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The Binding of Isaac

Full Review

Binding of Isaac CoverFollowing in the wake of the widely popular Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen’s latest entry, The Binding of Isaac, takes its name and narrative from a story in the Book of Genesis. In that tale, Abraham is called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a proof of his devotion to God. Isaac is bound by his father and placed upon an altar on top of Mount Moriah, where an angel appears to stop Abraham just before the slaughter.

The Binding of Isaac has players taking control of the titular character, whose mother is called to kill her son as a sacrifice to God. In this story, however, there is no angel to stop the fanatic parent; it’s up to Isaac to survive, fleeing the clutches of his murderous mother in the basement of their house.

The artwork and style are synonymous with that of McMillen’s other works, such as Super Meat Boy and Gish (both of whom make cameo appearances), but, taking a break from platforming, level design and gameplay share similarities with The Legend of Zelda. The interface also shares a resemblance. However, unlike the series from which it seemingly draws inspiration, The Binding of Isaac features fully randomized levels, items, enemies, and even bosses. Another key feature is the aspect of permanent death. You have one and only one life to clear the dungeon-like levels and defeat the final boss, which serves to make The Binding of Isaac a very challenging and nerve-racking experience.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7

First Hour Review

Lego Harry Potter Years 5 7 CoverI love the LEGO videogames. I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably keep on saying it, especially if the folks over at Traveller’s Tales use their magical powers to read my mind and make LEGO Lord of the Rings or LEGO Men in Black next. My favorite of the bunch so far has been LEGO Harry Potter, Years 1-4, which managed to follow both the films and books while also giving fans a ton of love with their attention to details. It seemed perfect for LEGO-izing, with magic and a wide cast of characters, but I was disappointed that it only covered half of Harry’s legacy; the developers padded out the experience by giving players Hogwarts, a huge hub to explore that revealed more and more in a Metroidvania style after certain spells and classmates were acquired.

J.K. Rowling finished up all the books way back in 2007, and the money-making films now dead and done until some fool tries to remake them all in like ten years. I’ve never played any of the movie tie-in videogames—though I did have fun flying on brooms and catching Golden Snitches with Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup for the PlayStation 2—but from what I can gather, many of them are not great. Especially the Kinect ones, which tries to turn Harry into a new recruit for Gears of War. LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 could very well be the last greatest game for the franchise, simply because there’s probably not much else coming out for it afterwards.

My favorite thing about the LEGO videogames are that they are perfect for playing co-op. There’s a challenge, sure, but exploring the levels and piecing everything together is more fun with a partner. Like my wife, Tara Abbamondi. Comments from her are in red!

Okay, let’s see if the first hour of LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is just as magical as the previous game’s.

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.

Bastion

First Hour Review

Bastion CoverThe Bastion narrator has been everywhere lately. To gamers like me, this reference barely means anything. But like “the cake is a lie!”, it’s beginning to ingrain into gamer culture and being in-the-know in the early stages of fun is the best part.

But that’s not why I’m playing Bastion. I’m playing Bastion because it’s been almost universally heralded as a great game by everyone I pay attention to. From the graphics to the story to the music, Bastion is the indie darling of the year.

Released as one of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade premier titles in July, Bastion made an immediate splash. While doing a pretty poor job advertising and selling most indie games on their market, Microsoft seems to do a pretty good job predicting which titles to really push during their summer event. A Steam version came a month later, and just last week the game finally went on sale for half price (I’m one of those obnoxious gamers who will almost never pay full price for a game, whether it’s $15 or $60).

So let’s dive into Bastion’s first hour and see if this darling has legs.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Full Review

Deus ex Human Revolution CoverEvidently, I’ve been coddled by stealth-based videogames for far too long. Metal Gear Solid gives players a large radar on their HUD showcasing soldiers’ cones of vision, allowing me to know just how far they saw and when to make my move; it only jammed now and then, leaving Solid Snake feeling clothed yet naked, but otherwise the radar remained a constant and vital companion during the fall of FOXHOUND. The Tenchu franchised handed out safe rooftops like candy. The Sly Cooper games, no matter what locale, always offered a number of places to hide or grapple on or tip-toe across; it also taught me how to pickpocket with a cane. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood had so many ways to hide and blend in with the public that it almost seemed like the point of the game was to be a commoner and not a kick-ass, hidden blade-wielding Casanova—actually, that’s how their online multiplayer does it. Sneaking through the massive cities was never terribly tricky, and if you messed up, there always seemed to be a way to quickly erase your footprints and try again. While certainly some skill is needed, most videogames involving stealth are pretty forgiving.

But then came Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game I tried to play stealthily, but failed miserably, eventually throwing in the towel and just shooting enemies until they breathed no more. The first hour should’ve been a clear indication of what was to come, but I’m stubborn and continued to drop Praxis point after Praxis point into perks like “see through walls” and “hack computers up to level 5.” No points were ever devoted to fixing Jensen’s shooting ability or giving him more backpack space. All I needed—or so I thought—was my tranquilizer rifle, some darts, and the smarts to crack every keypad and computer this side of future Detroit. Turns out, I needed a lot more than that.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

First Hour Review

Ghostbusters CoverHappy Halloween, everyone! Time for a spooky first hour with Ghostbusters: The Video Game. As the game sequel to one of most popular, family-friendly Halloween movies out there, and as one of my favorite films growing up, I found it my duty to finally play this game I bought during a Steam sale cheap years ago.

Released in mid-2009 on every platform available, Ghostbusters: The Video Game played on early trailer hype and fan nostalgia to sell over a million copies that summer while receiving pretty decent scores. It doesn’t hurt that essentially the entire cast returned for what some call “Ghostbusters 3”, not to mention Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd worked on the game script.

I’ll be playing Ghostbusters in Windows, a few years ago I gave the Xbox 360 demo a try and wasn’t impressed at all, so I’m curious what my reaction will be on this platform, years later. Well, bustin’ makes me feel good, so let’s get started.

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.

Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games: Load Screen Time Wasters

Blog Post

Bionic Commando Xbox 360 CoverI'm trying to find the right word to describe the Bionic Commando reboot. Like so many modern pop culture reboots, the desecration of the source material is surely blasphemy. It took a beloved NES classic with an unabashed nerdy charisma and '80s action movie lunacy and reskinned it with lifeless grit, detestable characters, and the kinds of military-political entanglements and absurd plot gimmicks that shouldn't be allowed to escape the feature length cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid. It also exhibited a few genuinely terrible design decisions, like invisible, death-dispensing fallout zones. I'm not sure how nobody questioned the merit of sudden, explosive cancer as a hazard in a video game, but it makes me wonder if Capcom and James Bond villains hire from the same temp agencies.

And yet, despite its many, many, many downsides, the game actually managed to be fun at times. If nothing else -- and that's not really an "if" -- the NES original's joy of mobility remained intact. There was tingling grace and invulnerability in swinging around the bombed-out Ascension City. It was enough to persuade me to finish the game's story mode, all the way through the atrocious final hour that actually made me yearn for the one-screen "Congraturation!" endings of the coin-op age.

"Forgettable" is a pretty good descriptor for Bionic Commando 2009. Marking the game as "god awful" and calling it a day would be a disservice to those ecstatic moments of suspension between swing and freefall. But this is one of Capcom's western-focused HD experiments that won't be the subject of any "PS3 games that need a PS4 update" blog posts, that's for sure.

But hey, the game sure did one thing right: load screens!

Rage [Video]

First Hour Review

Rage CoverI've never played a game developed by id Software. Not Doom, not Quake, not Wolfenstein, not nothing. I didn't play PC games much back when id was more prolific, and I had a prejudice against overly gory shooters. To me, they prioritized shock value over sound game mechanics, kind of like Mortal Kombat. Considering their lasting appeal, that was probably not my most sound judgment.

In my defense, id Software hasn't given me much to work with lately. The developer has only just this week released Rage, its first major game since 2004's Doom 3. Rage had been building up a lot of good press since its announcement back in 2007, earning plenty of "most anticipated" awards from major media outlets (yes, there are awards for such things). All the praise was a bit perplexing to me, though: by all appearances, Rage seems like yet another competent first person shooter with some car combat on the side.

But hey, now I can say I've played an id Software game (or at least an hour of it). Check out an early mission video below to see a short sample of Rage's early goings.

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