PC Gamer
Nitronic Rush Ramp
Christmas is behind us, but the holidays continue. For the next couple of days, we’re going to be showcasing a number of great free games that you might have missed amid the smoke and spectacle of the last couple of months. Whether you want something to play while you queue for The Old Republic or are simply looking to save a couple of pennies as we head into the new year, we’ve got you sorted.

Nitronic Rush is an arcade racing game set in a Tron-style virtual reality. You control a sportscar-shaped streak of neon as it boosts, jumps and tumbles through a twisting obstacle course. Billed as a ‘survival driving game’, the aim is to reach the finish line while racking up points and trying not to hit any of the number of obstacles in your path. Built from scratch by students at DigiPen, it's an impressive debut.

Unlike pared-down challenge racers like TrackMania, Nitronic Rush piles on the extra abilities and features. Your car is loaded with rockets that allow you to jump, roll and fly, provide emergency braking power and a regular speed boost. Their use is limited by your car’s maximum heat capacity, which drains to zero over time and is reset when you pass a checkpoint. This divides each stage into self-contained chunks of challenge: you might be expected to chain a series of jumps into a loop-de-loop, or fly for a proportion of an obstacle course and drive the rest. Extra points are rewarded for barrel rolls and back-flips, and there are online leaderboards for the competitive. Definitely play it with a Xbox controller if you have one, though: this was a game designed with two analogue sticks in mind.

It's also a lovely looking game, with bright, detail-rich environments and lots of incidental movement. While car handling is fairly floaty, the physics model is robust enough to give the game a solid, satisfying feel. Described by its creators as a tribute to the racing games of the nineties, Nitronic Rush has a surprising amount of depth. Definitely worth your time - download it here.
PC Gamer

In most co-operative games, players don’t work together so much as work beside one another. The closest you’ll get to real teamwork is pulling the trigger at the same time. Portal 2 doesn’t work that way. Its co-op problems are impossible without a friend, and each reality-twisting solution forces you to share a brain.

My brain is neurotic, and though he hopefully never noticed, playing with Tom was competitive, too. Every time he worked out the solution first, it stung. Every time my suggested solution turned out to be wrong, I was convinced he thought I was an idiot. The problem is that you’re never just wrong in Portal 2, your idea is stupid, deadly and physically impossible.

Thank god it’s also funny. In singleplayer, Portal 2 is a finely scripted sitcom starring a woman, a robot and a potato. In co-op, it’s a slapstick buddy comedy, with both players as comic foil and GLaDOS as your straight man. When either of us would screw up, Tom and I wouldn’t yell or criticise one another – we left that to Owen and Tim, who were playing at the same time. Instead, we’d laugh, sometimes make P-Body and Atlas high-five, and leave my brain to find reasons to be paranoid on its own.

Having a friend along cancels out all the loneliness you feel in Portal 2's singleplayer. It's a deliberate part of that experience that Chell is isolated amidst the world of test chambers, but it's not always a relaxing way to spend a few hours in the way the co-operative mode can be. Once you've completed both, you're also far more likely to return to the co-op mode a second time than you are the singleplayer. Even knowing the solutions while playing with someone who is on their first run through is fun, as you get to step back and play shepherd to someone else's enjoyment.

As much as acting out the solution is kinetic and wonderful, it was the thought process I enjoyed most. Tom and I would walk in to a new challenge and think: “Um, wait, how do we do this?” We’d both stand still, playing the level through in our mind, once, twice, wait, I’ve got it! If I place a portal here – foont! – and then another here – pshoon! – then I can cover that floor with slime. Then, if I place two new portals at either end – foont! pshoon! – and now you run between them. Woosh. Woosh, woosh, wooshwooshwooshwoosh. And now I place the exit portal here – pshoon! – which will – Wheeeeeeee!

Read our Portal 2 review for more.

Highly Recommended: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Fifa 12.
PC Gamer
Star Wars The Old Republic
The most ambitious aspect of Star Wars: The Old Republic is the staggering amount of writing involved. Every class has their own storyline that unfolds over dozens of hours. Every character you speak to has their own voiced dialogue. It has to be one of the biggest writing projects undertaken by a game studio. How on earth did Bioware do it? We spoke to lead writer Daniel Erickson to find out.

The actual dialogue that you hear when playing is decided much later than you might think, and is the result of long, vigorous writing process that sees ideas tossed back and forth between Bioware's writers, world designers, artists and animators. It all starts simply, though, with a series of short stories.

"It starts with the plot summary which is very much like a story idea pitch," says Erickson. "That's written very much like a classic story - they're going to do that in word and paragraph and whatever... We're gonna go through that, we're gonna see if it's just a good story in general? Does it have the right things that you need for a Star Wars story: are there great characters? Are there great twists? Is it overly predictable?"

Once a narrative has been decided, it has to be applied to the MMO format. There are plenty of logistical questions that need answers before any writing can begin. How many NPCs will be needed to tell the story? How many conversations do they need to have? What do they have to communicate in each one? All of this gets decided in a series of detailed design documents. Erickson tells us that "the idea for the design document version of it is that if we had to hand it to a different writer they could do it and, although the words would be different, it would generally come out about the same."

After that, each story line gets passed back and forth between the writers, artists and animators. A line like "and then a the annoying Gungan is hurled face first into an exploding sun" is easy to write, but technically almost impossible to realise. It's initially up to the world designers to help decide what is and isn't going to work.

"They go through with a fine-toothed comb and look at everything that's required," Erickson explains. "They look at the pacing, and look at how it would feel in the world, and they're gonna give us feedback and say, "this whole scene here where you have 700 people here, and they're all going to fly in the air and then get juggled and then turn into tarantulas? We don't have a way to do any of that."

"Then it's gonna go to the cinematic team, it's gonna go to the art team - they're gonna look at all the requirements, everybody gives their thumbs up, and then the writers start writing."

Then all that's left to is write hundreds of hours of dialogue. This is not straightforward. The world design team go through every story arc, inserting quick "greyboxes," tagged with the technical scripting information needed to wire the quests together, along with quick lines of dialogue that communicate the essence of what's being said in the conversation.

Erickson describes the process. "Let's say the quest is to go defeat this guy - you'll have the conversation and then the guy standing next to him. So he'll be like, "you must go and, you know, journey across the many mountains and the long thing to defeat this guy. Well in the greybox you can just turn and be like, "bam, you're dead!" and then come back to him and have a return conversation."

At this stage, the team can see the back and forth of each conversation as it would appear in-game. "There's a lot of editing done at that point. Then after that, we drop it in the real game, and people play it in a real space. They figure out what the actual pacing is between gameplay and story, whether it slows, whether it's sensible."

"James at that point is usually going to come in and - that's really when he's going to get in there and give his critiques. We're gonna polish that up. Once all of that is signed off, we're gonna send it off to be recorded."

Apart from the scale of the project, the writing methods don't differ much from the ones Bioware used to create Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but Erickson mentions being restricted by the technical complexities of an MMO. "We have to be more buttoned up than on a normal project" he says. "We have to be more aware of our technical restrictions and more aware of how the rest of the game works. So, we're not writing things that turn out to be untenable.

"You can teleport people around in a normal RPG, you can fake things, you can make it look like you went from one place to another because there's a secret room hidden in the wall - you can do all sorts of chicanery that, if you tried to do in an MMO somebody's gonna find that room, somebody's gonna teleport out. We have to cheat a lot less, and that takes more time."

Star Wars: The Old Republic went live a week before Christmas. The war between the Republic and the Empire is in full swing. Join us. If you're based in Europe, you'll find The Mint Imperials and The Revel Alliance on Nightmare Lands. In the US, you'll find The Coconut Monkeys on The Crucible Pits.
PC Gamer

To give you some idea of how indie Wolfire games are, the rabbit-based kung fu game they’re making is not the first rabbit-based kung fu game they’ve made. It’s called Overgrowth, and it looks great, but it probably won’t change the indie scene forever. Their other project has already done that.

They launched the first Humble Indie Bundle last year, to enormous success: it’s just a bunch of great indie games, you pay what you want for them, and a cut of the money goes to charity. At first it doesn’t exactly sound like commercial genius – people generally pay about $5 for games worth at least $20 – but the good cause, slick presentation and friendly attitude created a perfect storm of goodwill.

These games have no DRM, they all work on Windows, Linux and Mac, and if you have any trouble with them the organisers offer quick, friendly and efficient support. The result: the bundles have now taken a total of more than $10 million in under two years.

But one of the main reasons these guys are our community heroes this year is what they've done with that success: they’ve used it as a platform to launch (or relaunch) a range of great indie games that deserve a broader audience. Four times this year, they've released new bundles that showcase a particular game or developer: Trine, Frozen Synapse, Voxatron, and most recently Introversion’s whole catalogue. Each one has taken more than $700,000, a vast success for games that genuinely deserve it.

The latest, Humble Indie Bundle 4, launched on December 13th and made $500,000 within its first few hours. The final total will be divided between the organisers, at least seven game developers, and two charities. But the sheer popularity of these bundles, the latest in particular, makes each of those shares substantial. In many cases, the bundles guarantee that a lot of great indie developers are able to continue making new games for us to enjoy.

The Humble phenomenon is the latest stage of an ongoing revolution in indie games. First, tools like Game Maker, Unity and a free version of the Unreal engine made it dramatically easier for anyone to make a game with no startup cash. Then Steam led a charge for digital distribution that left the indie-friendly platform the dominant player in PC gaming. Now, small developers have a new channel to get enormous exposure and sales for great games, without either a marketing budget or the need for a mainstream publisher.

It’s a huge catalyst for getting great and interesting games to the populace at large, and it’s making PC gaming better for everyone.

Highly recommended: DJ Wheat and Tastosis.
PC Gamer

We elevate the Total War games beyond simply being good strategy games because we believe they’re story-engines: that not only do they offer deep and difficult decisions about how to paint the map your colour, but they also entertain you with your own genius.

Shogun 2 is a spectacular return to form. Partly, it’s the period: a time in Japanese history when heroes and villains rise and fall. Partly, it’s the technology: there’s little in PC gaming that can match the drama of a full speed cavalry charge. But mostly, it’s because the game creates interesting drama. The time when you had to rush an army home to fend off a betrayal from your neighbour clan. The time when you hid an army and engineered an ambush. The time when your veteran clan leader dismounted, and held the line while thousands of peasants rolled into the front gate. That time when… you’ve got the stories. You remember.

Highly recommended: Frozen Synapse and Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty.
PC Gamer
PC Gamer subs covers
Welcome to the PC Gamer Ultimate Christmas Giveaway! This is the biggest competition we've ever done: packed with peripherals, games, and exclusive items signed by some very important people. Why are we doing this? Because it's Christmas! And we love you.

The Ultimate Christmas giveaway will run until Christmas Eve. Every day we'll be posting about a new prize that's up for grabs, and you'll have 24 hours after the time of publishing to enter. Sadly, we're only able to open this competition to UK residents.

You there! You like reading our words, don't you? Well why don't you read them in magazine format too? We're giving away a subscription to PC Gamer UK on Zinio. That's a years worth of PC Gamer, available digitally, for free! Because we're nice like that.

Check inside for details of how to win:

Here's how you win a year of words:

PC Gamer both a magazine and a website, but we can expand further! I want you to come up with an idea for authentic PCG merchandise. Most monetistastic answer wins!

If you win, you'll get a private message via the forums. Reply and we'll send you your prize shortly after Christmas. Remember, this competition is open to UK readers only. Also, if you don't claim your prize within three weeks of being notified we'll offer it to someone else. Full terms and conditions can be found here.

Good luck everyone!
PC Gamer
I’m playing Skyrim as an NPC: walking everywhere, trying to avoid excitement, and seeing if I can scrape out a living without resorting to adventure. Part 1, Part 2.

After all the bandit and troll-based excitement in the last entry, I'm ready for a nice long stretch of peace on a nice long stretch of beach. This morning, so far, I'm finding it: it's so early the sun hasn't come up yet and Skyrim itself seems to be slumbering. As I stroll along, it feels like the game has completely forgotten I'm even here. No enemies come charging out of the pre-dawn gloom to greet me with whistling arrows. No monsters are at my heels, swinging at me with hairy fists. No thieves are trying to burden my inventory with stolen magical weapons. It's just me, the soothing music in my head, and the sound of my own footsteps. Then -- suddenly -- nothing happens.


I'm not simply out hunting for pelts today, either: I'm traveling. I've decided to leave Dawnstar behind, for several reasons. First of all, I want to have a real go at crafting as a profession, and while I can create weapons and armor in Dawnstar, the blacksmith shop has no grindstone or worktable for improving them, which is a bit limiting. There's also no general store in town: the only place to sell my collected miscellany is that Khajiit nomad camp, and, being nomads, they've packed up and left. The iron and quicksilver mines are stripped and it will take ages for the minerals to repopulate. Perhaps most importantly, trolls can wander right into town and beat the shit out of everyone at will.

I've decided Nordrick needs to be in a real city. A city with real shops, a full complement of blacksmithing tools, and big stone walls and a huge oak door to keep out angry snow gorillas. I'm tired of being a big dork in a small town. I want to be a big dork in a big town.

And so, I've hatched a plan, a plan so boldly cautious and daringly timid that it just might work. My target is the city of Windhelm, which lies far to the southeast. I'll have to walk there, naturally, but rather than stride through the interior of Skyrim, which is filled with forts and crypts and bears and giants and who-knows-what-else, I'm going to take the coastal route, along the outer edges of the map. It's a long walk, but I'll have water to one side of me and cliffs to the other, so any danger that wants to jump on my face will have to do it from directly in front of me. Skyrim is full of adventure, but my plan is to sneak around the edge of it, unnoticed.

So far, it's working. The entire morning is uneventful: I hunt a couple foxes with my bow, catch a few salmon with my bare hands, collect the meat of many vicious clams, and walk along in complete peace. In fact, I grow so accustomed to trudging around unmolested that when I see a charred corpse kneeling next to a spell book on a patch of land with a bunch of flames shooting out of it, I just walk right on over and have a look and immediately catch on fire.

Okay, so, that was incredibly dumb and fairly painful. Note to self: weird corpses are not to be trusted.

As evening approaches, I find a shoddy lean-to perched on a rock. I decide to camp there for the night, ignoring the shipwreck I can see in the water below (no more boats!) and trying not to think about the presence of skeletal human remains on the bedroll. I set my infallible mental alarm clock for 4am, hoping to rise early enough to continue slipping under Skyrim's adventure radar.

The next morning, the constant snow flurries give way to a proper blizzard. The wind howls, the world darkens, and there's so much snow I can't see my big nose in front of my face. I press forward until I notice I'm not actually moving because, in my blindness, I've walked directly into an angry horker. It bellows and fusses and flops around angrily, offended at having been stepped on, but it's fat and slow and easy enough to avoid. I briefly consider killing it for meat and tusks, but it just seems too charmingly huffy to hurt.

The blizzard continues. Wolves attack every so often, signaling their presence with mournful howls, then lining my pockets with their fuzzy, bloody pelts. I eventually come across two human skeletons and a bear trap. It looks like someone got their foot caught in the trap and perished, and someone else sat there, helpfully watching as the trapped person perished, and then perished themselves. The skeletons are at the bottom of a narrow mountain pass, and I climb it, slowly and carefully, to have a look around from higher ground. The blizzard stops, briefly, affording me a nice view.

While I'm up there I spot a little bit of dark rock poking up, and I walk over, thinking it might be another camp or shelter I could use. As I get closer, it starts looking less like a camp and more like an altar of some kind. And there's something... something... on it. It looks like a dead body, but it appears to be encased in ice or something... shimmery. I crouch down and creep up as slowly as I can, but just as I'm getting close: VOOOOM! A sudden burst of light and noise and magic hits me right in the face.

I just run. I run all the way back down the pass like a giant coward. When I catch my breath, I realize it was probably something similar to what happened with the burned corpse from the other day. Some idiot was trying to learn a spell, some sort of ice spell in this instance, and offed himself. And then I just come along and blunder into him despite having done the exact same thing earlier in the trip. Didn't I just say "Note to self: weird corpses are not to be trusted?" Is there any point in writing notes to myself if I don't read them? No wonder Skyrim isn't flinging adventure at me on this trip. It doesn't need to. It just lets me come across the dead bodies of people who were looking for adventure and I pick up where they left off.

Toward the end of the afternoon, amidst more snow flurries, I come across a small camp. There's a couple bed rolls, a horker corpse, some tables covered with horker meat and tusks, and a cart. The camp's inhabitants are nowhere to be seen, save a single horse standing around benignly. I remember the two skeletons from yesterday. Were they horker hunters? Did they perish out on a hunting expedition after becoming ensnared in their own trap? The horse isn't talking.

I sleep there and rise early. While I'm pretty sure the owners of the camp are the two dead guys I found yesterday, it doesn't seem right to completely loot the place. However, after much internal debate, I do decide to take the horse, because the horse isn't marked as owned, and if he is owned, the owner is probably dead. Plus, anyone who kills adorable pudgy horkers doesn't deserve their own horse.

I don't press the horse to gallop, so I'm not really traveling any faster than I would on foot, but it's been days since I've seen another living NPC and it's kind of nice to have a companion I can sit on. I decide to name him Flurry. Unfortunately, it looks like I won't get to keep him: every time I have to dismount to fight off wolves, Flurry starts wandering back to the horker hunter camp and I have hustle after him. I realize that having to chase a horse the wrong way every few minutes means it's taking me twice as long to travel to my destination, so I eventually just have to let him go. Bye, Flurry.

Toward the end of the third day, the massive stone walls of Windhelm finally come into view. I'm here! Windhelm! My cunning plan of skirting around adventure totally worked, with the exception of a couple magical traps I stupidly wandered into. Still, I came a long way and didn't encounter any horrible monsters or murderous humans. Plus, there are no new icons on my map, which means I didn't discover anything.

Three full days of walking around in Skyrim without discovering a single new map location? You can't get more hardcore NPC than that. I really feel like I've accomplished something by basically accomplishing nothing.
PC Gamer
sw_Juggernaut_v3 (34)_1600x900
Yesterday's look at the comparison between Star Wars: The Old Republic's specializations and World of Warcraft's classes began with the resolute Republic. Now, part 2 deals with the power-hungry Empire. As before, each listed class specialization gets a brief description and an approximate comparison to their WoW counterpart(s).

Ready for a little totalitarianism? Then read on!

Sith Warrior

The Sith Warrior's particular brand of modesty mostly entails belittling his inferiors and belittling his inferiors with lightsabers. Whereas the Jedi Knight espouses discipline, the Warrior harnesses his Rage – operating similarly to the Rogue's combo points system – to power through his opponents with jazzy melee strikes.

Those Frankensteinian boots aren't just to make you feel like the prettiest girl at the dance – they compliment the Juggernaut's adoption of bulky, heavy armor as his primary defense against incoming damage. Well, besides his massive ego.

The Immortal talent tree is best suited for Protection Warriors seeking a comparable tanking playstyle. You'll use cooldowns with similar effects as Shield Wall and Last Stand in conjunction with Sundering Assault – aka Sunder Armor – for keeping threat squarely in your court.

For those of you desiring heavier hits while still looking like a walking metal workshop, check out the Vengeance tree. Eschewing the Immortal's beefiness for DoT-boosted one-handed strikes, Vengeance equates to the Arms Warrior's steady, pounding damage. Don't forgo Sundering Assault, either – Shatter, Vengeance's top-tier ability, benefits from a significant bleed bonus on targets with reduced armor.

The Marauder has anger issues. He starts his day with some extreme toothbrushing. His to-do list says “kill.” Wielding a lightsaber in each hand and donning medium armor, he's literally the Empire's Fury Warrior. It's all about pumping out maximum hurt for this berserker.

Take up the path of Carnage for a bumped up Rage regeneration rate and the powerful Ataru Form, a stance that gives your attacks a chance to grant a free extra strike. Sound familiar? The classic version of WOW's Sword Specialization carried a similar effect.

Putting points into the Annihilation tree still focuses on pure damage but with the added flair of debilitating periodic effects. The Deadly Saber ability, for example, boasts an on-demand Deep Wounds bleed with stacking benefits.

Sith Inquisitor

If the Sith Warrior represents the smoldering heart of the Empire, then the Sith Inquisitor is the sickly, scheming brain. Wearing light armor and comfortable with either sending surges of crackling lightning energy from range or mincing opponents as a whirling dervish in melee combat, the Inquisitor's versatility juxtaposes stealth, tanking, and spellcasting – all powered by a fixed Force “mana” pool – in a happy little bundle of cruelty.

Emperor Palpatine's trademark “unlimited power!” is the Sorcerer's motto, and it shows. Luckily, sporting that “melted candle” look isn't a requirement. (Although, he's evidently lifted some spare robes from Rita Repulsa's closet.) You'll shame Zeus in electrical endowment after progressing through the Lightning tree as a nuker specialist.

It's near identical to how Fire Mages operate, favoring slow-casting and channeled spells with big, pretty numbers. You even get a Polymorph to assist with CC: Whirlwind tumbles a target helplessly in the air for 60 seconds. Make sure to pick up Lightning Storm, a Hot Streak-like talent that sometimes allows you to zap off a free Chain Lightning when attacking.

Don't be fooled by the Corruption tree's name...unless healing your buddies somehow involves a degradation of morality. The Sorcerer specializes in protective shields and multi-target heals, so Discipline Priests will feel right at home increasing shield efficiency via Corruption's talents. To top it off, nabbing the Revivification ability provides an additional AoE heal resembling Holy's Circle of Healing.

It's only a matter of time before the Altair jokes start rolling in, but the Assassin still retains mastery of the shadows. Heck, anyone who ostensibly lugs around a double-bladed lightsaber staff while staying stealthy deserves no less.

Thus, the Deception tree aids the Assassin's subtlety when edging behind someone for a massive Maul backstab. The impetus for spike damage works well for Assassination Rogues who aren't unfamiliar with positional superiority and carefully timed DPS cooldowns. You'll start noticing similarities right away with the early Dark Embrace talent. Analogous to Overkill, it bestows brief high Force regeneration out of stealth. At level 18, you'll receive Jolt (essentially Kick) for interrupting channels and casts.

The Darkness tree probably takes the prize for emphasizing an unconventional defensive specialization, and besides, “tanking with lightning” just sounds plain awesome. Darkness' utilitarian abilities works less on direct protection and more on making an enemy's life miserable enough to draw threat. The combination of melee and short-range spells is akin to the Blood Death Knight's setup right on down to Dark Ward (Bone Shield) and Force Pull (Death Grip).

Imperial Agent

A connoisseur of cutting-edge weaponry and pressed medium armor uniforms, the Imperial Agent works behind the scenes of the Empire's war efforts. His skill sets employ an arsenal of laser rifles, carbines, and a vicious energy knife. Like the Rogue, the Agent uses a refilling Energy bar. And like the real deal, you'll need to pay close attention when your Energy bar dips into the single digits – the lower the value, the slower it regenerates.

The Sniper loves taking cover. In fact, it's the only way to access the Sniper's most potent shots. The resulting stationary playstyle is like the Marksmanship Hunter. Indeed, even the talent tree carries the same title. Putting points into this specialization knocks seconds off induction abilities such as Snipe and Ambush that are both predictably similar to Aimed Shot and Steady Shot.

Of course, shooting people in the face only gets better when you have a small army of probes at your disposal. The Engineering tree boosts the Sniper's debilitating and explosive probes with expanded AoE and longer durations, a specialization similar to the Survival Hunter's enhanced traps. As an example, grab the Plasma Probe talent for the Sniper equivalent of Explosive Trap.

Never mind that the Operative seemingly shops for clothes in The Matrix – you won't get a chance to see him before he slides a knife between your shoulder blades. Specializing as an Operative means stealth, melee bleeds, and a wallop of an opening strike – in other words, the Feral Druid.

As such, placing points in the Concealment tree upjumps your Backstab and Hidden Strike knife abilities as well as improving stealth for that oh-so-important flanking maneuver. Netting the tree's culminating Acid Blade talent combines the effects of the Feral Druid's Rip and Ravage abilities into a massive initial attack from stealth.

Even healing doesn't escape the Operative's lethality. Sure, medpacs get the job done, but why opt for boredom when you can advertise the latest in Imperial medical techniques by flinging a dart filled with happy juice at an ally? In any case, the Medicine tree furnishes the Operative with improved healing abilities similar to the Restoration Druid's stacking heal-over-time effects. The specialization's final talent, Recuperative Nanotech, is a strong AoE heal akin to Wild Growth.

Bounty Hunter

Packing heavy armor and an arsenal more befitting in Doom than an MMO, the Bounty Hunter knows “hyperbole” doesn't exist in his vocabulary when engaging in ranged combat. If the problem isn't solved by the time the smoke clears, keeping steady pressure on the trigger should fix things.

Of note is the Bounty Hunter's peculiar resource system. Instead of carrying a flat cost, abilities generate Heat that slowly discharges during battle. Let your Heat creep up to 100 (minds out of the gutter, kids), and your attacks will lock up until your weapons cool down.

Mercenaries, like the Republic's Gunslinger, favor dual blaster pistols, hairpin triggers, and an insatiable hunger for credits. But they've also taken the plunge into overkill territory with a flamethrower. And a missile launcher. And a jetpack. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they walked up to a weapons vendor and said, “I'll buy the lot. Just shove 'em under my armor.”

The centerpiece of the Arsenal tree is the Tracer Missile ability, a stackable debuff that should stick on a target at all times for maximum damage. As a result, an Arsenal specialization plays much like the Warlock due to the importance of weaving in crucial debuffs among other attacks.

The Mercenary doesn't skimp on pimping the heals, either. The Bodyguard specialization's fast, instant heals has Holy Paladin written all over it, but the former wins an extra million style points for the simple fact that rendering aid sometimes involves slugging a healing rocket at an ally. Now I know I'm in another galaxy.

The Powertech takes advantage of the run-and-gun nature of the Bounty Hunter when assuming the role of a skilled ranged tank. The defense-oriented Shield Tech specialization operates similarly to the Protection Paladin's strong AoE threat generation (such as when using Oil Slick, an AoE debuff that lowers accuracy).

The Advanced Prototype specialization draws the Powertech even closer to his target, granting movement boosts and upping his Rocket Punch and flamethrower attacks for bonus damage. The combination of a heavy melee strike earned through talents – Retractable Blade – and close-in ranged abilities make this playstyle equatable to the Retribution Paladin.

PC Gamer
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, have you ever wanted to see Santa fight GLaDOS? Of course you have! And that's just one of the unofficial brawls you can arrange with this...

Twas the night before Christmas, and all round the net
At least a few writers weren't quite this desperate. Yet.
They refused the cliche, the call of something so trite
As giving this old poem its millionth rewrite...

"Ah, sod it," thought Santa, "It does fit the mood.
And ignoring Christmas would seem somewhat rude.
But where are the games celebrating the season?
There've barely been any! There must be a reason..."

"Oh, sure," he added, "There's always a few,
Like Holiday Lemmings, and Elf Bowling 2.
But most of them suck, and few make a splash
And let's just forget the ones cranked out with Flash."

"I know what I'll do," Santa said with a grin,
"I'll assemble my own, in a tool called MUGEN
(Which is said with an 'i' in my Lapland accent
Or so I will claim if there's any dissent.)"

"It's a beat-em-up maker with a gigantic community
Full of characters I can download with impunity.
I'm sure I can find any goodies I need.
Oh look! Someone's done a crap version of me..."

So Santa jumped into the world of computers
Accompanied, oddly, by a dwarf Freddy Krueger
And swinging a ball with the uncommon might
Of a lazily edited Chang Koehan sprite.

And he picked up his lists, full of actions observed
To give gaming's celebs presents they deserved
Heroes and villains; creators, destroyers
But mostly the ones without bored in-house lawyers.

Duke Nukem came first, for pure irony's sake
But Santa soon learned, he'd made a mistake
For this was an old Duke, still rendered in 2D
Not the 3D one, whose last game was poopie.

"Come get some," said Duke, and Santa obliged
Pounding Duke's balls with the one at his side
"Here's your damn gift," the huge fat man said
And levelled a kick at his smug empty head.

Duke fought back as hard as he could
But the AI in Round 1 is never much good
His gun was some help, his pipe bombs some more
Soon enough though, he was down on the floor

Santa stared down victorious, but stuck for what to do
This Duke had been in good games, he knew that to be true
Did the sins of his future mean he'd only get coal?
Even if he was now and forever a total arsehole?

"Yes," he decided - Forever was that bad and worse
And its DLC had hardly tried breaking the curse
He left him behind with a note on the floor
"Grow the hell up, you dull, sexist bore."

His next hero was someone in a quite different vein
A disgraced, balding cop by the name of Max Payne
He fought with two guns; in each hand a heater
Though his bullet time made him a bit of a cheater

The battle was short, neither man in the mood
Max's thoughts still on Mona, and Santa's on food.
"You fought well," said Santa. "Now what can I give you?"
"My dead wife and child? Some hope for the future?

"Not really my thing," St. Nick sadly explained.
"On matters necromantic, I've been told to refrain."
"But they're all I want," the poor hero cop sighed.
"Then have an Amazon gift card. In case you change your mind."

When Santa fought Lara, he saw he'd found his match
With her guns and her gadgets, she was tough to dispatch
(The spikes were the worst, which she could summon below
And went where no spike had ever wanted to go.)

The battle was long, and twice in a row he lost
Thanks to none of her special moves having any cost.
She swung, she stabbed, sometimes she even flew
And after doing damage, she healed herself too.

(His size had hardly helped him, not even to distract her.
Though as she confessed later, it could have been a factor.
"I didn't mean to stare," she said, "Nor to wince at your spine,
But damn, I rarely see boobs so much bigger than mine...")

Her present this year was obvious, and gratefully received.
A shotgun in a secret cave at the back of Level 3.
Next year of course new reality was going to change the rules.
For now though, none would question it. The silly, silly fools.

Arthas was the Lich King, cursed to command the Scourge
His armies of death he unleashed to-

"Sod that for a lark" thought Santa, running like hell.
And without 24 friends, that was probably as well.

And that was just the start of the fat man's great quest
If you want to see more, why not download the rest?
There's no point in lying, these mods are often crappy
But there's plenty of variety to keep anyone happy.

To install stuff is simple, though hard to make rhyme
You're probably best reading the Readme. This time.
Add characters and stages and get ready to fight
It'll pass the hours waiting. For Santa. Tonight.

PC Gamer
WoWgeddon thumb
Welcome to the PC Gamer Ultimate Christmas Giveaway! This is the biggest competition we've ever done: packed with peripherals, games, and exclusive items signed by some very important people. Why are we doing this? Because it's Christmas! And we love you.

Merry Christmas PC Gamers! We've finally reached the end of our Christmas giveaway, it's been a great ride, and we've given out some amazing prizes, but all good things must come to an end.

We're going out with a bang though, giving your the chance to win a copy of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm signed by the dev team. That in itself would be an awesome prize, but we don't do things by halves, and neither does Blizzard, and they've given us a monster bundle of goodies to go with it, including posters, t-shirts, action figures, comics, mousemats and more. It's an amazing prize, and one lucky reader will win it.

Check inside for full details of what's included, and a chance to win it.

Deep breaths people, this is a big list. Included in the prize is:

A copy of the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm collector's edition, complete with art book, soundtrack and trading cards. Signed by the dev team.
Five World of Warcraft action figures.
Battlenet Authenticator
Wrath of the Lich King soundtrack
Hardback World of Warcraft comic, collecting six issues.
Steelseries QcK World of Warcraft mousemat.
Two World of Warcraft Cataclysm T-Shirts.
World of Warcraft baseball cap.
Three World of Warcraft posters
Inflatable Frostmourne sword.

We also have a few spare mousemats, posters and stickers to give away to particularly impressive runners up.

Let's have a close up of that signed collector's edition shall we.

Gorgeous. To enter, simply tell me:

Blizzard are planning to introduce Chinese Panda-men, so I want you to come up with a new race for World of Warcraft. Something as cool as Native American cow-men or Jamaican trolls.

If you win, you'll get a private message and your name will appear in this week's winners, be sure to contact us with your address for delivery. This competition is open to UK readers only, if you don't claim your prize within three weeks of being notified, we will give it away to someone else.

Good luck everyone! And congratulations to all our competition winners, we'll be shipping your prizes out soon.