xbox 360

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.

Crysis 2 - Video

First Hour Review

Crysis 2 CoverPC game development is hard. Unlike consoles and their mass-manufactured conformity, every PC has a different set of guts, so there comes a time when the development team needs to test their code through dozens of Frankenstein computer setups to make sure the game actually works on an acceptable percentage of PCs on the market.

Crytek had a fairly genius solution to this annoyance: they made a game that no computer assembled in the present day would be powerful enough to process, and figured that the future would solve their problems for them. It was called Crysis; Crytek's prophecy was fulfilled when NASA aborted the space program in order to refocus its priorities towards creating a machine capable of playing this game [citation needed].

For whatever reason, Crytek abandoned this strategy with the game's sequel. Crysis 2 was created to be played not only on PCs assembled on Earth and before the year 2018, but on current consoles as well. I played a bit of Crysis 2 and got a sense of what the distant future will be like when consumer machinery finally catches up to the original Crysis' requirements.

I recorded the first hour of the game in glorious 480p and trimmed the downscaled footage to give you a taste of the game's opening sixty. A busted monument, superpower lessons, robot spiders, and choke-slams await.

Portal 2

First Hour Review

Portal 2 CoverIt has been a pretty good year of gaming for me in 2011, with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and Radiant Historia sending out the original Nintendo DS in proper fashion, but even more exciting is one of the biggest games of the year, Portal 2.

It’s fun to look back at where the Portal “series” began: as a humble bonus in The Orange Box which featured big names like Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Portal was essentially created by a couple of DigiPen grads and Valve molded that into one of the biggest gaming surprises... ever. It was my 2007 Game of the Year and I wasn’t the only one to hand it such an award.

Portal 2 was released last month, but instead of riding the coattails of something like Half-Life 2: Episode 3, it comes out as a full, stand-alone game. It probably doesn’t need to be said that it is receiving beyond excellent reviews, but before we venture too deep down the portal hole, let’s visit its first hour.

Dragon Age: Origins

Full Review

Dragon age Origins CoverI don't like to give up on a game I'm invested in. I'm fine with quitting after an hour, and maybe even a few hours after that I can safely move on without second thought. But when the clock strikes double digit hours, I'm in for the long haul, or I have to make the usually difficult decision to stop for my own sanity. Back in January 2010, I made the bizarre decision to start playing Dragon Age: Origins immediately after I finished Knights of the Old Republic and just three weeks before Mass Effect 2 was released. Suffice it to say, I didn't get very far, and the call of Commander Shepard was too strong.

Almost exactly a year later, I finally returned to Ferelden to finish job. I booted up my old mage and rediscovered the hilarity of my party members and utter deepness of the gameplay. I'll admit right here and now, the first thing I did was crank the difficulty down to Casual. I wasn't playing again to make some sort of statement to nobody that I was any good at this type of game, I just wanted to experience everything Dragon Age: Origins had to offer... in terms of story and world building.

I was actually pretty hyped for Dragon Age before it was released, I read the first book, The Stolen Throne, and Grant and I checked out the web-based spinoff, Dragon Age Journeys. My first hour review of the game went decently well, but the origin story of the Dalish Elf was kind of dull which encouraged me to try another origin when I was ready to play for real. And while it took way too long to finally beat the game, it was well worth the wait in the end.

Here's my review of Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360. While I would normally write a many thousands of words on a BioWare game, I'm going to try and move at a bit swifter pace. If you're interested, Ian also reviewed this game a few months ago, this is strictly my opinion.

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.

Mass Effect - The Last Hour

The Last Hour

Mass Effect CoverPlaying just the first hour of a game can be so boring! Take our last review, Okamiden! Ugh, text text text text text run twenty feet text text text blah blah blah. Who wants to play that? That’s right, nobody. So no more first hour reviews, instead, we’re going to jump right to the meat and just play THE LAST HOUR.

How did I not think of this before? In a typical game, where is all the fun? At the end. Where is all the action? At the end. When is boring exposition thrown out the window for actual exciting gameplay? At the end!

So no more tired examinations of pacing, snoozing through opening cutscenes, and waiting for something, anything to happen, we’re going to jump right to it. If you want to see the first hour of a game, go play it yourself. Real gamers don’t play the beginning of games, anyway.

So to reboot the site with the bang that it deserves, here’s the last hour of Mass Effect. One of the most epic, balls-to-the-outer-space-wall finales I could think of in the three minutes it took me to decide to throw away the last four years of this site in one fell swoop. BOOM!

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

First Hour Review

Enslaved Odyssey to the West CoverThe First Hour is all about first impressions. But it’s very hard to go into a game without any preconceptions, probably best illustrated by my recent foray into Fable III, a sequel to a game I didn’t like very much. But sometimes games are just so far off your radar, that they fall into your lap as a mysterious disc, ready to be explored and uncovered.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one of those games. The only thing I know about it is what I can glean from its name and cover art. Let us see... the title alone seems to suggest something related to slavery and An American Tale, while the cover might make you wonder why the slaves are running from a Colossus. And then you might question the colorfulness of such a dire situation, and why that girl from Heavenly Sword is hanging around?

Yes, I am in the great situation of playing the first hour of a game I know nothing about. My first impressions can truly be formed by just the game itself and none of the surrounding hype. But first, a real quick primer. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was released in 2010 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, developed by Ninja Theory (creators of Heavenly Sword, so that explains the girl). Scores were good, sales were lackluster, and Andy Serkis of Gollum fame did motion capture.

Okay, let’s get into this, here’s the first hour of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

Fable III

First Hour Review

Fable 3 CoverI wasn’t much of a fan of Fable II, so I’ll be honest to say that Fable III has a lot to prove to get me to play past the first hour. The gameplay needed a lot of improvement to start, and the overall presentation of Fable II just felt stuttering and lazy. I do have some hopes that developers can learn from their mistakes, however.

Released in October of last year, Fable III received good scores from major review outlets and had sold over two million copies by the end of the year. A respectable number, though creator Peter Molyneux says it needs to sell about five million for the series to continue. I’m not an industry analyst but this seems like a long way to go now that the holiday season is over.

While I may not like the finished product much, I will probably continue to play the first hour of Molyneux’s games though as he can just be so fiendishly over the top with his ambition and pride. Will Fable III be able to succeed where its predecessor faltered? Or will its first hour lock me in? Let’s find out.

Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

Full Review

Mass Effect 2 ps3 CoverSome games are just so damn popular and beloved that you can't ignore them, no matter how hard you try.

When Mass Effect invaded my world in 2007, I couldn't have cared less. Sure, it was from the same BioWare that produced the excellent Knights of the Old Republic, and seducing blue women sounded like a pretty good time, but it definitely wasn't enough to put a 360 in my life. I'd grown weary of shooters of all kinds since burning out on Halo 2, and with RPG elements mashed in, it only seemed less enticing. I even gave the game a try last year on a friend's machine and didn't make it off the Citadel before losing interest.

The hype hasn't fallen on deaf ears, though. The rave reviews, rave first hour reviews, GOTY awards, and FOX News scare tactic hilarity all kept me up at night, wondering if I was missing out. EA was intent on making me give the series another shot, as they recently completed a PS3 port of Mass Effect 2. Because one of the series' bullet points is importing player-dictated narrative choices from the first game into the second, Dark Horse Comics was called in to help create a short interactive comic that fills in PS3 owners on some of the events that they missed out on from Commander Shepard's first adventure, even allowing the player to make some of the more important decisions to impact their experience with the full sequel.

As it turns out, that comic is DLC, unlockable either by a code included in the game's box or for $15. I rented the game and didn't plan on shelling out fifteen bucks for a fifteen minute comic, so I ended up going into the sequel without much knowledge from the first game. From that starting point aboard the exploding Normandy to the final trip through the Omega 4 relay, I've experienced just about everything included on the PS3 disc of Mass Effect 2 -- as much as you can in one playthrough, anyway -- as Elmer Shepard, a Vanguard of equal parts paragon and renegade, lover and fighter, savior and failure. And sometimes he forgets to feed his fish, and they die.

Greg has already written about the Mass Effect series extensively, having played both games and plenty of extra content on the 360. With that in mind, I'll try (but likely fail) to keep this brief. If you need a primer or refresher for the series, check out one of his excellent writeups. An avid fan of the series, he does a much better job of explaining the core elements of Mass Effect than I could.

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