Half-Life
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.
Mass Effect
Mass-Effect-3 GOTY


I think the reason that Mass Effect 3 remained my favourite game of the year is also the reason it caught some flak: it was the end of a huge story that we were all seriously invested in. For me, that gave the whole 20-hour adventure an almost electric energy, the tingly feeling that everything had been leading up to this. For some, that meant the not entirely satisfying ending felt like a slap in the face.

I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t like the actual end scene much, but it was a few minutes of nonsense among twenty hours of the best Mass Effect has ever been. That was my ending: the full scale invasion of the Reapers, the desperate street battles, the tragic deaths of old friends, the final moments of camaraderie with the ones left alive. I’d already had most of the closure I needed before the... weird bit.

The history we all have with these characters, and the attachments we’ve formed with them, gave Mass Effect 3 an unfair advantage over everything else that came out this year. But it didn’t take that for granted. Despite the praise we’d all heaped on the previous two games, BioWare worked hard to do better.

For me, the most important part of that was the story. It’s BioWare’s strength, of course, but after Mass Effect 2’s unconvincing Cerberus angle I wasn’t sure they’d close it out decisively. I needn’t have worried. The climactic nature of the Reaper invasion gives Mass Effect 3’s story drive and urgency, and the premise of racing around the galaxy to drum up allies gave you a string of critical decisions to make. It felt like being in charge again.

The RPG elements finally clicked, too: it’s the first Mass Effect game where I wanted to continue with each class I tried. As well as being powerful and distinct, they were customisable in a much more significant way: it was up to you how heavily armed your class should be, and how rapidly their powers would recharge. Heavier weapons meant slower powers, and finding your preferred balance was the first time in the series that I got really excited about character builds.

Mass Effect 2 made combat satisfying, but it still dragged after the umpteenth arena scuffle with the same enemy classes and the same low walls. Mass Effect 3’s contribution was a massive overhaul in enemy design. Every faction is completely different to fight against, and you’re fighting a lot of them. Within each army, there are intricate relationships between the enemy types that you need to disrupt before they buff, heal, or armour-plate each other. Figuring out how to combine your squad’s powers to deal with that was a shifting challenge.

But maybe the most remarkable thing about Mass Effect 3 was that we were able to have any personal investment in it at all. This is a series that had been giving us hugely consequential decisions for 40 hours already: the state of the universe and most of its key players were radically different for each of us. From its first scenes to its massive conclusion, Mass Effect 3 could make no assumptions about which of your 13 companions might be alive or dead. Under the hood, it’s a nightmarishly complex web of dependencies and replacement story branches. And yet to us, the whole thing was seamlessly consistent. Everything I’d done was reflected in the ongoing situation, everyone I’d lost was gone – and the story adapted. It’s the most impressive trick I’ve ever seen a sequel pull, and it’s a big part of what made Mass Effect 3 so special.

Read More: Mass Effect 3 review.

Runners Up: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM GOTY


I knew the moment the tide had turned. It was 15 hours into my first XCOM: Enemy Unknown campaign, and I’d just outfitted my squad’s psychic soldier with psi armour. I’d only discovered Major Tom’s latent mindbending abilities a few missions before, but he’d already proved himself a devastating anti-alien defence in the field. Kitted out in this gear, he was near unstoppable.

Earlier in the game, I’d hung back. I’d waited it out, luring aliens into laser crossfire, overlapping vision cones and overwatch orders, patiently, eventually clearing out XCOM’s alien infestations. Now, I could sprint psychic Tom out into the open, call out those unknown enemies in droves, and melt their puny brains. I revelled in it. I started talking at the screen. “You think you can run, you horrible bug? I’ll make you eat your friends. I’ll make you stand in the open, rip your disgusting body open with hot plasma. I’ll make you die. I’ll make all of you die.” Then I’d start cackling.

I’d invented a fiction. My soldiers were my action figures, I’d made them run and hide and shoot and watch their friends die, and I imbued them with the heroism and pathos of those events. Graham Smith had been impetuous and aggressive. He died when he strayed too close to a burning – later exploding – car. Owen Hill, once carefree and cheerful, was calcified by his death. He became a dead-eye sniper, silent and stoic, and able to lance a Muton through the eyes with a snapshot from half a map away.

Marsh Davies was relentlessly helpful. My team medic never missed a mission, and reinvigorated everyone else when their resolve slipped or their blood drained out. He never once panicked. Richard Cobbett was insane: a close-range monster, he’d hurtle into combat, heavy alloy cannon acting as far-future shotgun and drawing enemies out for easy shooting. He somehow survived the entire campaign.

Until the turning point, I imagined my women and men daunted by the task of saving humanity. After, with the psychic in their midst, I imagined them standing in XCOM’s home base, grinning. They had it in the bag. They were too powerful, too well-equipped, knew too much about their enemy. Enemy known, now.

I’d led them all the way, but I didn’t feel like it was my victory. It was theirs as much as mine. These action figures were alive. XCOM: Enemy Unknown seduces players with attachment, making you know and care for your soldiers. When they die, a tiny part of me dies. Sometimes they live. I love it when they live.
Without that attachment, XCOM is merely a mechanically superb turn-based strategy game that I’d suggest everyone plays. With it, XCOM elevates itself even further, forging player memories that’ll live as long as you play and care about games.

Read More: XCOM review.

Runners Up: FTL, Sins of a Solar Empire.
Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt DLC


Borderlands 2's dapper gentleman hunter Sir Hammerlock was always around to aid the struggle against Handsome Jack from his remote safehouse, but now he's getting more involved by inviting the Vault Hunters on an expedition they can't refuse. Or maybe they can. If they do, they'll be skipping Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, the next DLC for Gearbox's loot-tastic RPG. It releases on January 15 for an expected price of $10/£6 or free for Season Pass holders.

The hunt promises "Danger! Excitement! Mustaches!" and the new swamp-filled continent of Aegrus on which to show the creatures of Pandora what for. The DLC also includes five story missions and 12 side-missions filled with new enemies, Seraph items, and the driveable Fanboat er, boat. The story, as the trailer suggests, seems to involve a jungle tribe of feral, Jack-worshipping psychos and a Stalker raid boss. At this point, I'm inclined to believe a day doesn't pass on Pandora without someone shooting something really big. Or just shooting anything.
Braid
Steam Holiday Sale


Valve kicked off its epic Steam Holiday Sale today, offering heavy discounts, flash sales, and catalog clearances lasting until January 5. And before we start drifting dangerously into wallet-pun territory, know you'll be able vote for a select game every 12 hours to go on sale.

Here's a sampling of the sales and flash deals (if you can call a 15-hour timespan a "flash") available for purchase right now:

60% off Natural Selection 2 ($10/£6)
50% off War of the Roses ($15/£9)
50% off Borderlands 2 ($30/£18.50)

The current nominees for the Community's Choice sale are Limbo, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Braid. The winner gets 75 percent taken off its price. And if, by some small chance, a specific game deal you're seeking isn't there, Valve can notify you when it shows up if you add the title to your wishlist. Wonderful.

Ready to get shopping? Deep breath, and go.
BioShock™
Bioshock Infinite cover thumb


Irrational have just posted a video showing the first few minutes of Bioshock Infinite. That's the first minutes of actual campaign footage, not the minutes directly after loading up the game. That trailer would be a parade of splash screens followed by someone meticulously combing through all the option menus to make sure everything was set up properly. No, this has... well, spoilers, obviously. See the trailer below.



Is this the start of a promotional campaign that will systematically run through the entire game in five minute chunks? Unlikely. And yes, in case you're wondering - the reason I'm not talking about what's in the video is because I made it as far as the opening quote before deciding to just wait for the game to come out. Was it good?
Counter-Strike
Steam Time Analysis


Lambent Stew's free, web-based Steam Time Analysis tool laid bare my backlog of shame by breaking down time spent (or not spent) on each of my library's games like some sort of cold, ruthless PowerPoint presentation. The breadth of information provided is quite impressive. Over email, Stew told us the new build includes a few new features that further visualize users' habits.

You're now be able to compare your profile with those on your friends list for games owned, how many were played, and total hours played. (Our own Executive Editor Evan Lahti only played around 16 percent of his over 1300-game stable, the lazy bum.)

Similar to another homebrewed utility, a new worth calculator also provides combined figures for minimum, maximum, and current game prices in your library. Locating your own profile should be easier with improved search: just type in your Steam profile ID, and the tool should easily zero in on your data.

Check out the tool for yourself on Lambent Stew's website. How do you rank against your friends? What's your most-played game?
Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 2


"Danger! Excitement! Mustaches!" That's what's being rumoured for an upcoming Borderlands 2 DLC pack, titled Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt. Reddit user and suspected infidel 'MikeTheInfidel' - who previously unearthed details of the now released Campaign of Carnage DLC - has gone digging through PS3 update files to uncover info of a new adventure with the oddball hunter.

From the DLC's description: "It's time for another episode of Vault Hunter Adventures, featuring Sir Hammerlock! In this week's tale, our hard-boiled heroes travel to the savage continent of Aegrus! Their goal? To uncover the most exotic creatures Pandora has to offer, and give 'em the old one-two!"

In his Reddit post, MikeTheInfidel runs through the additions he found. According to him, the DLC will take place on a new swamp/jungle continent named Aegrus, and will contain five story missions and twelve side-missions. Additions include new enemies, new Seraph items and a new vehicle - the fanboat, which you'll get from Catch-a-Boat stations. It will also add a raid boss, the description of which says "Imagine, if you will, a Stalker the size of a small building. Now imagine yourself killing it." Because the invisible gits weren't bad enough at their regular size.

As for story, expect a "self-important but not-so-well-known" villain who is "super-pumped we're arch-enemies now". Whoever he is, he'll be leading a tribe of jungle savages. Assuming, that is, that this information isn't - as Sir Hammerlock might say - complete codswallop.

Thanks, OXM.
Half-Life 2
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.
Crysis
GameFly End of the World sale


When facing the end of time as we know it through a cataclysmic prophecy, it's time for a sale to mark history's end with a bang. To wit, GameFly's End of the World event nixes 75 percent off select titles for the next 12 days, providing valuable buys such as a $15/£9 Witcher 2, a $25/£15.50 XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and $12.50/£8 for The Walking Dead, among others.

More games will appear throughout the sale's duration, but current offerings include Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for $2.50/£1.60, Batman: Arkham Asylum for $10/£6, and Crysis for $7.50/£4.70.

If you haven't yet taken shelter in your fallout bunker cheered at the increasing arrival of awesome holiday sales, Origin's Green Monday sale are still around for just one more day with 40 percent off on tons of noteworthy titles such as Battlefield 3 ($24/£15), Crusader Kings II ($24/£15), and The Sims 3 ($18/£11). Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a couple of asteroid-repelling planks to board up.
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