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Portal 2

Full Review

Portal 2 CoverAs the sequel to my 2007 Game of the Year, I had high expectations of Portal 2, and so did the developers Valve, and everyone else mildly interested in video games. This was a milestone release, and Valve has been rewarded with many accolades and undoubtedly excellent sales numbers. I was able to sit down with Portal 2 for Windows and beat it in three extended gaming sessions over a few weeks.

That last sentence might be rather revealing, yes, the game took me weeks to beat. I took on the original Portal in one sitting. Of course, Portal 2 is longer than the original, and I have two kids now instead of none, but I’ll say right off the bat I felt like some kind of spark was missing.

So let’s just dive right into my review of Portal 2. This review will probably be shorter than usual simply because of my personal pact to spend less time writing full reviews this year, so hopefully I can more succinctly say what needs to be said.

VVVVVV

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Vvvvvv CoverNot often will games come along and surprise you these days.  In our age of information, developers and publishers go to great lengths to push their products.  Specifically, they hope to get fans hyped enough to buy the game day 1 as well as keeping the title in the public mind for continued spontaneous purchases of their product.  This is why we're rarely surprised and blown away by a game.  For me, VVVVVV was that type of game.

Radiant Historia or: How I learned to enjoy Japanese RPGs again

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Radiant Historia CoverA year ago I vented how Persona 3 and Odin Sphere had destroyed my love for Japanese RPGs, one of my favorite video game genres growing up. I might have been a bit dramatic about the situation, but the two games left such bad tastes in my mouth I had to take a break from the genre. This lasted about six months before I ventured back into the land of turn-based rising sun with Sega’s Infinite Space, a game that has all the trappings of crappy JRPGs but turned out to be pretty great in the end.

Since then I’ve beaten Golden Sun 3: Dark Dawn, Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, and Radiant Historia. It’s been a mixed bag and a reminder that I’m not back in love with the genre, but one game in particular pretty much brought me back into the fold: Atlus’ newest Nintendo DS title, Radiant Historia.

Released in February, Radiant Historia chewed up more portable gaming time than anything I’ve played in recent memory. The idea that a 50 hour game should be imposing to someone with limited gaming time like myself didn’t matter, I plowed through it and the game was worth every minute. Here’s my review of Radiant Historia.

Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

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Mass Effect 2 ps3 CoverSome games are just so damn popular and beloved that you can't ignore them, no matter how hard you try.

When Mass Effect invaded my world in 2007, I couldn't have cared less. Sure, it was from the same BioWare that produced the excellent Knights of the Old Republic, and seducing blue women sounded like a pretty good time, but it definitely wasn't enough to put a 360 in my life. I'd grown weary of shooters of all kinds since burning out on Halo 2, and with RPG elements mashed in, it only seemed less enticing. I even gave the game a try last year on a friend's machine and didn't make it off the Citadel before losing interest.

The hype hasn't fallen on deaf ears, though. The rave reviews, rave first hour reviews, GOTY awards, and FOX News scare tactic hilarity all kept me up at night, wondering if I was missing out. EA was intent on making me give the series another shot, as they recently completed a PS3 port of Mass Effect 2. Because one of the series' bullet points is importing player-dictated narrative choices from the first game into the second, Dark Horse Comics was called in to help create a short interactive comic that fills in PS3 owners on some of the events that they missed out on from Commander Shepard's first adventure, even allowing the player to make some of the more important decisions to impact their experience with the full sequel.

As it turns out, that comic is DLC, unlockable either by a code included in the game's box or for $15. I rented the game and didn't plan on shelling out fifteen bucks for a fifteen minute comic, so I ended up going into the sequel without much knowledge from the first game. From that starting point aboard the exploding Normandy to the final trip through the Omega 4 relay, I've experienced just about everything included on the PS3 disc of Mass Effect 2 -- as much as you can in one playthrough, anyway -- as Elmer Shepard, a Vanguard of equal parts paragon and renegade, lover and fighter, savior and failure. And sometimes he forgets to feed his fish, and they die.

Greg has already written about the Mass Effect series extensively, having played both games and plenty of extra content on the 360. With that in mind, I'll try (but likely fail) to keep this brief. If you need a primer or refresher for the series, check out one of his excellent writeups. An avid fan of the series, he does a much better job of explaining the core elements of Mass Effect than I could.

Magicka

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Magicka CoverIndie games. I love indie games. Many are free, and those that aren't are usually still cheap enough to buy virtually regardless of your budget. Another reason I am a fan of the Indie market is that they're very good at listening to their fans. A great example is Mount and Blade: Warband. After the first game was introduced, fans wailed and screamed for multiplayer, and you know what? They got it. Mount and Blade: Warband features multiplayer that many people find sufficient, and if not, you can modify the game to hit your sweet spot.

But that isn't what I love most about indie games. No, no, no...I much prefer the fact that indie developers have much less to lose, so much more to gain and that means they push the envelope. Hell, they don't push it, they light the sucker on fire and piss on the ashes, developers Arrowhead Game Studios and publishers Paradox Interactive that is.

The game I'm talking about today is a fantastic example of a developer unleashed, and how fantastic it can truly be to see true geniuses able to work they way they want to. That result is Magicka, an action game based on Magic and its elements.

Borderlands

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Borderlands CoverIn my December blitz of full reviews, this is my last one of the year. I'm not going to say I saved the best for last, because that falls to either Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Mass Effect 2 at this point, but Borderlands is certainly way up there. Like Mirror's Edge, Borderlands paves its own genre and does it beautifully. The mash-up of first person shooter and RPG with a zillion guns tacked on for extra destruction gels perfectly. The classes feel distinctly different, four player online co-op just works super well, and the game features over 30 hours of content on just your first playthrough (and you will play more than once).

Borderlands was released in October of 2009, so it's been out a while and is very cheap if you want to get into it now. The team is currently developing Duke Nukem Forever so there's no fear of Borderlands 2 coming out for at least a year and a half, I would think. I plan to continue writing about Borderlands well into next year as I still have three sets of downloadable content to review after just covering the first one, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned. But as the end of the year is imminent, I really feel like I need to get my thoughts on the main game out on the table.

Mike has gone into great detail already on what makes Borderlands so great, and after re-reading his review, I honestly don't have a lot to add. This is one of my favorite games of the year and I'll detail why I personally liked it so much below, but if you're looking for an in depth review I would recommend you check out Mike's.

Plants vs. Zombies

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Plants vs Zombies CoverFew games on the iOS platform get me excited. There's just such a surplus of bad that even when you hear about Super Popular Game X, you wonder if the masses are just falling for more of the same. When Plants vs. Zombies was announced early this year as a port of the PC/Mac release, I didn't think twice about picking it up. The $3 price tag didn't even make me think twice.

I had watched my brother in law play the full version on his Mac last year, and was intrigued by its porch defense gameplay. I had never even played a tower defense game before Plants vs. Zombies. A genre virgin so to speak. It was easy to see without even playing it why the game was so popular. The zombies would walk slowly from right to left and it's your job to fend them off with some bizarre garden variety plants.

This review will just be on the iOS version (played on a second generation iPod Touch). I have no experience with any other version (though I'm secretly planning to replay it on the Nintendo DS).

Dragon Age: Origins

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Dragon age Origins CoverSince I built my new PC in October, I've been playing games that I had not had a chance to in quite some time. My brother in law had come into ownership of a few games I had really wanted to play, and while in the mess of mediocrity, one game stood out as a gem that ended up sucking my time away. That game was Dragon Age: Origins.

Let me begin this review by saying I am a big fan of Bioware fantasy RPGs. I loved Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. I love the DND based RPGs. These types of games, these fantasy RPGs with choices are fantastic and end up taking hours away.

However, despite me loving these past titles, I never finished a single one. I always ended up failing to complete the main story line, so when I installed Dragon Age, I was worried I wouldn't finish it.

Dragon Age: Origins was released by Bioware, the makers of Mass Effect, on November 3rd, 2009. It was well received, and it was announced months ago that Dragon Age 2 would be released in March, 2011. It's the first time Bioware has made a fantasy RPG that does not include DND rules. Many people were upset at this, but honestly, the DND elements are still there. You can still intimidate or persuade folks, or randomly kill them in conversation, making for some hilarious conversations.

Sin & Punishment: Star Successor

Full Review

sin and Punishment Star Successor CoverThe original Sin & Punishment was released in late 2000 for the N64. Due to developer Treasure's cancellation of its North American release, the game never made it outside of Japan until its rerelease for the Wii's Virtual Console seven years later. Its success, combined with the prospect of creating an all new experience utilizing the Wii's motion controls prompted the Treasure team to make a sequel; Sin & Punishment: Star Successor.

Control in Star Successor is done via the Wii Remote and Nunchuck by default. Motion controls are implemented perfectly, allowing for smooth, precise targeting, though I found my wrist getting strained after long periods (there's a joke in there somewhere). You can also use the Classic Controller, GameCube Controller, or Wii Zapper, but I feel the standard setup works best.

Editor's Note: Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is Jonathan's second review here at The First Hour. This review was previously posted at IGN and Destructoid. Nate has previously written a first hour review of the game also.

Left 4 Dead

Full Review

Left 4 Dead CoverWhen I heard the announcement for Left 4 Dead, I was enormously elated. Finally, a game dedicated to fast-paced zombie action. A game I could rely on to really satisfy my urges to kill a swarm of infected. Then, when I saw the videos of people at E3 playing it for thirty minutes and then heading to the back of the huge line to play it again, there was no question.

My hunger for a real zombie game had been stirring for years. I hated Resident Evil, and still do. The idea of searching around everywhere and solving more puzzles than killing zombies -- I was disgusted. The only thing that helped curve my thirst was Counter Strike: Source, where my friend and I would play “zombies” by pitting ourselves against 30 or so bots and allowing them to only use knives. I was even happier to hear that was the way Valve decided to make Left 4 Dead. They did the exact same thing.

I was counting the days in November, 2008, for the game's release. Every day at college just seemed to drag on and on, forever, until finally the day came. My classes felt longer than those of my final days before Christmas Break. When I got done with school the day of Left 4 Dead's release, I went straight to the store to pick up the game.

I purchased the PC version, and played through the entire game in a very brief period of time, but that was okay. With all of the achievements to be had, as well as the scoring and varying difficulty levels, this game had more replay-ability than any game I had played before or since. It never gets old. I love this game, and now I own it on Xbox to play the game cooperatively with my wife. We also spend quite a bit of time online playing against other players. 

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