xbox 360


Full Review

Limbo CoverTheologically, limbo exists as a state of divine neutrality, a residence between heaven and hell. Limbo by Playdead Studios displays this fuzzy pseudo-reality in its presentation, but with a sinister twist. This limbo can be cruel, grewsome and even downright evil. Bear traps randomly lie on the ground, forever waiting just for you alone to trigger them. Giant spiders hide in caves, hoping you'll wander close enough for them to skewer with their giant legs. In Limbo, ghost children satisfy their concept of play by setting up guilottines and buzzsaws to shred you. This game is in no way particularly kind.

However, that cruel nature only adds to the atmosphere as the player must remain constantly aware of the presense of death in this bizarre, mysterious minimalist world. In this world and state of existence, death is the norm. Beginning as a stylistic proof of concept by a disgruntled game artist named Arnt Jensen, the concept soon flourished into a full game as Jensen subsequently co-founded Playdead Studios with Dino Patti to develop his idea. Originally planned for a PC release, Playdead was able to procure Dutch government grants and investor support while eventually deciding on an Xbox Live Arcade release, likely to avoid piracy worries and possibly for 360 exclusivity bonuses provided by Microsoft. The game eventually released this summer on July 21st during the 360's "Summer of Arcade." So, how does the final product match atmosphere and action? Does the constant presence of death help or hurt player mood and motivation? Let's take a deeper look and try to decide.


Full Review

Split Second CoverHaving just finished Split/Second last night at the midnight hour, I’m ready to talk about the experience. It was an intense, blister inducing ride that brought great joy and frustration to this veteran gamer. As I mentioned in my first hour review of the game, I’m not a fan of realistic racing games, but arcade racers like this and the Burnout series have a very special place in my heart (and on my game shelf). The first hour of the game blew me away, even though I played it almost two months ago, I remember the evening vividly. Split/Second was going to rock.

I just reread Ian’s full review of Split/Second (we received a copy of the game from Disney, the publishers, and have been passing it around the writers here - look at the perks for writing for this site!) and I really have to agree with almost every single point he made. It’s a really fun game but can be incredibly frustrating at times. I wouldn’t go as far to say as there’s all out NFL Blitz style rubber band A.I., but the computer is a very challenging opponent, and there are seven of them out there on the track with you.

There’s a list of things I found wrong with the game, but I’d really like to start off by saying that this is a really good game. If you like arcade racers like Burnout, you will enjoy Split/Second. If you like unique genre-mashing experiences, this game might be worth a try. Here’s my full review of Split/Second for the Xbox 360.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

First Hour Review

Castlevania Lords of Shadow CoverIt's not uncommon for a game's narrative concept to change mid-way through development. Story is just one of many factors that go into a title's creation, after all, and is probably the most malleable. Alterations to the game mechanics from the original plan often crop up during the creation process, and the story is adapted to reflect them. Other times, a new intellectual property will be merged into a proven franchise in order to create instant brand recognition. Before it was a celebration of all things Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. was "Dragon King: The Fighting Game." Star Fox Adventures started out simply as "Dinosaur Planet."

Such is the case for the newest installment in the Castlevania series. Lords of Shadow was originally the title, not the subtitle, and had no real connection to Konami's classic series. It also went through a few of those oh-so-common story adaptations. It was originally pitched as a remake of the original Castlevania's tale of Simon Belmont, but eventually became the series reboot released last week. And a reboot is something many would say Castlevania sorely needed: five attempts at a 3D installment of the series ended with five instances of mediocrity, and it's obvious that some fresh perspective would help, here provided by relatively unknown developer MercurySteam.

The game found its way into my mailbox last week, courtesy of GameFly. I'm a noted Metroid-vania fanatic, though my time with Lament of Innocence a short while ago was largely underwhelming. Does the reboot take the polygonal half of the franchise a step in the right direction?


Full Review

Borderlands CoverSo it's been a while since I've written about games. It's actually been a while since I've played more than a few minutes of one. A crazy summer of children in the hospital, surgery, putting our dog to sleep after a nasty month-long illness, and planning a family reunion has meant that gaming has taken a back seat to lots of other things the last few months. My wife and I have made a name for the summer of 2010. It is, “The Summer of Suck”.

So that explains where I've been. But what is the reason I'm back? Well, to write a Beyond the First Hour review of course! But what game could be significant enough to get me out of my pitiful stupor of gamelessness? That game would be a little FPS that takes place on a planet called Pandora. That game would be Borderlands.

If you've been around The First Hour long enough, odds are good you've seen me comment on Borderlands, either from my First Hour review of the game, or via the comments section where we've discussed it several times. If you haven't, let me get you up to speed; I really enjoyed it. Ok, sure, that's a bit of a spoiler of the review you're about to read, but at this point in my life, I'm willing to do that. The reason is because the fourth and final DLC installment was just released on Sept. 28th.

I've been waiting for this ever since I finished the 3rd DLC back in March. So enough about me, let's get to the review.

Halo 3: ODST

First Hour Review

Halo 3 Odst CoverI don’t know if this is just really good timing, or really bad timing, but Halo: Reach was released yesterday, so here’s the first hour review of... Halo 3: ODST! A first person shooter that came out last year on the Xbox 360. Now, last year wouldn’t be that big of deal, I cover older games all the time, but it’s already out of date a year later (not to mention it being basically an expansion pack to Halo 3 that was released in 2007). I’m guessing this is bad timing.

Haters gonna hate though, so we must trudge on with what we’ve got. I wasn’t a huge fan of Halo 3, so I pretty much ignored ODST when it was released. The game doesn’t star Master Chief, multiplayer is just Halo 3 with some new modes, and everyone knew the real sequel, Reach, was on its way.

Here’s the first hour of Halo 3: ODST.

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.


First Hour Review

Split Second CoverI’ve been a fan of the Burnout series for years, ever since I rented Burnout 3: Takedown for the PS2, it has been my favorite racing series. Friends know that I am not a fan of realistic racers such as Gran Turismo or Forza, but would much prefer a round of destructive racing. As the Burnout series evolved with traffic checking in Burnout Revenge and an open world system in Burnout Paradise, I began to miss the classic vehicular elimination.

Enter Split/Second, an arcade racer from Black Rock Studios released earlier this year by Disney for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows. This was just the game I was looking for: lots of destruction in fast cars on skinny streets. Split/Second has an additional twist though, and that is the primary way to take out your opponents is to trigger some kind of set piece explosion.

It’s not easy to explain, but just imagine you’re on a Disney World ride that’s on rails and you can tell the animatronic pirates ahead of you to cut the head off your rival. Now replace the Disney World ride with an abandoned airstrip and Johnny Depp with... well, an airport terminal blowing up in a million pieces.

This is Split/Second, and this is its first hour. Also check out Ian's full review of the game.

Gears of War 2

Full Review

Gears of War 2 CoverThere's a bit of a parallel with the games I've been playing lately. Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Gears of War 2 are both sequels to games released this generation, and at first glance, appear to be essentially re-releases of the first game with a new shine. Where the parallels end though is that while Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a ton of new features, Gears of War 2... does not.

I'm honestly surprised, a bit blown away actually, by how little Epic Games bothered to improve on the original Gears of War game. Gears of War 2 supposedly added five weapons, but only one really stands out. There might also be some new enemies, but as they're all so butt ugly and A.I.-dumb it doesn't really matter. There are a bunch of new locations, but everything is still all brown and gray with some city levels and underground levels.

Gears of War 2 is really just Gears of War 1.1.

Left 4 Dead

Full Review

Left 4 Dead CoverWhen I heard the announcement for Left 4 Dead, I was enormously elated. Finally, a game dedicated to fast-paced zombie action. A game I could rely on to really satisfy my urges to kill a swarm of infected. Then, when I saw the videos of people at E3 playing it for thirty minutes and then heading to the back of the huge line to play it again, there was no question.

My hunger for a real zombie game had been stirring for years. I hated Resident Evil, and still do. The idea of searching around everywhere and solving more puzzles than killing zombies -- I was disgusted. The only thing that helped curve my thirst was Counter Strike: Source, where my friend and I would play “zombies” by pitting ourselves against 30 or so bots and allowing them to only use knives. I was even happier to hear that was the way Valve decided to make Left 4 Dead. They did the exact same thing.

I was counting the days in November, 2008, for the game's release. Every day at college just seemed to drag on and on, forever, until finally the day came. My classes felt longer than those of my final days before Christmas Break. When I got done with school the day of Left 4 Dead's release, I went straight to the store to pick up the game.

I purchased the PC version, and played through the entire game in a very brief period of time, but that was okay. With all of the achievements to be had, as well as the scoring and varying difficulty levels, this game had more replay-ability than any game I had played before or since. It never gets old. I love this game, and now I own it on Xbox to play the game cooperatively with my wife. We also spend quite a bit of time online playing against other players. 

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