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Plugged In

In with a bang: Big games kick off 2011

Plugged In

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Fishville

If the holiday season is a gamer's paradise, the beginning
of the year is a gamer's nightmare. Traditionally, few noteworthy games are
released early in the year, as most game makers hold back the big guns until tax
season wraps and the glow of the holidays fades.

But over the past several years, publishers have slowly
begun to accept the year-round nature of game buying and have stopped shying
away from the once-maligned early months. In fact, 2010 was perhaps the most
front-loaded on record, with top-rated games like Bayonetta, Heavy Rain, God of
War III, and Y! Games RPG of the Year winner Mass Effect 2 all arriving in the
first three months of the year.

Will that trend continue in 2011? You better believe it. Some
of the year's most anticipated releases will be in your greedy little hands well
before April Fool's Day. Hope you saved some Christmas cash, because you're
gonna need it. Here's why:

January

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LittleBigPlanet 2 - Sony

The year kicks off in style -- comic book style -- with DC Universe Online (Jan. 11 | PC, PS3), a massively-multiplayer game set in the robust
world of DC Comics. Trading World of Warcraft's elves and orcs for caped heroes
and masked villains, it features a story written by comic ace Geoff Johns,
stars over 100 DC characters, and includes all the trappings of an online
role-playing game combined with the potent action of a superhero effort. Is it
Warcraft Kryptonite? Only time -- and lots of spandex tights -- will tell.

Playstation 3 owners get another treat a week later with the
long-awaited (and annoyingly delayed) release of LittleBigPlanet 2 (Jan. 18 |
PS3). Whereas the first game let you create adorably cool platforming levels,
the sequel lets you create entirely new games. In addition to gobs of intuitive
editing tools, expect another well-written solo campaign.

Find Sackboy and his pals a bit too cute for comfort? Then
cuddle up with the undead necromorphs of Dead Space 2 (Jan. 25 | Xbox 360,
PS3). The sequel to last year's survival-horror hit is packed with even more
horror to survive, as series protagonist Issac Clarke investigates the dark
corners of a space station teeming with creepy, crawly badness. A new multiplayer
mode should add some extra life to all the death, too.

February

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Marvel vs. Capcom 3 - Capcom

Don't let the first few weeks of February fool you -- it's a month armed to the teeth with some heavy hitters. Take, for instance, Marvel
vs. Capcom 3
(Feb. 15 | Xbox 360, PS3). Tipped to be the year's best brawler, it's a fighter that provides serious fan service in the form of over 30 characters culled from Marvel's massive comic lore and Capcom's impressive
fighting game history. The Hulk vs. Chun-Li? Chris Redfield vs. Iron Man? Awesome? Awesome.

Another big mash-up releases on the very same day. Lego Star
Wars III: The Clone Wars
(Feb. 15 | Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) is the latest in the
hit Lego game series, this time bringing the brick building back to that galaxy
far, far away by tapping into the popular Clone Wars franchise. Bigger than any
Lego game before it, it features a cool new 'Scene Swap' ability that lets
players trade back and forth between two characters in two totally different
places to solve puzzles. Co-op junkies, expect it to shine.

February ends with a double-shot of, well, shooting, as Sony's Killzone 3 (Feb. 22 | PS3) and EA's Bulletstorm (Feb.22 | Xbox 360, PS3) vie for your attention. A graphical powerhouse, the former picks up right where the critically-acclaimed Killzone 2 left off, throwing abilities like jetpacks and new close-combat melee moves into the mix. When it comes to crazy combat, though, Bulletstorm has the edge. Built by Epic Games (Gears of War), it's a brash, comical, over-the-top fragfest that pushes the envelope by pushing back
the clock to a time when bad guys were meant to be killed in the most gruesome,
creative ways possible. Not remotely for the wee ones -- or weak at heart --
but having nabbed a bunch of pre-release awards already, it's one to keep
squarely in your sights.

March

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Dragon Age II - EA

Get ready to rumble, because March tears off the gloves and comes out swinging. Fight Night Champion (March 1 | Xbox 360, PS3), the
follow-up to the excellent Fight Night Round 4, opts for a darker style than its predecessor, but packs a wallop with amazing animations, a new punching control scheme, and over 60 real-life boxers.

Experiencing them all is sure to be a lot easier than collecting
all the critters in Pokemon Black/White (March 6 | DS). It's the first brand new
Pokemon role-playing effort in a while (last year's Pokemon Gold/Silver were
remakes), boasting 156 brand new Pokemon and tons of changes under the hood.
Will it sway non-Pokemon fans? Probably not, but with 47 million DS systems out
there, it's bound to be a sales chart staple.

While Pokemon is perfect for kids, Dragon Age II (March 8 |
Xbox 360, PS3, PC) most certainly isn't. But it's perfect for role-playing
fans, especially those who fell into the massive, spectacular world of Dragon
Age: Origins back in 2009. Built by unstoppable RPG force Bioware, it's
bursting with monsters to vanquish, decisions to make, and a world to save...or
destroy. Better still, your experience will change based on the decisions you
made in the previous game and its expansion, giving continuity to the carnage.

Destruction is also the name of the game in the hotly-anticipated
Crysis 2 (March 22 | Xbox 360, PC, PS3). The first Crysis completely blew
people away with its graphical fidelity; this one ups the ante with a fancier
game engine and robust 3D support, not to mention copious ways to blast aliens
in a war-ravaged New York.

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