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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.

Burnout Paradise

First Hour Review

Burnout Paradise CoverWe haven’t played a lot of first hours of racing games: Diddy Kong Racing, Beetle Adventure Racing, and Split/Second, that’s about it. They don’t make for very conducive first hour and usually a gamer can figure out within the first lap of the first race whether they’ll enjoy the rest of the game.

But Burnout Paradise set about to turn racing games on their head. Mixing the super-arcade pedigree of the previous Burnout titles with the open-worldness of the Grand Theft Auto series produced one of 2008’s hits. Criterion Games produced a well received game that has allowed them to branch out and work on last year’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which also received similar acclaim (and many, many sales).

I have a long history with the Burnout series stemming from a random rental I made of Burnout 3: Takedown during college. I was very excited to play Paradise when it was released but had to settle with just playing the excellent demo for the longest time until I received the game myself for the Xbox 360.

This first hour review was originally supposed to be for the site Games ‘N Beer, which hopefully much like this site, is self-explanatory in nature. I conducted some drunk driving safely in my own living room playing Burnout Paradise with a six-pack of Summit beer in January 2010, with the intention that he would post the review along with my thoughts on the beer. Alas, CJ Stratton has seemingly given up on the site with only one post since then, so I’ve decided to deliver the goods the normal way.

As for the beer, it was delicious and went down smooth. As for the game, here’s the first hour of Burnout Paradise.

Red Dead Redemption

First Hour Review

red Dead Redemption CoverI played the first hour of Red Dead Revolver last year, mostly in preparation for what was going to be one of the biggest game releases of the year, Red Dead Redemption. I didn’t really like the start of the game too much, it felt cliched and reminded me a lot of Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman in the way the gameplay and story were structured. Pro-tip: that’s not a good comparison.

But here I am, finally, with the first hour of Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar essentially threw out everything but the Western setting of Revolver during development of Redemption, and it definitely shows. While Revolver felt like an arcade game at times, Redemption really does feel like Grand Theft Equine.

Released last May, Red Dead Redemption has sold many copies and reaped many awards, but so did Grand Theft Auto IV, and I could only stomach about a dozen hours of that monster before giving up due to its tedious amount of relationship balancing and all-too-realistic driving gameplay. But if any company has been able to learn from their mistakes in the past, Rockstar Games is that developer. Let’s ride into the first hour of Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360.

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.

Mafia II

First Hour Review

Mafia 2 CoverWhen someone talks about the mob, the first thing that pops into our head is probably a great gangster movie. Be it The Godfather Part II, Scarface, or Goodfellas, there are a lot of excellent mob films to land on. 2K Games would like to change that though with Mafia II, the sequel to the 2002 hit, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven.

Can you even name a decent mob game? Sure, there have been Godfather games, a bargain bin full of Yakuza titles, or even the Grand Theft Auto series, but there has not been a standout mob game since the original Mafia. A game that flew way off my radar, but must have landed on someone’s as it received a lot of critical acclaim.

So here we are eight years later with Mafia II. Yes, the game has essentially been in development that entire time as it was originally slated to release on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 (remember those?). Fans of the original are going to be expecting a lot of improvement over nearly a decade of development, and those who are unfamiliar with the series are going to be asking what sets Mafia II apart from the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV.

Mafia II was released on the Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows. The First Hour’s Xbox 360 copy was provided by 2K Games.

The Saboteur

Full Review

Saboteur CoverI don’t think I’ve ever played a game and honestly felt sad that the developer was no longer around, but that’s exactly what happened after I beat Pandemic Studios’ swan song, The Saboteur. I had an honestly great time with a flawed game, which is the opposite experience I’ve had with similar games in the genre. 

The Saboteur is pretty much the quintessential First Hour game: I played the first hour of the game a few months back, loved it, but had to send it back to my brother-in-law. A few months later I had the opportunity to borrow it again and jumped at the chance. When I said I wanted to keep playing, I really did.

Without much further ado, The Saboteur was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows, and while the game seems to hint at future sequels, with the studio closing it is doubtful those will ever appear.   But you never know, I’m assuming EA owns the license to the game and characters so they might trudge up good old Sean Devlin again someday.

My full review is on the Xbox 360 version.

The Saboteur

First Hour Review

Saboteur CoverA few months ago I reviewed the first hour of Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.  I enjoyed it, but had issues with the controls which really hampered my experience.  Fast forward to... now, and I'm about to tackle Pandemic Studio's final game, The Saboteur.  It's disappointing when a studio is closed down, and definitely scary considering EA bought them out at the same time as they did BioWare (can you imagine EA shutting them down?).  While I never really played any of Pandemic's games, the Mercenaries and Destroy All Humans series were always popular, sad to see them go.

Anyways, the game!  You came here for some World War II open world action set in Paris, right?  Well, this is what you're going to get.  The Saboteur was released late last year on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows, and has you killing lots and lots of Nazis.  Everyone hates Nazis, and The Saboteur features a ton of different ways to execute that hate into physical violence.

There's more to this game than just beating up baddies, but a city to save by raising their morale and will to fight.  If you're looking for a World War II game that isn't a derivative first person shooter, well this might be it.  Let's get into the first hour of The Saboteur.

Scribblenauts

Guest Full Review
Scribblenauts Cover

The most talked about DS game at this year’s E3 wasn’t another installment in a popular and established franchise, but instead a strikingly original title from the creators of the Drawn to Life series, 5th Cell. In the same spirit as their million-seller, Scribblenauts relies heavily on the creativity of the player. Armed with tens of thousands of words, you must solve puzzles that range from moving a cow off the road to saving people from a horde of hungry zombies. If you can think it, you can do it.

Players control the rooster hat-wearing Maxwell, a kid that always has a smirk and curiously wear shorts with long sleeves. Maxwell is thrown into hundreds of levels with one simple goal: find and obtain an object called a starite. In order to do this, the player must summon objects by writing them via a mini-keyboard or by spelling them out (trust me, it’s easier to just use the keyboard). Objects will then appear in the level to help, or in some cases, hurt you. The game boats tens of thousands of objects, and 5th Cell has done a remarkable job including pretty much everything you can think of. Practical objects like bridges, ladders, and boxes are in the game, but it also has every kind of obscure animal, vehicle, or instrument you can think of. The game is also filled with a lot of bizarre and nerdy objects such as internet memes (lol wut is a personal favorite), Lovecraftian monsters, mythological creatures, giant robots and everything in between. Is a helibackpack a real thing? It doesn’t matter, it’s in the game and can be quite useful.

Scribblenauts

Guest First Hour Review
Scribblenauts Cover

Scribblenauts is the much-hyped puzzle game from developers 5th Cell that garnered a lot of awards and attention after this year’s E3. 5th Cell are the creators of Drawn to Life, a game that managed to sell over a million copies and put them on the map. Scribblenauts is a game that promises thousands of items that interact with each other in realistic and unique ways, allowing gamers to come up with their own innovative ideas when it comes to solving a level. The first hour of this game will vary heavily for anyone playing the game, as it’s possible to spend hours just on the menu screen.

Editor's Note: Grant begged to review this game, and he gets his reward. About three months back I previewed the game, comparing it to 5th Cell's predecessor, Drawn to Life. While I was less than pleased with that game, Scribblenauts seemed to be on its way to fixing all of its (many) problems. Let's see if the first hour of Scribblenauts starts off in the right direction.

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