By Marty Mulrooney
With 2010 now upon us whether we like it or not, I realised that it would probably be a good idea to look back at what made 2009 such a special year. Sure, it saw the birth of AMO, but where would we have been in the first place without so many great games, books and films to review? I can’t claim to have seen everything out there worth seeing last year, but I tried my best during the course of running this site to pour over as much cool stuff as possible. I would therefore be delighted to share the cream of the crop with you based on my foray into the world of online journalism during 2009. Read on!
I have decided to do each section as a category, with three choices in each, ranked 3rd, 2nd and 1st. Please remember, this is my personal opinion as editor/lead writer of AMO. Feel free to let us know your own picks in the comments section at the end!
Best Indie Games
1. Downfall – The indie game that finally clicked everything into place for me. One man crafts an experience that blows many other commercial games out of the water, telling a tale of insanity, love and murder. Engrossing, misunderstood (there is so much more to it than the initial gore) and with a end twist like a punch to the gut… I loved Downfall. Reviewed here.
2. Blackwell Convergence – Blackwell Convergence is the third in the Blackwell trilogy, released in 2009. Truth be told, I played the entire trilogy in the space of three weeks, to review them for my friend Igor at hardydev.com. All three were fantastic, but I loved where the story went in Convergence, which is why it is one of my top picks for 2009. Part four should be a knockout when it arrives. Reviewed here.
3. Machinarium - A wonderful game featuring a good little robot on a quest to save his girlfriend (and the entire robot city) from a bomb planted by some other bad robots. Beautiful artwork and a lack of voices combine to offer something totally unique and special, if not rock solid to complete. Reviewed here.
Honourable Mentions: Emerald City Confidential, Time Gentleman Please!, Eufloria.
1. Moon – Moon, the debut of director Duncan Jones (who we interviewed here) is sci-fi in the good, old fashioned sense. Utilising miniatures merely enhanced by CGI rather than relying on it as a crutch, the story is both simple and complex all at once, with a brilliant central performance by Sam Rockwell. Incredible filmmaking. Reviewed here.
2. Watchmen – One of the first films I got to see with my press pass at my local cinema (during the creation of Alternative Magazine for my Media/Journalism Degree actually!) Watchmen is one of the finest adaptations of a graphic novel to the big screen I have ever seen. Sure, some people may moan about little differences, but sitting alone in the dark watching this world come alive was one of the most powerful cinema experiences of 2009. I dragged my girlfriend along the next day, paying this time. She loved it too: high praise indeed. Oh, and the soundtrack is awesome.
3. Coraline – Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, and directed by Henry Selick (director of Nightmare Before Christmas & James And The Giant Peach) Coraline is one the finest stop-motion films I have ever seen in my entire life. Furthermore, this is a family film as it should be: slightly creepy, shown through a child’s eyes and accessible to adults as well as children. Coraline herself is a fine protagonist, fearless and determined. The Other Mother had it coming to her after all…
Honourable mentions: Fantastic Mr Fox, The Wrestler, The Class.
Best Commercial Games
1. Tales Of Monkey Island – What more can I say? The final episode broke the AMO scoring system after all… A glorious comeback for the Monkey Island franchise and the adventure genre combined, with Dominic Armato giving a fantastic central performance, accommodated by the brilliant folks at Telltale. Chapter 4 even manages to pull the ole’ heart strings… a triumph.
2. Uncharted 2 – Naughty Dog prove once and for all that the PS3 is by far the most powerful console out there. Sure, Killzone 2 looked ace, but where was the story, the likeable characters, the goddamn colour? Uncharted 2 is like taking part in your own action adventure movie, with Nathan Drake cementing himself as a mascot for the system for many years to come. Essential if you have a PS3. Reviewed here.
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum – A pleasant surprise. After years of rubbish Batman games and film tie-ins, Rocksteady Studios deliver the Batman game. Not weighed down by the world of the films, Arkham Asylum instead takes its influences from the long running comic book mythos, aka the original source material. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are fantastic as Batman and The Joker respectively, with controls that make you feel like the dark knight. Reviewed here.
Honourable Mentions: Broken Sword: Director’s Cut, inFamous, The Secret Of Monkey Island Special Edition.
Best Books/Graphic Novels
1. Druids: The Ogham Sacrifice – Sent to me for review by a small Welsh publisher (Dalen Books), I was amazed when I read this powerful graphic novel, a gothic thriller set in 5th century Celtic Europe. Murder, beautiful women and swordplay, what more could you want from such a book? Beautiful artwork and a gripping narrative earned this little gem a top spot with ease. Reviewed here.
2. Dracula: The Un-Dead – Written by a direct descendant of Bram Stoker himself (Dacre Stoker, who we interviewed here), this sequel to Dracula is an accomplished work of literature. Overall very faithful to the source material, whilst at the same time spinning its own unique tale. A movie adaptation wouldn’t surprise me at all. Reviewed here.
3. Power Up – Another perfect graphic novel from Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel. Black and white imagery does nothing to stop his strong art sense (in many ways it enhances it) with the story told being the usual mix of humour and humanity. One of the great graphic novelists of our time.
Honourable Mentions: Under The Dome (Stephen King)
Best TV shows
1. The Shield – I know this actually finished in 2008, but I didn’t see it properly until it was shown in the UK during February 2009, so please allow this small discrepancy. The Shield, over the course of seven series, improved at such a constant rate that by the end, my mind was completely blown. Vic Mackey is a bad man, and watching him on screen tearing up Farmington LA is both hypnotic and repulsive. Yet there is a charm to this corrupt cop that makes you want him to get away with it all regardless. The ending is perhaps even more devastating than anyone could have predicted. Walton Goggins (as Shane, Vic’s right hand man) deserved an Oscar for this.
2. Dexter – It may be going a bit silly now, but I still love Dexter. Again as with The Shield, I didn’t see season 3 until last year (it finished in the US during 2008) and Season 4 has only just started (finished in the US at the end of 2009). Still, whatever season and whatever year, this bizarre tale of a serial killer with a heart of gold strikes all the right chords. Black comedy at its finest. Miguel Prado was a brilliant addition the cast; without him, I doubt the sagging story would have been half as strong. Series 4 looks back on track.
3. House – Well, at least House doesn’t have as big a gap before it airs in the UK anyway. We got Season 5 during the same year as US viewers at least! A shocking suicide, House finally making an effort to change… there is so much going on at the end of Season 5 that I couldn’t wait for Season 6! Like Dexter, the show is getting a bit unbelievable… but so what? The writers and Hugh Laurie have changed the game around enough to keep it fresh, and Season 6 seems stronger than ever. A wonderful show.
Honourable Mentions: 24, Gavin and Stacey, Spiral, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
1. John Mayer: Battle Studies – Mayer’s latest album is a real grower (as I stated in my review here), constantly whirring round inside my head during the day. I am due to see him in concert again tomorrow actually (15th Jan 2010) so I should have a review up for that soon as well!
2. Moon OST – Fellow Brit Clint Mansell created the finest film score of 2009 in my opinion. The Moon OST manages to hint at other sci-fi classics whilst still retaining a sense of uniqueness all its own (much like the film). This is haunting, evocative bliss.
3. Watchmen OST – Comprising of many songs referenced in the graphic novel, the only dud song used in the film and featured on this CD is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Not because it is a bad song per se, but more due to the fact that it is often overused nowadays in both TV and film. Regardless, when Hendrix blares out ‘All Along The Watchtower’ or Nat King Cole calls us ‘Unforgettable’, this soundtrack rocks with the best of them.
Honourable Mentions: The Mars Volta, Inglourious Basterds OST, Kings Of Leon.
Nurse Jackie – Eddie Falco moves on from The Sopranos and easily slips into the role of Nurse Jackie, a drug addicted saint with some questionable ways of going about her life and work. Deliciously dark.
Men Of A Certain Age – Ray Romano returns to our screens with some friends, unafraid to poke fun at himself in the process. Gentle, with plenty of promise.
Looking forward to:
Game – Heavy Rain (PS3)
This new game from Quantic Dream could rewrite the rule book on adventure games and interactive storytelling forever. Four main characters. Interlinking storylines. Death doesn’t even mean game over anymore! With photorealistic graphics, this is one to look out for in 2010.
Film – Kick Ass
Already getting rave reviews from advance screenings, this graphic novel adaptation could be the Watchmen of 2010. As well as watching the official trailer here, you should also check out the red band trailer here. Just be advised before you click, swearing and extreme violence feature very heavily. Looks awesome!
A wonderful 2009 and a great start to 2010. Thanks for reading!