xbox 360

Gears of War 2

First Hour Review

Gears of war 2 CoverI was pretty impressed by the original Gears of War, it was totally cliche in every way but the gameplay was fun and it was decently challenging on the higher difficulties, plus it had online cooperative play. When Gears of War 2 first came out in late 2008, I played the first few levels of it with my brother-in-law, I would have first houred it right then and there if I had been playing alone, but it’s no fun for the other guy to take notes while playing (see Zombies Ate My Neighbors for a real life example of that).

But the opportunity has come again for me to formally play it, I don’t remember much so hopefully it will be a fresh experience all over again. For those unfamiliar, the Gears of War series is a third person, cover based shooter starring a bunch of football linebackers with giant guns and chainsaws. It’s bloody and nasty, but can be downright fun and a little frightening at times.

So here we go, the first hour of Gears of War 2, let’s see if it stacks up to the first hour of the original.

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.

Alpha Protocol

First Hour Review

Alpha Protocol CoverAlpha Protocol is Obsidian Entertainment’s first original title after a history of picking up series where BioWare left off, including Knights of the Old Republic.  Released about two months ago and published by Sega, Alpha Protocol is subtitled “The Espionage RPG.”  Definitely an enticing combination of words for fans of Western RPGs.

Critics rewarded the game a very wide range of scores, from 20% to over 80%, so it sounds like we have a love/hate game on our hands.  There’s obviously something in Alpha Protocol that appeals to some gamers, so I’ve decided to give it a try myself.  I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, and from a distance, Alpha Protocol appears to be an attempt to replicate its success.

Word has already come out that the cold reception the game received has scrubbed any chance for a sequel, but Obsidian shouldn't complain too much since they're currently responsible for developing Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3.

So let’s not waste any more time and get into the first hour of Alpha Protocol for the Xbox 360.

Half-Life 2

Full Review

Half Life 2 CoverIt's hard to find a gamer who doesn't have some experience with the Half-Life franchise. A champion of PC software when things started shifting heavily in the favor of consoles, the original Half-Life wowed critics with its pulse-pounding scripted sequences and seamless stitching of narrative and gameplay in first-person. The long-awaited full sequel, Half-Life 2, received just as many accolades, if not more, for its advances in artificial intelligence, character animation, and especially the robust physics engine powering the game's many objects.

And yet, it was only two weeks ago that I first experienced a game in Valve's flagship franchise myself. I've never been much of a PC gamer: I can count the number of games I've played on a computer monitor on one hand, and four of them begin with the words "Star Wars." I've had many consoles in my life, but rarely a PC with the power to play current games. I'm actually typing this on a Macbook right now, and as we all know, Macs just aren't for gamers.

That said, Valve has made an effort to bite into the Apple market with Mac versions of Steam and many of its own big games offered therein, just in time for the annual 4th of July sales on the incredible digital distribution service. And if Valve is willing to create a Mac version of Half-Life 2 and price it at an outrageously fair $3.39 just for me, then I guess I owe it to them to try the game that millions have gone headcrab-crazy for.

But for all its fame and glory, the bottom line is that Half-Life 2 is a six-year-old PC game in a genre I'm not terribly enthralled by. Did I hate it? Hit the jump, smash that caps lock key and ready your profane comments, PC fanboys, because I'm about to tear into your beloved Half-Life 2 like a shotgun into an antlion.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

First Hour Review

Lego Harry Potter Years 1 4 CoverI’ve played every LEGO videogame made so far. Of all my videogames on the Xbox 360, only the LEGO games have the esteemed honor of having all their Achievements unlocked. I played them to completion as fast as possible, almost as if in a fever. If they made LEGO Schindler’s List, I’d probably play it. Same goes for LEGO Requiem for a Dream. The point I’m making here is that I love these games, and I’m twenty-six, and I’m not afraid to admit that they are just my cup of OCD tea.

Conversely, I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan. I’m one of those rare folks that actually read the first three books before the first movie came out and became a worldwide sensation. I had the sixth book spoiled for me on a Lord of the Rings TCG forum. I read the last book in less than 24 hours, locked up in my parents’ basement, only coming up once to eat dinner and not talk to anyone. The movies are hit or miss in my mind, but the world and characters and magic of it all is something I can’t get enough of. Neither can my fiancée. We’re getting married this October and heading to Universal Studios on our honeymoon to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I’ve been excited about this merging of two great entities since I first read about it. I always expected the next universe to be LEGO-ized to be Spider-Man’s. My expectations are high, and after having played the demo that was recently released I have no fears that the first hour for LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 will be anything but spectacular.

Child of Eden Preview

Preview

Child of Eden CoverIt should be little surprise for anyone who knows me that my most exciting development from E3 was the unveiling of Child of Eden. Kept hidden for two years in development, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Q? Entertainment and Ubisoft (with a little help from Joel McHale) announced the title to the world to start off the Ubi conference.  Mizuguchi took the lead, presenting a demo level paired with the 360's Kinect motion capture system. While most detailed information on the title is still sparse and hard to find, bits and pieces of information are beginning to sift around, most of which sound quite promising. Here is what we know so far...

The QTE cure: Singin' in the Heavy Rain

Blog Post

Heavy Rain CoverQuick Time Events. Ever since God of War and Resident Evil 4 exploded onto the scene with button-prompt sequences of gore and horror, the industry has shown its sheep-like nature and incorporated these Gotcha! moments into games without thinking about how they make an interactive experience better. Many gamers have adjusted to the fact that every cutscene now has an awful series of play buttons throughout, but I personally would like to cram all the QTEs in the world into a space shuttle full of cobras and launch them directly into the sun if it meant I'd never have to see another one again.

That said, it's not impossible to come across decent use of QTEs. Indeed, before Resident Evil 4 set the standard at the advent of 2005, the mechanic was most prominently-used by the Dreamcast's crown jewel, Shenmue. In fact, it was Yu Suzuki, that game's director, who coined the term "Quick Time Event." Suzuki put the gimmick to good use throughout Shenmue, allowing protagonist Ryo Hazuki to do everything from tossing drunkards around in bar brawls to saving little girls from incoming soccer balls. One of the reasons the game is so beloved today is that it allowed the player to engage in such a wide variety of scenarios, many of which were supported with smartly-designed QTEs.

Good QTEs didn't end with Shenmue, however, even though sometimes it seems that's the case. Like God of War, other Playstation heavyweights have managed to use QTEs to enhance a game experience. I think it's only fair that we look at a few of those, as well as some alternatives to these timed button-prompts for cinematic flair in games.

The QTE plague: What hath God of War wrought?

Blog Post

Resident Evil 4 CoverQuick Time Events. So many games have used them to some extent in the last five years that just about every gamer has an opinion on them. Mine is that they are the worst gameplay gimmick to take the industry by storm in a long time, and I wouldn't mind seeing them all packed into a burlap sack filled with leeches and thrown into the depths of a volcano. They're tacky, they're unintuitive, and their attempts to engage players in cinematic animations backfire and break the sense of immersion one has with a game. And unfortunately for me, they're just about everywhere these days.

Two behemoths let loose in early 2005 can be thanked -- or blamed -- for the salvo of games that have featured QTEs in the last five years. The first, with a January 11 release date, was Resident Evil 4. The game was extremely well-received: it won many Game of the Year awards, offered a fresh take on the aging Resident Evil formula, and gave Gamecube owners a third-party exclusive worth bragging about. The other member of the gruesome twosome that brought us into the era of QTEs is known as God of War. Released just two months after Resident Evil 4, the game received just as many accolades and turned heads back to the PS2 as quickly as they'd been lost to the Gamecube's horror hit. Is it any wonder that the industry went in the direction it did when two such monumental successes as these both prominently featured a relatively unused gameplay gimmick?

Today we'll take a look at how the smart use of QTEs helped put these two games on the map, and watch a few examples of QTEs gone wrong. And trust me, there was a huge pool of resources for the latter.

Super Street Fighter IV Impressions

Blog Post

Super Street Fighter 4 CoverAs mentioned in my previous article, Street Fighter 4 has become THE fighting game phenomenon of recent years, and with good reason. Released to consoles early 2009 and backed by a fantastic media campaign, Capcom gave fans a stunning, well-balanced mix of old and new. Refreshing the memories of old fans while simultaneously creating new ones, the fighting game was resurrected.

 

Its update/sequel/expansion recently hit stores in April, offering new characters, new ultras, and a fantastic replay system along with improved online matchmaking and play. As I do not actually own a copy of the game, this article will only be my initial impressions on these topics. Currently released on 360 and PS3, an arcade version is planned for the near future, with a PC version yet unannounced and conspicuously absent.

Some thoughts on the Halo: Reach beta

Blog Post

Halo Reach CoverI used to be a huge Halo fan.  Played 16 player LAN matches nearly every other night during college in the dorms on the original, and then stood in line at midnight to pick up my copy of Halo 2 even after we had downloaded an early leaked French version.  But even though I had loved Halo, the sequel left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was probably a combination of the totally crappy and unfinished story along with the extremely gimped pistol that just left me wishing Bungie still cared (not to mention the horrible "ohhh take it!" E3 Zanzibar video).  My brand new Xbox Live membership went virtually unused and I used my Xbox to play good games like Beyond Good and Evil.

By the time Halo 3 rolled around, I was as unexcited for the series as ever.  Every time there's a new Halo, we always here about how there's now more polygons in a gun than in an entire soldier in the last game. Who cares?  Well, I ended up playing through Halo 3 with a friend and I enjoyed it for what it was, a decent ending to a tumultous series.  Here I was, a guy who had beaten the first Halo over five times including on Legendary, and I was giving Halo 3 a seven out of ten.  What had happened in to this series?

Syndicate content