I recently wandered over to Kotaku Australia and saw something rather peculiar, they are now writing first hour reviews of video games! I think it's awesome that more review sites are taking an interest in this unique review style, especially the well-respected and popular Kotaku Australia.
Reading first hour reviews on other sites really helps legitimize the review style in my mind. I've been writing for the First Hour for over two years now, and over the years have received a lot of comments on the reviews and how helpful they are. With the First Hour, Games for Lunch, and now Kotaku Australia writing first hour video game reviews, I'm confident we can empower gamers to make knowledgeable and informed decisions when buying games (and also hopefully influence developers and publishers to create even better games in the process).
So in between our reviews, check out Kotaku Australia and read a few of their reviews, they're sporadically posted but cover some of the biggest games of the year. Their Dragon Age: Origin review is particularly interesting because my (upcoming) first hour review of the game was a completely different experience.
The first Modern Warfare is the best first hour I have ever played, it was full of action, had great cinematic yet interactive story telling, and paved the way for one of the best single player experiences ever. All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had a lot to live up to, and I can confidently say it did.
Modern Warfare 2 doesn't need much of an introduction being the biggest video game release of the year. It's faced a bit of controversy though, both on the gameplay front and with PC gaming fans, but with the sales the game is seeing, it doesn't seem to be affecting its reception one bit.
While playing the game's first hour though, I was really interested to see how it would live up to its predecessor. The most impressive thing about Modern Warfare was its sound design, I was constantly amazed by the explosions, gun fire, and incessant chatter on the radio. I had never heard a game quite like it. While we kept hearing about the improved multiplayer, graphics, and insane story intended for the sequel, not much was said about where its audio was going. Well, let's see for ourselves. Here's the first hour of Modern Warfare 2.
The Wheel of Time is a lucrative license: there are now thirteen total books featuring hundreds of characters, a deep and engrossing magic system, and dozens of locales to visit and explore. The possibilities for video games are endless: a Western-style role playing game, third person adventure, real-time strategy... or even first person shooter. Yes, a shooter, and out of all the options, only that has been developed and released. The Wheel of Time was released in 1999 on Windows.
Much has been made about the game in recent years about how underrated and under appreciated it was. That's a debate for another day, but it did have some serious holiday competition with Unreal Tournament and Quake 3. The game just didn't sell well, and unfortunately, that may well have scared off publishers or right holders from working on any more games. But one needs to consider the genre of the game and the target audience, it just doesn't seem to work. This is a book series that plods along at sometimes an excruciating pace transformed into a game that moves as fast as any other shooter I've played.
The Wheel of Time is definitely one of the more unique licensed attempts in video game history, and here's its first hour. I'll be playing the game through Wine in Ubuntu, let me know if you have any questions about getting it to run.
My favorite licensed game as a kid was Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. Heck, this was one of my favorite games period. Rescue Rangers was a platformer released on the NES in 1990. It had the whole cast of characters from the cartoon, captured the soundtrack personally in 8-bits, and was just challenging enough to get me coming back over and over again. Probably the best part of it though was its two player simultaneous gameplay. This game single-handedly revealed the sadist tendencies that had lied dormant inside of me for so long (only to come out again many years later while playing The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures at college - I'll save that story for another day).
In this piece of nostalgia, I'll talk about the game's license (it is licensed games month at the First Hour), reminisce about the classic multiplayer, and revel in my speed run attempts during college. If you've ever played Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, I hope you enjoy this; if you haven't, well, you're in for a treat too.
I've been on a huge Star Trek kick the last few months, I'm on an epic journey of trying to watch every single Star Trek episode. Ever. I'm about 180 episodes in out of 700+ plus, yeah, let's not get into that right now. But we're celebrating licensed games this month at the First Hour, so it seems appropriate to play a Star Trek video game. I did a lot of reading on what the good Star Trek games are, and landed on this one.
Star Trek: The Next Generations - A Final Unity is a point and click adventure game from Spectrum HoloByte, released in 1995. I'm a fan of adventure games, especially old school ones like Monkey Island, so it seemed like Final Unity would be just the game for me. I remember reading in PC Gamer back in 2000 that there had been no good Star Trek games until then with the release of Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. This sounded a bit odd to me considering they had been making Star Trek games for almost 20 years already, so I also wanted to try one that came before Elite Force but also had some fans behind it. Final Unity also qualified for that requirement.
Keep in mind that this game was made in 1995 for DOS while looking at the screenshots and reading my descriptions. I was suitably impressed, and believe you will be too. I played the game using DOSBox. Here's the first hour of Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity.
Talk about an adventure in licensing, Beetle Adventure Racing was released a few months after Volkswagen's New Beetle car was launched and featured a garage of cars filled with just variations on the Beetle. I'm not sure if there's ever been a racing game quite like this, sure Gran Turismo is overflowing with licensed vehicles and there are even games like Corvette Evolution GT or Ford Racing, but none of them take one single car and create an entire game out of it. But this isn't your typical licensed racing game, it's San Francisco Rush starring German family cars. The levels include Inferno Isle, Wicked Woods, and Coventry Cove; sounds more like Diddy Kong Racing now, and yes, there's a four player battle mode.
Beetle Adventure Racing was released in 1999 on the Nintendo 64. I really enjoyed the game the couple of times I played it, as a few years later I was vacationing at Mackinac Island and my friend and I stopped into a local video game rental shop. As I mentioned in my Mercenaries review, there is no better place to pick up great games for great prices than at obscure little stores out in the middle or nowhere. Beetle Adventure Racing and Blast Corps were sitting on the shelves going for a few dollars apiece, easy decision for me. My friend picked up NBA Hangtime if you're curious. While our hunt for cheap copies of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger never panned out, we still snagged some fun games.
So let's continue our month of licensed games with quite the odd one, here's the first hour of Beetle Adventure Racing.
It can be frustrating when your current favorite series releases a spin-off on a platform you don't own; this has happened to me before with Metal Gear Acid on the PSP, and now it happens again with Mass Effect Galaxy on the iPhone. Considering the game only costs three dollars, the barrier to playing is either cough up $200 for an iPod Touch or try to find someone who will give up their Precious for a few hours. I managed to convince someone of the latter, and the portable action RPG is finally in my hands.
Mass Effect Galaxy is an iPhone spin-off of the popular space epic series released in June. It introduces two brand new characters, Jacob Taylor and Miranda Lawson, who are the new major squad members in Mass Effect 2. The gameplay is top-down action similar to the run-and-gun games of old but features the extensive dialogue system from the console big brother. Much like the novels, Galaxy is meant as a bonus for those of us who are looking for any kind of hit we can get while we wait for the sequel to arrive in January. Here's my review of Mass Effect Galaxy on the iPhone.
It's November now, and that means the Christmas game avalanche has succeeded in overrunning our wallets and weekends. Throughout the year, many licensed games are released based off the latest Disney or blockbuster film, but it's that time of year where the rest of the licensed games are rushed out for the oblivious soccer mom. Many non-casual gamers consider getting a licensed game as a present to be a bit of a nightmare, as they have a reputation of being, well, crap. Part of this is because their development timelines are squished to make sure the game is released either at the same time as the film, or for Christmas.
So as a celebration of the season of licensed games, the First Hour will be playing a lot of them. Some will be good, and some will undoubtedly be bad. Not all are based off films though, there will be an interesting mix, I hope we can surprise you with what's been released over the last few years.
Paul will be kicking it all off with three first hour reviews of three different Lord of the Rings games. The films were monstrously popular so the games licensed from them were inevitable. You may be surprised to know that The Fellowship of the Ring game was not based off the film, but the Tolkien novel. This is where licensing can get a bit complicated, if not intriguing. But I'll save those thoughts for another day.
Enjoy the month of November at the First Hour, and stay away from those licensed games! Well, most of the time at least.
The 2009 Major League Baseball World Series starts today featuring the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees. It's sure to be a grand Fall Classic, but I'd like to know who will win in advance. Instead of heading to Las Vegas, however, I'll be pre-enacting the Series by playing MVP Baseball 2005 for the Xbox. It is considered one of the best baseball games ever and I actually feel a bit bad that EA lost the use of the MLB license (well, not really, considering all the damage they've done to other sports series). A few years ago I awarded MVP Baseball 2005 my "Older Console Game of the Year," an award for the best console game I played in 2007 that didn't come out in 2007 (complicated, I know).
I actually considered playing Bases Loaded 2, probably my personal favorite baseball game. I played this game so much growing up that I can still name the complete lineup for the team hailing from New Jersey. And therein lies the problem, it has made up teams and players. While that wouldn't make the results from that game any more inaccurate than playing with players from 2005 from real teams, it's just a little too far from reality than I'd like. The game actually does feature teams from Philadelphia and New York though, but both of them are pretty awful.
Like my previous pre-enactments, I'll be playing two games, one as each team, and if necessary, a one game playoff generated by the computer. As much as I'd like to play a seven game series, I simply don't have the time. Hopefully this will be enough to whet our appetites and accurately pre-enact the 2009 World Series.
Post World Series update: The Yankees have won the 2009 World Series, just like we predicted here at the First Hour. We now have two correct predictions out of three attempts.
With BioWare's new epic, Dragon Age: Origins, only about a week away from release, it was about high time to finish the prequel novel I had sitting on my coffee table, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne. BioWare is doing some massive world-building for the series and The Stolen Throne is about a major political event that happened about thirty years before the events of the first game. It follows three heroes: Maric, Loghain, and Rowan, and their tireless quest to overthrow the usurper that has stolen the throne from the rightful family. And as the book opens with the death of Maric's mother, the Rebel Queen Moira, the role of rightful king falls right onto Maric's soldiers.
The Stolen Throne spans a few years of time from the death of the Rebel Queen to its climax. It spends its pages not only trying to establish a few corners of Ferelden, but also to characterize the young heroes. We watch them all grow up, especially Maric, who starts out as a foolish prince and ends as a man who would make for a fine king. And since our heroic trio seem to be in that hormone-raging age of the late teen years, there's no lack of love triangles (or even quadrangles?). This is by no means a romance novel though, but more of A Game of the Thrones-lite.
Here's my review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, the prequel novel to the video game Dragon Age: Origins.