PC Gamer
Half-Life 2 Estranged mod


The only thing missing from Alan Edwardes' Half-Life 2 mod Estranged is a cryptic introduction narrated by Rod Serling, possibly with a door flying into your face from a starry sky. But Estranged's "key of imagination" still unlocks plenty of mystery involving a wrecked ship, a puzzling island, its eccentric inhabitants, and a moonlit beach.

Estranged falls under the mod motif of eschewing explanation for exploration. The hows and whys of your predicament aren't immediately apparent—like any good story, Estranged unravels the truth slowly and subtly until the final twist. You'll solve puzzles and bump into the occasional zombie, but the focus clearly revolves around unfogging what's really going on. Story-driven, atmospheric content is a great way to showcase hard, thoughtful work, and Estranged's tiny touches—the flotsam lining the shore or an island inhabitant's scrounged baubles displayed on a shelf—reflect Edwardes' superb attention to detail.

Edwardes recently released the latest alpha version of Estranged, which you can download on its official website.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

If The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.

With Black Mesa Source somehow now actually released, maybe we need a new impossible mod dream to dream. How about this Jurassic Park-themed mod for Half-Life 2, now six years in the making without any danger of issuing a release date? That’s how PC gaming rolls.

It does have some great footage to show off, though. Clever girl. (more…)

PC Gamer
Half-Life 2 Empires


You can always count on modders to use Half-Life 2 as a canvas for interesting genre combos. Empires exemplifies this as one of the oldest total conversions, bringing Battlefield-style warfare onto the Source engine with three-faction multiplayer mayhem and a commander mechanic akin to Natural Selection 2's system. The first update to the mod in two years, 2.4 adds five new maps, new models, and a small army of fixes.

The new maps—Bush, Arid, Eastborough, Palmbay, and Midbridge—cover typical warzones such as urban, forest, island, and unsecured-bridge-of-certain-death. The heavy tank for the Brenodi Empire as well as the APC for the Northern Faction both received reskins, and the Brenodi's Heavy Pistol model got a bump in quality. Lastly, issuing orders from the commander's interface should be easier through improved menus.

Check out the rest of the extensive patch notes over on Mod DB, where you can also grab 2.4 as a free download.












PC Gamer
Jurassic Life


Dinosaurs were essentially nature's mechs: big stompy giants with shoulder-mounted missile... wait, no. Just big and stompy. But still cool, making it surprising that we don't see more of them in games and that, the few times they do show up, they've a tendency to be rubbish. So fingers crossed for Jurassic Life, a Half-Life 2 mod that's currently in development and has just released this splendid trailer.



Obviously the big draw is the dinosaurs, although here they may as well be wearing a big "work in progress" sign around their necks. But also of note is the beautiful scenery that's being coaxed out of the engine. Given its age, it's easy to forget how good Source can look.

Jurassic Life's ModDB page has the details: "In this adventure, you are Robert Muldoon, the person in charge of the safety of the park. The game will proceed in a relatively linear but intense way with Resident Evil inspired management of the stress."

Obviously it's still a ways off release, with the team looking for additional hands to push them towards completion. It's showing a lot of promise though, and at the very least it should answer the burning question of "what happens when you shoot a T-Rex in the face with a shotgun?" For that reason alone it's worth keeping an eye on.

Thanks, Gaming Blend
PC Gamer
face-off


Face Off pits two gladiators against each other as they tackle gaming's most perplexing conundrums. This New Year's Eve edition is a chronological throw-down: which decade gave PC gaming the most? Podcast Producer Erik Belsaas says it was the '90s—the origin of modern PC gaming. Executive Editor Evan Lahti insists it was the '00s, with its speedy internet, better PCs, and shinier graphics engines.

Evan: The 1990s had the CD-ROM and the McRib sandwich. The ‘00s had Windows XP and two terrible Star Wars movies. I think the latter birthed better games: the Battlefield series, Crysis, Company of Heroes, BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars, The Sims, Rome: Total War, Star Wars: KOTOR, and the best Civilization games happened then. What've you got, Erik?

Erik: Lucasarts, id, Ion Storm, Interplay, Blizzard: the iconic names that created franchises that we still discuss today. “RTS,” “FPS,” and “MMO” had no meaning before the pioneers of the '90s came along with some-thing other than sequels and rehashes: Baldur's Gate, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior, Unreal Tournament and every LucasArts adventure game from Sam & Max to Grim Fandango.

Evan: This is going to devolve into who can name-drop more game titles, isn't it?

Erik: Pretty much.

Evan: Cool. In that case, let’s put the best we've got on the page. What are the top three games from your decade? Mine: WoW, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2.

Erik: Just three? How about X-COM, Fallout, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Timeless classics that we still play today.

Evan: Is that the best that the decade that gave us the Spice Girls has got, grandpa? The innovations of the '00s will last far longer. Half-Life 2 wasn't just the basis for the way modern action games tell stories, it’s the technological foundation for the most ambitious mods we have today and the preferred canvas for machinima creators. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise brought PC gaming into popular culture, ruined innumerable marriages, and earned its own South Park episode. Top that.

Erik:Your great games are all parts of established franchises that began in the '90s. For that matter, the original Counter-Strike mod came out in 1999, before Valve turned it into a retail product! Take away the names that began in the '90s, the '00s would've created very little of their own.

Evan: Megabyte for megabyte, I’d rather replay Half-Life 2 than its predecessor. Likewise for Diablo II, Warcraft III, Fallout 3 and other major franchises that began in the '90s but matured in the '00s. I really think that the tech of the '00s (better operating systems, fast internet, faster PCs) produced better gaming experiences. EVE Online couldn't exist in the '90s. Team Fortress 2's dozens of free content updates couldn't have streamed down our wimpy modems—the same goes for 25-man WoW raids or a heavily modded playthrough of Oblivion or Morrowind.

Erik: You've got a short memory. EverQuest allowed 72-man raids. And before Oblivion and Morrowind came Daggerfall, which was amazing and heavily modded. Doom, the father of modding, came out in '93.

Evan: I’ll play your game, Belsaas. Here's my ace: Deus Ex, our most favorite game ever, happened in 2000.

Erik: Deus Ex is a good game...but how about StarCraft? Has any other game absolutely defined its genre or rallied an entire nation behind it like a sport?



Evan: I was worried you’d play the Korea card. What can I counter that with? The 100-million-selling main-stream success of The Sims? The booming popularity of independent gaming? ...Peggle?

Erik: Peggle? Well I’ve got...you know...uh...Carmen Sandiego. Fine. Peggle wins.
PC Gamer
Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun replica


"You can call it the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator if you really want to," Half-Life 2's Alyx Vance said as we were introduced to the Gravity Gun, one of the most memorable physics-twisting tools of PC gaming. Soon you'll be able to lug around your very own triumph of science: collectible manufacturing company NECA announced a 1:1 Gravity Gun replica available for purchase in spring 2013.

Though it misses this holiday shopping season by a few gluons, the model—still in an early prototype stage—looks like it'll tout just as much fine detail as NECA's Portal Gun. A pre-order form should be available soon, NECA said. We presume it won't take headcrab legs as currency.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

The Black Mesa mod is a remarkable accomplishment, remaking Half-Life in the Source engine, and now a mapper building upon their work has remade another slice of Valve history. Black Mesa: Uplink remakes HL's classic Uplink demo, which curiously for a demo was a new slice based upon levels cut from the game during development. And now that's available in shiny Source-o-vision.

Black Mesa: Uplink is out now on its ModDB page and here on Shacknews. To play, you'll need to own a modern Source game on Steam and have the Black Mesa mod installed. Mapper Michael 'Hezus' Jansen made Uplink over three months, building upon the assets and eight years of work from Black Mesa.

Set roughly around Half-Life's Lambda Core chapter, Uplink sees Gordon Freeman on a mission to activate a radio antenna so people can escape, only an awful lot of soldiers, mutants, aliens, radiation leaks and jumping puzzles are in his way.

"I've recreated something people played 13 years ago, that means it's intertwined with nostalgic feelings," Jansen said in the release announcement. "Have I recreated it according to their past experience? Have I changed too much? Have I changed too little? All I know is that I threw away all illusions that I could please everyone with this remake, right when I started the project. I made it as I saw fit and I hope the commentary tracks will shed some light on my choices."

PC Gamer
uplink_compare3


Remember Uplink? (No, not that Uplink.) Valve called its original demo for Half-Life "Uplink" in 1999. It took place during Gordon Freeman's journey through the spooky Lambda Core, but Valve eventually cut the content, later repackaging it as a separate demo. Black Mesa: Uplink reproduces Uplink's levels through Black Mesa's art assets and textures.

Tasked with reactivating an antenna to send a distress signal, players must guide Gordon and his magical, mighty crowbar (minds out of the gutter, kids) through the Lambda complex's radioactive bowels. You'll meet Black Mesa denizens we all know and love: scientists, Barney, Vortigaunts, dead scientists, and headcrabs. Because it was a demo, however, Uplink doesn't last long, but it presents a new branch in Black Mesa's storied saga.

Grab Uplink from Mod DB. Note: You'll need the also-free Black Mesa for it to work.
Kotaku

Next Year, You'll Be Able To Buy Your Own Half-Life 2 Gravity GunSadly, it won't make the holiday shopping season, but toy company NECA's replica Half-Life 2 gravity gun will be available for purchase next Spring.


It's 1:1 scale, and as you can see from the prototype below, lights up as well. Since this is the same company behind the replica Portal guns, you could probably expect some sound effects as well.


1:1 Half-Life Gravity Gun Coming From NECA In 2013 [TNI]


Next Year, You'll Be Able To Buy Your Own Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun


PC Gamer
coop header


Games get a bad rap for being a solitary, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. But they can also be a collaborative, violence-obsessed form of entertainment. Just ask the close-knit PC Gamer team.

Tom F: Co-op based games teach us the value of teamwork better than any kitten based motivational poster, by showing us how many more of our enemies we can crush if we can just learn to work together.

Graham: They’re not just violent either. We can build giant penis statues together in Minecraft. No, wait, that’s bad. We can control egotistical millionaires in FIFA! Oh God, no. Rich?

Rich: Well, Supreme Commander celebrates the pioneering spirit, by asking us to build a host of clanking deathbots... I got nothing. Chris?

Chris: Uh. Diablo III shows that hell is easier with other people? Hm. Senior? Bail me out?

Tom S: I can’t, I’m too busy shooting these damn zombies. Stop intro-ing and let’s go play together.



Portal 2 - 2 players, Online
 
How does it work? You and a friend play comedy robots in co-op-only test chambers.

Why is it good?

Tom F: The puzzles get magnificently complicated when designed for two. You can jump through each other’s portals, so you’re often setting up a jump that your partner will perform. And because every puzzle requires two players, you’ve got to figure out where to put four different portals, and coordinate your approach. It bent my brain in the same ridiculous ways that Portal 1 did.

Graham: I use my portals to make a corridor slick with gloopy paint. Tom places his at either end of the corridor, creating the world’s first infinite slip ’n’ slide. I run down it and build absurd momentum, and as I reach terminal velocity, Tom moves one of his portals so that when I exit, I’m flung out over a chasm filled with acid. Co-op Portal 2 means entwining not just your portals, but your brains.



Minecraft - 2 to many, online or LAN
 
How does it work? Join a server and collaborate with friends – or strangers – to build the biggest, best, and most phallic structures you can.

Why is it good?

Rich: Within minutes, I was building a spa. I don’t know why I was building a spa. No one had said “let’s build a spa” in the chat channel, but there it was, forming before us. Graham, now-departed Craig Pearson and I, had hollowed out an underground chamber, constructed a raised dais of glass, and diverted water to create a lovely jacuzzi pool. Our subterranean sauna was lit by lava, and we sat in it, content.

Graham: My first time was on a new, private server with a few folks from the PCG community. In three hours we dotted the landscape with giant Darwinians, and built an underground bunker with launch missiles, library and steam rooms to avoid a player who had built an ugly golden bridge around the world. It felt like I’d spent an afternoon building sandcastles with friends.



Fifa 12 - 2-5 players, local
 
How does it work? Two or more players join forces to defeat the nefarious forces of Computron, the dark lord of kicking.

Why is it good?

Rich: Football is incredibly frustrating. FIFA recreates that frustration perfectly: genius moves undone by idiot players. But in co-op, I managed to reduce that frustration through one simple method: blame someone else. I think I’m great at FIFA 12 at the best of times; when I’m playing in co-op, I’m flawless. Graham, on the other hand, is terrible.

Graham: And Rich smells bad. For a while, we were playing two-on-two, but then our fourth man lost interest. We started playing two-on-one. Here’s what we found: the player controlling a team on their own has the advantage. To work together in FIFA is to anticipate the other’s moves, making runs and pulling away defenders. If you do it right, you’re unstoppable. If you’re Rich and I, Rich smells bad.





Diablo 3 - Up to four, drop-in, drop-out co-op across the whole campaign
 
How does it work? Every player you add to a game of Diablo III boosts the health of your enemies, increasing the challenge – but far less than it did on launch, when damage increased as well. Otherwise, it’s just Diablo III with more people.

Why is it good?

Chris: D3’s normal difficulty is very easy, but it gains a lot of life if you’re doing it with friends. Experimenting with new skills adds a slapstick dimension to demonbashing that’s better with other people. It’s basically that bit from Lord of the Rings where Legolas and Gimli are competing to kill the most orcs, strung out over 15 hours.

Tom S: Having a friend or two around gives you more freedom to experiment with new abilities. If you’ve got a Barbarian chum to wave and shout and take punches to the face, you can sacrifice a defensive ability for that demonic ghost bat bombing run skill you’ve been dying to try. Few things amaze and terrify a co-op partner as effectively as an unannounced demonic ghost bat bombing run.

Chris: It used to be that co-op Diablo III didn’t work: it was too diffi cult, and actually reduced the amount of loot you seemed to get. Patches have since redressed the balance, and working together to crack Inferno is a satisfying challenge.



Alien Swarm - Up to 4 players, online

How does it work? It’s a top-down shooter where you control a squad of four marines shooting aliens in a scripted campaign.
 
Why is it good?

Rich: People love swarms. The swarms of aliens in Alien Swarm (clue’s in the name), are best dealt with by coordination: one of your group becomes point-man, clearing rooms with shotguns and flamethrowers. Another takes up the rear, machinegun blaring to dissuade any would-be alien pouncers. This coordination is the result of a kind of natural, happy trance that players fall into, rather than tiresome enforcement.

Tom F: I’m a Medic, which used to mean I was the sensible, cautious, team player. Until I realised I could take a chainsaw. It’s terrible. It’s a terrible weapon, don’t use it. You can’t just charge into alien hordes, blade revving. OK, just one more go.



Trine - Up to 3 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work? Each player can transform themselves into a thief, warrior or wizard at any time. In the mode we play, you can have two Thieves at once if you like.

Why is it good?

Tom F: It’s a physics-based platform puzzler, which in co-op means dropping heavy objects on each other for fun. The wizard can create boxes and levitate them, and your co-op partner can stand on them. Most of our solutions involved carting each other around on telekinetic elevators.

Graham: Trine’s best class is the grapple-hooking, arrow-firing thief, because of the arrow-fi ring but specifically because of the grapple-hooking. In the singleplayer game, you’re forced to switch away from the thief to navigate obstacles and fi ght larger enemies. In co-op, two thieves are better than one, and combined you’re able to spend more time as a swinging idiot. The best kind of idiot.



Left 4 Dead 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work? - There are lots of game modes now, but the one we play most is still the campaign: four players against the AI-controlled zombie hordes.

Why is it good?

Tom S: I ran through Left 4 Dead 1’s campaign on its hardest diffi culty setting with a group of regulars. We played in the 4 6 5 same small room for many hot, panicked hours until our cries of fear overruled the rattling pistol fire coming out of our speakers. The defence events and climactic mission fi nales offered us a chance to take stock and plan, but the best moments happened when those plans disintegrated in the face of an unexpected Tank charge, or a perfectly placed Witch.

The AI director never quite offered the longevity that it promised, and the monsters lost their scare factor after a while, but Left 4 Dead is still a superb, if harrowing, co-op experience. Ever since Valve ported the fi rst game’s superior maps into the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 has been the better choice of the pair.

Tom F: There’s an achievement for winning a garden gnome on the fairground level, and taking it all the way through the rest of that campaign. For me, that is the game. It takes both hands to carry the gnome, so whoever’s holding it can’t fi re their weapons. You can set it down and grab it later, but among huge crowds of zombies and charging Tanks, it tends to get kicked around with alarming force.

So you take it in turns to sacrifice your firepower and carry the precious cargo, relying completely on your friends to protect you and your porcelain companion when it’s your turn. If a zombie does get to you, all you can really do is bash him with the gnome.

The carnival finale, set in a huge stadium, was just too intense for any of us to survive it gunless. So when the helicopter finally arrived to bail us out, the real challenge was a frantic scavenger hunt for a chipped red hat among the seething infected. Finding him, grabbing him, and making it out alive was the most nail-biting co-op experience I’ve ever had with the game.





Half Life 2 - 2-10 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work? The Synergy mod enables two or more of you to jump straight into Half-Life 2, Episode One or Episode Two’s singleplayer campaign.

Why is it good?

Tom F: Half-Life 2 is a huge and amazing adventure. And while there are a lot of great co-op games, there aren’t many that are huge and amazing adventures. People don’t make long, varied, story-driven journeys through meticulously detailed and gorgeous places when they’re making a co-op campaign. So a mod that makes Half-Life 2 and its two episodic expansions work cooperatively is an amazing discovery. I don’t know how it works, but it does.

Graham: Tom and I played through the entire of Half-Life 2, and into Episode Two, over many happy lunchtimes. The best part is the Highway 17 segment in Half-Life 2. You’re both given your own buggy to drive across the countryside, and the solitary bungalows that dot the coast are perfect for cooperative assault: one person bursting through the front door while the other circles around the back. The Combine only seem to be expecting one of you, for some reason...



Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 - " players in campaign mode, 2-4 players in terrorist hunt, online or LAN
 
How does it work? We play Terrorist Hunt: you and the other players have to clear out a big, complex building in which a fixed number of terrorists run around and try to ambush you. It’s brilliant.

Why is it good?

Tom F: Terrorist Hunt is an immediately exciting concept, because it feels more like a simulation of a real armed-response firefight than any campaign level could be. You can’t be sure the level designer isn’t going to have the terrorists suddenly come from behind you, because the level designer doesn’t make that call: the terrorists do.

Graham: It’s doubly cool in co-op, because the challenge is so overwhelming. Even with the foresight of a snake camera under the door, it’s just tough to take out six terrorists in a room before any of them kill you. So you plan: I’ll take the left two... You throw a frag... I’ll come from the other door... You rope down to the window. And then you completely screw it up.



Mass Effect 3 - Up to 4 players online
 
How does it work? Fight to complete a mixture of objectives on small but open levels against randomised enemy forces. Level up characters and promote them into the singleplayer campaign to improve Shepard’s chances.

Why is it good?

Chris: ME3 multiplayer takes what is good about co-op survival modes – last-stand heroics and impromptu acts of daring – and adds incredibly varied races, classes and weapons that prevent it from ever becoming samey. Right now, I’m enjoying a Quarian infi ltrator that disintegrates enemies at close range with the Reegar Carbine, a gun we’ve come to call THE PLASMA HOSE. I’m just as happy charging around as a Krogan vanguard, or racking up headshots as a Turian sentinel carrying a Black Widow.

Tom S: New classes and bizarre new weapons are added regularly through free updates. You’re always holding out against waves of familiar enemies, but the variety of ways in which you can off these enemies expands every month. The N7 classes BioWare added recently push the boundaries of what the Mass Effect universe can sensibly contain. The Shadow can dart across the map and slash foes with a psychically infused katana, the Destroyer’s weighty carapace gives him the grounding to wield a rapid-fire grenade launcher with decent accuracy and the Slayer is a teleporting martial arts expert. With so many powerful abilities to choose from, playing with friends becomes more about showing off than anything else.

Chris: BioWare’s free updates to the game have been excellent and generous, particularly the new maps. They’ve drawn me back to the game and kept it feeling fresh, which is essential for co-op.

SCREENSHOT MISSING

Supreme Commander - 2-7 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work?

Start a multiplayer game, put all humans on team 1, and some nice tough AIs on team 2. Crush.

Why is it good?

Tom F: It’s not the first co-op game you think of, but playing it cooperatively is how we’ve had the most fun with it. It can be dauntingly complex, so it’s great to have friends in there to help out if you forget to build anti-air or crash your power economy. In theory. In practice what usually happens is we beaver away on our own bases in silence for seven minutes then one of us says “Shit, fuck, they’re dropping in my base and I forgot to build point defence again, have you got anything that can help?” and the other says...

Graham: No, soz :(

Tom F: It’s about hatching your own masterplans, surviving long enough to see them complete, then raining the giant robotic fruits of your labours down on the enemy at the same time. My giant laser spiders are ready! Your flying fortresses are ready? Let’s go! My towering Galactic Colossus is ready! Your swarm of invincible death bricks is ready? Let’s go!





Dawn of War: Last Stand - Up to 3 players online
 
How does it work? - Unlike the main game, Last Stand gives you only one hero each. You’ve got to fi ght off increasingly tough waves of enemies until you die (likely) or beat wave 20 (unlikely). After the match, you usually unlock new equipment for your character.

Why is it good?

Tom F: I didn’t really get Last Stand until I levelled up a few times. The fun is in discovering new builds, and the role they can play in your group. As the Ork, I thought I was the longrange damage dealer: my autocannon certainly works for that, and when enemies get close I use my teleporting armour to get away. The notion of using the much tougher set, the one that can’t teleport, seemed pretty ridiculous. Until I unlocked the knife. The knife doesn’t do much damage, but it regenerates your health. Add some armour bonus trinkets, a self-healing trait, and an item that stops me being knocked down, and I can turn myself into an unstoppable tank. Suddenly I’m the guy charging into a nest of Tyranids to keep them off my friends, and coming out at full health.

Tom S: In the grim darkness of the future, three dudes battle ridiculous odds in a small stone circle. The setup may seem contrived, but DoW2’s overlooked co-op mode does a much better job of realising the Warhammer 40K fantasy than the campaign. Absurdly powerful heroes dominate the fiction, so I got a kick out of levelling up my venerable Space Marine captain and testing him against the hordes.

Last Stand understands 40K’s scale as well. The final waves throw more foes into the arena than you’ll see in any of the singleplayer missions, so victory may seem impossible. After a few levels you can start combining your heroes’ most powerful abilities to create a maelstrom of death. The glorious slaughterfest that results is worthy of a Space Marine’s final heroic moments.



Killing Floor - Up to 6 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work? Fight together to fend off waves of mutants, then stock up on guns and ammo at a shop that’s never in the same place twice.

Why is it good?

Chris: Without its guns, Killing Floor would be the bleakest, muddiest depiction of Britain at the end of the world since a bunch of Romans said “let’s go home, it’s cold and everyone here is mental.” With its guns, it’s one of the most satisfying co-op shooters around. My favourite is the bolt-action rifl e, which takes mutant head-popping and turns it into an avant garde musical genre. Bang! Chunk. Click. Bang! Blargh! Splatter.

Rich: I like the dual desert eagles. They go ‘whump’, like a pie dropped down a hole. But a really big pie, one that kills anyone unlucky enough to be standing under it in a spray of arterial blood. And when it kills them, this pie, it makes everything slow motion for a while, so your team can marvel at your incredible pie-dropping-stroke-gun-shooting skills.

Chris: Definitely play it with voice chat, though. Partly so that you can coordinate properly and warn your friends when they’re about to be sawn in half, but mostly so that you can talk over the truly, deeply dreadful voice acting. I started playing it during the Portal 2 promo campaign, when all the shopkeepers were replaced by GlaDOS. It was a huge improvement.



Borderlands 2 - Up to 4 players, online or LAN
 
How does it work? The whole campaign is playable in drop-in, drop-out co-op.

Why is it good?

Tom F: Two reasons – for one, the different abilities of each class mix well in a team fight. It’s great to see your Siren pluck a boss up into the air, and into range of your Commando’s turret and your Gunzerker’s... gunzerk. Secondly, cooperative play is good for diffi culty spikes, and Borderlands 2 sure has those. Dealing with an inordinately tough boss is less frustrating when there’s a whole a bunch of you coming up with new ideas and tactics, and a wider variety of weapons to try.

Tom S: Almost anything can pop out of Borderlands 2’s unfolding robot boxes. It could be a revolver that shoots lightning grenades, it could be a glowing, five-foot-long sniper rifl e with an enormous bayonet on the end. Whatever you get, it’s always better to have friends there to go “WOAH” or “whaaaat” or “give me that immediately.” Borderlands 2’s batty enemies are more fun to fi ght in a team, a constant stream of new gadgets to crow over makes it feel like the best sort of trick or treat trip, the sort where you get bazookas instead of sweets.



Arma 2 - 2 to many, online or LAN
 
How does it work? Players can join and play custom missions with each other, or mess around in the weapon playground add-on pack, Private Military Academy.

Why is it good?

Rich: The first time I played an Arma 2 custom mission with Marsh and Owen, it ended with me rolling sideways up a hill and giggling like a maniac. The second time, we were shot before we realised what the ‘open backpack’ key was mapped to. The third time, we found ourselves on a hillside, standing next to a crumpled chopper. It was dark, but the sky was brightening slowly as the sun rose somewhere off in the east. It would’ve been idyllic, were it not for the crowd of ornery locals taking potshots at us.

Together, we made it into a nearby settlement, where our rendezvous chopper was settling down into the dust. We sprinted towards it, tracer fire whistling over our heads, as we howled fears for our safety down our microphones. We were silly men, but Arma 2 quickly made us feel like (mildly inept) soldiers.

Marsh: Most of the time, my Arma 2 experience seems to consist of dying instantly or getting stuck in rocks. But occasionally, you roll the incredibly-complex-emergent-behaviour dice and get a scene as gripping and fluidly dramatic as anything from Full Metal Jacket. I don’t mean the toilet-suicide sequence. Running for that chopper with a busted leg and three shots left in my pistol as the enemy tightened the noose was one of the most extensive workouts my heart has undergone in many years. And it wouldn’t have been half the experience without Owen and Rich bellowing, “COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!” as I lurched the final few yards.
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