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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Full Review

Batman Arkham Asylum CoverA year ago I played the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The conclusion was that I would keep playing “for a while,” and much of that decision rested on what percentage of the game would the stealth gameplay take up. I had to give the game back to who I was borrowing it from, however, and Arkham Asylum started burning a hole in my brain. I began to really want to play it again, but the opportunity never came up the rest of the year. When Christmas rolled around I said I wanted one game, and one game only: Batman.

I received the game but forced myself to beat Fable II before I moved on to something bigger and better (if I play more than one game at a time I’m bound to never play one of them again). The moment after I saved Albion again I switched over to Arkham Asylum and went to town.

Released in mid-2009, Arkham Asylum seemed to spring out of nowhere from absolute nobody Rocksteady Studios. Why and how these guys received the criminally under performing Batman license and then went out and made one of the best games of the year is a bit mind boggling, but a story for another day.

Here’s my full review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Magicka

Full Review

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.

Mount & Blade: Warband

Full Review

Mount and Blade Warband CoverI enjoy medieval RPGs. I mean, the majority of games I play - fantasy or not - are based in that setting. There's just something about slicing my enemies up with swords that's just completely satisfying. So when I got to play a few minutes of Mount and Blade: Warband, I knew I'd desperately want more.

What? You haven't heard of this masterpiece from Taleworlds? That's okay, there wasn't a whole lot of advertising, and the original Mount and Blade was made by a married couple virtually by themselves. It's not exactly common that things like this happen.

I played the original briefly, and it was fun, but the overhauled Warband made vast improvements over its predecessor.

So, what is it? Well, it's massive and somewhat complicated, but I shall attempt to explain. Mount and Blade: Warband is a medieval role-playing game that puts you into the world of Calradia, a land filled with several kingdoms, all wanting to unify the land under their rule.

Borderlands

Full Review

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.

Mirror's Edge

Full Review

Mirrors Edge CoverThink about your favorite part of any platformer game, it probably has something to do with excellent level designed coupled with you being in the zone and cruising through the stage on a perfect run. Like in Super Mario Bros. 3 where you bounce from goomba to goomba and take off in flight as Raccoon Mario.

Now think about the worst part in any platformer, for me, it's when a platformer stops being a platformer and tries its hand at something... less than adequate. This might mean boss fights that require more luck than skill or high action sequences that seem better at home in a much different genre.

Mirror's Edge is a prime example of a game where excellent platforming level design collides with obnoxiously out of place non-platforming. Thankfully, the highs outweigh the lows in this ambitious first person platformer. The game was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows in 2008 and was planned to be the first game in planned trilogy. Sales apparently weren't good enough for Electronic Arts and no word of a sequel has been announced. Though in classic industry PR, they "haven't not not" announced Mirror's Edge 2.

This is the First Hour's second opinion on Mirror's Edge along with my conclusion after playing its first hour earlier this month. Here's my full review of Mirror's Edge.

Plants vs. Zombies

Full Review

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).

Mirror's Edge

First Hour Review

Mirrors Edge CoverNew genres don't come around that often, but genre mash-ups have been popular lately. Mirror's Edge is a first person platformer, with a dash of shooting and a few heaps of parkour thrown in for good measure. Plenty of first person shooters have tried to integrate platforming, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter immediately jumps to mind, but that was a disaster. Mirror's Edge takes what works from a game like Assassin's Creed with its assisted climbing and fluid action and sticks it in a first person view.

To some, this may sound great, others are undoubtedly skeptical, the rest of you have already played this two year old game and made up your own mind (nobody ever said the First Hour was timely *groan*). I've been intrigued by Mirror's Edge since its release, but the opportunity to play it never came up until Steam had it on sale for about $5 earlier this year. So I bought it and tossed it on my proverbial digital backlog, only to finally get around playing it now when my brother-in-law lent me his copy on the Xbox 360. No, I didn't play it on the Xbox, but it did encourage me to finally get around to it on the PC (odd how that works).

So here's my first hour review of Mirror's Edge, Steve previously wrote a full review on the game with a stunning gallery of self-taken screenshots at the bottom.

Dragon Age: Origins

Full Review

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.

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.

Dwarf Fortress

First Hour Review

Dwarf Fortress CoverA few months ago I was emailed from a reader requesting I give Dwarf Fortress a try. He described it as “pretty complicated” but asked that I follow a series of tutorials written by a devoted fan. I gave the game a look, skimmed over the tutorials, and shelved the idea of playing it. Dwarf Fortress seemed a bit overwhelming and having been on a bit of a NetHack kick last year I was feeling a burned out with ASCII gaming.

I decided it was finally time to give it a chance though, so here’s my first hour playing Dwarf Fortress. The game is currently in development (and has been for the better part of the last decade), but since the tutorials I’ll be following are for a specific build from back in 2008, that’s what I’ll be playing. So keep in mind that while I have never played Dwarf Fortress before, I will be following the walkthrough site pretty closely (and using the included saved game, though nothing has been built out).

This seems like a great time to visit Dwarf Fortress, with the success of another indie darling, Minecraft, generating huge waves and sales; super-deep sandbox games are big right now. So let’s get this started and dig into Dwarf Fortress on the PC.

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