First Hour Reviews

  • Crusader Kings II

    First Hour Review

    Crusader Kings 2 CoverToday I learned that some video game genres are simply not for me. Well, I've known that for some time, I can't stand realistic racing games at all, but now I can add the so-called "real-time grand strategy" genre to that list. This is basically a fancy way of saying "real-time Civilization... grandified." The Wikipedia article reads like an economics-during-war piece with phrases like "horizontal integration", "consolidated roving army", and "pursue ultimate hegemony". Hey guys, I graduated from college six years ago.

    Crusader Kings II was recently released by Paradox Interactive, a Swedish developer that specializes in the grand strategy genre. You may recognize their previous titles such as Europa Universalis or Hearts of Iron, but if you're like me, have never had the opportunity to play them. Crusader Kings II is set in medieval Europe at the turn of the last millenium. The game is decidedly for history buffs and fans of the time period.

    I can't really decide if what you're about to read represents everything this site stands for, or if it reveals a total failure of the first hour review system. I'm kind of wavering between the two options, but I'll let you decide for yourself. Welcome to the age of history.

  • Tales of Graces f

    First Hour Review

    Tales of Graces f CoverThe long-awaited localization of two high profile JRPGs has delighted the dwindling Wii fanbase. After years of holding out, Nintendo was finally convinced to bring potential hits Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to the new world by distribution partners GameStop and XSEED, respectively. The orchestrators of last year's Operation Rainfall fan campaign deserve a pat on the back (though I was doing it before it was cool).

    But another Wii JRPG topped my personal wishlist, then and now: Tales of Graces. The Tales series' claim to fame is its thrilling real-time battles, and Tales of Graces looked like the next evolution of that combat system. Months turned into years as I waited for a localization announcement, eventually accepting the improbability of my playing the game.

    Fortunately, Namco Bandai's love for milking the Tales series eventually prevailed; late last year, the PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces was confirmed for release here in North America. I've built up some expectations, no doubt aggravated by the years of waiting. For me, these first sixty minutes of Tales of Graces F weigh more heavily than a JRPG intro should. Does it crack under the pressure?

  • Mass Effect 3

    First Hour Review

    Mass Effect 3 CoverSequels to your favorite games of all time don't come out very often, and the results are often mixed. Chrono Cross had me giddy for a while until eventual disappointment set in, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was incredible and I love it more than the original, and Mass Effect 2 was a supreme success, a better game in almost every way than the first, but I still love Mass Effect more.

    So here we are with Mass Effect 3. The first hour to the first two games were both great, each setting the tone and pace for the rest of their respective title. I'm excited to see where Mass Effect 3 will take us, was the demo from a few weeks back the opening, or does Bioware have something else in store? I don't think I've been this excited to play a game since, well, Mass Effect 2 came out. Heck, the last time I paid full price for a game was Mass Effect 2.

    So let's just get right to it. I'm excited, honored, and extremely biased to present the first hour of Mass Effect 3.

  • Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

    First Hour Review

    Uncharted CoverI’m honestly not sure if there’s ever been a decent Indiana Jones video game, I’ve played a few including the recent LEGO release and the ancient point and click adventures, but as an active observer of the industry, I’ve never seen any of the games rise to the top. Whoever owns the rights to the series couldn’t even release a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull game to coincide with the film’s release. Imagine climbing into a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast. It’d be exhilarating.

    But even if Indy never sold successfully off the silver screen, the Uncharted series has been doing great, not to mention the numerous accolades bestowed upon it by the press. Now that I finally own a PlayStation 3, catching up with its best games is easy, if not time consuming. After finishing Heavy Rain, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune seemed like the next logical step.

    And like Heavy Rain, I recorded the entire first hour of Uncharted and uploaded it to YouTube. So follow along if you’d like, or find an interesting minute and skip to that in the video. And I promise you, the first hour of Uncharted is chock full of interesting minutes. I've also broken up the video into chapters if you just want to see specific adventures.

  • de Blob [Video]

    First Hour Review

    de Blob CoverTim Schafer is funding a game through Kickstarter. That still blows my mind. It's been clear for some time that the existing publisher-developer model isn't ideal, and that the industry would move away from it in time, but I don't think anybody expected consumer-funding to hit the relative mainstream so soon. Of course, Schafer is one of the industry's few big names, and he specializes in an inexpensive, fan-favorite style that has been MIA for years. With that in mind, it's too early to say that the floodgates of fan-funding have been flung open. But maybe we can say that the publishers' dam has a nice new fracture in it.

    THQ provides a great example of how a publisher's mismanagement can ruin a developer. Blue Tongue Entertainment was an Australian outfit that developed De Blob for Wii in 2008. The game had a modest budget and a modest advertising campaign; it was a modest success, selling just under a million copies on a console tailor-made for its target audience and lacking in competition at the time. Apparently the dollar signs blinded THQ to circumstances, and it funded a multiplatform sequel that, across four systems, didn't even meet half of the original's numbers. THQ is paying the price for such decisions, but Blue Tongue Entertainment felt the brunt of the blowback when the studio was dissolved and staff was cut.

    So my De Blob first hour review and the blockbuster sales it will surely generate come far too late to save Blue Tongue Entertainment from THQ's misguided decisions. Better late than never, I suppose.

  • Rhythm Heaven Fever [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Rhythm Heaven Fever CoverIt irks me that so many gamers believe the only worthwhile rhythm games are played with guitar peripherals. I love a good Rock Band party as much as the next Keith Moon wannabe, but there are too many wonderful music-based experiments in puzzle games and platformers and RPGs and shooters to cloister yourself in a pile of plastic instruments.

    One such experiment was Rhythm Heaven, a strange blend of WarioWare and J-Pop that was one of my favorite Nintendo DS experiences. It didn't have a double platinum soundtrack or intense finger dexterity challenges, but the bubblegum ditties and cute-wacky scenarios got my head bobbing and my hummer humming as few games can.

    Fortunately, Rhythm Heaven found enough of a worldwide fanbase to justify the next release, Rhythm Heaven Fever for the Wii. It trades the touch-screen taps and slides for a traditional two button setup, but the bright cartoon eye candy looks even sharper this time around. Budget priced at $30, Rhythm Heaven Fever could be worth a look if you didn't bury your Wii after Skyward Sword.

  • Fluidity [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Fluidity CoverI don't know why I've bothered registering my games with Club Nintendo these past five years. So many surveys and registration codes, and what have I received in return? A couple calendars, an LCD relic, and a set of collectors' pins. It's downright sad next to the free eReader that Sony sent me.

    But times have changed, and this is the new, modern Nintendo! The bold new Nintendo of 2012 not only releases limited-availability demos and supports paid DLC, it actually puts up some worthwhile prizes for Club Nintendo members. Specifically, Club Nintendo now offers a small selection of downloadable games in exchange for the coins that you earn by registering Nintendo products. First party games only, but hey, baby steps.

    Fluidity, a WiiWare title of some renown (called Hydroventure in Europe), was one of the games available in December for a fair 150 coins (it's no longer there, but you can only get it on the Wii Shop Channel for $12). The game received positive press and has whiffs of Metroidvania and fluid dynamics puzzles, so that sounds like a winner to me. I've played an hour: am I happy with the coins I spent, or should I have gone for the Mario Folder and Bookmark Set instead? I'd be the coolest kid in homeroom with those folders...

  • Heavy Rain

    First Hour Review

    Heavy Rain CoverSince the PlayStation 3’s release over five years ago, I’ve been making a list of exclusives I needed to play when I finally owned the system. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was on there along with the Uncharted series, but at the top was Heavy Rain, the interactive drama from Quantic Dream. After thoroughly enjoying their previous psychological thriller, Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit), I was ready for whatever the studio had to offer.

    Of course, being a system exclusive is annoying when you don’t own that system, so a full two years after its release I’m finally getting my paws on the game full-time (along with pretty much every other PS3 exclusive I was interested in). Was the wait worth it? We’re about to find out in Heavy Rain’s first hour.

    If you’re interested in Quantic Dream’s previous work, I have the first hour of Indigo Prophecy available for your perusal. It was actually one of the first reviews I ever wrote, and the game really kicks off excellently. I’m definitely curious to see if Heavy Rain can replicate that energy.

  • Knights Contract

    First Hour Review

    Knights Contract CoverSo, it's been a long time since I wrote about video games. I very much miss it. Not just the playing of video games, which has also been very sparse lately as my wife and I are preparing to welcome baby #3 into the world, but actually writing, even just contemplating gaming, video games and the industry. With run-on sentences like that last one, you can really tell it's been a while.

    Well, I had the opportunity to pick up a new game yesterday and even the chance to pop it into my incredibly dusty Xbox 360. The poor thing groaned to life as I realized that it was even louder than I remember. After a litany of updates and dashboard wizardry (the new dashboard is still growing on me), I was able to get my game loaded up and running. It felt good to dim the lights and nestle into my sectional for a gaming session.

    Unfortunately, I didn't intend to actually play for a full hour and didn't think I'd care enough about this game to log it. Plus, since game time has been pretty sparse lately, I wanted to play uninterrupted and just enjoy it. For that reason, this first hour will be a little bit vague with regard to the minutes, since I'm writing it from memory, rather than from notes or my usual voice recordings.

    So, without further to do, lets take a look at Knights Contract, a button mashing hack-n-slash developed by Game Republic, published by Namco-Bandai and released on February 22 for Xbox 360 and PS3.

  • Dead Nation [Video]

    First Hour Review

    Dead Nation CoverDon't look now, but it's been nine months since reams of personal info and credit card numbers were stolen in the the Great PlayStation Network Hacking. Seeing as how I don't have any suspicious charges to my credit card, I think I can breathe easy. And hey, I got a couple of free games out of Sony's negligence!

    One of the games I received in exchange for the breach of my security was Dead Nation, yet another zombie game with "Dead" in the title. I think we're all a little tired of the undead scene, but I don't see this "fad" fizzling out for a long while. So let's not whine too much and enjoy the good that comes of it before we can move on to the next craze (cowboys, maybe?).

    A twin-stick shooter with online co-op and flashlights-in-the-dark scares, Dead Nation might be a nice change of pace from the neon insanity of Geometry Wars and other giants of the genre. An hour of blasting reanimated corpses into bloody gobs later, I'm ready to say that the game is good. How good? This good.

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