Army of Two
Believe it or not, Halo 3's Cold Storage isn't the only freebie to have slithered up the internet drainpipe in recent months. Even harder to believe for some will be the revelation that it's those notorious corporate bread-heads at EA who have been dishing out the presents. Okay, so the Veteran Map Pack for their man-crush shooter Army of Two is only free because it's been sponsored by Pontiac, but - hey - gift horses, mouths and all that.
The Veteran Map Pack is actually quite interesting, and in-keeping with the co-op nature of the game. While most games stick with multiplayer maps for killing each other, this is the first shooter in a while to offer new campaign missions as DLC. Two such missions are included, with the first taking you and your big buddy, with his lovely muscles and guns, to a Kiev subway where you have to take down a militia group in-between bumping fists and being all manly with each other. The second mission is even more interesting, taking you back to Miami and the SSC headquarters where you get to do things that would constitute spoilers for those who have yet to complete the game, so I'll simply say that it offers an all-new ending for the game.
I'm a fan of storytelling in games, and while Army of Two may not be the most promising game in this regard, I'm still intrigued by the possibilities on display here. Hopefully more games will start to use DLC to extend the narrative experience as well as the bloodshed.
For those who prefer to pay for their DLC, Army of Two also offers the SSC Challenge Map Pack for 600 Points (GBP 5.10 / EUR 6.48). A curious combination of deathmatch and timed obstacle course, it contains four new maps designed for team-play, with you and your friend competing against another duo for the chance to join the SSC.
Shooting the other players is a secondary, and sometimes even tertiary (look it up), concern however. You'll be too busy negotiating traps and obstacles - many of which move, flip and shuffle about to keep you on your toes - while fulfilling military-style objectives as part of this rather brutal training exercise. Lugging crash test dummies to safety while under fire may not sound like much fun, but it's a cool twist on the expected multiplayer DLC and does a good job of offering fans something familiar yet different.
While Lost Odyssey and Mass Effect may be almost completely different in the way they approach role-playing, they seem to share a similar attitude towards downloadable content. Mass Effect offered an additional mission for 400 Points, and here's Lost Odyssey's latest - an additional mission (or dungeon, if you want to be picky) for 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.32).
Seekers of the Deep is the name, and it allows players who have reached the fourth disc of this mammoth JRPG to voyage in the Nautilus to the cryptically titled Experimental Staff Remains. Half the fun of exploring a new area in an RPG is the element of surprise, so I'm not going to spoil any details. Suffice to say that it's a passable side-quest, but nothing particularly thrilling.
It offers more for your Points than Mass Effect's Bring Down The Sky expansion, if only because it offers the opportunity to face more new enemies, find more unique items, earn more Achievements and has a generally more satisfying structure. The final boss of the dungeon, however, is a massive pain in the arse if you've not got your immortals levelled way, way up.
Lost Odyssey fans can also invest in the Triple Bonus Pack for 200 Points (GBP 1.70 / EUR 2.16), offering three new items. One is an antique which contains a new dream, Shattered Bond, further fleshing out Kaim's back story.
The Memory Lamp, meanwhile, allows you to revisit previous cut-scenes once you reach disc four and the Killer Machine is a new ring to equip and admire and use to smash monsters and stuff. All three are fairly limited in scope, even for the pennies they cost, and it's hard to justify buying them at any price. When you look at what other games are giving away, this sort of miscellaneous bric-a-brac really needs to be offered free. But it isn't, so boo.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Let's make one thing clear - I love me some Puzzle Quest. Yelping with excitement like a puppy at the news that the expansion was finally here, I gladly - though rather too hurriedly - forked over the 700-Point (GBP 5.95 / EUR 7.56) asking price. To put that into perspective, the game itself now only costs 800 Points - reduced from 1200 - so you'd expect a seriously hefty basket of new content to make it worthwhile.
Revenge of the Plague Lord sadly disappoints on that score. It opens up a series of new quests, starting at the bottom of the familiar game map, but with just 25 new missions to undertake it should only take a reasonably skilled player one evening to finish off. There are new creatures to battle - the Storm Giants are a notable addition, along with various plague-themed ghouls - and they bring with them some new spells and magical items that can be earned. The Storm Giants also provide the only real challenge of the new quests, with the villainous Antharg - brother of Lord Bane - proving pathetically easy to defeat. The level cap has been raised to 60, and by the time I faced Antharg his health was almost half of what I'd reached. Defeating him was, inevitably, more of an obligation than a thrill.
The addition of four new character classes may be enough to prompt long-serving players to start over. Bards can sing songs that create or extend status effects, Rogues cast spells that use gold coins for damage, the Ranger specialises in arrow attacks that target all gems of specific colours while the Warlock comes with a mouth-watering selection Mana-affecting spells. However, for those who've got a character that they've levelled up and are looking for fresh challenges to pit them against, this is a feeble and pricey addition to a wonderful game.