We recently cast our rheumy gaze over the state of MotorStorm's downloads, but what of the other flagship games of the PlayStation 3's early life? Have they bravely grasped the angry cobra of downloadable content and wrestled it into a sack, or has it sunk its poisonous fangs into their quivering meaty rump, leaving them to thrash and foam in a bush? Let's find out...
It might seem strange to start with this curious Gaelic-themed RPG, since it's hardly been the most visible or rabidly popular of the PS3 brood. Maybe people are just wary of games about fairies, even when they use the posh grown-up "faerie" spelling to make them seem less silly. Despite this, Game Republic has been quietly keeping its fanbase happy with regular - and well thought out - expansion packs.
Six have been released in all, in sets of two, with each boasting a new mission or storyline that spins off from, or plays back into, the main narrative of the game. The first two packs offered kidnap plots and undersea exploration, the third and fourth maternal intrigue and alchemy. The last two packs offered nightmares and mysterious towers. All have featured overlapping stories, tantalising cliffhangers and enticing hints to a larger story waiting to be told. As a way of enriching an RPG storyline, it's been a very interesting experiment. Certainly, anyone who enjoyed the standalone game would enjoy the option to delve deeper into the characters and the Netherworld.
Praise is also due for the way the different content elements - particularly the new character skins and creatures - have all been packaged together, rather than separated out into more lucrative chunks. It makes each expansion pack a sort of virtual Lucky Bag, with a little bit of everything for a set price each time.
Sadly, that's it for Folklore add-ons. Game Republic has said "no more". Obviously there must come a point when development resources are directed towards new projects, rather than producing low-priced content for existing titles, but Folklore is a good argument for allowing console gamers some of the same modification options that PC players take for granted. I suspect there's enough of a community invested in this game to keep it ticking over for another few years. For now, let's toast an unsung example of how to do the download thing right.
Resistance: Fall of Man
One of Sony's most popular online games, Resistance hasn't exactly dived headlong into the world of downloadable content - a couple of software updates and a pair of map packs are all that players have received. Okay, that's still more than most first-person shooters bother with but compared to the output of other games on the PS3 it's a surprisingly muted showing.
The first software update finally arrived at the end of June 2007, after some rather public delays, and was mostly concerned with tweaking and balancing the multiplayer modes. It also allowed everyone in the world to play together, in a "hands across the ocean" kind of way - if the hands were holding automatic weapons and shooting at each other, that is. November saw another software update, which included DualShock 3 support, password-protected multiplayer sessions and the option to take snapshots using a USB keyboard. Huzzah.
Camborne and Westmoreland were the maps that debuted alongside the first patch, both with a strong Chimeran theme. Camborne's multi-levelled tunnels made it a popular choice for old-fashioned Quake-style fragging, while Westmoreland's open, snow-covered territory seemed designed for team games and sniper action. The November map pack added the hell of Bracknell railway station and the claustrophobic human encampment of Axbridge to the line-up. All four new maps are certainly a cut above the usual FPS fare, and Insomniac clearly put a lot of thought into offering environments geared towards every style of play. And, at just GBP 2.99 a pair, they're pretty good value.
Will we see any more Resistance content? With the sequel due later this year, it's unlikely that the game will be receiving much in the way of long term support from here on. It's possible that another map pack may appear to tide gamers over, but beyond that it seems fair to say that this is your lot.
Being a multiplayer-only title, you'd expect Warhawk to have benefited from the sort of ongoing tinkering that your average PC clan-based game enjoys, and that's not far from the truth. On average Incognito has unleashed a sizeable update every few months, mostly monkeying around with the expected multiplayer issues, but also tossing in a few gratis gameplay elements along the way.
The October patch added a new layout for each of the maps but, most notably, the update currently planned for 20th March will add two new gameplay items to the mix. The wrench will be able to fix allied vehicles, or cause damage to enemy vehicles, while also acting as a one-hit-kill melee weapon. The Bio-Field Generator, meanwhile, can be stuck to any surface to create a healing point for friendly units or a damaging trap for enemies. Both are designed to make gameplay more interesting and balanced for those on foot, given the game's focus on vehicular action.
In terms of paid-for download expansions, Warhawk hasn't fared as well. Only one has surfaced so far - last December's Omega Dawn pack. It didn't quite tickle our coccyx, earning just 5/10, since the new map was deemed rather too large and empty for satisfying campaigns. "Its size and scope is so colossal that gameplay is slowed down to a crawl," shouted Richard, as he wriggled on his belly through mud and shrapnel. The new dropship vehicle, meanwhile, was too specialised and too reliant on impeccable teamwork to really impact the core Warhawk experience in any meaningful way.
Soon we will also see the release of the next expansion pack, titled Operation: Broken Mirror and featuring some sort of icy theme, so we'll have to wait and see what that brings to the battlefield. I'm guessing roller skates. It should cost about the same as Omega Dawn.
Ridge Racer 7
And finally, a game that showcases both the wonderful opportunities and gruesome pitfalls of this crazy DLC deal. Ridge Racer 7 has hardly been swamped with extras, almost as if Namco tried it once, didn't like the taste and scraped their plate into the bin rather than finish the meal.
On the plus side, they generously offered a series of 25 special UFRA events for free, along with some decals to slap all over your cars. Culminating in a ferociously tricky race against eight souped-up rivals, this impressive freebie offering is a good argument for how downloadable content can make us feel fuzzy about even the most faceless corporation.
And then, on the other hand, you could also download new background music for the game - at a cost of GBP 2.99 per song pack. Given that the Ridge Racer music is the sort of fast squelching techno that only a hopeless club casualty would enjoy, this formed a curiously inverted scenario.
Admittedly, it's silly to complain when the good stuff is free and the crap is only for those with more money than sense, but paying to add generic tunes to a game designed to be played on a hulking behemoth of a multimedia machine just seems weird.
Now we're properly caught up, look forward to reviews of PS3 and Xbox 360 downloadable content going forward.