January 31, 2021 | by Niall
Niall’s Most Comforting Escapes of 2020

2020 sucked. I wish there was a more poetic way to put that, but there really just doesn’t feel like there is; it was a year that brought us a worldwide pandemic, economic and political turmoil, and general despair in just about every facet of our everyday lives. Unfortunately, for me at least, video games, which so often have provided an escape, just didn’t seem all that important in 2020. Maybe it was just the world in general, or a particularly bad year for the industry, but there was so little that grabbed me this past year, so little that I wanted to sink my teeth into and really enjoy. 

It also doesn’t help that I’m getting older, have less time than I’ve ever had despite the pandemic, and that in general, I can’t afford to budget out sixty hours to play video games anymore. When I get home from work, I no longer feel the drive to sit down and play through an RPG like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, explore the open worlds of Assassin’s Creed, dabble with fun little indies like Over the Alps, or even knock out a few rounds of Dead by Daylight. What I’m trying to say is that it feels like this year has broken me when it comes to games. Sure, there’s still stuff that I played and loved, but where once I constantly bounced around and juggled a ton of stuff, this year, I tended to just stick with a couple of standbys. 

Being less focused on games this past year hasn’t been all bad, though. I watched more movies and more TV shows than I’ve watched in the six years since I started here at Chooch, completed a year of Borat Hell over at my other gig, Subsequent Moviepodcast (formerly Borat Club), and started finally fulfilling a long held ambition to learn to speak another language; hit me up if you have any tips on Brazilian Portuguese, btw. So while I don’t have my usual ten games to talk about this year, I figured I’d instead fill out the holes in my list with some of the other media I consumed this year, some of it good, and some of it just the right kind of bad. Let’s hope 2021 is better for all of us — there’s no way it could be worse, right?

God’s Perfect Film Franchise: Resident Evil

I could literally write a book on Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil film series, but instead, I recorded hours and hours of podcasts on them. I promise you, God’s Perfect Films will change your life. You will never look at cinema as an art form, nor the world in general the same way once you have seen Albert Wesker in the Oval Office. Do yourself a favour, open your Third Eye, watch Resident Evil. 

Feeling Smart in GeoGuessr

Over the summer, I watched former Giant Bomb staffer Ben Pack play some GeoGuessr on a stream, and decided to give it a whirl. I was always good at geography in my schooldays (it was definitely my best subject), and it turns out that I’m pretty fucking good at GeoGuessr too. I’ve dropped in and out of the game a lot over the past few months, but with the recent addition of Battle Royale mode (really), it’s become something I find myself doing for a little bit every night before bed. I can now tell you that if the road signs have both Cyrillic and Latin alphabet on them, you’re in Bulgaria, and that Arabic and French signs mean one of Morocco, Algeria, or Tunisia almost every time. There’s something hypnotic about GeoGuessr, and boy does it make the hours just disappear.

Seeing Nazis Get Owned in Green Room

I love slasher movies. I grew up on Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Friday the 13th. So when I say that Green Room is the best slasher I’ve seen in years, and possibly the best wrong turn horror since the original TCM, know that I don’t say so lightly. It’s a simple set-up, a down on their luck punk band takes a gig at a Nazi bar to pay their way back home. Witnessing a murder committed by one of the Nazi bands on the bill, head scumbag Darcy, played by a wonderfully menacing Patrick Stewart, decides that the band can’t leave alive. What unfolds from there is one of the goriest, most gruesome slasher flicks you’ll ever see, with brilliant pacing and cinematography, and some absolutely bonkers deaths. It definiely isn’t a movie for everyone, but Green Room fucking rules. Nazi punks fuck off.

Finding Community in Final Fantasy XIV

If I was to rank this list purely on the amount of time I spent with a game in 2020, then FFXIV would run away with the gold. Scarcely a day went by in 2020 that I didn’t have FFXIV up on my second monitor, chatting with the members of the FC I joined ten minutes after moving from Zalera to Brynhildr in January. The first six months or so that I spent with XIV in 2019 had their moments, but I never felt like I had much of a footing when it came to the community aspect of the game. In a year where I was usually too emotionally drained to spend much time on Discord voice chatting with friends, it was nice to be able to idle around and occasionally fire off a message in what has more and more become my own version of Second Life or IMVU, as opposed to an actual game.  

Of course, I did actually play some of the game this past year too, going all the way through Heavensward and Stormblood, and now closing in on the end of Shadowbringers. I move through the main story at a glacial pace, but that’s fine, because there’s just something comforting about riding my dhalmel around the housing ward, annoying the neighbours in the process and joking about bullshit with some pals. 2020 took a lot of social opportunities away from all of us, so to find new ones in a game that I was previously resigned to playing alone was a special feeling.

The Top Tier Trash of Ricochet

What if I told you there was an absolutely bananas cop movie where John Lithgow and Jesse “The Body” Ventura sword fight to the death in prison, while wearing armor made out of phone books, in order to determine the “true aryan?” What if I told you that doesn’t even crack the top five for ridiculous moments in Ricochet? It’s hard to put into words just how off the wall every single second of Russ Mulcahy’s dumb cop masterpiece is, but I promise you, it’s so, so good. Denzel Washington brings his A-Game, Lithgow turns in a performance that’d give Gary Busey pause, Ice-T’s stand-in is clearly a dumpy white guy and absolutely every second is delicious, Grade A slop. Please watch Ricochet

The Exhilaration of STAR WARS METALLICA in Trackmania

I’d heard about the Trackmania franchise for years, but it always seemed like something completely and utterly incomprehensible that appealed only to hardcore racing freaks in continental Europe and a small group of eccentrics in the Anglosphere. Trackmania 2020 was something I kinda fell into by accident, mild curiosity piqued by the low entry fee and the fact that the F2P version was very much not what I was expecting at all. Within a few days I found myself in a server that was absolutely hopping with absolutely crazy creations, and there’s nothing at all in the world like that first time you get to drive on “STAR WARS METALLICA” while a dubstep remix of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ blares. Trackmania is the game that Little Big Planet or Dreams want you to think they are. It is pure bliss, wholly unique, and something I wouldn’t trade for any other racing game.

The Mind-Bendingly Incompetent Disasterpiece of Chatroom

Imagine if you will, what would happen if you got a bunch of the hottest young British actors of the early 10’s, including Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, Tenet’s Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Imogen Poots of every indie film ever (including the previously mentioned Green Room), teamed them up with Ringu director Hideo Nakata, and made a movie about JK Rowling’s son ruining people on the internet’s lives because he wasn’t given enough attention as a child. Now imagine that this all plays out in a demented online hotel where characters sit around in circles shouting lines like “you really are a teen exclamation mark!” at one another, with occasional claymation inserts and a frightfully ignorant understanding of both the internet and mental health. 

Chatroom is everything a good shitty movie should be, so jaw-droppingly bewildering that it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. One of the main characters decorates her room with pictures of Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice and Angela Merkel! Come on! It tries to deal with heavy topics like depression, suicide and online harassment, but it’s so ridiculous and so ill-informed that it comes across more like one of those scare films you watched at school, but with a budget and real actors. Throw in the fact that it’s dealing with exactly the shit I do like in mid-00’s online spaces, and of course I’m going to be obsessed with this thing. I saw it for the first time in October. I’ve watched it three times since. I could talk about Chatroom all day. I could watch it every week for a decade and still be unable to unglue myself from the abominable, glorious disasterpiece unfolding in front of me. This fucking thing debuted at Cannes! Forget The Room, or Birdemic, or any of that bullshit: this is the king of shit cinema.

Coming Home to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

When I reviewed THPS5 for the site years ago, I called it a disgrace both to the legacy of the series, and to skateboarding in general. I was convinced Tony Hawk was dead, and the skating genre along with it, and when Hawk put his name on a really bad mobile game a couple years ago, that only seemed to seal the deal. I went into 1 + 2 with some degree of trepidation, but within seconds, I knew things were different this time, Tony was back. Hearing the opening notes to Guerilla Radio, seeing the intro play out, and dropping into a perfectly recreated version of the warehouse from THPS was like coming home after being lost for years. THPS 1 + 2 is more than just a remake, it’s a love letter to the franchise, to skating culture, and to everyone’s favourite Cool Dad.

The Staggering Journey That is On Cinema

Normally, come December, I’m hard at work in the depths of the Steam store, mining for unheard of indie gems to try cram in before GOTY delibs start here at Chooch. This year? I instead spent the month neck deep in the waters of On Cinema, a show that fellow Choochers John and Scott have repeatedly sung the praises of to me over the years, and which I finally decided to give a shot. Part of me thinks I fucked up waiting so long, because it’d have been amazing to have been able to follow along with the absolutely titanic journey as it unfolded, but it still whips ass nevertheless. 

I can’t think of anything (intentionally) making me laugh as hard and as consistently as On Cinema has (Chatroom maybe, but that’s meant to be serious). What starts as a fairly light parody of bad YouTube media criticism soon gives way to some much deeper, much more sinister, much more deranged. As Tim Heidecker morphs into a far-right conspiracy theorist and wannabe rockstar alongside his buddies Axiom and Manuel (stream MT BTL 3.0 wherever you can), Gregg Turkington’s sociopathic side slowly reveals itself. While Tim may be flawed, gullible and easily led astray by the evil deeds of Dr. San, resulting in the deaths of nineteen kids at a music festival, the arrogant monster that is Gregg Turkington shows little empathy for those suffering, whether it’s Tim in the midst of a mental health crisis (Gregg, a repulsive man, tells him to jump from his hotel), his appalling treatment of master impressionist Mark Proksch following his tragic accident on the set of an Oscar Special, or those that perish due to Gregg’s own doings. Cuff the Buff, is what I’m saying. RIP Tom Cruise Heidecker, fuck Dr. San.

Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Good Brain Chemicals

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE

In what was a real tough year for a lot of reasons, there was something comforting about seeing games from the past return and take shape in a way that I only imagined them doing when I was a kid. It’s hard to think of a more clear example of that than Final Fantasy VII Remake, a game that came out just a couple of weeks after I’d been furloughed from work, and that helped in some way to make things not only feel normal, but to transport me back to a time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about things like pandemics, political unrest, or the crushing weight of everyday adult life.

I’ve been spellbound by FF7 since I first saw it when I was seven years old, watching a relative play his brand new copy on PS1. Over the years, I’ve had a complex and lengthy relationship with the game; from adoration, to disdain, to begrudging affection, before this year coming full circle. I devoured VII Remake, playing it non-stop for four or five days straight, 100%’ing it in that time and coming to the conclusion that it stands as one of the best games of its generation when I reviewed it for Chooch. I stand by that statement all this time later, and I can’t imagine that opinion’s going to change. VII Remake is the game I always dreamed the original actually was when I was a little kid, a living, breathing world with complex systems and real people populating the streets of Midgar. That Square Enix managed to modernize it so successfully, and in the process finally figured out a way to marry action combat with Final Fantasy’s inherent trademark bullshit just makes it even more impressive. If THPS 1 + 2’s opening gave me chills, VII Remake’s opening shattered me completely. It’s hard to think of a single piece of media that moved me quite like that little chime as the camera pulls out of Midgar ahead of the logo splash, followed by the train rushing towards the station. I thought it impossible to properly remake Final Fantasy VII, but they did it, and then some. 

Niall is the last remaining emo kid and can usually be found hiding from Michael Myers in Dead by Daylight or waiting in vain for fights in DOA6.

1 Comment
  • I started watching Geoguessr streams and participating w/ ChatGuessr thanks to this. Might go all in on an annual pro membership.

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