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Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

First Hour Review

Luigis Mansion Dark Moon Banner

Luigi has strangely found his niche in the Mario universe as the ghostbusting, mansion tip-toeing brother. Why Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto decided to make a GameCube tech demo out of a ghostly mansion and then have it star Luigi may be a question for the ages, but 12 years later we are here with its sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS.

It’s been a decade since I played the original Luigi’s Mansion, but I remember it being a charming, if repetitive experience highlighted by Charles Martinet’s incredible voicing of a freaked out Luigi. With the Wii U in seemingly more need of quality software than the 3DS, I’m surprised some tablet-utilizing version of Dark Moon didn’t show up on the console, but the likelihood of me playing the portable version is much higher, so I personally appreciate the 3DS release. Let’s play.

Prince of Persia

First Hour Review

Prince of Persia CoverThe success of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time completely rejuvenated a left for dead franchise. From a series that was known for its challenging, timed gameplay, rose a 3D incarnation that was nearly beloved by both the gaming press and gamers themselves. Setting the gears in motion for sequels, spinoffs, and a movie, The Sands of Time was both a trendsetter for many future titles and an acknowledgement to its roots.

A few years after its immediate trilogy sputtered off, Ubisoft tried to remake the prince once again with Prince of Persia, no subtitle. Much like the NES Ninja Gaiden and the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, Prince of Persia was annoyingly named the exact same as the original game twenty years its predecessor. But if fans were expecting an even closer imitation of the original, they would be quite surprised with the bigger changes made by Ubisoft.

Prince of Persia (2008, not 1989) received mixed reviews with attention to the excellent art and animation, but some disdain towards the game’s reported simple difficulty. What attracted me to reviewing the game’s first hour was definitely the art style. Borrowing the watercolor look from Okami was definitely a brave move by a generally conservative Ubisoft, and I am hoping some of that creativity might have run over to the parkour and fighting elements of the game. Let’s take a look.

Dishonored

First Hour Review

Dishonored CoverDishonored, the new property published by Bethesda (The Elder Scrolls; Fallout) and developed by Arkane Studios (Dark Mesiah; Bioshock 2), is a brave and original story looking to enter into a decaying console cycle – the time when the sequel and spinoff reign supreme. It has to be said, the sights are firm and the course is true; Dishonored is looking to contend for Game of the Year status – and so it should. Arkane Studios has talent from across the globe, and a laundry list of prior experience. From Bioshock to Half-Life 2 to Deus Ex, and many more, Arkane’s capability holds great repute.

Dishonored sets off to be the spiritual successor to the very franchises that inspired it and you would be hard-pressed to find a reason why it does not fit the bill. At its core, Dishonored is a first-person stealth action game. You are able to sneak around quietly, hit confrontation head-on, or some other combination of the two. The level of freedom here is something that would make any long-time Deus Ex fan smile. It’s not just about the gameplay, though – the level of presentation on display is top notch.

Before getting into the review-proper, I want to touch on the design and visual presentation; its uniqueness begs prying eyes to observe. Dunwall, the city setting in Dishonored, is designed by the very same man who imagined City 17 in Half-Life 2. Visually, I get the sensation that Arkane started with something relatively gritty, and then moved the entire art-style in the direction of pastel and caricature. It’s just utterly dripping with style and brave design choices. The character design in particular is especially reminiscent of old political cartoon artwork, with all the exaggerated features necessary to convey a character without words.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses when it comes to the presentation. There are elements of the game that feel somewhat dated. While the character design is a pure joy of originality, the animations leave something to be desired. I’m never left with the sensation that these are alive, even for a moment. There’s also not much in the way of post-effects being leveraged. You have god-rays, dynamic shadows, and that’s about it. And while the artwork is incredibly balanced and fitting to itself, I found myself reaching for my video card’s anti-aliasing controls in short order just to get everything to sit better with the art style. Neither the MLAA or FXAA solutions quite cut it – the jaggies on display just detracted from the pastel effect.

Saints Row: The Third

First Hour Review

Saints row the Third CoverSaints Row 2 was already over the top. After an epic prison bust you then shoot up a courthouse and spray poop on rich people’s homes. It was crazy and pretty fun, and seemed worth playing beyond the first hour just to see what the developers could cook up.

Volition wanted to go bigger though, so they made Saints Row: The Third. Within days of release, the game was already famous for one of its weapons: The Penetrator, a giant purple dildo with realistic... dildo physics. But from my time with the game, I can promise you they really went to town with an adrenaline-pumping, action set-piece heavy first hour that simply blows the offerings Saints Row 2 put up.

So let’s take a look at the first hour of Saints Row: The Third, with this hour’s minute by minute section being sponsored by the absurdity of Volition, highlighting the crazy levels the game goes beyond even its predecessor.

Sleeping Dogs

Full Review

Sleeping Dogs CoverI like freedom in games. That being said, I love open world games-the ability to run around a virtual world, doing missions whenever I please, and I will give any open-world sandbox game a chance, from Toy Story to Saints Row. I fondly remember the “undercover cop” GTA rip-off True Crime series so ridiculous it was almost hard to take serious about ten years ago-yeah, the one that let you play as Snoop Dog. I soon found out that Sleeping Dogs, seemingly released out of nowhere this month, was the once-titled True Crime: Hong Kong, only having changed names due to legal reasons after switching publishers from Activision to Square Enix. While it may have once belonged in a line of True Crime games, TRUST ME- In no way, shape, or form is this anything like what I remember the True Crime series being like. (In a good way.)

With Square Enix’s reboot, remastering and renaming of the True Crime franchise, now Sleeping Dogs, they have tooled what could prove to be one of the biggest surprise smash hits this year with tight gameplay all around and with a story more compelling than most of Rockstar or THQ’s gangster tales have ever felt. Here is my review of Sleeping Dogs for Xbox 360.

Saints Row 2

First Hour Review

Saints row 2 CoverWithout Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto III, we wouldn’t have Sleeping Dogs, The Saboteur, and possibly dozens of other series, including Saints Row. But whereas Grand Theft Auto IV upped the realism to aggravating levels (managing relationships and awful driving are the worst offenders), Saints Row has descended further and further into insanity, basically delivering the same sandbox joy that GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas were known for.

I’ve never played the original Saints Row, and while Saints Row 2 seems to continue directly off from the first game, I’m guessing I’ll be able to jump into the gangster-filled world with ease. I’ve heard tons of great things about the third game recently, but the second one flew under my radar, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect.

Here’s the first hour of Saints Row 2 for the PlayStation 3.

Superman 64

Clocking Out

Superman 64 CoverIn the world of awful games, one title will often be raised: Superman 64. You'll often hear about its terrible graphics or awful controls, but up until today, I had never been subjected to it. I was tasked to see how long I could play it before I couldn’t take it anymore.

Clocking Out is our new feature which pits one of our writers against a bad game and sees how long they can last. It's a test of endurance, willpower, and foolhardiness. There have been first hours in the past where our writers wanted to give up before it was over, but now they can admit defeat and clock out whenever they'd like.

Our Five Year Anniversary - Revisiting God of War II

First Hour Review

god of war 2 CoverFive years ago I played about sixty minutes of the beginning of God of War II and was impressed by how quickly the action ramps up and how the momentum is carried throughout. Big action set pieces like the Colossus battle and flying on Pegasus made for an extremely memorable first hour, and still one of the best. At that moment I made a decision that I suppose in some ways has changed my life: I reset the PS2, grabbed a pen and notebook, and started playing God of War II over again.

Five years later and a full ten days worth of first hour reviews written by me and a half-dozen other writers, we're back to where it all began. I imagine this is a one-time event, I'm not sure there's really much left to point out in the game's first hour that I didn't the first time, but the timing is fun. I've always measured first hours in how many "days" have passed, with 24 first hour reviews representing a day. Since this is review 240, the end of day ten, I couldn't really pass up the opportunity.

The review format hasn't changed a lot in five years, even then I was keeping track of "minutes to action", but I don't give scores anymore, focusing instead on what really matters: would I keep playing beyond the first hour? Fellow writer Nate has developed his own first hour review format, and from now on I'll be moving more towards that. It's very time consuming to detail every minute of action, and I'm not sure if it's entirely valuable to the reader, so things will be changing for me as a critic, I'm still not entirely sure what it will look like.

But somehow my little review site has survived five years without much trouble, or attention, for that matter. But that's okay with me, soon after I began writing regularly about a subject I actually enjoyed, I realized I loved doing it and the number of readers or amount of money I was making was far less important than the fact that I was putting my thoughts and ideas on paper.

So thank you to all readers, fans, and critics over the last five years. You have turned a curiosity into a hobby into a passion.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

First Hour Review

Metal Gear Solid 4 CoverI’ve always enjoyed the crazy and convoluted stories of the Metal Gear Solid series, even when the controls seem to be fighting against me instead of cooperating. I’ve played the series on the PS1, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox, and with every release both the story and controls become more complex. So in some ways I’m very excited to finally be able to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but at the same time I’m leery that it’s going to be a mess of bad aiming and Snake behaving badly.

Released over four years ago(!), Metal Gear Solid 4 puts us back in Solid Snake’s shoes in a war-torn future where armies for hire are the norm. It’s a disturbing vision, but if anyone can sell it, it’s Hideo Kojima and his team at Konami.

The game has sold very well and was a major critical darling. Heck, one of our very own writers gave it a 10/10 a few years back. Needless to say, this has been on my to-play list for many years. Here’s hoping the first hour lives up to my hype.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

First Hour Review

Uncharted 2 CoverLet’s get right to the point, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation. I don’t usually put a lot of trust in Metacritic, but it has a score of 96 over there with over 100 positive reviews, and not a single mixed or negative score to contrast. I can only marvel at that, and then I see that Grand Theft Auto IV has a score of 98 and I can only shrug at the idea of critical consensus.

Playing the Uncharted series was high on my list for when I finally obtained a PlayStation 3, and while I never considered not playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, it seemed many gamers thought it was rather skippable, especially with Uncharted 2 available. In the end, yes, it is skippable, but if we only ever played excellent games, we would never be able to recognize them for what they are. I have my list of faults the first one suffered from and am hoping they are all fixed with Among Thieves.

So let’s get right down to the first hour of Uncharted 2, a game which advertised you’d be able to fool your girlfriend into thinking she was watching a movie (this would be a massive eyeroll if it wasn’t for Kevin Butler). So pop the popcorn and roll the film.

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