First Hour Reviews

  • Captain America Wii - Video

    First Hour Review

    Captain America wii CoverLast week, I checked out Captain America: Super Soldier for the PS3, a decision based equally on hope and whatever horrible curiosity entices people to play movie-licensed games. It was like approaching a derailed train full of puppies: you can't look away from what's sure to be a disaster, but also there's a chance everything turned out okay, and wouldn't that just be wonderful?

    Well, here we are again. Another game called Captain America: Super Soldier has been released for Wii. It has the same name and is capitalizing on the same blockbuster movie, but it's a very different game by a very different studio. The PS3 and 360 versions were handled by Next Level Games, a developer that quietly created some of my favorite gems of the generation (in addition to a few duds, apparently). In contrast, the Wii version was in the hands of High Voltage Software, a studio that hyped its first big project to high heaven before the final product would be condemned to gaming purgatory. Since then, the company has released an immediately forgotten sequel and made some noise about what will surely be vaporware in due time.

    That said, I can't help but admire the ambition and genuine enthusiasm High Voltage Software brought to trade shows, even if it didn't translate into a worthwhile package in The Conduit. HVS also seems to be one of the few developers that actually took Wii development seriously at some point, so I suppose it's qualified to bring Captain America to Nintendo's neglected little box. My expectations are about as low as you can get, but I'm curious enough to give the game a try anyway.

    And hey, video! Watch a superdeformed Captain America throw his mighty shield, solve some mighty puzzles, and even throw a mighty Shoryuken.

  • Captain America: Super Soldier - Video

    First Hour Review

    Captain America Super Soldier CoverI think I like Captain America because he's sort of the underdog. In a universe of telekinetic superbeings and indestructible immortals, Cap's basically just a buff dude with a shield with a penchant for punching Hitler. I like to think he's Marvel's Batman, the mere man who needs only his natural resourcefulness (and a liberal dose of super-steroids) to be a star player in the superhuman leagues.

    Apparently, Next Level Games sees a similar link between Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers. Charged with developing the game that would tie into Captain America: The First Avenger, the developer appears to have taken some inspiration from Batman: Arkham Asylum. Among other details, Captain America's context sensitive combat style especially reminds me of the dark knight's award-winning game.

    Despite favorable previews and some excellent games in the developer's back library, I haven't forgotten that Captain America: Super Soldier is a game with a movie license. Stunted development time, split effort across all systems, and NLG's inexperience with HD consoles kept my expectations low going into the first hour.

    The following is a video sample of some early goings in the CA:SS story mode. See Cap fight, decode, and get his gymnastics on.

  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

    First Hour Review

    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade CoverFor being a rather popular film series, there sure haven’t been a lot of Indiana Jones video games released. Well, there have, but not in recent memory, the LEGO Indiana Jones game I played a few years ago is pretty much it besides a few unheralded titles here and there. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989, that’s how far back we’re traveling today for a first hour review.

    Developed by Lucasarts using their SCUMM adventure game engine, Last Crusade seemed like a slam dunk of a title to coincide with the release of the movie, especially as it had Ron Gilbert of pre-Monkey Island fame leading the development team. Indiana Jones wouldn’t be the first movie tie-in game ever, but it would probably be the first to follow the story so closely and carefully.

    I’m making my way through my Steam backlog now, and I wanted to play a bunch of early Lucasarts titles since I’m a big Monkey Island fan and I seem to owe it to myself to play their other games. Last Crusade is essentially the oldest one available (Steam does not carry Maniac Mansion or Zac McKracken), so I’m starting here. I’m not sure if I’ll first hour their entire catalog, but here’s the review of the first hour of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

  • Dragon Age II

    First Hour Review

    Dragon age 2 CoverI enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins quite a bit, but it was a rocky ride to get going. Origins has a lot of stats, a lot of skill trees, and what I found to be a somewhat confusing array of attributes to put points into. When I heard that Dragon Age II was being developed to address many of those aspects of the game, plus a complete overhaul of the dialog system to make it similar to Mass Effect, I was pretty excited.

    When Dragon Age II was released, it was met with a Spore-like backlash that railed against everything even semi-related to the game. Gamers lamented the Mass Effectification of their beloved hardcore RPG (which I seemed to deem a compliment reading from afar), and while the professional reviews of the game were lower than Origins but still highly respectable, a seemingly large group of gamers tossed goose eggs at it.

    I’ve always been in the play-it-myself group of gamers. I can understand some of the spite, but forming an opinion before you even play the game usually makes one look foolish (and heck, I often look foolish after just an hour!).

    Here’s my first hour review of Dragon Age II, released by BioWare in March, 2011.

  • Wii Play Motion - Video

    First Hour Review

    wii Play Motion Cover"Gathering dust" has become the meme of regretful Wii owners everywhere. I can't even count the number of times I've seen these words used to complain about the dearth of worthwhile Wii games. As someone who has found plenty of variety and quality in Gamecube 1.1's software lineup, I've let out innumerable deep sighs in response.

    And yet, I must admit that my Wii has sat silent for over six months now. After a year that I wouldn't hesitate to call the system's very best, even the most forgiving Nintendo fanboys couldn't deny that Wii has been a ghost town in 2011.

    But all that changes now, as I just picked up the brand new Wii Play Motion! Yes, I think it's safe to say that the 2011 Wii drought is officially over. Because if anything can get hardcore gamers excited about Wii again, it's a minigame collection bundled with a controller!

    All sarcasm aside, Wii Play Motion's various motion-centric minigames were created by several different studios, tasked with outdoing each other in finding a fun and unique use of the bundled-in Wii Remote+'s capabilities. Featuring such contributors as Prope (Yuji Naka's new studio) and Good-Feel (the minds behind the excellent Wario Land: Shake It and Kirby's Epic Yarn), it at least has an interesting pedigree. Or a collection of interesting pedigrees, I guess.

    So I synced my pretty new Wii Remote+ and popped in the disc. In just over an hour, I tried out every singleplayer minigame in the collection (as far as I know). And lucky you, I recorded video of all of them! Hopefully each video will give you an idea of how the player interacts with the minigame and what kind of depth it may offer.

  • Infamous 2 - Video

    First Hour Review

    Infamous 2 CoverI vividly recall some trials and frustrations in my time with the original inFAMOUS (not the least of which was that horrible spelling which will henceforth be abandoned), but overall I really enjoyed the game. As much as the sticky platforming, messy mission design, and transparent morality system bothered me, I ultimately had a great time surfing on power lines, tossing electric grenades, and guiding a concentrated lightning storm down alleys of soon-to-be-corpses. It was inevitable that the game would get a sequel due to its ending (and the sad, predictable nature of this industry), and I really hoped that Sucker Punch would iron out a few of the teeth-grating problems I had with the original.

    Lo and behold, it's one month and two years later, and there's another Infamous game. Boasting a locale with more colors than gray, melee combat that's not completely worthless, and the promise of acquiring more elemental powers, Infamous 2 certainly seems like the kind of sequel that boasts incremental improvements over the original and hasn't yet worn out the franchise's welcome. Pretty typical of a "2," really.

    I find it amusing that the game arrived in my mailbox last Monday, the same day that Sony featured a trailer from the game in its E3 conference. Shortly after their presentation, I had my first taste of Infamous 2. I grabbed three clips from my first hour: arrival at the new sandbox city of New Marais, the first new power tutorial, and an early choice between good and evil sidequests.

  • L.A. Noire - Video

    First Hour Review

    la Noire CoverI like to think I'm open-minded, but it's undeniable that I'm leery of open-world games. The genre's tendency to prioritize quantity over quality often produces sandboxes full of activities and environments that are rough around the edges (if not outright broken). That's not to say that the entire package can't overcome the inadequacy of its individual elements, but the apparent lack of focus often leads me to suspect that developers sometimes take the kitchen-sink route to distract players from a game's inability to evolve, improve, or even replicate proven game mechanics.

    It's this perceived deficiency, whether imagined or real, that has distanced me from THE sandbox developer's games. I had a decent time ramming criminals off the road in Grand Theft Auto III's vigilante missions, and Red Dead Redemption's gorgeous frontier can be fun to gallop through, but I've mostly ignored Rockstar's standard-setting sandboxes. While Web of Shadows and InFamous at least throw some fancy superpowers into the mix, there's not a whole lot more to Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption than driving and shooting, one or both of which are available (and often superior) in a thousand other games.

    So it certainly was a surprise for me when I caught my first trailer for L.A. Noire -- a project that Rockstar has been cooking up for many years now -- and saw a concept that appears not only focused, but novel and ambitious as well. The game's use of facial capture animation produces some of the most realistic character visuals the medium has ever seen, and the trailers would have you believe that it's not just for show: players will have to intuit characters' body language and act on hunches in order to get to the bottom of each case. The feeling I'm getting is less Grand Theft Maltese Falcon and more Phoenix Wright: Cynical Detective. I'm skeptical that it will quite live up to what I have in mind, but I'm more than willing to let it try.

    The following video is a taste of L.A. Noire's third case, which should give you an idea of a detective's duty and how to do it with all the bumbling inadequacy of Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

  • Crysis 2 - Video

    First Hour Review

    Crysis 2 CoverPC game development is hard. Unlike consoles and their mass-manufactured conformity, every PC has a different set of guts, so there comes a time when the development team needs to test their code through dozens of Frankenstein computer setups to make sure the game actually works on an acceptable percentage of PCs on the market.

    Crytek had a fairly genius solution to this annoyance: they made a game that no computer assembled in the present day would be powerful enough to process, and figured that the future would solve their problems for them. It was called Crysis; Crytek's prophecy was fulfilled when NASA aborted the space program in order to refocus its priorities towards creating a machine capable of playing this game [citation needed].

    For whatever reason, Crytek abandoned this strategy with the game's sequel. Crysis 2 was created to be played not only on PCs assembled on Earth and before the year 2018, but on current consoles as well. I played a bit of Crysis 2 and got a sense of what the distant future will be like when consumer machinery finally catches up to the original Crysis' requirements.

    I recorded the first hour of the game in glorious 480p and trimmed the downscaled footage to give you a taste of the game's opening sixty. A busted monument, superpower lessons, robot spiders, and choke-slams await.

  • Portal 2

    First Hour Review

    Portal 2 CoverIt has been a pretty good year of gaming for me in 2011, with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and Radiant Historia sending out the original Nintendo DS in proper fashion, but even more exciting is one of the biggest games of the year, Portal 2.

    It’s fun to look back at where the Portal “series” began: as a humble bonus in The Orange Box which featured big names like Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Portal was essentially created by a couple of DigiPen grads and Valve molded that into one of the biggest gaming surprises... ever. It was my 2007 Game of the Year and I wasn’t the only one to hand it such an award.

    Portal 2 was released last month, but instead of riding the coattails of something like Half-Life 2: Episode 3, it comes out as a full, stand-alone game. It probably doesn’t need to be said that it is receiving beyond excellent reviews, but before we venture too deep down the portal hole, let’s visit its first hour.

  • Suikoden

    First Hour Review

    Suikoden CoverI tend to be conscious of the games I buy. When I plunk the cash onto the counter, I've usually made the decision to do so months in advance. I've read some previews, watched plenty of gameplay clips, and probably played a demo (if available). This is normal for people to do when they're about to shell out $60 and tax, but I tend to do my research even when the game can be bought for a Hamilton. What can I say? I'm kind of stingy. Chicks love a pennypincher.

    I indulged in a blind-buy some time ago, when a game called Suikoden went on sale from the infallible PlayStation Network for a scant three dollars. I guess I can't really call it a "blind" purchase, considering I'd heard of the series, knew it was some sort of JRPG, and recalled some praise for it throughout the years. Still, this was a small triumph for my freewheeling, devil-may-care side. The side that grins mischievously as a tossed beer can ends up in the trash rather than the recycling bin. The side that saunters across the street with reckless abandon when the orange hand in the crosswalk orders me to halt.

    I've finally worked up the courage to start playing this recklessly-bought game. Will it turn out to be as thrilling as the initial purchase, or will I pledge to never blind-buy again?

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