The Best and Worst of 2011

Another year has come to a close, and once more I find myself looking back over the chocolate and the crap that the latest 365-day rotation has produced. So without further ado:

THE BEST


Best Video Game: DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION


The four or five of you regular readers who look over my varied ramblings know that cyberpunk is my favourite subgenres of science fiction, so when Human Revolution was announced I got both excited and wary. After all, Deus Ex – being one of my favourite shooter-RPGs of all time – had effectively been in cryogenics for the better part of a decade, and having a prequel to that with upgraded fancy sexy HD-y-ness seemed like a recipe for fan-wank disaster. On the other hand, you could punch through walls and snap bad guys’ necks simultaneously with cybernetic arms, and if you don’t think there’s something cool to that then you should probably reassess your standards.

On the whole I was greatly looking forward to checking it out, but upon its release I found my anticipation to be lacking. Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t a good game. It is the game.

It’s like a forbidden love between Altered Carbon and Blade Runner. There’s shooting. There’s excellently-executed stealth. There’s RPG elements. There’s multiple routes to objectives. There’s a compelling story (although the ending was a little disappointing). There’s the ability to throw vending machines.

Honestly, I can’t sing Human Revolution’s praises loud enough. I found it be one of the best games I have ever played in my life, and as a final signifier of its awesomeness I could very happily sit down right now and play another go of it, despite the fact I’ve already 100%’d all the achievements.

I can understand that a lot of people won’t share my enthusiasm for it, but I had the most fun with it out of any other game this year.

Best Movie: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS


To be honest, I found 2010 to be a much better year for movies than this one. It seems like 2011 is a bit of an in-between year for films – after the wonders of Inception and Scott Pilgrim, but before the anticipated juggernauts of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

On the whole 2011 was very much Comicbook Avenue, featuring big-screen outings from Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern for the first time in efforts that were intriguing, portentious, and disappointing respectively. I found it really hard to think about what movie I found to be the least sleep-inducing, but if I had to pick I’d say X-Men First Class is definitely one of the better films I’ve seen this year. After the travesties of The Last Stand and Wolverine, First Class managed to act as a fantastic prequel that didn’t run as a two-hour-long foregone conclusion, and featured some fantastic performances from almost all involved (particularly Michael Fassbender). I’d very much like to see it continue, as long as they re-cast Emma Frost with someone other than January Jones. Seriously, the Graham Richardson cat from The Hamster Wheel would be a better choice.

Best EU Book: TIE BETWEEN HALO: GLASSLANDS (KAREN TRAVISS) AND DEUS EX: ICARUS EFFECT (JAMES SWALLOW)


For the sake of those who have made it this far I won’t talk too much about the latter, since it’s pretty much a direct prequel with different characters and some interesting foreshadowing that gives a lot of grounding and motivation to the baddies against what small amount the game offers. Needless to say, coming from a writer directly involved in the script for the main title, James Swallow manages to capture the atmosphere of the game without making it a simple piece of advertising fiction for their high-priced offering (unlike my choice of worst book, which we’ll get to later).

Glasslands will no doubt encounter some resistance from seasoned Halo readers because it is markedly different to the norm. So far every novel has had something of a 50/50 split between action and plot (except The Cole Protocol, whose plot was so woefully executed that I stopped reading halfway through and never finished), but in this instance Glasslands decides on a more story-driven narrative that only has about one or two battles, neither of which are as massive as the siege of Onyx or the capturing of Unyielding Hierophant from Ghosts of Onyx and First Strike respectively.

Since she was booted from Star Wars in the wake of George Lucas deciding Mandalorians should be retconned from Maori-esque warrior folk into a bunch of whiny dicks with pacifist ancestors, Karen Traviss has written almost exclusively for the Gears of War universe. Having read all of her Star Wars offerings it’s rather noticeable in Glasslands to see the areas where she took inspiration from Gears, because the shift between them is rather jarring on the whole.

It is not, however, the kind of jarring that made me want to stop reading. On paper it sounds awful – a lot of soldiers talk somewhat, a bunch more stuck inside an inverted sphere talk almost as much – but in practice Traviss executes the dialogue vehicle of the narrative excellently. I found the last quarter of the book so engaging that, roughly fifty pages from the end, on the way to work I ducked off the train at my stop and immediately sat down to finish it off. Let me tell you, being five minutes late for work that day was worth it (if my boss is reading this, please don’t fire me).

It’s different from the usual Halo fare, but it’s definitely miles above whatever Cryptum had to offer.

Best Comicbook: DARK AVENGERS (BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS)


I have no doubt that in a week’s time, after I’ve read it, I’ll be changing this to Scott Snyder’s Batman offering “The Black Mirror”, because the volume of positive reviews I’ve heard for it so far has been staggering. Since I’d rather sit down and read it solidly rather than in chunks on the train to work, it’ll have to sit on my shelf for a little longer.

My original recipient for this accolade was Flashpoint, but honestly on reflection I think I enjoyed Dark Avengers far more solidly. Having the entirety of the flagship Dark Reign title (with the obvious omission of Utopia, which for me isn’t a big loss since it was one of the worst X-Men stories since the idiots at Marvel retconned Xorn’s identity) bound within one big hardcover was awesome, and I really liked how it made Norman Osborn into a very human villain protagonist. I find the story of the world’s biggest villains sitting down in faux Avengers garb almost like a cross between Heroes and Seinfeld, except without the massively confusing comicbook plot of the former (ironically) and the tedious, overacted performances of the title character in the latter.

Dark Avengers is a solid bridge between the fall in Secret Invasion and the rise in Siege of Marvel’s biggest heroes (some of whom even make a few cameos here and there) and is definitely worth a read.

Best Television Season: STARGATE UNIVERSE – SEASON 2


There’s not much I can say about this other than what I’ve said previously and what every other hardcore Stargate blog has expounded in great and frustrated detail. The third official Stargate series, killed off prematurely as it was, still managed to have an abrupt conclusion that was at least halfway satisfying, and a number of the episodes that really focussed on the show’s character-driven plot (specifically the penultimate two parter “Common Descent” and “Epilogue”) highlighted not only the immense amount of acting talent on display but also the notion that Stargate writers had finally broken out of the nasty recycled-plot atrophy of Stargate Atlantis’s later years and moved into new and refreshing territory.

Say what you like about SGU, but I believe it was a damn good show that I’d be happy to see revived in a Goa’uld sarcophagus.

Best Indie Production: MARBLE HORNETS – PART TWO


While this one technically stretches back into last year it did have its ending recently, and I’ve spent most of this year getting hooked on the adventures of Jay and his band of infrequently-appearing psychotic friends as they chase down Slenderman’s original YouTube incarnation. The gaunt visuals, truly imaginative plot strands and acting that is well above the average for independent productions made Marble Hornets one of the most enjoyable things I experienced this year – right after I accepted that it was actually fictional and not a realistic representation of an eight-foot-tall mongoloid who you is only visible if you are his target and gets his jollies off opening you up and rearranging your vital organs liked a squishy 200-piece puzzle.

While the cliffhanger does leave you with a certain amount of blue-balls if you’re really hooked on it, it is gratifying to see that not all YouTube content is inbuilt webcam bullshit with the depth and complexity of an empty teaspoon. It’s not for everyone, and is definitely more on the psychological side of the horror scale, but is altogether a highly enjoyable experience that is quite absorbing as an ARG.

THE WORST


Worst Game: BATTLEFIELD 3


This may invalidate my opinion, but I’ve not actually played Battlefield 3 yet. I have, however, seen it in play and have analysed the content on offer if you purchase it. Aside from the promise of early access to the highly-anticipated Mass Effect 3 multiplayer demo – which is hardly worth $90 – there’s very little in Battlefield that can’t be experienced by anyone owning any of the Modern Warfare titles, which not only have exceptional multiplayer but also really engaging and entertaining story campaigns. For the most part it seems Battlefield 3 ripped off so much of Modern Warfare’s tropes that only a spinal column and a few bits of gristle remained, and I can’t really see the appeal in losing nearly a hundred bucks for what amounts to little more than a multiplayer experience copied almost wholesale from Battlefield’s previous outings.

If multiplayer-focussed games like this are going to be made they need to be offered for a lot less, or else EA will mistakenly get the message that games skipping out hours before the first date when the single player’s already at the restaurant are the pathway to an easy, well-funded retirement.

Worst Movie: GREEN LANTERN


While I still liked it in the end, I found the Emerald Knight’s first foray to the big screen to be severely lacking. Considering the rich history and colourful characters that Green Lantern’s mythos offers it felt like a bit of a betrayal to have second-rate baddie Hector Hammond running the gig for most of the movie and to have all the wit, charm and excellent acting of Ryan Reynolds instantly evaporate once the Green Lantern outfit materialises. Maybe he’s secretly made of yellow.

A sequel wouldn’t go amiss, provided Geoff Johns actually wrote the script and didn’t just tease about it on Twitter, but we all know anything that doesn’t assure studio executives a lovely retirement in French Polynesia swiftly goes the way of a used condom and ends up floating down a sewer drain.

Worst EU Book: STAR WARS: FATAL ALLIANCE (Sean Williams)


This is one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever had the misfortune to read cover to cover; after experiencing Williams’ earlier IPs involving LCD-induced symbolism and abstract religious iconography as the primary antagonist, I felt that his steps into the Star Wars universe could only result in happiness and joy for the reading minority. Unfortunately his efforts on that front fell a bit flat, and his novelisation of the already sub-par The Force Unleashed left me wondering if he hadn’t been infected with a Lucasfilm Brain Slug (poached from the Star Trek studios and repurposed as a tool of mind control) around the time Force Heretic began drafting.

Fatal Alliance is, essentially, a point for point description of the various classes and abilities present in the upcoming and eternally-delayed MMO The Old Republic. The characters are shallow and two-dimensional, the plot had only minor twists that were vaguely interesting and the dialogue was so poor that it made Master Chief’s internal musings in The Flood seem like Shakespearian soliliquizing. I found this particularly disheartening since I loved his earlier books so much and even met the man at Comic-Con last year, who seemed thrilled at the idea that The Crooked Letter – sitting resolutely in my top 5 novels of all time – was part of what landed me my current Uni gig.

Maybe if I see him next year I can tell him to go speak to Drew Karpyshyn or Timothy Zahn for some pointers before the next book.

Worst Comicbook: SECRET AVENGERS – EYES OF THE DRAGON


Steve Rogers. His girlfriend. A female expy of Thor. Moon Knight. Black Widow. Ant-man. A short-lived appearance by Marvel’s Green Lantern analogue. And all of it written by Ed Brubaker.

Can you see what made the first volume of Marvel’s black ops Avengers team so enticing?

Mission to Mars was encouraging, if a little too focussed on Nova going crazy, but Brubaker misstepped so damn hard in the second outing that I was left feeling frustrated and betrayed. None of the characterisations seemed to fit their respective icons, and the introduction of yet another pretender to the Captain America throne just seemed like an eleventh hour reveal during the drafting process when Brubaker realised he didn’t have quite a compelling twist involved in the story already.

Also, why the fuck is there a clone of Nick Fury?

Worst Television Season: EUREKA SEASON 4.5


I say this very, very carefully – I did not mind the newest episodes of Eureka. I do, however, mind that the direction they’ve set themselves up for in the final season is formulaic, predictable and probably going to be far too saccharine by story’s end.

The initial news of Eureka’s cancellation caused me to erupt into a fit of rage when it became apparent Mark Stern and his bunch of merry creativity rapists were now being muscled more by the syphillitic monkeys controlling NBC, but upon seeing the last few episodes I can see why the show can no longer be seen as viable long-term. If they keep this up then everyone ends up with their soulmate, the town lives on forever and the Saturday Morning Cartoon villains led by Beverly Barlowe get locked up good and proper so everyone can go out for ice-creams without fear of being molested or anal-probed.

Too much formula, not enough explosive component. Drama is the great seed of any sci-fi show that takes itself seriously, and it seems the only real drama is present in the high-school bullshit-a-thon of Jo and Zane’s renewed romance. Personally I found Cersei and Jaime’s romance in Game of Thrones to be far more interesting, if only because it gives intriguing insight into how George R. R. Martin’s mind works.

Worst Indie Production: REBECCA BLACK’S “FRIDAY”


Does it really need to be said?

FINAL CONCLUSIONS


2011 has been a year of many ups and downs, but in the end it’s still been an enjoyable journey around the sun. Let’s hope that 2012 brings us more than just hollow promises and too much shouting this time round.

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