You only need to check out the Game Add-Ons tab in the Xbox Live Game Store to see that the world of downloadable content, once so feared and mistrusted, is here to stay. There's been a bunch of notable new material released just recently - and even more since we started on this instalment in our Xbox Live DLC Roundup series - and most of it has helped to prove the naysayers wrong. There's been fresh content for recent blockbusters, and older cult favourites. There have been updates for full price releases as well as Live Arcade games. And, best of all, the paid-for content has generally been reasonably priced and balanced out with a surprising amount of freebies. Here are some recent examples that you might want to check out.
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Variety Map Pack
- Overlord - Raising Hell expansion and Challenge Pack
- Ace Combat 6 - assorted planes and missions
- Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 - Co-op Collection 2
- Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock - various Track Packs
- Undertow - Path of the Elect expansion
- Turok - Multiplayer Map Pack
- Two Worlds - Tainted Blood and Curse of Souls Pack 2
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
- Variety Map Pack - 800 points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
Having usurped Halo 3 as the 360 gamer's shooter of choice, the arrival of Call of Duty 4's first multiplayer map pack was bound to cause a bit of a stir. Offering four maps for 800 Points, we could quibble over the exact value for money offered per hundred Points or per map, but what's important is whether these new maps provide something worthwhile once you're signed in and ready to rumble. Thankfully, they do, with a pleasing spread of new challenges and familiar layouts, all tweaked and balanced to offer loads of different ways to play.
Creek is a good example of the attention to detail at work. A surprisingly vertical map, it features a large hill, an underground cave system and - as the name suggests - a creek. All suggest different routes and tactical possibilities, and when you add in a small cluster of buildings it means that the map never gets stale. There's always a different strategy to try.
Chinatown is one for the faithful Call of Duty fans, taking the layout of Caretan from Call of Duty 2 and swapping it from rural France to claustrophobic urban rat-run. Lots of interior play here, with the narrow corridors favouring shotgun play while the upper levels of buildings beg for sniper action. Ground troops trying to make their way through the streets will need to be fast, alert and accurate if they want to survive.
Killhouse is an aptly titled free-for-all map, set in a warehouse. It's almost entirely open-plan, with very little cover and few spots to hide. It's great fun for a brief rampage with no thought for tactics, but the featureless design ultimately makes it a short-lived treat. You'll exhaust its amusements fairly quickly.
Finally, Broadcast is this pack's single-player makeover map, set in the TV studio from the Charlie Don't Surf mission. It's a decent map, with the office cubicles making for some satisfying duck and cover shoot-outs, but this is the one map in this update that feels like it should've been in the game already. Paying for a multiplayer version of a single-player map you already have feels rather hard to swallow.
So, four maps for 200 Points apiece. Both Creek and Chinatown are the highlights - the sort of richly designed multiplayer arenas that you'll keep coming back to, changing your style of play every time. Creek is a particular favourite, although my personal preference skews to foresty outdoor maps anyway. Killhouse and Broadcast certainly aren't bad maps, but they do come with enough caveats to make the hefty price tag a little less enticing. It's enough to make it worth downloading for hopeless CoD addicts, but with Halo 3's Heroic Map Pack now free and a new Halo update due in mid-April, I was expecting something a little bit more...inventive.
- Raising Hell expansion - 800 Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
- Challenge Pack - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Codemasters' cheeky fantasy spoof was one of the unsung classics of last year, so while it's surprising that there's been such a long wait for the first single-player expansion, it's a good excuse for the curious out there to pick up a copy on the cheap and give it a whirl. Commanding a horde of gibbering gremlins and committing evil deeds against the inhabitants of a skewed Tolkienesque world is something everyone should try.
These new Raising Hell missions only kick in once you've completed the game, which is just as well since they're fairly tough both in terms of enemies and puzzles. With the WHOOPS SPOILER defeated, you're informed that a new source of evil energy has appeared in your realm. Your subjugated subjects are being lured into strange portals, not unlike the Oblivion Gates of a certain other fantasy game, and it's up to you to delve into the mystery with your mischievous minions.
Building considerably on the size of the original game, with a new infernal level inserted into each of the existing areas of your realm, Raising Hell's netherworlds are warped mockeries of the land they inhabit. Familiar scenery items and characters are often mangled, twisted or otherwise corrupted by their new hellish home, while the layouts (which, sadly, are as confusing as ever) thankfully offer entirely new challenges rather than rehashing the old maps. You'll also be reunited with the heroes you dispatched during the rest of the game, as you find them being tormented by their demonic captors and must face them anew in gruesomely ironic ways. There are also new forge items to be found, as well as some clever new ways of using your minions. As a way of continuing the story, it's all very witty and economical and precisely how this sort of game should be expanded.
For half that price, you can also get the Challenge Pack, which offers seven new maps for the multiplayer games. Even when the game was fresh on the shelves, this side of the Overlord experience always felt under-populated and a little undercooked, so you'd be forgiven for skipping this update. It does offer the new Legendary game mode, as well as more Gamerpoints, but there's enough amusement to be had in the generous folds of Raising Hell that this can be an optional extra.
Ace Combat 6
- Mirage2000-5 and Su-33 skins - 200 Points each (GBP 1.70 / EUR 2.40)
- New Idolmaster plane - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
- Razgriz Set - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
- Ace of Aces Mission - 350 Points (GBP 2.98 / EUR 4.20)
- Siege Battle & Co-Op Battle missions - 300 Points each (GBP 2.55 / EUR 3.60)
- Battle Royale download - 100 Points (GBP 0.85 / EUR 1.20)
After receiving a drubbing in the last DLC roundup for some stupidly expensive and utterly pointless new content - charging a combined 2900 Points, or 24 quid, for some new planes, skins and one multiplayer map - it's nice to be able to report that Ace Combat has almost got its act together.
The skins and planes are still overpriced for what they are - the expensive Idolmaster is just a reskinned F-15E - but for those who feel absolutely compelled to spend their MS Points on such things the Razgriz pack at least offers decent value, with four skins (easy now) for 400 Points.
It's in the new gameplay additions that Ace Combat redeems itself this time around. The Ace of Aces single-player mission is a welcome expansion to a game most players will have drained dry, though the super-tough nature may put some off. The online missions, meanwhile, beef up that area of the game nicely - offering eight-player siege matches and four-player co-op fun. I've yet to be convinced that a game set in the sky actually benefits massively from multiplayer maps, but at just 100 Points the Battle Royale download supports 16 players and is worth using those annoying leftover Points on.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
- Co-op Collection 2 - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
The second half of the new Ghost Recon co-op campaign has arrived, bringing with it five new campaign missions, completing your assault against rebel leader Manuel Suazo Azcona, and nine new maps - seven from previous Ghost Recon games, two that are totally new. All culled from expansion packs previously released for the PC in 2003, Bridges, Stronghold and Island are lifted from Ghost Recon: Island Thunder while Depot, Riverbed, Ghost Town and Roadblock should be familiar to anyone who played Ghost Recon: Desert Siege. Your two new maps are Treatment Plant and Mining Camp, which absolutely shouldn't be confused with Mein Kampf under any circumstances. This isn't Medal of Honor, you know.
All the maps can be used for multiplayer frolics, and you also get the second chunk of bonus Gamerpoints, with 125 of the little blighters up for grabs. That brings the total of new Gamerpoints to 250, the maximum allowed for DLC, which suggests this may be the last collection the game will receive. The great news is that this pack contains the exact same amount of new material as the previous Co-op Collection, but at just half the price. Lovely.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
- Modern Metal Track Pack - 500 Points (GBP 4.25 / EUR 6.00)
- No Doubt Track Pack - 500 Points (GBP 4.25 / EUR 6.00)
- Classic Rock Track Pack - 500 Points (GBP 4.25 / EUR 6.00)
- Dropkick Murphys Track Pack - FREE
Since the last DLC roundup, four new Guitar Hero track packs have slid across the Xbox Live stage on their knees before throwing their guitars into the amps and diving into the crowd. Most recently, a trio of pub stompers from Irish American celt-punks Dropkick Murphys staggered into view for St Patrick's Day. At the princely sum of no pence, there's no excuse not to give them a try - especially as their rattling rhythms are enormous fun to play, regardless of your musical taste. As always, the price for the premium track packs is rather hard to swallow but there are still some that justify the expense. The Classic Rock selection arguably fits the Guitar Hero ethos best, boasting Peace of Mind by Boston, Juke Box Hero by Foreigner, and Any Way You Want It by Journey. Big bombastic rock anthems all, they'll make you feel like an American teenager in 1981.
For those wearing black hooded tops with angry swirly band logos on them and a timid amount of black eyeliner that can be easily wiped off if you see some hard lads, Modern Metal is where your virtu-cash should go. Almost Easy by Avenged Sevenfold, The Arsonist by Thrice and Hole In The Earth by Deftones are all thrashing about inside, tormented by the bottomless ennui of being young and comfortably off. The ideal soundtrack, then, for hating your parents and sulking outside suburban supermarkets and not doing your A-Level revision because - God! - what's the point of anything?
And finally there's perhaps the most useless Track Pack yet, featuring three tracks from No Doubt, a band more famous for its over-exposed lead singer than for any memorable fretwork. Yes, the one you remember that was in the charts is there, along with two others you won't have heard of. If this news makes you excited, feel free to rush off and download. Then insert rusty skewers into your ears.
- Path of the Elect expansion - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
With the full game having been given away for free as a reward for everyone loving Xbox Live to pieces, and emphatically not as an apology for poor service because Nicky Campbell is terrifying, there's something to be said for this expansion.
Offering an additional five-level campaign, playable solo or co-op, this increases the amount of game for less than you would have paid for the full game in the first place assuming you got it for free and didn't pay for it already. The expansion introduces a new enemy race to the game, the Elect of the title, a typical world-conquering bunch of aliens who need to be slapped silly. The Elect now add themselves to the multiplayer roster, along with four new multiplayer maps.
It's more of the same, basically, making this a very meat-and-potatoes addition to the game. That's not a bad thing, of course, but when you look at the variety of material offered by other Live Arcade games for a similar price, it does mean this is strictly for dedicated fans of the game.
- Multiplayer Map Pack - 400 Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Apparently this limp shooter has sold over a million copies worldwide. Assuming most of those didn't find their way into the pre-owned bin within a week, that means there's a sizable audience out there for this generous selection of five multiplayer maps.
Or at least it looks generous...
Of the five maps, only three are actually new. The co-op map takes place in a dinosaur holding pen, and sets the Whiskey Company team the task of escaping from captivity to a waiting helicopter before Wolf Pack troops unleash the dinos. It's actually quite good, provided you can get enough players to make it interesting, and at least a little different to the usual co-op missions.
Desolation and Sentinel are two more traditional multiplayer maps, neither of which hold up particularly well against similar offerings in other shooters, but are decent enough by Turok standards. Sentinel is probably the better of the two, simply because its mountain-top location offers more variety and there are some larger dinos roaming around to keep things busy.
Finally, we have Inconclusive Tests and A Rivalry Continues. These are what the blurb coyly describes as "re-lit" maps - in other words, these are maps you already have, but they've turned the lights off. Both Testing Ground and A Heated Rivalry are reused, but now they're played at night. While this does make a difference to how you play, it's rather disingenuous to claim they add two to the map total.
Of course, even three maps for 400 Points compares favourably with yer Halos and Calls of Duty, until you remember that those games are vastly superior to Turok in the first place. These could be the best multiplayer maps in the world, but they'd still be hamstrung by the fact that you have to play them using the still-clunky Turok engine.
- Tainted Blood Pack - 600 Points (GBP 5.10 / EUR 7.20)
- Curse of Souls Pack 2 - 600 Points (GBP 5.10 / EUR 7.20)
And talking of games that probably can't be saved no matter how plentiful or generous the downloadable content is, here's Oblivion's mutant cousin.
That the game looks "like a sack of rotten crabs" was one of the nicer things Rob had to say about it, and so having failed to win over the solo adventurer Two Worlds is focusing on its lightweight MMORPG trimmings for downloadable entertainment.
Two new packs have appeared in the Game Store over the last few weeks - Tainted Blood and Curse of Souls. At a wallet-pinching 600 Points each, you get four new maps per pack, containing between 35 and 50 new co-op quests, along with a new PvP team game. Sadly, the co-op maps still suffer from the same problems as the online elements of the packaged game - namely poor design, sparsely populated lobbies and unacceptable frame rate issues.
The PvP game is simply a matter of stomping around four additional maps, collecting more orbs than the other team. "There is more strategy to winning than you think," declares the pre-download text. No, there really isn't. It's a mindless collect-'em-up with no depth whatsoever.
These half-baked offerings may placate those with no concept of what online role-playing is capable of in 2008, but even then 600 Points is far too much to ask. With a file size smaller than many Xbox Live Arcade games, it's clear that these are not the sort of expansions that a high-definition RPG requires. Really, how many worthwhile maps and quests can you fit into 46MB? There's precious little chance of these flimsy selections redeeming a very sloppy game.