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Jason Evangelho

Homefront: Multiplayer review

Can Homefront’s multiplayer component topple the current king of shooters online?

Our single player review of “Homefront” explored the brief but finely crafted narrative and gameplay of THQ’s latest shooter. Now, let’s dive in to the main course of “Homefront,” the multiplayer experience.

For those of you wondering, this multiplayer offering cannot compete with “Call of Duty,” because it surpasses it in nearly every way. Here’s a shocker: During our 20-odd hours with the multiplayer, we didn’t experience a single disconnection once a match had begun. THQ’s insistence on utilizing dedicated servers across the PS3, PC and Xbox 360 versions is a complete win for gamers. There’s no lag, stutters or hiccups. Kaos and THQ have seductively opened the door for fatigued “Call of Duty” veterans, and we expect them to come running with abandon.

At its core, the multiplayer of “Homefront” offers only two modes – Ground Control (think “Domination”) and Team Deathmatch. Within this shell is a diverse load out system across six classes (Assault, SMG, Heavy, Sniper, Tactical and Explosive), several more for vehicles (and a deep well of rewards, all of which is fueled by the game’s clever use of Battle Points.

Battle Points (which can only be utilized for the duration of a match) are achieved for much more than popping head shots. Start a match by sending your remote controlled Parrot – a drone with limited battery life – skyward to scout and tag enemies who are then visible to your squad, and you’ll earn Battle Points (campers, you’ve been warned). When a teammate eventually sees the bright red diamond indicating the precise location of that enemy and dispatches him, you’ll get Battle Points for the helping hand. Hunt down and eliminate that player who’s racking up the kill streaks and get showered with Battle Points. Cash in those Battle Points to call down hellfire missiles, deploy a Wolverine battle drone, or perhaps spawn some heavy armor for your team to help turn the tide. Or use a smaller chunk of BP to arm yourself with a flak jacket and a personal UAV scan. Kaos understands it’s not simply about killing (evidenced by the lack of a free-for-all mode); it’s about the actions you take to contribute to your team’s victory. It’s this philosophy that lends to the game’s heavy “Battlefield” feel coupled with the brisk gameplay of “Call of Duty.”

The rate at which you accrue Battle Points corresponds to experience earned, which of course levels your character and unearths a satisfying range of equipment, weapons, attachments, vehicle load outs and infantry abilities. We hit level 16 online (out of a possible 50 levels) before penning this review and had only unlocked about 25 percent of the tasty war chest of toys of “Homefront.”

The truly engaging stuff happens at Level 7, when the Battle Commander mode unlocks, augmenting the standard Deathmatch and Ground Control matches. Dominating the “Battlefield” in this mode alerts members of the opposing team of your presence, as an invisible commander informs them of your crime — and your general location. Keep pulling off kill streaks and gradually the entire team is made aware of your location. But becoming a priority target doesn’t mean you’re defenseless. Keep the kills rolling and “Homefront” rewards you with five levels of perks to fend off the enemy in addition to the abilities and equipment you can take advantage of with your Battle Points. This dynamic shift in gameplay throughout the course of a single match (and amidst your standard objectives) is just insanely addictive.

We should also mention that you’ll never grow tired of hopping between your different classes. Because such a variety of useful equipment can be assigned (beyond just grenades and impossible-to-achieve kill streak rewards), each class can be outfitted to suit your team’s needs during the course of battle.

What about the actual gunplay, targeting and general feel of the weapons? They certainly don’t look and sound as authentic as the armament found in other modern shooters, but they’re no less responsive. Actually, we’re thrilled to report that there seems to be a complete lack of auto-targeting, meaning your sniper best have genuine skills. There is no sweet spot for your cross hair, so precision counts.

While we never experienced a disconnect during a match, the pre-game matchmaking occasionally has trouble connecting to a match, and kicks you back out to the main screen. This is an offense “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” is guilty of too, and developers need to better serve the needs of gamers who want to jump into the action rather than wade through menus. Still, once you find a match, both the load times and respawn times are consistently and blisteringly fast.

Like “Medal of Honor” before it, “Homefront” has two distinct personalities, but in this instance the game is all the better for it. While the story mode is an engaging, brilliantly written and emotionally wrenching experience, its brevity may deter gamers not interested in dropping dozens of hours into the addictive multiplayer aspect. In their case, a rental is strongly encouraged. On the other hand, if you’re looking for multiplayer with the scope of “Battlefield” and the intensity of “Call of Duty,” “Homefront” unquestionably delivers and warrants the full purchase price.

Call of Duty: Black Ops best-selling game in U.S. history

Monumental achievement for Activision and developer Treyarch

In what can only be described as a monumental achievement for Activision and developer Treyarch, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” has claimed the prize of best-selling U.S. video game in history, according to the NPD Group.

The milestone was revealed by NPD analyst Anita Frazier who stated in the report:

Call of Duty: Black Ops was the best-selling game in February, retaining the top selling spot since launch in November. It has now become the best-selling game in history, topping Wii Play.

While we don’t have a concrete sales number, VGChartz.com shows that “Wii Play” (which was popular for packing in a free WiiMote) has moved 28.13 units, meaning that “Black Ops” has eclipsed even that astronomical number. The NPD Group, which rigorously tracks retail sales of video games, just released their February report which showed “Black Ops” barely edging out “Wii Play” in total U.S. sales. While most would point to “Wii Sports” as the champion, it is excluded since the title is a pack-in and not technically a retail product.

Of course, it can be argued that Activision has an unfair advantage since the NPD counts each version of “Black Ops” as one entity, lumping in 360, PS3, PC, Wii and even DS versions of the game into a single sales report. Regardless, it’s an incredible feat for the “Call of Duty” franchise. The multitude of developers working on “Modern Warfare 3” will certainly have some mammoth expectations.

The NPD Group releases video game sales data the second Thursday of each month.

Gaming on a college budget: Part 2

Turn extra coin into entertainment with budget gaming websites

*This article has been enhanced and extended with permission from Samantha Bigger

In our first look at gaming on a college budget, we showed you how to leverage the internet and your own campus to get your gaming experience on the cheap. Now in Part 2, let’s examine how to achieve budgetary bliss using a PC, Wii, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

PC
Let’s face it. It’s hard to get through college without some sort of computer, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop. Recently PC hardware has become ultra-affordable, and 99 percent of major game releases for PC are $10 cheaper than their console cousins.

Once a high-end, high-cost alternative for gaming, a solid PC or laptop these days is ultra-affordable, and digital distribution outlets like Valve’s “Steam” make affordable gaming a reality. Steam allows you to buy and access games from the store’s enormous library on any computer, because it’s tied to your account rather than to the machine itself.

The single most compelling thing about Steam is the frequent deals. More than mere sales, these are practically events that make the money leap (happily, no less) from your paypal account or credit card. Last year, Portal could be downloaded literally for free with no strings attached, and games are often bundled together at savings of 75 percent or more. The golden rule here is to wait for the specials. Check out the steam store mid-week and on weekends, and keep an eye out for seasonal sales. If you don’t purchase a game the week it’s released, Steam will give you plenty of opportunities to snag it on the cheap.

Xbox 360
Microsoft’s Xbox Live has a couple services that are worthy of note to budget strapped gamers.

LIVE Arcade.
Better known as XBLA to Xbox gamers, these games are only available for distribution via download from the Live Marketplace. There are some awesome games out there that frequently cost $10 and rival the quality of full disc releases. Better still, there is a free demo for every single title. These aren’t your mainstream games like “Mass Effect 2” or “Fable 3,” but there are gems in there that you should check out like “Castle Crashers,” “Splosion Man” and “Pac Man Championship Edition DX.” There are over 350 titles on Live Arcade, so there the choices are plenty. Watch for the “Deal of the Week” on your 360 dashboard for even more savings.

Indie.
Microsoft’s Indie section of Xbox Live contains creative games developed and reviewed by the community. These are typically sold for as little as $1 each, and there are enough diamonds in the rough to make the hunt enjoyable. The community ratings are generally a good gauge of quality. We recommend tracking down the series of titles developed by Radiangames, especially if you’re into twin stick shooters.

PlayStation
The PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation store. According to the PlayStation site:

“With your PlayStation Network account, you can visit PlayStation Store for downloadable games, PS one Classics, free demos, movies, TV shows and more to enjoy on your PS3 and PSP systems.”

Much like the Xbox Live Marketplace, the PSN has a wealth of cheap, enjoyable and downloadable games unique to the Sony store. Watch for seasonal specials on these, and check out the optional PlayStation Plus subscription to get free games and exclusive betas.

Wii
For the nostalgic gamer, Nintendo offers the Virtual Console. VC is filled with all those games you loved as a kid from the NES, SNES, N64, Arcade, Commodore 64, Master System, New Geo, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. Points cost about $1 for 100, with the starting cost for most games at about 500 points. The only extra purchase you may have to make is the classic controller, which costs about 20 bucks. However, I think it’s worth it to play old favorites like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Super Mario Bros. 3,” or “Super Metroid.” For a full list of games, click here.

Coming up in Part 3
In our next installment, we’ll check out a couple of new kids to the affordable gaming arena – OnLive and PluRent – and recommend several more websites that exist solely to save you coins in game purchases.

Bulletstorm: The College News review

Bulletstorm: outrageous, audacious and insanely inventive

Epic & People Can Fly’s “Bulletstorm” (PC, Xbox 360, Sony PS3) is the deliciously demented video game equivalent of what could happen if the “Gears of War” developers teamed up with a Tourette’s-addled Joss Whedon after he’d bought back the rights to “Firefly.” Whedon would arrive devoid of a moral compass and armed with the filthiest edition of Mad Libs in existence, and the “Gears of War” team would be packing such an ingenious and sadistic collection of weapons that pulling off just a head shot would leave you feeling utterly disgraced.

Ask anyone pulling a paycheck from the game industry, and they’ll tell you developing a brand new FPS (First Person Shooter) in a landscape dominated by proven cash cows like “Halo” and “Call of Duty” can be career suicide. Symbolic of its crass narrative and aggressive gameplay, “Bulletstorm” even had the audacity to mock “Call of Duty,” spoof Halo’s ad campaign, revel in the Fox News controversy it inspired, and even had the stones to release alongside Sony’s behemoth “Killzone 3.” Yet when stacked against the competition on a scale of imagination, the aforementioned titles have the creativity of a weathered doormat. To put it another way, Bulletstorm doesn’t take itself so seriously. As a result, the game is a triumphant return to the days when shooters were actually Fun (yes, with a capital F!)

The surprisingly solid story follows space pirate Grayson Hunt, an ex-member of assassination squad Dead Echo, in his misadventures chasing down both retaliation and redemption. When one of his many revenge plots heads south, his ship crash lands on Stygia, an alien planet resembling a Sandals resort if Sandals was populated by man-eating plants, cannibalistic mutants and 10-story-tall, laser-gazing robotic dinosaurs named Waggleton P. Tallywicker. The plot is deeper than most shooters, and the expletive-laden narrative propelling it forward is hilarious, cringe-worthy and practically non-quotable within these pages. Some will understandably be repulsed by the frequent racial slurs and random mash ups of phallic references and potty jokes, but the developers have thoughtfully allowed gamers sensitive to vulgar language the option to turn it off.

Though the protagonist is Grayson (gruffly acted by Steve Blum, who frequently voices Wolverine), the notable co-star is the planet Stygia itself. In stark contrast to the typically drab palette of other shooters, Stygia is vibrantly colored and is the perfect canvas for awe-inspiring set pieces. In fact, this entire game is a sprawling set piece. Whether you’re escaping from a sky-high grinder wheel as it blazes a path of destruction, engaging in spectacular crashes with anything classified as a mode of transportation, or remote-controlling Godzilla-sized dinosaurs, Bulletstorm relentlessly delivers jaw-dropping moments. From Act 1 to Act 7 (a healthy 10 to 12 hours), there is never a monotonous moment.

The true showstopper though is the creative arsenal at your disposal, and the myriad of ways to invoke the game’s “Kill With Skill” tagline. Describing the weaponry of “Bulletstorm” as “over the top” doesn’t even scratch the surface. The Head Hunter is a sniper rifle that allows precise steering of each bullet, and its alternate fire mode lets you pierce enemy flesh, then proceed to steer the body into deadly cacti, steel spikes or explosive hot dog stands. The Bouncer is a bazooka that fires explosives, resulting in a bouncing ball of death which you can kick at will. The FlailGun, easily awarded “most sadistic,” hurls two grenades linked together by a steel chain. Bind a mutant with that rope of death, launch him into the air with your electric leash, then send any remaining adversaries some “Friendly Fire” as you detonate at will.

Most developers would be content to ship their shooter with a stunning alien paradise, highly original weaponry, pitch-perfect controls and a well-told story. In fact, most do. Where “Bulletstorm” further distinguishes itself is the inventive – if slightly lewd – Skillshot system. Sure, you can go ahead and get that boring head shot, but the game will actually punish you for being so predictable. Instead, over 150 different Skillshots invite you to rain down creative mayhem on your enemies. “First In Last Out” challenges you to get an enemy airborne (we suggest using the Screamer flare pistol), kill a different enemy and then finish off the original airborne fool before he lands. “Vertigo” is awarded for flinging someone off a high cliff, while “Drilldo” requires you to charge an oversized mining tool and impale two bad buys while executing a high speed slide.

The Skillshot system is surprisingly deep, utterly imaginative and more compulsive than the Xbox 360’s Achievement points. Enemies become much more than bullet sponges and obstacles, but rather inspire you to indeed “kill with skill.” This encourages you to mix up your gunplay, primarily because the points awarded are in turn pumped back into unlocking new weapons and upgrades, and thus new Skillshots specific to each weapon. It’s a seductive and rewarding feedback loop which we expect to see imitated for years to come.

“Bulletstorm” will arguably remain fresh for a second or even third play-through, and there’s still the challenging co-op survival mode “Anarchy” to play online which requires communication and teamwork. Sure, we can always find nit picks like occasional screen-tearing or lengthy post-death loading screens. There’s room to attack the vulgar narrative which can tip from grating to hilarious in the span of seconds. But there is no escaping the reality that “Bulletstorm” is a welcome breath of fresh air in a landscape ruled by tense, sterile and predictable shooters. With its impossibly high replay value, the single player campaign alone is worth the full price. While the mythical “perfect game” is just that, “Bulletstorm” is an outrageously fun ride. Sorry Duke Nukem, but it’s time for youto hail to the new king.

Final Score: 5 out of 5
*Contributor’s Note: Publisher Electronic Arts provided College News with a PS3 review copy of Bulletstorm. Images & Video courtesy of EA & Epic Games

Review: Killzone 3

College News enters the Killzone for a riveting, tightly-tuned experience

In the two short years since Guerrilla Games’ technically marvelous and visually stunning “Killzone 2,” the First Person Shooter (FPS) landscape has continued to iterate, evolve and expand. Bloated budgets and sprawling set pieces that would make Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay weep have become the standard, while multiplayer longevity and addictiveness is now essential for a day one purchase and consumer loyalty. Much like its signature controls, then, Killzone 3 has quite the weight on its shoulders. Fortunately, the developers have funneled community feedback, an inspired art direction and their passion for game design into one seriously noteworthy video game.

While “Killzone 2” delivered cunning artificial intelligence (AI), exciting gameplay and eye-popping graphics, the narrative was anemic. With “Killzone 3” we’re treated to a story resembling a rousing summer blockbuster. Its subtleties won’t be discussed among intellectuals or the brainysphere, but it will get you on your feet, cheering at the predictable but nonetheless kick-ass climax and the tightly paced sequence of events preceding it. 

The star of the story isn’t the ISA’s desperate struggle to escape a war they’ve already lost, nor the faltering courage of Captain Narville. Instead, it’s the interpersonal struggle and political tug-of-war amongst the Helghast, instigated by Jorhan Stahl (voiced by the riveting Malcolm McDowell). This emotionally-charged sub-plot gives the Helghast a remarkably human portrayal, presenting an unbiased look at the enemy’s own difficulties to restore order and deliver justice following the assassination of their Emperor, Scolar Visari.

If the liberal sprinkling of cutscenes isn’t your thing, the surprising – if brief – splash of color in the art direction certainly will be. The Kaznan Jungle that protagonist Sevchenko must stealthily traverse is an inspired interpretation of the Helghan jungle, which manages to be simultaneously beautiful and frightening. Caves glow in a bright, menacing red while elsewhere patches of purple and yellow organisms punctuate a distinctly alien environment. “Killzone 3” isn’t without bold, inimitable art direction, but it felt as if Guerrilla Games was too shy to implement this kind of colorful design choice more than once, which is a shame.

Even if the vastly improved narrative and delicious graphics (which are somehow austere and beautiful) don’t hook you, the refined gunplay of “Killzone 3” will absolutely own your thoughts. In “Killzone 2,” Guerrilla Games set out to impart a sense of weight to character movements. It felt like a mechanic symbolizing the odds of survival and hopelessness permeating the situation, but it was slightly overdone. Here, it is nailed perfectly. That sense of weight has shifted from feeling sluggish to conveying momentum, giving your character a realistic sense of motion, but with snappy enough response time to make split-second decisions.

Interestingly, it isn’t any of the above that lends the single player campaign of “Killzone 3” its longevity and replay value. Instead, it’s the cunning enemy AI. Using cover isn’t just encouraged, it’s required to stay alive for more than 30 seconds. But unlike most shooters, your Helghan adversaries will stop at nothing to force you out of your precious cover. They’ll flank you, hurl well-aimed grenades and relentlessly chip away at the destructible barriers protecting your flesh. When you’re on the offensive they will deftly dodge your grenades and use cover to their advantage. It turns each firefight into a mildly tactical situation, rather than a brainless run-and-gun corridor shooter. Up the difficulty to Elite and you’ll be duly impressed with just how talented Guerrilla Games’ AI programmers are.

The obligatory turret sequences are present, breaking up the tense ground action. While they exist as typical on-rails mini games, they’re brief and exciting enough to be a welcome change of pace. Piloting an exoskeleton in multiplayer or taking to the skies in a jetpack are also welcome distractions, especially for those gamers using the Move.

As with any FPS-boasting competitive multiplayer, it’s the online play that will siphon away hours, weeks and months from your life. If you’re familiar with the phrase “Lag of Duty” then multiplayer of “Killzone 3” exists as a beacon of hope just outside the gates of Frag Heaven. Put simply, Guerrilla’s netcode is outstanding. During repeated sessions of “Warzone” hosting 24 players, we never saw one stutter or hiccup. Controller input resulted in instant action and felt identical to response time in the single player game. Compared to the majority of shooters on the market, the lag-free experience almost feels awkward. Almost.

While matchmaking is brisk, lengthy load times for most maps exist as the only detractor to the online play. The eight maps themselves, however, are dense with tactical positions and versatility. Don’t be disappointed at first blush by the three multiplayer modes either. While Guerrilla Warfare is your standard Team Deathmatch option, both Warzone and Operations offer nine more variants such as Search, Destroy and Assassination. Warzone switches these modes dynamically, eliminating the need for frequent bouts of waiting in the lobby. Five distinct career paths are available from the onset (Engineer, Marksman, Tactician, Infiltrator and Field Medic), offering modest opportunity for level progression and wildly differing strategies for taking out your opponents.

We would be remiss not to give the game’s soundtrack ample praise. It’s reminiscent of the stirring compositions of John Williams and is positively one of the best video game scores in recent memory. Composer Joris de Man’s sweeping violin requiem during the main menu is indicative of the masterful score to come. It evokes a range of emotions from depression to hope, regret to redemption, anger to anguish. It tends to take a backseat during high-impact scenes, but pay attention to it and you’ll be wrapped up in its beauty.

It would be a breeze to pen another 1000 words admiring the effective audio depth of field, the exquisite character animation, the eye-popping particle effects or the shockingly accurate fidelity where the Move is concerned. Instead, we’d prefer you spend the time exploring the lush, haunting environments of Helghan, listening to the splendid voice acting and engaging in the endless joys of multiplayer. With its exceptional sound design, inspired art direction and perfectly tuned controls, “Killzone 3” is just one hell of a fine shooter.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5
A retail review copy was provided to College News by Sony Computer Entertainment America

Gamerator: Meet your ultimate beer-fridge gaming machine

The most amazing combination of alcohol and video games

We’re not sure whether to obnoxiously high-five the nearest body or weep with joy at the sight of this beautiful creation. It’s called The Gamerator, and it’s the most superb combination of alcohol and video games we’ve ever seen.

Conceived by Jaime Mather and the geniuses at Custom Bar Guys, this arcade cabinet is hand-built with a refrigerated interior roomy enough to fit a standard pony keg. The exterior is a sleek brushed aluminum and black (although the guys are apparently happy to create one with any custom two-color scheme), and it comes off the assembly line with cup holders, a 26-inch flat panel HDTV, dual joystick and trackball setups, and a generous assortment of 85 classic arcade games including the likes of Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition, Space Invaders and Contra. These aren’t MAME versions but commercially purchased collections.

“Gamerator is the best of both worlds, bringing two of life’s greatest joys together in an awesome way,” Mather told us. “We strived to create a high-end product that uses top quality materials and equipment. We achieve that by custom building each unit by hand and in doing so, we believe the Gamerator is the greatest fusion of beer and gaming ever!”

Don’t worry, Jaime, we wholeheartedly agree.

What we appreciate most about the Gamerator is that arcade enthusiasts aren’t restricted to the included games (which, for copyright buffs, are fully licensed versions). You’ll be able to attach pretty much any modern console via special adapters. It also comes with Windows XP (along with a wireless adapter and a roomy hard drive) allowing emulation fans to install virtually any game they can dream up.

The price tag is much more difficult to swallow than that chilled brew. At $3,499 this luxury doesn’t come cheap, but for what’s included it’s actually quite reasonable. We’ll take three, please.

Review: Marvel vs. Capcom 3

The ultimate crossover game is back and better than ever

In the decade since one of our industry’s most iconic crossover games, Capcom has successfully reinvigorated the Street Fighter franchise, restoring the faith of the fatigued fighting community and attracting a legion of new fans along the way. With “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” (MvC3), the company was in the unenviable – and nearly impossible — position of pleasing multiple crowds. The long-awaited sequel needed to offer a bounty of fan service, be tournament-ready and offer a pitch-perfect balance between accessibility and depth. Adding to the pressure, it needed to be fun as hell for veterans and newcomers alike.

The developers, led by Producer Ryota Niitsuma, have unequivocally succeeded.

This game’s accessibility is through the roof. It feels like home to the new generation of players raised on “Street Fighter IV,” and it layers on enough strategy to keep veteran fighters hooked for years. You may hear complaints in the dark recesses of internet forums about the game’s shallow roster (MvC2 had 56 playable characters while MvC3 contains 36), but the more time you spend with the dizzying combination of characters and strategies, the more the absurdity of these claims is magnified. Series veterans may bemoan the noticeable omission of the entire Fantastic Four, or characters like Frank West (“Dead Rising”) and Mega Man, but the subtleties and diverse move sets of newcomers like M.O.D.O.K, Dante and Viewtiful Joe (a chaotic and formidable team, by the way) soften the blow.

A new and controversial feature is the game’s new Simple Mode which is proving to be the gateway for new players. By accepting a smaller range of moves, rookies can have important combos and special moves assigned to a single button. It feels awkward to veterans, but proved enticing to a few guinea pigs willing to try Capcom’s vs. series for the first time. Eventually the innate need for a challenge will overcome these players and they will hopefully upgrade to the standard controls, which are much easier to master than those in “Marvel vs. Capcom 2.”

MvC3 also introduces the fighting genre’s equivalent of rubber banding, something that occurs often in the racing genre. The game’s X-Factor mechanic allows players on the ropes to boost their strength and speed for a limited time, and also serves to negate chip damage which so often spells the end of a weak character. It adds yet another layer of strategy that is most useful when you’re down to your final fighter.

Capcom deserves hearty applause for the lavish attention they’ve given to character animations and the sheer amount of stunning eye candy. It’s clear that an updated version of their “Resident Evil 5” and “Lost Planet 2” graphics engine is on display here. Hyper and Crossover combos are such spectacles that gazing in adoration at them can often spell your doom as your eyeballs sit captivated.

The online multiplayer makes or breaks any game requiring twitch reactions and split-second decision making, and the fighting genre is often the biggest victim of sloppy programming. Thankfully, those days are behind us. Capcom has nailed the online play, even if the feature set surrounding it is a bit anemic. Latency didn’t affect our gameplay whatsoever, and the matchmaking system consistently hooked us up with well-connected opponents. We can’t emphasize how important this is since the bulk of your time will be spent playing “just one more round” against your online rival.

Amazingly, we didn’t experience a single disconnect during multiplayer, probably because Capcom pits quitters against quitters.

While online gameplay is silky smooth, there are several aspects of the online experience that left us puzzled. As much as MvC3 looks and feels like “Super Street Fighter IV”, its online suite is a giant leap backward. The absence of a Replay Channel borders on depressing, especially with the wide array of ridiculously entertaining hyper combos on display. Also gone is the ability to watch a match-in-progress from inside a lobby, eradicating the primary draw of the lobby feature itself – to replicate the arcade experience. With Capcom’s recent push toward fostering a community around its games, the lack of these features, both present in “Super Street Fighter IV,” is a disappointing mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, respected comic book writer Frank Tieri (Iron Man, Deadpool) – known for his gritty style – penned the story line for MvC3, but there is no narrative outside of the stunning CGI opener and the still-frame closing scenes. In typical Capcom fashion, bite-sized pieces are revealed as you finish the arcade mode with various characters, but we had hoped for considerably more exposition.

Even with these minor gripes, “Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds” is so vibrant, unpredictable and addictive yours truly missed his review deadline. Even your button-mashing friends who have no idea what’s a Hadoken can jump in and make something amazing happen. Pulling off that magic is contagious and it frequently turns “just one more round” into a few dozen more rounds. Put simply, MvC3 makes us want to skip the 900-word foreplay and scream “just buy it!” at the top of our lungs.

To be honest, it feels like an injustice reviewing this game without spending hundreds of hours learning the nuances of each character and its multiple ways of creating synergy with the entire roster. The glowing, underscored point is that we sincerely intend to let “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” consume those hundreds of hours from our lives, as we fight our hearts out for years to come.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5

Contributor’s Note: A retail 360 copy was provided for review by Capcom PR. All images and videos courtesy of Capcom.

Review: LittleBigPlanet 2

Sony’s whimsical platforming playground silences our inner critic

Remember how it felt to have no concern for how something worked? Seeing the northern lights, the Grand Canyon, a perfect snowflake as a magical entity without your brain nagging you for a scientific explanation? In a nutshell, that is how it feels to play “LittleBigPlanet 2.” The sense of childish wonder and thrill of discovery “LittleBigPlanet 2” (LBP2) evokes cannot be understated. The collective imaginations at developer Media Molecule seem to be trapped inside a child’s innocent and endlessly creative mind, but augmented with the skills to instill these feelings onto anyone capable of picking up a PS3 controller.

Sony’s “Play, Share, Create” mantra introduced in “LittleBigPlanet” and refined in “ModNation Racers” has risen to a stunning crescendo in LBP2. Not unlike the Rock Band series, this isn’t merely a sequel but a platform for both fledgling level designers and gamers seeking an endless supply of new experiences.

The whimsical single player campaign is relatively short in length (though you’ll want to play it at least twice), but it is so creatively dense enough to contain gameplay mechanics for multiple games and genres, all executed perfectly within the framework of Media Molecules “imagisphere.” Your “Sackthing” (Sackboy didn’t represent the ladies, you see) traverses six wildly different worlds in an adventure to stop the malicious Negativitron. From piloting furry bumblebees in side-scrolling shooter levels and surprisingly enjoyable sackbot escort missions, to microscopic journeys into the mind of a mad inventor and classic platforming, everything feels surprising and nothing feels repeated. The worlds are brimming with so much originality and fun, you’ll catch yourself grinning like the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

Truly, that feeling won’t dissipate when the single player credits roll. Even if you choose not to absorb the 50 tutorials – narrated by the cheeky and charming Stephen Fry – aimed at setting your creative skills into motion, thousands of other “LittleBigPlanet 2” players are exercising their creative chops and publishing a staggering amount of content for the community to experience. You won’t master these creative tools in minutes, days or even weeks – but when you finally click “publish” on your digital handiwork, it’s euphoric

While the first “LittleBigPlanet” allowed you to create and share levels, the enhanced creation tools of LBP2 are birthing wholly unique things. Instead of 500 levels paying homage to Super Mario World Level 1-1, creators are producing episodic short films complete with their own professional voice-overs and original midi compositions. Want to recreate that iconic clock tower scene from “Back to the Future?” Go for it! How about a “Geometry Wars” clone or a Vietnam-themed First Person Shooter (FPS)? Check! With this added functionality and the freedom to create any genre under the sun, seeing complete games with cut scenes isn’t uncommon. We even spotted a perfectly competent “Peggle” clone.

It’s this compelling platform for original storytelling that feeds the infinite replay value of LBP2. This isn’t a game you “beat” or finish in the traditional sense. It’s a game you constantly explore, waiting for the world’s future game developers to take you on a wondrous and unpredictable journey. A select few of you will even come to grips with the robust creation tools and find yourself entertaining hundreds of thousands of other players within Media Molecule’s imagination.

If you’re searching for criticism, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The “LittleBigPlanet 2” playground simply silences our inner critic, and for that it gets a glowing 5 out of 5.

*Contributor’s Note: A copy of “LittleBigPlanet 2” was provided to College News for review purposes by Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Review: You Don't Know Jack

Combines high culture, pop culture and hatred for Trivial Pursuit, stirs until hilarious

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This time-honored cliché is the guiding principle behind THQ and Jellyvision’s “You Don’t Know Jack” (YDKJ), an irreverent and often hilarious trivia party game. In fact, YDKJ’s classic gameplay hasn’t changed much since 1995. Is the game’s strict adherence to its roots just lazy development, or is the zany and humorous format future-proof?

Don’t Mess With Success:
Sixteen years is an eternity in the game industry. When the first “You Don’t Know Jack” hit the PC scene in 1995, we were drooling over the shiny newness of the Sega Saturn and Playstation One, still in love with our SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). Concepts like DLC (Downloadable content) and online multiplayer were laughable fairy tales. Along came a trivia video game that extended a hearty middle finger to Jeopardy and seduced Trivial Pursuit haters nationwide. “You Don’t Know Jack” made mindless trivia fun, primarily because Jellyvision – itself a trivia game hater – realized “it was possible to ask about both Shakespeare and Scooby Doo in the same question.” Still, the series’ last retail appearance was in 2003, leaving the developers more than seven years to innovate, or at least iterate.

Of course, Jellyvision hasn’t skipped a beat in all these years, primarily because their magic formula and sharp quiz show presentation is the game’s key to success. In a generation where we count pixels and dedicate entire websites to frame-by-frame comparisons of shooters on competing consoles, “You Don’t Know Jack” is nearly devoid of graphics, relying mainly on text and an endless supply of “fauxmercials”, witty quips and imaginative trivia questions to stake its claim.

“Innocent:” Britney Spears song or Catholic Pope?
“You Don’t Know Jack” allows one to four players (both online and offline) to compete in 73 different episodes of the virtual quiz show, each comprising 10 questions plus the lightning-round “Jack Attack” closer, which dramatically rewards quick thinking and twitch reactions. The game’s staple mixture of pop culture and high culture results in brain-scratching questions about Jackson Pollock becoming a sandwich artist at Subway, or quickly determining whether a title is the name of a Britney Spears song or of a catholic pope.

The heat of competition is also catered to perfectly. When a contestant buzzes in, they can quietly click a button on the controller matching the correct answer. Instead of locking out opponents, the clock continues running, allowing each player to venture a guess. Rather than strictly basing winnings on right and wrong answers, the amount of cash you win or lose also corresponds to how long it takes to answer each question.

Screw Your Neighbor:
The iconic hardware also returns in the form of a screw. See a totally clueless expression on your opponent’s face? Once per game you can humiliate them by using the screw mechanic, which forces them to answer the question in five seconds or less. Be warned, however, that if they surprise you and answer correctly, you’ll say goodbye to the same amount of cash they win. With gameplay twists like this and the “Wrong Answer of the Day,” which will have you scooping out 73 valuable incorrect answers, “You Don’t Know Jack” is anything but predictable.

Contrary to popular belief, the star of “You Don’t Know Jack” isn’t you, but rather Cookie Masterson, the game’s longtime fictional host. Rather than quickly advancing to the next question, Cookie takes the time to sarcastically berate you for each wrong answer. These aren’t generic throwaway quips. They’re genuinely entertaining and Cookie’s vocal presence only adds to the immersion. With 730 questions and an average of 2,150 wrong answers, that’s an immense amount of dialogue and is certainly not representative of lazy development. Still, each episode moves along so briskly you can’t wait to either trounce your opponents again or avenge your victory.

But don’t be so quick to mash that continue button; the game’s closing credits are unskippable. “Fauxmercials” – on par with the best of offerings by “Saturday Night Live” – will leave you laughing out loud, covering everything from “Master Baiters” to desserts gone horribly wrong. The fictional production team is also constantly jabbering between rounds, and the overall audio presentation is pure hilarity.

The Bottom Line:
Price isn’t something we normally factor into a review, but the value proposition of “You Don’t Know Jack” is irresistible. It retails for only $29.99 for the Wii, PS3 and 360 versions, making this a guilt-free impulse purchase that is likely to replace Rock Band as your next party game of choice. THQ should be applauded for not gouging consumers’ wallets, and Jellyvision deserves praise for staying faithful to a formula that has stayed addictive and entertaining for over 15 years. This isn’t a reboot, a remake or a re-imagining. This is simply another stellar “You Don’t Know Jack” game.

Contributor’s Note: A review copy of “You Don’t Know Jack” was provided for College News by THQ.

Top five essential games of February

We break down the essential February must-play games

March 2011 promises to be such a dense month of blockbuster game releases that your bank account will be screaming for mercy and your sleep-deprived body begging for rest. Thankfully you’ll be able to save up that spare cash in February, right? Sorry friend, that couldn’t be further from the truth. March may be the new Christmas in this industry, but the prelude looks tantalizing. We struggled our must-own February releases down to five, trying to filter in something for everyone. The resulting list contains some respectable variety, although RPG fans are the decisive winners.

Marvel vs Capcom 3 | Capcom | February 15

To many, “Marvel vs Capcom” is the holy grail of fighting games (sorry “Virtua Fighter” fans!). For diehard “Street Fighter” fans who also happen to obsess over the Marvel universe, it’s nothing short of digital sex. It’s been 11 years since “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” gave us that intoxicating blend of frantic tag team insanity and perfectly tuned 2D fighting mechanics, and series veterans are foaming at the mouth for Capcom’s next entry. The opening cinematic (above) only magnified the already fever-pitch buzz. Boasting an enormous roster, dazzling eye candy, online multiplayer and even a couple bones for franchise rookies, it’s going to be the definitive fighting game. Unless something goes horribly wrong, “Marvel vs Capcom 3” should satisfy fans for years to come.

“You Don’t Know Jack” | THQ | February 8

If hearing the phrase “Dis or Dat” gets your brain turned on, you probably already know about Jellyvision’s long-awaited current generation entry into the quiz-show scene. “You Don’t Know Jack” was a sensation in the mid to late 90s, turning trivia on its head, giving it an atomic wedge and laughing at it maniacally. It was an outrageous, topical interactive quiz show series with a downright hilarious and snarky host (Cookie Masterson is returning, folks!). Jellyvision, the longtime developers behind the series, are rebooting things for a new generation. If you hate Jeopardy and “Trivial Pursuit” but still enjoy exercising your brain muscles, “You Don’t Know Jack” is for you.

“Hyperdimension Neptunia” | NIS America | February 15

Picture this: A gorgeous turn-based RPG whose name is derived from the scrapped Sega Neptune console, where you summon the likes of freaking Joe Musashi (“Shinobi”) and other classic Sega characters to fight as your guardian angels. Want more? The story line is a biting commentary on the current console war, featuring battles between rival goddesses each representing a console. Oh, it’s also developed by the collectively superior imaginations at Idea Factory, published by NIS America, and is a PS3 exclusive. We assumed it would be too niche for NIS to bring to North American shores, but thankfully we were wrong. If for some bizarre reason you don’t want this game, please turn in your gaming license before closing this browser window.

“Bulletstorm” | EPIC | February 22

So, a little game called “Killzone 3” also drops onto store shelves February 22. What game would have the audacity to compete against such a competition-devouring FPS? “Bulletstorm” would. Developed by the warped minds at People Can Fly, “Bulletstorm” is injecting the FPS genre with some sorely needed creativity. Last week, a paltry five minute demo practically restored my faith in shooters and ushered in the kind of FPS addiction I haven’t felt since “Half-Life.” Does Killzone 3 have stunning graphics that could force even iD Software to pack up shop? Definitely. Does it boast cutting edge 3D technology and play like a dream? Sure! Does it let you launch enemies skyward with an electrified leash, juggle them with a double-barrel shotgun and dismember them in mid-air? Exactly. Bulletstorm makes the list for its originality, style and most importantly severe dose of fun.

“Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together” | Square-Enix | February 15

With the exception of the excellent Disgaea series, “Tactics Ogre” is one of the most respected and beloved Strategy RPG titles in history. In fact, it’s been voted “Top 20 games” by readers of Japanese magazine Famitsu for 14 years straight. Neither a remake nor a reboot, “Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together” is more accurately defined as a “reinvention” and features a Square-Enix dream team (Hiroshi Minagawa, Akihiko Yoshida, Yasumi Matsuno, Hitoshi Sakimoto to name a few) envisioning what the original SNES entry from 1995 would be like if developed and played now. Sold!

What will you be picking up in February?