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Penumbra: Overture

Full Review

Penumbra Overture CoverAtmosphere. Danger. Environment. Expectation. These words are integral to any sort of horror-based media, and yet many have seemingly forgotten all about the reasons behind fear and instead rely on cheap tactics to do the job. Penumbra: Overture shows a much more sophisticated ability to keep players on edge without relying on grotesque visuals and cheap 'jump moments' to elicit responses. I was particularly curious as to how this game could effect me since I'm not easily frightened and cheap attempts at fear usually seem more humorous than scary. And overall, the game does a fairly good job at its goals. Let me explain.

Overture almost takes advantage of those modern media shortcuts to create a fully engrossing experience with the capability to be legitimately frightening. As a response to these movies, shows, and games, your mind now expects something to happen when you travel down a dark hallway, into a new room, or when encountering an enemy. Instead, nothing typically happens in Penumbra. In fact, very little "happens" throughout the whole game. Almost all of the happenings and story events involve Phillip sorting out the past of his forgotten surroundings instead of building the story himself or primarily creating a story. At heart, Overture is a first-person adventure game, with the atmosphere as really the only major demarker to the survival-horror tag. I can recall only a handful of actual "events" Phillip was directly involved in. And yet this feels perfectly fine in the context of the game.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Full Review

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 CoverRemember that big game from late last year? The one with all the controversy where you shot civilians in an airport, defended America's cities against direct attack, and weren't allowed to run your own multiplayer dedicated server? Yeah, that one. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In my circle of gaming friends this game came and went. I beat it and pretty much put it away for good. Apparently it is still really popular though, and I like to keep track of every game I beat now, so I present my full review of Modern Warfare 2.

The game was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows, and is the direct sequel to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a game that features what I believe to be one of the best first hours I have ever played (so good, in fact, that I went on to beat the game in one sitting). The game as a whole was also very good, so I had high expectations for Modern Warfare 2. The first hour of it was impressive and pressed me to play on (but across multiple sittings this time), but in the end, it wasn't able to hold my attention as much as the original.

Here's my impression on the single player campaign, I did not play enough multiplayer to properly grade or judge it, in my opinion.

Split/Second

Full Review

Split Second CoverHaving just finished Split/Second last night at the midnight hour, I’m ready to talk about the experience. It was an intense, blister inducing ride that brought great joy and frustration to this veteran gamer. As I mentioned in my first hour review of the game, I’m not a fan of realistic racing games, but arcade racers like this and the Burnout series have a very special place in my heart (and on my game shelf). The first hour of the game blew me away, even though I played it almost two months ago, I remember the evening vividly. Split/Second was going to rock.

I just reread Ian’s full review of Split/Second (we received a copy of the game from Disney, the publishers, and have been passing it around the writers here - look at the perks for writing for this site!) and I really have to agree with almost every single point he made. It’s a really fun game but can be incredibly frustrating at times. I wouldn’t go as far to say as there’s all out NFL Blitz style rubber band A.I., but the computer is a very challenging opponent, and there are seven of them out there on the track with you.

There’s a list of things I found wrong with the game, but I’d really like to start off by saying that this is a really good game. If you like arcade racers like Burnout, you will enjoy Split/Second. If you like unique genre-mashing experiences, this game might be worth a try. Here’s my full review of Split/Second for the Xbox 360.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Full Review

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future CoverHere we are back for the third year in a row with another Professor Layton game. The series has definitely become an annual event that I look forward to as the games are enjoyable to play and chock full of challenging puzzles. I’ve compared the Professor Layton series to the Phoenix Wright series before, as both sets of games offer unusual types of gameplay on an annual basis. But some other similarities are starting to creep in, and that’s the feeling of staleness.

The series hasn’t evolved a lot in three games, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the puzzles are great and the stories always intriguing, but it’s starting to feel like I’m playing expansion packs instead of brand new games. I awarded the first game, Curious Village, a 9/10 and its sequel, Diabolical Box, an 8/10, and I’m about to hand out a 7/10 to Unwound Future. I put a lot of value in mixing things up and trying something new, and the Professor Layton series just isn’t going anywhere. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my 20 hours with Unwound Future, but I’d really love for something more.

If this is your first Professor Layton game, you can expect a point and click style story-driven game with tons of unrelated puzzles to keep you interested. There isn’t any prior knowledge required to play Unwound Future, so it’s definitely a series someone can jump into at any point. Here’s my full review of Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. If you’re curious, I also have a half-hour handheld review up too.

Mafia II

Full Review

Mafia II CoverSince Grand Theft Auto III was released in 2001, there has been a new expectation of open world video games. Along with a story, there needs to be dozens of extra things to do that usually have little to do with the actual plot, such as driving a taxi cab, delivering pizzas, or putting out fires (that you started!). Now what if we had a game that featured an open world, but was story driven and linear? Seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s exactly what Mafia II is.

Mafia II was released in August on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows. Reception has been good but for a game in development for over half a decade, some gamers and analysts were expecting better. Mafia II is all about recreating that favorite mobster movie of yours and putting control into your hands. While it isn’t my favorite genre of film, I can appreciate a good mob tale when I see one.

Our copy of Mafia II was provided to us by 2K Games, this review is for the Xbox 360 version.

Sin & Punishment

Full Review

sin and Punishment CoverEvery Monday morning since the Wii craze began in November 2006, the Wii Shop Channel has been updated with new downloadable titles to purchase. The Virtual Console, one of the Wii's few enticing tidbits to core gamers at launch, promised to make all our favorite classic games through the N64 era available on one piece of hardware. Things started out strong for the VC, which reached the 100-game milestone just over six months after launch. It seems Nintendo just couldn't keep that pace, however, as the first seven months of 2010 have seen less than twenty new retro titles. With obvious Nintendo classics like Star Fox, Yoshi's Island, Pilotwings 64, and Excitebike 64 still waiting to be let loose -- in addition to the many unseen third party games worth revisiting -- it seems far too early for the Virtual Console to receive less than one title a week.

The future of the Virtual Console was looking bright in 2007, however, when Nintendo decided to make the N64 import classic Sin & Punishment available outside of Asia for the first time. It seems Treasure always planned a western release, as all the voice acting was performed in English (with Japanese subtitles), even in the original Japanese cartridge. The rumor is that a dried-up N64 market in 2000 made the niche developer think twice. In a rare showing of extra effort on Nintendo's part, Sin & Punishment was the first of a small collection of games formerly exclusive to Japan to make it to the Americas. It probably didn't take that much effort, though, since the only translation required was in the main menu and tutorials. The original Japanese subtitles persist even in the localized version.

I'd always planned on putting down the $12 to try Sin & Punishment at some point, but I figured the recent release of Sin & Punishment: Star Successor for the Wii makes this as good a time as any. Might as well snag the N64 game for some context, right? I downloaded the game with the intent of completing a first hour review for our readers, but it seems there isn't a whole lot to talk about beyond that first sixty minutes, so this has been upgraded to full review status. Lucky you!

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Full Review

Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks CoverThis is a first for us, but this is our second full review of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks on the First Hour. Paul first reviewed the game in early February and praised it for its stellar action and improved controls over Phantom Hourglass.  He did note some issues with the train in the game, and while most of my opinions will echo his, I would like to get my thoughts down before I move on to other games.

This is Nintendo's second attempt at going for an entirely stylus-driven Zelda experience.  I'm actually still a bit shocked that this works.  It's not perfect, but it is definitely not substantially worse than playing a console Zelda game, and in some ways works better than the old 2D games.  Paul said he noticed improvements in the control, but either it's been so long since I played Phantom Hourglass that I didn't notice, or... they didn't make any improvements.  I'm guessing the former as I was rarely frustrated with the game control-wise.

Just like to quickly mention how awesome it is that we got two Legend of Zelda games on the Nintendo DS, especially considering it was nearly three years after the system debuted that Phantom Hourglass finally landed.  It'd be great to see a third, but I imagine Nintendo will be refocusing their efforts on the DSi or 3DS at this point.  Hey, you can always hire Capcom to make more portable iterations.

Major League Baseball 2K10

Full Review

MLB 2K10 coverAnother year, another sports game.  Gamers hear this every few months when the newest Madden is coming out, or the next iteration in a 2K series, or even for the Tiger Woods series.  Sure, you updated the roster, but what did you really spend the last 12 months on?  That is the eternal question for series with annual updates, and it's always one someone is forced to answer.

For 2K Sports' MLB series, 2009 was a rough year.  The series was switching developers and reactions from the fanbase was generally bad.  With Sony's rival series, The Show, growing stronger and stronger with every iteration, it was not a good year to take two steps back.  2K and Visual Concepts desperately needed to show that they still worth the MLB license they paid for: 2K10 needed to be the Comeback Player of the Year.  If you believe Metacritic, they have definitely improved.  2K9 has a metascore of 64 with a user score of only 5.2, whereas 2K10 has a metascore of 76 but even more importantly, a user score of 8.0.  The MLB 2K series seems to be back on the right track.

But I never played a previous iteration of the series, let alone 2K9, so I'm coming into this season as a rookie.  I'm still expecting a lot though, my favorite baseball games are more arcadey, like Base Wars or the Ken Griffey Jr. series.  Those games were just pure fun and the gameplay was great not because it was great baseball, but because it was a great video game.  MLB 2K10, however, is realistic and trying to not let you realize that it is a video game.  Quite a bit different than what I'm used to.

So here's my full review of MLB 2K10, this was a review copy provided to me by 2K Games.  You can see read my "first hour review" of the game that actually follows me through about the first 10 hours of the game.

Terminator Salvation

Full Review
Terminator Salvation Cover

Terminator Salvation is the recent adaptation of the McG helmed latest installment in the Terminator movie franchise. The game was developed by Halcyon Games with Grin Entertainment, the same company known for pumping out some of the years most underwhelming licensed properties and sequels, including Wanted: Weapons of Fate (review forthcoming) and a 3-D re-imagining of the classic Capcom game, Bionic Commando.

The game is a cover-based third person shooter. It revolves around several of the main characters from the film of the same name; John Connor, Blair Williams, Angie Saltar, and the enigmatic Barnes. The story is essentially a prequel, taking place in a timeline in the future (after Terminator 3) but before the events depicted in the movie. It follows a mission that sets Connor on his path to the upper echelons of the resistance. The storyline involves a situation where Connor is faced with a choice: follow orders (and let people die), or disobey orders (and attempt to rescue a group in trouble). Naturally, our hero eschews his orders in an effort to save his fellow freedom fighters. In so doing, he sets himself on a trajectory that will have him rebuking his commanders and showing a level of leadership that had previously eluded him. Now let’s see how it plays.

Peggle: Dual Shot

Full Review
Peggle Dual Shot Cover

Peggle: Dual Shot is the Nintendo DS port of the popular puzzle-casual game, Peggle. It was released early this year and is a compilation of both Peggle and Peggle Nights. Peggle has appeared on a variety of platforms, but made it big when a themed demo of it was released with The Orange Box. The gameplay of Peggle is pretty simple, it's a bit like Pachinko, where you shoot/drop balls from the top of screen and watch them bounce off pegs (Peggles). Yeah, that's really about it, but if you know anything about the Japanese and their Pachinko, you know they can be addicted, and so will you if you pick up Peggle.

It's all so deceptively simple, but you'll be hooked. Each stage has a collection of both blue and orange peggles, the goal is to knock out all the orange pegs with 10 or less shots. While this remains constant throughout the game, each stage is set up differently, featuring new challenges, and there are also power-ups available to you. Plus the whole game is wrapped in this oddly endearing yet creepy package starring a bunch of furry animals. Well, here's my review of Peggle: Dual Shot.

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