Five years ago I played about sixty minutes of the beginning of God of War II and was impressed by how quickly the action ramps up and how the momentum is carried throughout. Big action set pieces like the Colossus battle and flying on Pegasus made for an extremely memorable first hour, and still one of the best. At that moment I made a decision that I suppose in some ways has changed my life: I reset the PS2, grabbed a pen and notebook, and started playing God of War II over again.
Five years later and a full ten days worth of first hour reviews written by me and a half-dozen other writers, we're back to where it all began. I imagine this is a one-time event, I'm not sure there's really much left to point out in the game's first hour that I didn't the first time, but the timing is fun. I've always measured first hours in how many "days" have passed, with 24 first hour reviews representing a day. Since this is review 240, the end of day ten, I couldn't really pass up the opportunity.
The review format hasn't changed a lot in five years, even then I was keeping track of "minutes to action", but I don't give scores anymore, focusing instead on what really matters: would I keep playing beyond the first hour? Fellow writer Nate has developed his own first hour review format, and from now on I'll be moving more towards that. It's very time consuming to detail every minute of action, and I'm not sure if it's entirely valuable to the reader, so things will be changing for me as a critic, I'm still not entirely sure what it will look like.
But somehow my little review site has survived five years without much trouble, or attention, for that matter. But that's okay with me, soon after I began writing regularly about a subject I actually enjoyed, I realized I loved doing it and the number of readers or amount of money I was making was far less important than the fact that I was putting my thoughts and ideas on paper.
So thank you to all readers, fans, and critics over the last five years. You have turned a curiosity into a hobby into a passion.
We’re celebrating our five year anniversary tomorrow with something special, but before that happens, we need to play one more first hour, and that game is Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 3. Released around the world in 2008, Valkyria bridges Japanese anime graphics with an early 20th century European setting, a pairing that seems so wrong, but may actually turn out alright.
Developed and published by Sega, Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical strategy game with third-person shooter elements, also not a pairing seen often in gaming. But with in-house influences from Skies of Arcadia, Shinobi, and the Sakura Wars series, Valkyria Chronicles was never going to be a normal type of game.
This 239th first hour review was actually meant to be God of War III, but wouldn’t you know it, half an hour in I realized that Nate already covered it two years ago. One of the disadvantages of having so much content, I suppose. He was doing a better job on it anyway. So as fate would have it, here is the first hour of Valkyria Chronicles.
I’ve always enjoyed the crazy and convoluted stories of the Metal Gear Solid series, even when the controls seem to be fighting against me instead of cooperating. I’ve played the series on the PS1, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox, and with every release both the story and controls become more complex. So in some ways I’m very excited to finally be able to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, but at the same time I’m leery that it’s going to be a mess of bad aiming and Snake behaving badly.
Released over four years ago(!), Metal Gear Solid 4 puts us back in Solid Snake’s shoes in a war-torn future where armies for hire are the norm. It’s a disturbing vision, but if anyone can sell it, it’s Hideo Kojima and his team at Konami.
The game has sold very well and was a major critical darling. Heck, one of our very own writers gave it a 10/10 a few years back. Needless to say, this has been on my to-play list for many years. Here’s hoping the first hour lives up to my hype.
Let’s get right to the point, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation. I don’t usually put a lot of trust in Metacritic, but it has a score of 96 over there with over 100 positive reviews, and not a single mixed or negative score to contrast. I can only marvel at that, and then I see that Grand Theft Auto IV has a score of 98 and I can only shrug at the idea of critical consensus.
Playing the Uncharted series was high on my list for when I finally obtained a PlayStation 3, and while I never considered not playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, it seemed many gamers thought it was rather skippable, especially with Uncharted 2 available. In the end, yes, it is skippable, but if we only ever played excellent games, we would never be able to recognize them for what they are. I have my list of faults the first one suffered from and am hoping they are all fixed with Among Thieves.
So let’s get right down to the first hour of Uncharted 2, a game which advertised you’d be able to fool your girlfriend into thinking she was watching a movie (this would be a massive eyeroll if it wasn’t for Kevin Butler). So pop the popcorn and roll the film.
I didn't mind the original Mass Effect 3 ending that much, but others did, hated it even. But even I can admit there were some reasonable arguments against the game's last few minutes, and maybe BioWare did too, because here we are with the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut available to download.
This introduction will be spoiler free, but after that, I'm not going to hold anything back. Nonetheless, the endings are now availabe on Youtube, but I still woke up at 4 AM this morning to download the update and replay the last few hours of the game. The developers recommend that you begin your Extended Cut journey before you enter Cronos Station, which is Mass Effect 3's point of no return. I'm not sure if it's totally necessary to start that far back (took me five hours to beat the game from this point my first time through, and over three hours my second time), but I wasn't going to take any chances the first time.
Before I go on, I believe the Extended Cut is a decent addition to Mass Effect 3, it does clear many things up, but I'm sure some will still be disappointed.
I’ve played every single numbered Final Fantasy game up through XII, so playing the thirteenth entry was inevitable. But from the guy who bought Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XI, and XII on release days, finally getting around to XIII two years after release is a bit odd. But from a combination of some bad press and plenty of other games to play, I didn’t mind.
But here we are with the first hour of Final Fantasy XIII. I’ve also reviewed VII and VIII’s first hour previously, and had mixed success, though I can solidly point to the opening of Final Fantasy VII’s to be one of the highlights in the JRPG genre. Whether we can agree or not on the rest of game is irrelevant, but it sure does kick off with a bang.
And as you’ll see, Final Fantasy XIII also kicks off with a bang, but can it keep that momentum? Or is there something deeper required for a successful first hour? We’re about to find out.
My first exposure to the G4 network was its acquisition of TechTV in 2004, my absolute favorite station on cable at the time. I was obsessed with The Screen Savers and all the schlubby hosts the channel featured. TechTV embraced nerdom while G4 mocked it, this wasn't a happy marriage and I bailed almost immediately, along with most of the original hosts.
I've carried a hatred for G4 ever since, and find schadenfreude in its slow demise and collapse. However, amidst all of the grating personalities G4 featured about eight years ago, there were a few interesting TV shows that caught my eye. One of them was Icons, a half-hour documentary on different visionaries, studios, and game series in the industry. Spanning five seasons on a range of topics from Atari to the history of E3 to Tim Schafer, even die-hard enthusiasts would probably learn something new when watching.
I surely won't be covering every episode (famous last words), but I'll start where Icons began, with the developer studio Oddworld Inhabitants, who obviously made the Oddworld series for the PS1 and Xbox. But before I begin, take a look at the episode list of Icons, it mirrors the fall of G4 rather well as the first four seasons are about actual video game related topics while season five covers The Onion, Lollapalooza, and Kevin Smith.
The whole “play the first hour of a video game and determine from that whether I’d keep playing” concept has its flaws, it’s certainly not perfect. Some great first hours fall short over time, and others give a bad first impression that they (sometimes) unknowingly recover from later on. But other times the first impression is right on, Infamous is one of those games.
I had a great time with the first 60 minutes of Infamous, the gameplay was fast-paced and just felt.. right. Plus, I’m always looking for sandbox games that pull off the action genre better than Grand Theft Auto IV (ugh). The Saboteur had similar first hour pedigree, and was also a great success in the end, so I had quite high hopes for Infamous.
You can probably tell by my praise that I enjoyed the game, so if you care to read on why I enjoyed it, well, here you go. My full review of Infamous for the PlayStation 3.
A year ago I published my full review of Portal 2. I guess you could say it wasn't exactly complete since I never touched the co-op portion of it, but finding time to sit down and play a video game with another human being for a few hours is pretty difficult for me, so sacrfices had to be made. But last weekend, I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve and our gaming PCs for about 10 hours, and time for Portal 2 co-op was finally realized.
Portal 2's co-op is pretty fantastic in that it is a completely different experience than the single player, in every aspect. The story is different, the characters are new, and the puzzles are two-player required. While many games that feature co-op, if they even bother, just toss both players together in the single player campaign, that would have been disastrous with a puzzler like Portal 2. So major props to Valve for developing this campaign, just for us.
This really isn't a proper review, but I wanted to present both Steve and mine opinions about just the cooperative portion of Portal 2. Enjoy, and give it a try if you find a few hours with a friend.
The Blackwell series hasn’t changed a lot over four games released across five years. The screen resolution and accompanying art still seems reminiscent of 1990s adventure games, the point and click gameplay is also rooted in the classics, and the story is still well polished and very entertaining. But none of this at all is a bad thing, it enables indie developer Wadjet Eye Games to release quality games at a manageable pace.
And I have certainly had it well off the last few months having just discovered the Blackwell series. Four games that I almost instantly fell in love with at my fingertips! But now that they’re done, I find myself playing the waiting game like the rest of the fans. Much like when I caught up with the A Song of Ice and Fire book series in 2008 or The Wheel of Time in 2007, waiting really can be the hardest part.
So I present my review for Blackwell Deception. You can also read my reviews for The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, and Blackwell Convergence, or just play the games. They’re great.