The Best Things Of 2015

Star-Wars-IV-Throne-CeremonyDecember, month of the best albums of the year lists. Endless lists of pretty much the same thing, with no explanation beyond “it’s cool because I like it”. So, to mix things up, we’ve got a few of the crew to give us their top 5 picks of the year, but thrown it wide open and not limited it to any one thing. The notable exception from most of these, as we haven’t had time to gather our thoughts, will be The Force Awakens, which I’m guessing everyone will be losing their shit over right now. So, get comfy, grab a brew and find out what’s been getting us excited

Nathan Bean – The Warmaster of Corehammer, and host of podcasts Dungeonpunx and Just Can’t Hate Enough

Frostgrave – This has come out on top for me gaming wise this year. The modestly priced skirmish game using D20 modifiers and simple mechanics has really taken off amidst the fallout caused by the death of the Old World. Frostgrave has a solid visual identity, a decent selection of characterful miniatures, modular plastic kits with huge potential for kit bashing and a real punk rock approach to how the game is played and most of all IT IS FUN. FG is relatively fast paced and easy to learn and there isn’t a mountain of fluff to absorb yet because it’s only just come out.  Frostgrave seems to me to sit in the middle ground where RPG’s and tabletop wargames meet. With a hugely successful expansion  released last month and lots more growth on the horizon for 2016, the future for the frozen city looks bright indeed.

Daredevil – This TV show marked the debut of the creative union between Netflix and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and  I must admit I was giddy with anticipation at what strange fruit the collaboration might bare. I was not disappointed. Brilliant casting, Hollywood production values, reverence for source material and that all important TONE meld together to create a hard boiled crime thriller that drew heavily from Frank Miller’s celebrated run on the comic book. I jammed the whole thing in one marathon on day of release and loved every sodding minute of it. Both critical and viewer response to the show was overwhelmingly positive and a second season was immediately commissioned. I couldn’t have wished for a better start to Marvels ‘street level’ series of interweaving stories and with personal fave Iron Fist back on track after some development concerns the future looks promising. Now give me a fucking Moon Knight series please.

Tribulation – I have really lost my appetite for live music of late but the prospect of finally catching long term favourite Paradise Lost was enough to lure me out of my hermitage and across the moors to rainy Manchester. And whilst the aforementioned Halifax mardarses were pretty bleeding average, support band Tribulation unexpectedly blew my fucking socks off. Ager rates these guys but I had not heard them before and when they took to the stage I was bewildered. Both guitarists had a gothic fey aesthetic that made me think of D&D Drow but once they got down to the business of shredding there was no such pretense and they went straight for the throat. Their songs are heavy as hell with riffs for days and more hooks than a Cenobites dungeon. Kinda like a death metal Mercyful Fate, maybe?

The Witch – Max (my co-host on the Dungeonpunx and Just Can’t Hate Enough podcasts) and I had been looking forward to this move for a while and when an opportunity for a sneaky preview presented itself as part of the Leeds film Festival we were all over it. Robert Egger’s unnerving directorial debut does not disappoint. It’s a grim slice of New England rural folk horror that is genuinely unsettling and stays with you for days after. A strong cast, an inspired soundtrack and stunning visual direction combined with some heavy folklore succeed in making The Witch my movie of 2015. (The Force Awakens has not been released at time of writing)

Unholy Majesty: All Is Dust – It’s been a quiet year for me as far as new music is concerned and despite some decent hardcore demos and EPs emerging from the underground the real gem for me was Unholy Majesty’s ‘All Is Dust’. Naturally I’m predisposed to have a bias towards anything that crawls out of Thanet, but this stands up to scrutiny regardless of my petty ‘locals only’ mentality. All Is Dust is an absolute monolith of a record that draws plenty of influence from Ringworm’s ‘Birth Is Pain’ and early Metallica. There’s plenty of mosh to keep the pit heaving and enough hooks, face melters and textural changes to warrant repeat listens on your headphones. Duggan’s vocals are bellicose as all hell whilst his lyrics are a furious sermon of scorn against his fellow man. No weak links here, a proper monster of an album.

Max Bienkowski – Another member of the Dungeonpunx crew and originator of JCHE

Leviathan– ‘Scar Sighted’. If you are in a bad mood, put this record on and make it a million times worse.

Hellboy in Hell – ‘The Hounds of Pluto parts 1 & 2’. Because it is incredible to be alive at a time where a bona fide genius is making art.

The Witch – A film hasn’t stuck with me like this for a long time. 3 nights of recurring nightmares and straight into one of my favourite films ever.

Radio 4- Reading of ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’ by Neil Gaiman. Because there’s been loads of good TV this year, so people need to be reminded that there’s still incredible stuff on the ol’ wireless.

The Witcher 3 – A video game with a better realised storyline than most films, books and TV shows. A benchmark by which I now have to judge the merit of everything, including whether to dress or feed myself.

Gav Russell, aka Tight To The Nail, but has forsaken it for computer games

Downwell – Appropriately enough for a game that is essentially about falling down an endless hole in the floor with guns for shoes, Downwell chucks you right in at the deep end from the second your fingers first touch the screen. Like the best mobile games, Downwell is seemingly simple but slowly reveals a wealth of hidden depth. Excuse the pun, there. So, your first few tumbles down the well are an absolute sensory overload. Sort of like dropping acid and being thrown into a ball pool at a 6 year old’s birthday party. Frogs, bats and weird jelly-like organisms throw themselves at you as you plummet down a narrow chasm, with the bullets that fire from your feet your only means of controlling your descent and defending yourself. Your boots reload their ammo once your feet touch something, whether that’s an enemies head, a rocky outcrop on the side of the screen or a floating platform. As you fall you can gather a number of different power ups that buff your feet-guns, including (but not limited to) granting them the ability to shoot a mile wide laser that kicks like a cannon or a shotgun that rivals DOOM for its ignorant level of raw power. You can shoot through some of the platforms (often accidentally as you hurtle towards them) and enemies and objects explode in a shower of sparks and collectable red gems. All of this while a dizzying and phenomenally aggressive chip-tune soundtrack is ripping out of the speakers. It is fucking chaos. Most phone games are shit, nowadays. Downwell really isn’t.

Destiny : The Taken King – I know, right? 2014’s worst game becomes one of 2015’s best. Who would’ve seen that coming? Certainly not me, who used to observe my PSN friends list with a sense of bewilderment last year as I saw my mates playing Destiny night after night for reasons that I could not fathom. Developers Bungie had nailed the shooting-the-aliens bit but as far as I could see had fucked up just about everything else; story, character levelling, loot drops. All shit. The game was traded in within a few weeks. Fast forward to the tail end of 2015 though and everything has changed. Well, most things, anyway. With the release of their Year Two expansion The Taken King, Bungie have finally made Destiny the game it always should have been. NPC’s actually have dialogue! The quests are actually varied and fun! Loot drops are plentiful and exciting! I bought and fell in love with Destiny 2.0 to such an alarming degree that within a few short weeks myself and 5 Twitter pals had formed a Fireteam and essentially become BFF’s, completed the Year One raids, mastered the Iron Banner and spent more time in the Strike Playlists than I’d spent time with my kids all year. Fabulous!

Bloodborne – Where on earth do I even begin? Apologies for the last 12 months on Twitter, I guess is what I should say, because its basically all I’ve talked about. From Software and top boy / directing powerhouse Hidetaka Miyazaki’s blood-soaked love letter to cosmic horror is a fucking masterpiece. Hopping from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls and then straight on to this, Miyazaki is now three for three on a run of frankly essential, genuinely industry-changing videogames. And oh my fucking days, what a videogame Bloodborne is. I’ve clocked over 170 hours playtime with this game since its release in March and despite attaining 100% completion across the main adventure and it’s recently released expansion The Old Hunters, I still play it almost every day. It is literally perfect. Gone is the methodical, slow and steady combat of the Souls games; in its place a reliance on lighting quick, visceral violence (you regain lost health by striking your attacker back, giving you the incentive to get in there). Miyazaki’s world building is yet again peerless (that Forbidden Woods shortcut, mate) and the story is so thrilling that just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster. So many stand out moments. Vacuous Rom; the Moonlight Greatsword reveal; discovering The Orphanage; fighting your way through an endless labyrinth get to the Queen; me spending 3 days stuck on one boss and almost having a real life breakdown; the rush provided by endlessly helping other players defeat Ludwig; finally revealing the truth behind Micolash’s ramblings in the closing fight of the expansion’s storyline; the 3 way gank of the Shadows fight. It is almost too much to bear.

Life Is Strange – No, you’re the one who’s crying. After an admittedly shaky start (like the first few episodes of most eventually-classic TV shows, to be fair) Dontnod’s episodic teen drama / existential panic / time travelling nightmare game became something truly wonderful. If nothing else, Life is Strange should stand as a lesson to Telltale that they need to perhaps work a bit harder on things like engine performance and oh, I don’t know, characters you actually care about and decisions that matter. Life is Strange’s story, as trope-filled as it may be, was one of the most affecting things I experienced in movies, TV and games combined this year. Once it got going it became an emotionally devastating roller-coaster that didn’t seem like it would ever let up, culminating in a final decision that left me paralysed, staring at the screen, totally unable to commit to either choice and the repercussions that would likely follow. Any game that has me, the second the credits roll, contacting mates who are also playing it to discuss what they did and how it made them feel is an exceptional one. Max’s choice of camera for a photography student still makes no sense, though. Six out of ten for realism.

The Witcher 3 : Wild Hunt – Right, just quickly, Hotline Miami 2 was flawed but thrilling, Zelda: Majora’s Mask is incredible but a re-release and Xenoblade Chronicles X is shaping up to be the JRPG that made me love JRPG’s again but I haven’t played enough of it to reasonably include it in a Best Of list. Phew, ok, I couldn’t leave them out. Sorry about that. And something else that certainly won’t be left out of any gaming 2015 lists is The Witcher 3. Because it is marvellous. I haven’t completed this game yet, not even close. It’s enormous and because Bloodborne. But I’ve sank enough hours into it to know that it’s very special and more than worthy of all the lofty praise that it gets. There’s a lot to love- Geralt remains a fascinating and hugely likeable avatar; the richness and detail of the world is mind boggling; the combat (and the in-game preparation for the combat) has a unique and thrilling flow to it; there’s a sex scene on a unicorn. The attitudes of Developers CD Projekt Red also deserves a mention, from the thank-you note included with every boxed copy of the game to the free DLC they provided in the weeks after release and just recently with the generously sized and reasonably priced expansion Hearts of Stone. There’s no big-league dev quite like them. But it’s the stories that are woven throughout the whole experience that are the big stand out. Compared to the usual throwaway shite that fills up the quest logs of similar western RPG’s, The Witcher 3’s quests are The Godfather part II. Set in a world filled with undead witches, hulking golems and amphibious zombies it may be, but there’s an often devastating and entirely relatable human element at work. One needs to only think about the bleak, harrowing Bloody Baron quest to see that The Witcher 3 is an RPG like no other.

Chris Kaye – aka The Witch Hunter and Arch Cynic

Gentleman’s Pistols – My tiny mind is still trying to process watching Atko, best known for playing guitar in raging bands such as The Horror and Rot In Hell, striding the stage like a 70s rock behemoth, and making  a toilet venue seem like Earls Court or the Royal Albert Hall. It’s been 4 years since they released ‘At Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ and new record ‘Hustler’s Row’  ups the ante, and then some. The most notable leap is Atko’s powerful and confident vocals and harmonies  which move up through the gears with ease. The band back this with a more glam vibe on some tracks, with that Slade & The Sweet influence shining through, and even manage a couple of slower acoustic songs. Bill Steer’s solos on this record will melt your face, nothing over the top, but just solid lead guitar. I saw them open for Orange Goblin last week and they were on fire, clearly winning over some new fans in the process.

Homeland – After 4 season’s of frustration I find myself, yet again, getting up on Monday morning to download the latest episode from over the pond as I cannot wait to see it on terrestrial TV. I think I’ve developed some kind of Stockholm Syndrome with this series.  Even with one episode to go, I’m totally sold on this, even if it’s drawing from 24 with the Imminent Terrorist Threat™. It’s very topical too, drawing on the current mess in Syria and ramifications for Europe and the West.

Mark Chadbourn – As always, I’m late to the party by a good few years on this author, but after several recommendations from Nate, I finally got stuck into it, and just finished book 6 of a 9 book series. Imagine our world being reset, technology failing, civilization crumbling, gods walking the earth, and all the myths and fairy stories you’d heard as a child having some truth behind them. You’ve not lived until you’ve read a scene with a dragon tearing down the M4.

Age Of Sigmar – Haters gonna hate, but any game that gets me playing and out of the house every other week has to be a success in my book. Simple rules, great scenarios and good looking tables have made this an enjoyable experience. Our world hasn’t fallen apart because there are no points values, we just eyeball the armies so they look evenly matched, but if one side has a clear advantage, then just tailor the scenario to suit

Greggs Steak and Cheese Roll – I could easily have written about Clutch, Paradise Lost or Game Of Thrones, but I went with my heart. Imagine a small Steak Bake but with added stilton. This on par with a Festive Bake, or anything from Harvester. I heartily endorse this product/service

Owain Cooke – Master of the Administratum, and Munitorium overlord

Hannibal – After the dismal Hannibal Rising threatened to not only brutally kill the franchise, but skin it too, to wear as a dress, Hannibal not only prevented this senseless murder, but provided three series of captivating television that pushed at so many boundaries of what was possible and acceptable on a major network show. I can just about see past my personal biases enough to admit season three had a fairly slow start, but feel it was beyond fully redeemed by the Red Dragon arc. While we must now bid farewell, I have a feeling this is a show that’s reputation will only grow with time, and deservedly so. On the subject of pushing boundaries, Jessica Jones deserves a special mention for pushing some very different ones, and making a mockery of anyone who said Marvel’s new owners would “Disneyfi” their properties.

Sun Kil Moon – When I started thinking about writing this, I took a look through the photos on my phone to try and work out what shows I’d actually been to this year, nothing sprung to mind. I then came across a video I’d taken of Rachel Goswell from Slowdive singing a semi-impromptu “I Got You Babe” with Mark Kozelak, while Neil Halstead played guitar and did backing vocals as part of the backing band, and knew that I’d struggle to top that. I feel I should also add that I only found out about this show the day before from seeing it in the Guardian’s listings section, something that says a lot about what I am becoming.

Infinity – While being the only game I’ve played this year, I’ve at least played it fairly regularly and competed in a few tournaments, and even painted my Neoterra Capitaline army (poorly). The game itself has continued to build on the growth it experienced after the release of N3, with stellar models releasing every month, the crowning achievement of which has to be the USAriadna box which I was helpless to resist (“but it comes with limited dice too”). Although they are unpainted, they are unbeaten after their only game, which was against Mark Boardman’s Haqqislam.

Games Workshop – For all of GW’s flaws, this year they released plastic Skittari, Assassins and Horus Heresy- era Space Marines, all of which would have been on most people’s wishlists for a very long time, and were absolutely exquisite to boot. This, and the relaunch of Specialist Games, means that there really is some bright hope for the future for what feels like the first time in a long time.

The Force Awakens – Nathan will be covering this in more depth, but I wanted to add a little something. I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t another franchise out there that resonates through pop culture and ourselves in the way Star Wars does, and that has made this year a truly unique experience. Not only have we been blessed with an excellent new film in the canon, 2015 has been about the build up and anticipation: poring over the trailers looking for every last detail, discussing our theories while desperately avoiding spoilers, buying tickets for Celebration London over a year in advance while hoping it would still be a celebration. Thankfully it was all worth it, and while we are going to get to repeat this adventure over the coming years, I don’t think it will ever be quite like this was.

Learning to Drive – At the age of 32, I am now legally allowed to independently operate a motor vehicle on our nation’s carriageways. This is dope

Phillip Newton – Representing the Merseyside chapter

Faith No More: Sol Invictus –  I was really tempted to go with Deafheaven’s New Bermuda as the first tune sounds exactly like what a Night Lord Terror Squad’s Deathclaw drop pod assault soundtrack would be in that great 40k film of all of our imaginations. However, I had to go with what the old black heart tells me. It was with great joy the returning of FNM was beheld by slap bass geeks like me. This album, freed from the previous shackles of major label expectation, seems to focus on an only before hinted at intensity and groove. Patton’s trademark vocal gymnastics – though no less impressive – seem to be more controlled as opposed to his previous near operatic stylings. Watch the video for new single Separation Anxiety with your eyes – the atmosphere it builds is a good indicator at what is offered here. Not only a great return, but probably joint top of their career releases. If it was a GW character – Sevatar. Moody and laughing.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Talking of the great 40k movie in all of our heads. Obviously, the film of the year is Episode VII. It seems a little churlish saying this before seeing it, however; I go tomorrow night for the midnight showing. Had this been any other year, then Episode VII would have got the nod preview, such is the fanatical loyalty bred into us. However, this isn’t just any year – this is the year Fury Road came out. And what a fucking ride it is. Equal parts Gorkamorka, Necromunda and that Fighting Fantasy behemoth that is Freeway Fighter, Fury Road is so good it almost deserves some sort of tabletop edition for itself. If you haven’t seen it, and read Corehammer, then you need to rectify this right now. Go and watch it right now. If it was a GW character – Who else – Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka.

Tortoise at the London Roundhouse – I went to this gig after seeing the stellar line up – my friends and local Liverpool band Mugstar, Lightning Bolt, Loop, Tortoise and the Wu Tang’s very own GZA. The sound basically killed every act – unless you happen to like woozy bass frequencies whilst sticking your head into a large bin, pissed – but Tortoise somehow were crystal clear and sublime. Blending songs from their entire career, with two drummers right at the front – transcendental. Special mention must go to just how awful GZA was killing his brilliant album Liquid Swords. It was worse than The Phantom Menace – The Musical. If it was a GW character – Eldrad Ulthran. Dead clever and that.

Fallout 4 – So, I spent over 400 hours in the Capital Wasteland in Fallout 3. I didn’t really get it at first – I only picked it up in 2010, when it had been it out for a couple of years and I’d been worn down by people telling me just how good it was. Obviously, once it got its Deathclaw mitts upon me, it was all over. Fallout 4 only came out last month, and I’ve only just got a PS4 to play it on, so I can’t say its affected me in exactly the same way as its predecessor. The changes are jarring, its more of a FPS – but by golly, its already had the old ticker pounding on a few occasions. No spoilers, but the set piece where you first get power armour – wowzer. Nothing else has quite got me the same this year – maybe Star Wars: Battlefront – but for the long haul promise I’m plumping for this. If it was a GW character – Tough one. I’ll go for the rough and ready human stylings of Commisar Yarrick. A patchwork of scars and brutal experience, but with heart underneath.

Betrayal At Calth / 30k – 2015 has been a huge year for the hobby in general. The orgasmic doom of WHFB with The End Times was a universal hit, and in all three areas of fluff, rules and models – Games Workshop totally outdone themselves. Although I am a fan of follow up system Age of Sigmar – particularly the models, which have continued the incredible level of the End Times sculpts – the community just doesn’t seem as energised. Time will tell, and hopefully things will pick up. Frostgrave has also been a big hit, seemingly picking up on the skirmish fantasy battle hole left behind with Mordheim. I must admit to not playing Betrayal at Calth – and when I have read the rules they seem long winded and over-complicated. But this matters naught, as I am firmly in the camp of wanting the models to use in 30k games, and am overjoyed to see Forge World moving into the mainstream GW stores. This can only be good for 30k obsessives such as myself, and I look forward to bringing the fall of the False Emperor well into 2016.
If it was a GW character – Argel Tal. The boardgame (legion) seems a bit lame but the contents are an absolute beast.

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About Chris

Husband, father, procrastinator and record label mug. Living in Nottingham, but originally from Milford Haven. Back in the hobby after a decade of self-enforced exile, thanks to my fellow Corehammer punks. Sharp-minded, cynical, bitter and taken for granted. A true Iron Warrior