in a play of destiny and they are set on a mission after finding the cute little droid BB-8 that has part of the map that will lead the Resistance to Luke Skywalker.

the force awakens 3

John Boyega’s Finn was probably one of my favorite new characters from the movie.  His humor is a refreshing change of pace for the movie and he has an energy that is undeniable.  Daisy Ridley is amazing as well.  I believe that both of them will have what it takes to carry the monolith that is Star Wars into the future.  This movie was their proving ground and they took the baton from the established cast and are ready to move on into the future.  I also want to mention that Adam Driver did a fantastic job as Kylo Ren.  His character was perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch.  Ren is a unhinged and emotional apprentice to the Dark Side that is afraid that he will never live up to Darth Vader.  Driver captured this character’s unstable nature amazingly and I really look forward to perhaps taking a deeper dive into the shroud that this character withholds.

the force awakens 4
via Flickering Myth

The nostalgia factor is out the roof the second the notorious title crawl starts scrolling up the big screen.  Everything from the sights to the sounds bring back pangs of nostalgia and reverence to the original trilogy.  The use of practical effects in The Force Awakens alone is super cool in that it adds to the old school mantra that this movie upholds.  It really made the movie feel like the original trilogy.  In fact, this movie was super similar to A New Hope, maybe a little to its detriment.  Everything from the locations to the story seem to fit right in line with A New Hope, almost like it was trying to play it a little safe, using the already established classic as a crutch to carry it forward.  This doesn’t mean too much right now, but if the next movie starts to fall in line with The Empire Strikes Back, then maybe we should start to feel alarmed.

There’s also the convenience factor that started to make me question a lot of the things that happened in the movie.  I fear that if I started to go deeper into what I mean by this, spoilers would start to arise so I am going to stay out of the mud for now.  If you see the movie, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Things line up in ways that seem impossible and characters run into other characters at opportune times that make you shake your head a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a problem that a lot of movies have, but that doesn’t make it excusable.  Similar to my point about The Force Awakens being too similar to A New Hope, this isn’t a big problem in the movie, but you can add it to my list of small gripes that I have with it.

the force awakens 5

It’s been a while since a movie instilled a feeling of pure childish giddiness in me but The Force Awakens really did that for me.  The feeling of going to see a new Star Wars movie in theaters again was just a delight in itself.  Luckily the movie was pretty fantastic to go along with these nostalgic feelings.  The movie took its time and established the new characters and paid homage to the old in ways that seem to set up the future movies pretty well.  (I should also mention that the movie’s last shot was pretty amazing, setting up the cliffhanger that will be picked up in Episode 8) Whenever J.J. Abrams had his hesitations with signing on to the iconic series, I understood why he would have these feelings.  He can rest easy now because he accomplished a lot of great things with The Force Awakens.  This is the Star Wars movie you have been looking for.

the force awakens score

‘Bone Tomahawk’ Is My Bone Daddy

bone tomahawk posterBone Tomahawk (2015)

NR / 132 min

Horror / Western

Starring: Zahn McClarnon, Patrick Wilson, Kurt Russell

Director: S. Craig Zahler

A review by Tristan Mowat of Evade Gismo

Whatever you’re doing right now probably isn’t as important as watching this movie. It is customarily routine for me to keep a watchful eye on interesting films in some of my favorite genres: Horror and Westerns. I think we can all raise a guilty hand to being some form of genre fanboy or girl. Neglecting a shitty flick for a great set or setting- for the flavor of the story alone. But we need those bad movies don’t we? They are just as important as the good ones because, of course, they elevate the great films and show us what ‘good’ is supposed to look like.

You ever find something online so perfect that you covet it and share it with your friends with your own ‘trust me it’s awesome’ seal of approval? Only to watch those friends turn around- claim it as theirs? Isn’t it hard not to claim it as your own treasure? And doesn’t it hurt a bit when your friends fail to acknowledge that it was you who found it in the first place? This is one of those treasures for me but I’m sharing it with you guys in case you might have missed it.

It is what it looks like. It’s a Western Horror movie. Two things I’ve unknowingly and unconsciously desired for quite some time. Probably ever since i saw Unforgiven as a kid and fell in love with the Western genre. It’s well written, all the sentences are complete and courteous. With every syllable perfectly accounted for. Back in the good ole days when using slang was like saying ‘CUNT’ to your grandmother.

IMDB is showing that the budget for the movie was $1.8 million. So virtually nothing. With all the great acting littering the story you can almost see Kurt Russell reading the script and calling all his friends to climb on board. Everyone is here because they fell in love with the script. Clearly they are not as interested in the money as they are with telling a unique story. It’s original, oddly compelling and suspenseful.

You will hear us talking about tension and suspense a lot, so you’re going to have to get use to that. It’s an intriguing device in storytelling. It’s cheap (pretty much free) but rarely used effectively. But when it does- WHOAH BABY! Although the tense moment means nothing without the payoff. Usually the payoffs, in this case, look like somebody getting their head blown apart, point being the film doesn’t chise out on you. Also the jaw bone tomahawks are magical and can cut anything in half. The action is very brutal and gave my wife a rough ‘sleep.’ The violence here felt like a rich meal –  something you can understand and fill up on with a few bites.

bone tomahawk 1

So the deal here is some drifter walks all over some cannibalistic native predator monsters ‘sacred ground’ and get chased into town. They kidnap sheriff’s deputy and some hot chick doctor. Sheriff “old Kirtypants” heads out to recover them. Nice and simple, like a western should be.  The ‘savages’ are a cartoonish version of a ‘Native’ It’s the furthest thing from human. I’m glad they took the enemies to the extreme physically, it would have been awkward if they hadn’t gone so monsterish.

bone tomahawk 2

All told this was a well thought out surprise from, not a first time director, but someone getting the hang of things. Thanks Craig Zahler your bones are really sharp.

bone tomahawk 3.png

Review: Revenge of the Dreamers II

rotd2 coverRevenge of the Dreamers II (2015)

Various Artists

Rap / Hip-Hop

Dreamville / Interscope

This was the tweet that was sent out on the eve of December 6th by J. Cole and the rest of his Dreamville label.  It would take an attentive listener to realize that this same number was used in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers mixtape, the label’s debut showcase.  As any curious soul would do, fans started to call that number and to their surprise, J. Cole and the rest of the group was on the other line.  They took time to talk to fans and announce that Revenge of the Dreamers II was a thing and that it was coming out soon.  What a neat way to announce an album.

rotd2 1
via 1019 Online

Unlike their previous mixtape, RotD II is a studio album, propelling the label into the mainstream.  J. Cole, the labels creator, has already established himself as a bona-fide rapper in the mainstream space but the rest of his label signees have something to prove, which is the resounding theme of the album.  If you want to soak in some inspiration and motivation to do something with your life, this album should be right up your alley.

J. Cole’s presence on the project is sparse, which is how it should be. He appears on the album’s intro track, “Folgers Crystals,” as well as “Night Job,” featuring label mate Bas.  His stand out track is “Caged Bird,” a deep seeded reference to the poet Maya Angelou’s I Know Where the Caged Bird Sings.  The autobiography details Angelou’s life and what it was like to deal with adversity and hate for being black in America.  J. Cole relates to her situation and raps about that kind of adversity that he has to face being a black man this day and age.  It’s a concept that we have heard from a bunch of different rappers before but Cole’s “Caged Bird” is a meaningful and thought provoking track that makes it a standout.

rotd2 2
via Global Grind

Some other notable rappers that appear on the album are Cozz and Omen.  Fans of the label’s previous project should recognize these guys but they have changed since you first heard them.  Cozz has probably demonstrated the most growth, and that change is extremely evident when you listen to the album’s finale “Grow,” my favorite song off the album.  Cozz puts it all out on the mic as he raps about his own career and his personal growth into the guy that he is today.  It’s a raw and heartfelt track, laced with a fantastic hook from Correy C.  “48 Laws” is Omen’s best track on the album, fusing an old-school hip-hop sound with some great back-up instrumentals from the one and only Donnie Trumpet.  Although it’s too short, Donnie’s solo at the end is treat.

But hey, let’s talk about the newcomers because that’s what this kind of album is all about right?  Almost everyone from the original tape makes an appearance on the track list but two new signees make their mainstream debut; singer Ari Lennox and North Carolina rapper Lute.  Lennox gives us some staggeringly smooth vocals on her collaboration with Cozz “Backseat,” making the act of backseat sex more sophisticated and tranquil than it actually is.  On the other hand, Lute demonstrates his flow on “Still Slummin’,” a solid debut for the rapper.  With some time, I can envision him honing his skills and making a name for himself.

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Motivation and rising above the hate are the two steadfast themes that can be found throughout the album, making it surprising and almost jolting when a song like “Tabs” makes it onto the project.  Cozz has some fantastic offering on the album but his less than meaningful and paint-by-the-numbers song about leaving his love interests and side chicks behind is the worst song on the album.  It just doesn’t click with the album’s mantra and style, making it unnecessary to the final product.  Maybe if there was a little more thought put into the song I could have overlooked it, but it’s pretty inexcusable.

Dreamville’s initial mixtape was alright on its own but Revenge of the Dreamers II blows it out of the water in terms of quality.  Is this really surprising though?  A lot of the guys from the label are slowly starting to prove their skills and make a name for themselves.  J. Cole has done some great work in rounding up the team that is Dreamville.  This is a great showcase of the label’s talent and it should serve as a great playlist for anybody that has any sort of aspiration.  Literally, any aspiration.  Just put this album on and you’ll go places.

rotd2 score

2016 Grammy Predictions

It’s that time of year again.  The nominees for the 58th Grammys were announced this Monday, which opened up the discussion on which artist had the best album/song and why they should win in their respective categories.  At some point or another you begin to hear the case for every nominee, which makes speculation a lot of fun.  With that being said, I am going to add my two cents into the fray on who I think will take away the awards music’s biggest night.

2016 grammys kendrick
via Urban Islandz

The Grammy nominations were almost dominated by Kendrick Lamar, which was quite a surprise considering the years that other artists have had.  However, Kendrick Lamar more than deserves these awards and I actually think he will take home a good haul on Feb. 15.  The two other artists that gained a good number of nods are Taylor Swift and The Weeknd.  No surprise there.  One glaring omission is Adele but hey, that’s just a by-product of how the Grammys work.  Just wait till next year, where she will most likely top the nominations list and take home a car full of awards.

Let’s get into the four major fields…

*Predicted winners denoted with ‘(Winner)’

Record Of The Year

“Really Love” — D’Angelo And The Vanguard

“Uptown Funk” — Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars (Winner)

“Thinking Out Loud” — Ed Sheeran

“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift

“Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weeknd

2016 grammys uptown funk
via MCM

There’s a lot of pretty great songs here, but “Uptown Funk” is almost a sure-fire lock.  It was the song that took the radio by storm and dominated the airwaves for most of the summer.  At this point it has been over played, but maybe there’s a reason for that?

Album Of The Year

Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes

To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar

Traveller — Chris Stapleton

1989 — Taylor Swift (Winner)

Beauty Behind The Madness — The Weeknd

2016 grammys 1989

This is a tough category.  All of these albums are pretty great and have wide range in terms of style and sound.  My personal favorite album of the year is To Pimp A Butterfly but it’s hard to deny the kind of year that Taylor Swift has had.  Swift pretty much stole the summer with her massive 1989 tour and her album of the same name is just as great.  Her year is going to be topped off in the best way possible, a Grammy.

Song Of The Year

“Alright” — Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Kendrick Lamar)

“Blank Space” — Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift, songwriters (Taylor Swift)

“Girl Crush” — Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose, songwriters (Little Big Town)

“See You Again” — Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz, songwriters (Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth) (Winner)

“Thinking Out Loud” — Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge, songwriters (Ed Sheeran)

2016 grammys see you again
via Billboard

Once again, this is another category that made me stop and really think.  “See You Again” serves as the theme song (of sorts) for Fast and Furious 7, paying homage to the late Paul Walker who died due to a fatal car accident.  Wiz Khalifa and the super talented Charlie Puth have given fans what they wanted and more.  You don’t even have to be a Fast and Furious fan to have an appreciation for their song.

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

Meghan Trainor (Winner)

2016 grammys meghan trainor
via VIP Seats

The Best New Artist category is always a slightly entertaining category for me.  Because of the Grammys and their weird timing schedule, by the time the nominations are announced, the nominees for this award are not really “new” anymore.  When looking at these artists, Meghan Trainor stood out to me the most.  Title was a great debut album and she is generally just a likable person.  I think the voters will agree. However, Tori Kelly is a close second.

As for some of the other categories…

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

“Ship To Wreck” by Florence & The Machine

“Sugar” by Maroon 5

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson Featuring Bruno Mars (Winner)

“Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift Featuring Kendrick Lamar

“See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth

Best Dance Recording

“We’re All We Need” by Above & Beyond Featuring Zoë Johnston

“Go” by the Chemical Brothers

“Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus Featuring Kendrick Lamar

“Runaway (U & I)” by Galantis (Winner)

“Where Are Ü Now” by Skrillex And Diplo With Justin Bieber

Best Rock Performance

“Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes

“What Kind Of Man” by Florence & The Machine

“Something From Nothing” by Foo Fighters (Winner)

“Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King

“Moaning Lisa Smile” by Wolf Alice

Best Alternative Music Album

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes (Winner)

Vulnicura by Björk

The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket

Currents by Tame Impala

Star Wars by Wilco

Best Rap Album

2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole

Compton by Dr. Dre

If Youre Reading This Its Too Late by Drake

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar (Winner)

The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj

Best Urban Contemporary Album

Ego Death by the Internet

You Should Be Here by Kehlani

Blood by Lianne La Havas

Wildheart by Miguel

Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd (Winner)

Best Country Album

Montevallo by Sam Hunt

Pain Killer by Little Big Town

The Blade by Ashley Monroe

Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

Traveller by Chris Stapleton (Winner)

The best part about making these kinds of predictions is that they will most likely be totally wrong and someone you would never have expected will win the awards.  There was a lot of tough categories this year so I could see some of them going either way.  (Yeah, looking at the Best Rap Album was a doozy)  It’s going to be a fun night and I am pretty confident in one prediction: there’s going to be a lot of happy fans and mad fans.

Review: Fallout 4

fallout 4 cover
via Giant Bomb

Fallout 4 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

RPG / Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

It’s been almost seven years since Fallout 3, one of my favorite games of all time, was released by Bethesda.  The game included massive amounts of exploration in a rich world with stories and adventures around almost every single corner.  It was impossible not to get lost in the Capitol Wasteland.  The novelty of seeing familiar historic landmarks with a post-apocalyptic lather over them was also unique, especially for an RPG of Fallout’s size.  It was only this past summer when Fallout 4 was introduced to the masses and it took gaming fandom by storm.  It’s pretty rare these days to have a game announced the same year that it comes out.  Excitement and speculation were everywhere leading up to last month’s release.  However, what’s the one downside of massive amounts of hype?  Overhype.  Luckily, Fallout 4 met most of its expectations and delivered one of the year’s best experiences in gaming.

fallout 4 1
via Inquisitr

One of the most unique and different aspects of this iteration in the series is the game’s introductory sequence.  In past Fallout games, you only saw what life before the war was like through billboards or posters that could be found around the wasteland.  In Fallout 4, you finally get a glimpse into what life looked like before the bombs dropped.  You play as a married military veteran (man or woman) with a kid named Shaun.  It’s just a normal day in Sanctuary Hills when things start to go south really quickly.  Your personal Mr. Handy, Codsworth, alerts you to the television where news of nuclear fallout starts to rear its head.  It’s then a full on sprint with your newborn child in hand to nearby Vault 111 where you will wait out the Great War.  Unfortunately, things are not so happy and cozy in the vault, as you emerge from the vault 200 years later as the sole survivor.  I’m not going to sit here and spoil what goes on in the vault, but it’s pretty easy to draw conclusions.

After you gain the knowledge that your child Shaun was taken from the vault, your mission to find your son begins as you take your first steps out of the vault into the harsh wasteland, courtesy of a couple of nuclear bombs.  (Sound familiar to the plot of Fallout 3?  Well, just switch out “your son” with “your father” and bam, you have the same exact plot.)  As you explore the wasteland, you’ll find settlements and factions that will help you with your quest to find your son.  There are four factions in the game, including the Minutemen, the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel (which should be familiar to anyone who has played Fallout), and the mysterious Institute.  Each have their own motivations and enemies and it’s up to you to decide which faction you want to carry on with to the end.  This promises four different endings, with minimal differences between them, aside from the Institute ending.  The story is not the strongest aspect of the game, but’s its serviceable and it acts as a device to get you exploring the world, which is in my opinion the best part of any Fallout game.

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Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are the home of Fallout 4.  Its immediately apparent that the nuclear bombs did not do a number on the city like they did Washington D.C.  Boston still lays in ruin, but the scenery is much more colorful and there’s an abundance of buildings that are largely intact, including some tall skyscrapers.  For one, it makes the world a lot more enjoyable to explore.  The boring drab atmosphere of Fallout 3 got old after a while, but Fallout 4 changes it up a bunch with locations ranging from metropolitan sprawls to swampy marshes to coastal beaches to rural farmland to suburban neighborhoods.  The map is also massive with tons of locations and points of interest.  The best part?  None of it seemed to be filler.  Almost every nook and cranny had a story to tell.  Bethesda has managed to create a living and breathing world where NPC’s do their own thing and random events happen all around you.  My story exploring Boston will most likely be totally different from another player’s experience, which is a good indication that you have done something right.

Fallout 4’s gameplay and combat mechanics have also gotten a massive overhaul.  Combat is actually more fun this time around.  In previous games you had to rely on V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) to take out your enemies because aiming with your gun was a joke.  Although the game does not compare to your modern FPS, Fallout 4 manages to make it easier to aim you gun and play the game like you would a normal shooter.  A more updated, and now dynamic, V.A.T.S. system is in place (and still highly recommended), but you can use your sights again.

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via Softpedia News

Dialog options have received an overhaul as well.  Gone are the days of scrolling through a menu of dialog options during a conversation.  Instead, you have four options which are paraphrases of what you are going to say.  You now have options like “Sarcasm” or “Threaten,” but without the exact words that you would utter.  This dynamic system also allows you to leave a conversation at any time you want by just walking away mid conversation.  This dynamic system seemed cool at first, but it had its troubles.  I often found it hard to determine if I was in a conversation with someone because the classic conversation camera zoom from the previous games is gone.  I often found myself walking away from characters who would then get annoyed that I was ignoring them.  It’s too bad there wasn’t an “Apologize for Being Rude” option, because I would have used that one a lot.

The level up system has also changed, giving you a chart of all the perks in the game right up front.  Depending on your initial stats that you set in the beginning of the game, you can place your points that you receive from leveling up into the different perks, ranking them up to get more advanced versions of those perks.  This allows for more customization based on the way you want to play.  Some people have been put off by this new approach, but I found it more enjoyable.  Finally, there are a lot more options for modding your weapons and armor.  Now, all the junk that you find in the world has a purpose beyond just populating the world.  You can use the junk and materials that you find to develop more advanced versions of your weapons and armor, giving you the advantage in battle.  There was a surprising amount of customization options for your guns, armor, and power suit.

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via US Gamer

This leads me to one of the craziest parts of the game which is settlement building.  Fallout 4 gives you the tools to create your own settlements from the ground up using all of the junk that you find throughout the world.  You construct buildings with beds and then defenses and power.  You also have to make sure you provide your settlers with water and crops as well, keeping them happy.  The mechanics can get pretty deep, especially when you start talking about trading between your settlements.  You can create trade lines between your settlements, which in turn give you more supplies and resources.  Although some of the mechanics and systems are a little janky and hard to use, I spent way more time then I originally imagined I would in this mode.  There’s no real point to creating big settlements, but it was still fun anyway.  It’s something that you can show off to your friends.

My only real complaint with Fallout 4 are the bugs and jank that are scattered throughout the game.  It’s hard to fault a game as large as Fallout for technical glitches and hiccups, but it’s still frustrating.  I imagine the QA process for a game like this is a nightmare but I still think it’s inexcusable for a game to be so buggy in this day and age.  Look at a game like The Witcher 3.  That game rivals Fallout 4 in size and scope and still manages to look better and run better as well.  It leaves Bethesda with no excuse for why their game is technically less superior.  Fortunately for them, the game’s other aspects more than make up for these problems.  However, future Fallout games need to clean up their act.

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I have put a borderline unhealthy amount of hours into Fallout 4 because the game basically combines the best parts of the previous Fallout games with more updated and modern mechanics.  Anyone who has played the previous games will feel right at home while new players will find the game to be a nice springboard into the rich and engrossing world that Fallout 4 has to offer.  In a year that has been full of great games, Fallout 4 caps off the year just like a bottle cap on an ice cold Nuka Cola.  Okay, that was a bad Fallout joke…

fallout 4 score

Also available on PC and Xbox One

Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

the walking dead s2 cover

The Walking Dead Season Two (2013)

PS4 / Rated M


Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games

Clementine was probably one of the greatest video game characters to come out of 2012.  When Telltale Games released season one of their adaptation of the Walking Dead series, it was met with rave reviews and massive critical appeal.  The game was close to a masterpiece, introducing you to main characters Lee Everett and Clementine while forcing you to make some gut-wrenching decisions along the way.  It was this game that propelled Telltale to where they are today.

the walking dead s2 1
via Softpedia News

One year later, Telltale released The Walking Dead Season Two, putting you in the shoes of Clementine.  Some time has passed and the young and naïve Clementine has grown up and matured.  However, she is still on the road, fighting to survive the dangerously harsh world of the zombie apocalypse.  Some things just don’t change.

The Walking Dead Season Two introduces players to a whole new set of characters, along with a couple of surprises here and there.  As with the previous season’s cast of characters, season two’s characters have their own set of problems.  At first, these new people that Clementine comes across rubbed me the wrong way, but after time they start to open up and reveal the kinds of demons and struggles they are dealing with.  They all have good intentions, but some of these issues cause them to get snappy with each other, putting the group on edge multiple times throughout the story.  Clementine always seems to act as the beacon of reason, calming the group down and helping them work through their problems.  It’s a cool dynamic that really goes to show how much Clementine has changed since the first season.

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via IGN

Another big theme that season two tackles is Clementine’s personality.  In season one, she is young and scared, often looking to Lee for help and guidance.  Lee was her mentor and her best friend, helping her endure and adapt to the harsh world that they live in.  After a year has passed, she isn’t the scared child that you remembered from before.  This time around she is killing zombies left and right and doing some things that, for a lack of a better term, “make grown men cry.”  The reality of this new life has changed her, and these types of moments are scattered throughout the season.  It’s cool to see this zombie-ridden world through the perspective of a young kid.

My biggest complaint about this entry in the series is the plot’s predictability.  I was seldom surprised at the events that took place on screen.  Now I am not going to lie, there was some points in the story where I was legitimately surprised, but these moments were few and far between.  I always felt that the story made it a little too clear at what kinds of things were going to happen next.  For example, a character would say something like, “Hey Clem, I don’t think I can trust this person.  What do you think?”  Well, when you put it that way, I guess I shouldn’t trust said character should I?  An episode would pass and surprise, that character would do something to betray the group.  This is just a specific example but I felt these kinds of situations made it super easy to see where the story was going.

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via Video Gamer

Although the season had some plot issues, as well as some classic Telltale Games technical issues, I still had a great time with The Walking Dead Season Two.  Although it does not stack up against its predecessor, it is still one of the best Telltale games I have played to date.  Story wise, the game wraps up in a way that opens up the possibility of future games.  (There has already been rumors of a season three) If you are not a big fan of what Telltale has to offer, I at least encourage you to give their Walking Dead games a try.  You don’t have to be a big Walking Dead fan to appreciate the stories that they have to tell.

the walking dead s2 score

Also available on Mac, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Ouya