Version tested: Xbox 360
Everyone likes cars. Even the greens have got their favourites, made of regenerative braking systems, Atkinson cycle engines, old yoghurt pots and bits of rhubarb. And it seems that videogames about cars are just as susceptible to a bit of the old premium downloadable content as anything. Not at all surprised by this, we decided to take a spin round some of it so you don't get run over by poor value. Rev your feeble metaphors and join us.
Project Gotham Racing 4
- Challenge Pack - FREE
- Premium Challenge Pack - 400 points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Trust Bizarre Creations to come up with an interesting way of solving the downloadable content conundrum. There are two batches of new stuff for the throbbing crimson beast we call PGR4; one that costs you precisely nothing yet delivers a generous spread of new events and game modes, and one that tops up the freebie offering with seven new cars and three new motorbikes. Of the 250 new Gamerpoints available through this DLC, 170 of them require the premium pack, a decision which will either sweeten the deal or irreparably sour it depending on how much of an Achievement whore you are.
The new challenges, then. Whichever pack you choose, a new single-player option appears in the menu - World Challenge Mode. Beneath this umbrella lurk three new chapters, comprising 20 new events. Arcade Challenge is pretty self-explanatory, and should come as a welcome treat for those who have exhausted the existing arcade options. DLC Challenge requires the new cars, and will only let you race those, while Platinum Plus is strictly for the hardcore - a super-tough mode for those expert drivers hankering for something to make them sweat a little. While there's nothing here that deviates from the established formula, a spread like this would be more than enough to warrant a download - paid for or not. If you've been drifting away from the game, it's certainly enough to drag you back in to burn some more rubber - which is surely what these things are designed to do.
Yet the download keeps on giving, with two new online game modes as well. Tourist is a curious one, allowing you to take time-limited cruises around the cities, taking in the sights and familiarising yourself with their quirks and tricky corners. Kudos can be earned in Tourist mode, but mostly it's just for fun - get some mates together and go for a drive, play hide and seek or something. For me, Cat and Mouse is the highlight of the set - a team game where one player drives a slow "mouse" car while the others are in fast "cats". Mice earn kudos for every two seconds they avoid being smashed, while cats earn kudos for crashing into the other team's mouse while defending their own. It's a concept that nudges PGR4 a little in the direction of Burnout Paradise, which isn't a direction we'd want to see continued for PGR5, but as an optional bit of online fun, it's devilishly addictive and - with the right crowd - absolutely hilarious. At the very least, it shows that Bizarre Creations is continuing to treat its figurehead series as a constantly evolving source of vehicular entertainment rather than a rigid and predictable track racer.
And what of the new cars? The free download offers just one - the hydrogen-powered 2007 Peugeot Flux, taken from the podium of the 2007 Peugeot International Design Competition. Those with 400 Points to spare also get a 2008 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept, 2007 Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650, 1987 BMW M3 E30 DTM, 2007 Ferrari 430 Scuderia, 2008 Honda S2000 CR, and the 2008 Callaway C16 Speedster. Bike fans can choose from the 2007 Yamaha YZF-R1, 1995 Aprilia RS 250 and the 1998 Aprilia RSV 1000 Tuono R. It's a nice varied line-up, covering sexy new sports cars and in-demand classics, and considering the price of additional vehicles for rival racing franchises, 400 Points represents excellent value.
Forza Motorsport 2
- - March Car Pack - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Surely it must be a coincidence of cosmic proportions that, as the PS3 geared up for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, this update to Microsoft's Gran Turismo rival featured among its thirteen new cars...the Maserati GranTurismo. Ooh, cheeky.
Also jostling for garage space within the 55MB download are the 2008 Audi S5, 2007 Audi TT Coupe S-Line, 1971 BMW 3.0 CSL E09, 2008 BMW E92 M3, 1989 Ferrari F40 Competizione, 1996 Ferrari F50 GT, 2007 Ferrari 430 Scuderia, 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, 2006 Maserati MC12 Corsa, 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR and the very tasty 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 (997). The pack also includes the #1 Peugeot 207 Super 2000, which is available as a separate free download. All cars must be purchased in career mode before you can drive them.
It's a solid line-up of desirable motors and, at around 26p per car, any complaints about omissions are rendered mostly pointless. I'm still holding out hope for another track pack soon, but this is a fine stopgap.
Test Drive Unlimited
- - Test Drive Collection Volume 6 - 350 Points (GBP 2.98 / EUR 4.20)
As a pioneer of openworld racing, it's a shame that Test Drive Unlimited's structure hasn't allowed it to expand in the same way as its peers. With the exception of the Hardcore Pack, which introduced a new difficulty level, new content has been exclusively centred around adding new cars to the game's plentiful showrooms. Within this narrow band, at least, the game has been incredibly well supplied with a steady stream of saucy vehicles, both free and paid for, arriving to tempt the petrolhead faithful. As one of the oldest games in this roundup - it was released in September 2006 - the fact that new content is still turning up is commendable in itself.
This latest pack offers six cars for your 350 Points, all of which must then be purchased from the dealers using your in-game money. For fans of cut-and-pasted lists, the cars are: Nissan 350Z Roadster 2004, Audi A4 Touring Car, Cadillac Sixteen, Dino 246 GTS, Triumph Dayton 995i, Pontiac Solstice and - ooooh - the Lamborghini Diablo GT. The Nissan Roadster is also available as a separate freebie download, for the financially challenged.
As with the previous five updates, and removing personal vehicular taste from the equation, it still presents pretty good value but isn't quite so generous when you consider what games like Forza 2 and PGR4 have offered for 400 Points or less. Still, Test Drive Unlimited is undoubtedly a game for car lovers, and the painstakingly rendered exteriors and interiors of these swanky motors will continue to appeal to this crowd. Plus, as the name suggests, you don't have to buy them to take them for a spin.
- - Turbo Boost expansion pack - 350 Points (GBP 2.98 / EUR 4.20)
Additional downloads for Live Arcade titles can struggle to offer genuine value, considering the low cost of the original games, but with this grab-bag of new content Gripshift has set a pretty high bar for others to match.
Eight new race tracks and eight new multiplayer arenas are available, which already justifies the 350 Point price tag as far as I'm concerned. However, on top of that you also get a new online mode - Reverse Tag, in which the person who is "it" must keep away from the other players - and three new mini-games. Penguin Bowling is pretty much how it sounds. You hurl your car into penguins, who stand there like monochrome bowling pins awaiting your onslaught. It's a little bit Yeti Sports, but amusing all the same. Playground provides a stunt-flavoured bowl of ramps, secrets and stars to rampage around, but it's Snaker that I can see becoming a new personal favourite. It's the light-cycles from Tron given a Gripshift makeover, a winning combination that is predictably hard to put down.
You also get 18 new music tracks, rounding out a very generously proportioned download for an extremely low price.