adventure

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [Video]

First Hour Review

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword CoverWith so many Legend of Zelda re-releases in 2011, I've had several excuses to reacquaint myself with the series for the last six months. I awakened Link for the first time, replayed bits of the first Zelda game I ever experienced, tried out a solo retrofit of the franchise's multiplayer experiment, and even charted my way through the legend that begot legends. For me, 2011 has been the year of Zelda.

Through this trip back through time, I've reevaluated my regard for Nintendo's beloved adventure franchise, and just in time for the newest iteration. Skyward Sword, at a glance, looks like just another Zelda, which is enough for most fans but insufficient for me. On top of that, the game boasts a distinct watercolor style, a sky/land dichotomy, and what appears to be an origin story for many of the franchise's trademark elements.

What has me excited is the motion-controlled combat. I loved the MotionPlus combat in Red Steel 2, and Skyward Sword uses the gyroscope add-on to provide needed nuance to Zelda's normally dull swordplay. Comparisons to Punch Out's puzzle-like duels have me salivating all the more.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to experience much of that in Skyward Sword's opening sixty. That's disheartening enough, but Skyward Sword doesn't stop at mere disappointment...the game outright insults me. Take a look:

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Full Review

Oblivion CoverIt's been awhile since I've written anything for First Hour; between marriage, work, college and some gaming, there isn't much time for writing. But this is a special month, a month that I've been looking forward to for a long time.

Last Friday, November 11th, 2011, was the release of Skyrim, possibly the most anticipated game of this year, right next to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. So today, I am reviewing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

I had played Morrowind religiously for roughly six months. In fact, it was the second game I bought for the original Xbox. It was an incredible experience, to face a giant world with so many dangers, and so much customizing, I became massively invested. I played at least six hours a day during the school week and twelve during Saturday and Sunday.

So after years of playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, my sophomore self was surprised to see Oblivion on the cover of a Game Informer in the high school library. I was in awe at the graphics, the hope for a better combat system. But the most amazing thing, that reportedly happened at Bethesda as well, was seeing what was once thought impossible: they had forests. Real, bustling forests with bushes and shrubbery and groups of trees.

I couldn't stop thinking about it, and then it was finally released. I was amazed at the game. Now, let's take and nice overview about some of the feelings and thoughts of the game before and after Oblivion's release.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

First Hour Review

Skyrim CoverDo we have another Game of the Year contender on our hands? Skyrim is the latest adventure in the epically massive Elder Scrolls series, released just last Friday. Heralded by many as the second coming of... Oblivion, Bethesda looks to destroy college grades and tear apart healthy marriages.

What else needs to be said? This is a massive game and we'll barely be striking the surface with its first hour, but I hope to get a feeling of the game's tone and pacing, something I would say the series has stumbled with before. This is the first time we've even discussed The Elder Scrolls here at First Hour, but better late than never.

Later this week we'll have an ever-timely review of Oblivion along with the first half-hour of Super Mario 3D Land, and early next week is the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which will definitely receive some coverage. But until then: the first hour of Skyrim for Windows.

Dark Souls

First Hour Review

Dark Souls CoverThere’s different flavors of “difficult” in video games. Some games are hard because of limited lives and crushing level design, like the original Ninja Gaiden, for example. And take Nethack, its difficulty resides in the massive amount of “unknown” in the game combined with a bit of luck. And then there’s Demon’s Souls and its sequel Dark Souls, known for their incredibly challenging, but fair gameplay.

I have not played Demon’s Souls, but when Dark Souls was released last month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I was determined to at least give it an hour of my time. That opportunity has come, and while I survived, I did not come out unscathed.

Dark Souls was developed by the obnoxiously named From Software, known for their double-noun named games such as Shadow Tower, King’s Field, and Ninja Blade, along with the Armored Core series. They also published 3D Dot Game Heroes, which as far as I can tell is the extreme opposite of Dark Souls.

Here is its first hour.

Batman: Arkham City [Video]

First Hour Review

Batman Arkham City CoverEverybody wants to be Batman. He was born with more money than most third world countries. His car sips gasoline and pisses fire. He could win the World's Strongest Man competition and the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions simultaneously. He knocks boots with Catwoman at night and brags to Superman in the morning. Whatever you aspire to be, Batman is it.

So it's surprising that no developer ever attempted the complete Batman experience until 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Okay, maybe Batman isn't quite "complete" without Batmobile or Bruce Wayne, but the game offered a taste of the hunter/fighter/thinker dynamic that makes Batman so Batmanly. Two years later, Rocksteady Games is back on the prowl with Batman: Arkham City, because when was the last time a hit video game didn't get a sequel? The new game promises an increase in scope parallel with its subtitle: the play area has expanded from the asylum to a full borough within greater Gotham City where evildoers and thugs (and maybe also the mentally ill that legitimately need help?) have been corralled and quarantined.

But enough prep, it's time to bust faces. Watch some snippets of footage from early in the story and pretend you're Batman. It's okay, we all still do it from time to time.

The Legend of Zelda

Full Review

Legend of Zelda CoverAchievement Unlocked: Review a game older than you.

Zelda may be the most beloved video game franchise, but I've never counted myself among series super-fans. Since cutting my teeth on the series with Ocarina of Time, I've merely enjoyed all but a handful of games in the series. Don't get me wrong, they're all great, but I wouldn't put any in my top ten.

That said, I like checking out each title and comparing it with the rest of its ilk. Other than the experimental black sheep Zelda II: Adventure of Link, the first Legend of Zelda may be the series' most divisive game. Fans can't seem to agree whether the game's old school difficulty and unguided progression make it dated or just different. Lacking an in-game overworld map and never funneling players away from difficult areas, the NES original certainly requires more of its players than any Zelda since.

Nintendo recently launched its 3DS Ambassador program, giving the system's early adopters ten free NES games. I had been meaning to check out several of the ambassador titles, but none more so than The Legend of Zelda. Fifteen hours and a princess rescue later, I'm ready to weigh in on the Dated vs. Different debate.

Minecraft

First Hour Review

Minecraft CoverInitially, Humble Indie Bundle 3 was only five videogames for whatever price you deemed worthy: Crayon Physics Deluxe, Cogs, VVVVVV, And Yet It Moves, and Hammerfight. After a day or two, a free pass for Markus “Notch” Persson's Minecraft was added, allowing HIB3 buyers to play the blocks-laden indie game until August 14, 2011. This might have had something to do with the fact that Notch was/is one of the top contributors to the cause, dropping well over $4,000 for a handful of games he surely already owns. But it's easy to figure out why he'd support indie games like so, and giving the wary a free looksie into his own thriving title is a smart decision.

For some time now, I've been interested in Minecraft. Take note that I did not say interested in playing Minecraft, as the two statements are actually very different. Just interested. From the outside, it looks like a creative, germinal, easy-to-play game that is just asking you to open it up and go nuts. Plus, y'know, I grew up on Lego blocks. It's just plain ol' nature here, stacking and breaking blocks galore and building crazy fortresses loaded from ceiling to cellar with booby-traps. However, Minecraft could also share the same problems many other open-world games have, where there is ultimately little purpose.

At E3 2011, it was announced that Minecraft was coming to the Xbox 360, my preferred gaming console. For now, I'll be giving the game a swing on my Macbook, and hopefully it can handle everything. It's struggled to run other games from Humble Indie Bundle 3 (and previous iterations). I am and always will be a console gamer though so if I do enjoy my time here, I'll more than likely download it from Xbox Live Arcade whenever it becomes available.

Musings on L.A. Noire, and gray areas in game design

Full Review

la Noire CoverOne of the fun attributes of film noir is that, while often filmed in a stark black and white style, the characters and situations aren't so easily sorted. Good guys can keep bad habits, damsels in distress can turn femme fatale, and the line between cop and crook gets muddy. Black and white is the look, but gray is the tone.

L.A. Noire, Rockstar's latest critical smash, pays tribute to film noir's unclear nature not only in style but also in its design. A vast open world is the stage for a linear story. Modern gunfights and street races play nice with adventure game relics and intuition simulation that should prove to be the game's lasting legacy. And, given the task, I'd place L.A. Noire somewhere in the spectrum between pretty good and almost great.

But to be honest, that's not really what this piece turned out to be. It's not quite a review, but not really just a critique, either. Want a review? Here: "L.A. Noire isn't a bad game by any standard, but it's more an interesting experiment than it is a great experience." I'll even throw a number at you. "7." Bam, reviewed.

With that addressed, the following is a look at a few of the ways L.A. Noire straddles many seemingly opposite design elements. Sometimes this leads to nagging issues, others to surprise delights. But more often than not, it's hard to say either way.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Half-Hour Handheld

Legend of Zelda Links Awakening CoverMy favorite game is—and most likely will always be—The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It's a videogame that raised me, coddled me through the early years, showed me the potential games held, and reminded me that there's still good in this world. And strangely, there's never been anything quite like it since its debut way back in November 1992. I guess some games do come close: 3D Dot Game Heroes, Alundra, Beyond Oasis, and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Not surprisingly, nobody does Zelda quite like Nintendo.

Nintendo's 2011 E3 conference opened with some love for the Zelda franchise, now twenty-five years big, and a surprise announcement was that The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was going to be available very soon on the Nintendo 3DS eshop. Sadly, I never got to experience this game before on the GameBoy, and a quick bit of research revealed that it both looked and played similar to what I consider to be gaming nirvana. Well, I downloaded it as soon as I could. Let's hope it lives up to my lofty expectations...

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.

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