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January 2011 recap: LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2 and Mass Effect 2 kick-start the year of the rabbit

Submitted by on Thursday, 3 February 201115 Comments

We are now in the year of the rabbit; that means, if you’re into astrology this is going to be an exciting year for you and your PlayStation 3, what with rabbits being known for their artistic talents and good taste. However, those who consider astrology to be a lot of superstitious nonsense may require further persuasion.

We advise unbelievers to look at the games released in January – LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2 and Mass Effect 2 – because these alone point to a good year. Each one is a blockbuster title and likely to be in contention when the awards are being handed out. What’s more, this selection is diverse and offers something for almost everyone. There are worse ways to start a year, that’s for sure.

The whole world in a game

It’s good to have the loveable Sackboy (or Sackgirl, if you prefer) back for another platforming adventure in LittleBigPlanet 2 and the sequel even comes with a more robust story than before. Craftworld is under attack from Negativitron (an evil vacuum cleaner type monster that is sucking up all of the world’s inhabitants) and it’s up to Sackboy to save the day. On his journey, he’ll visit various environments and meet new friends, such as the crafty Larry Da Vinci. It’s hardly Pulitzer Prize winning material but it’s a charming plot nonetheless.

For the most part, LittleBigPlanet 2 has the same running, jumping and swinging gameplay from the first game, but with a few twists added in and some cool new gadgets as well, including a grapple hook and something called a creatinator (Read Majiesto’s review to find out more about the new features). It’s still very good but there’s nothing surprising within the main story, but the main campaign was never LittleBigPlanet’s most interesting area anyway.

As was the case with the first game, LittleBigPlanet 2 starts to shine once you investigate its Create Mode. Media Molecule has given would-be game designers an incredible number of tools to create their masterpieces, and they aren’t restricted to the platforming genre either. They can create just about anything from shooters, racers to arcade games.

Sure, it may seem overwhelming, but there is a huge selection of tutorials in place to guide you through the process. However, if you really aren’t the creative type, and you just want to play games, there is an endless selection of levels built by the community for you to enjoy, many of which are very good. Before taking into consideration all the new user-created levels, there are already over 3m user-created levels being carried over from the first game and there’s also the new singleplayer campaign. There really is no reason why LittleBigPlanet 2 alone cannot keep someone entertained for the rest of this generation. That is, unless Sackboy is a bit too cute for your liking.

The agonising anticipation for an event you really don’t want to happen

If that’s the case, you’ll be better off playing Dead Space 2 (where there’s not even a hint of cute in sight). Dead Space 2 is full of gore, dismemberments, disgusting necromorphs and demon babies – and with a selection like that, it’s hard to believe that this can be a subtle game, but that’s partly why Dead Space 2 is great.

Sure, Visceral Games unrelentingly throw everything at you including the kitchen sink, but they also appreciate that you have to do more to terrify someone than showing them many ugly monsters. You need good pacing and build-up, and these are areas in which Visceral excel.

When there’s silence, you always know that there is something on the way. It’s tense – the waiting, that is – and you want the thing to come even though you know it will be horrible. But Visceral never rush the moment; they keep you waiting, for what seems like an eternity, before finally unleashing the event, and once they do, they don’t hold off. They relentlessly move up the gears and surround you with a wall of noise, making you regret playing it in the first place, especially in the dark with headphones on.

The sequel doesn’t do anything radically different from the first game – it has more polish and everything is turned up from 11 to 13 – but you do get the impression that Visceral are showing signs of being a great studio. With the first game it felt like they were confident that they had a creepy game, but now they give off the impression that they know that they’re the best in the genre, and that no one even comes close to them.

To boldly go to the Caleston Rift

The last of the big January releases was Mass Effect 2, and it is testament to its quality that we’re still excited about it even though it’s a year old, having been released on Xbox 360 and PC in early 2010. This mammoth game deservedly received plaudits then and we’re just glad that it has finally arrived on the PlayStation 3.

The PlayStation 3 version is an enticing package; all the downloadable content is included on the disk, some of the gameplay has been refined, and it is even running on an improved engine (the same that will power Mass Effect 3 later this year). It’s safe to say that this isn’t a shoddy port. BioWare deserve credit for putting the effort in when most studios wouldn’t.

Why is Mass Effect 2 so great then? Well, it gives every sci-fi fan a chance to live out adventures from their favourite shows from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica. It is part third-person shooter and part role-playing game; it lets you travel across the galaxy to recruit a team; it lets you (mis)manage your team; you take part in crazy missions; and you can even alter the path of the story by the decisions you make.

Its presentation is wonderful and the story is told perfectly. The dialogue is especially good. It’s also designed in a way that lets you delve as deep as you want; if you want to blast through it like you would any other adventure then you can, but if you want to learn more about the world and speak to everyone, it gives you plenty of opportunities to do so. It feels like everything in the world has a history and can be explained, and you can read all about it if you want. It really is a fantastic space opera. Don’t forget to check out Delriach’s review.

The future of portable gaming (even if it has a silly codename)

The unveiling of the PSP2, codename NGP (Next Generation Portable), was the biggest news story in January. In many ways the news didn’t come as a surprise, after all there have been several leaks in recent months, but we were still taken aback when we saw it running Uncharted 1 and Metal Gear Solid 4 with practically no modifications.

The design is very similar to that of the PSP 3000, only slightly larger, but it does have some impressive improvements. It will have a 5” touch sensitive OLED display, a second analogue stick (the most requested feature), a rear touchpad, Six-Axis motion control and front and rear cameras. It will also boast a quad-core processor, which explains why it can play games of the quality of Killzone and Uncharted. It’s not quite as powerful as a PlayStation 3, as the rumours suggested, but it is still very powerful and blows its competition in the handheld gaming market out the water, at least with regards to technical proficiency.

We’re hoping to see more connectivity with the PlayStation 3 than we saw with the original PSP. One topic being discussed is the potential to continue your PlayStation 3 experience on the go – think designing your LittleBigPlanet 2 levels on your NGP while you’re away from home and then finishing the job on your console.

There is no news of the price but we’d be surprised if it was anything under £250 – a premium price tag for a premium device. It is a very nice piece of kit though and it looks as though it will get plenty of studio support (something its predecessor never received). Already we’re hearing big gaming franchises being primed for release on the console, including a full-fat Call of Duty. That is certain to draw in Western gamers.

The NGP is due for release this coming winter and we suspect it will be high on many people’s Christmas wish lists. That is unless Sony slap a £500 price-tag on the thing.

The US PlayStation Blog conducted an excellent interview with Kazuo Hirai, President and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, in which he discusses Sony’s plans for the device. Check it out below:

Once again, it turns out the fantasy wasn’t final

Aside from the announcement of the NGP, January was a quiet month for news, but there was one other big announcement: the unveiling of Final Fantasy XIII-2. It’ll have a brand new story that will stem from the previous game; we will be playing as Lightning once again. Square Enix are promising improvements to the combat system and in other areas. We also hear that the game will be less linear (a big complaint of Final Fantasy XIII).

It will be interesting to see how Square Enix approaches XIII-2. The last time Square made a direct sequel for a Final Fantasy was with X-2, which felt like a stopgap title at the time. Is XIII-2 to be the same or will Square Enix use it as an opportunity to the right the perceived wrongs of XIII? Only time will tell. Check out the trailer here (warning: trailer contains XIII spoilers).

So now that January has passed, what has been your favourite game out of the big releases? Have you been busy creating in LittleBigPlanet 2, soiling your underwear in Dead Space 2 or have you enjoyed your trek across the galaxy in Mass Effect 2? Let us know in the usual place below….