Crispy Gamer

DLC MC: The Year in DLC

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In this, the last DLC MC column, I dole out awards for the best games of the year. There's little doubt in my mind that downloadable content is the way of the future. Within a few years, most games that you currently get in a brick-and-mortar store will be available only by electronic download. Yay: That means no more badly written instruction booklets and more time on the couch. And, hope against hope, maybe games will even be a little cheaper in a few years, too.

Game of the Year

The Ballad of Gay Tony

If you're at all New York-centric, this is the DLC game for you. Even if you only dream of living here as you look through a dirty window upon your suburban wasteland, playing Gay Tony is a sweeping travelogue through the seamy side of NYC. Certainly it's better than buying a guidebook or falling asleep while you watch some inanely perky doc about the pleasures of Manhattan nightlife on the Travel Channel. It's clear that the Rockstar crew meticulously trekked hither and yon throughout the city to document the grittiest taste of New Yawk that's ever been seen in a game (at least, since the landmark Grand Theft Auto IV).

Rockstar lives it, baby, just like Richard Hell lived it, just like Jonathan Lethem lived it, just like Colson Whitehead lived it, just like Maggie Estep and Jennifer Waters lived it. The never-leave-a-stone-unturned creators of the sandbox genre completely outdid themselves this time, and gamers are the beneficiaries of their true grit. This is today's Humphrey Bogart in "The Petrified Forest," today's Al Pacino in "Scarface." In other words, The Ballad of Gay Tony is the very best our industry has to offer.

Best Overall DLC Series

Fallout 3: Broken Steel and Point Lookout

I mean, talk about pushing yourself to the ultimate limit. First, you release a game that's on almost every critic's list for game of the year. And then, you raise the bar into the stratosphere with five terror-filled episodes of DLC -- in one year. As a horror lover, I tend to gravitate toward Point Lookout, which was actually a based on a real-life amusement park frequented by the Howard Brothers as kids. Some people criticize it for recycling some enemies. Nonetheless, it scares the fingernails off me.

But that wasn't all. Playing Broken Steel, in which the Liberty Prime robot is alive and Sarah is in a coma of sorts, actually changes the nature of Fallout 3 after you go through it. And what do you do when a little clean H20 enters the radiated picture? Oh, the moral choices. Finally, if you love Fallout 3, you might enjoy the other snippets of downloadable content released this year: The Pitt (about ravaged Pittsburgh), Operation: Anchorage (Free Alaska!) and Mothership Zeta (in which you deal with some gruesome aliens, especially the captain).

Best Xbox Live DLC

Shadow Complex

If you thought Xbox Live DLC was mostly casual games and strategy games, Shadow Complex came as a wondrous surprise. After being inspired by everything from Super Metroid to Final Fantasy VII, the Mustard Brothers cooked up a game that had replay value extraordinaire if you wanted all those Achievements. (I'm still trying to reach one blue-colored tidbit above a treadmill that's too near the power generator.)

Sure, the graphics that made up the female protagonist's face weren't so hot. But the fact that, every step on the way, your character grew stronger and savvier; the fact that the weapons were actually fun to use; the fact that the story, despite some throwaway dialogue, really drew you in; is a testament to Chair Entertainment's hard work ethic. Shadow Complex moved the industry forward in ways we won't completely begin to appreciate for years to come.

Best Personal Computer DLC

Plants vs. Zombies

When you downloaded Plants vs. Zombies from the PopCap Web site, you weren't just in for just another real-time strategy game. The game had humor, so you could laugh while enduring the pain of completing the later levels. Plus, the graphics appeared to be inspired by old-school, hippie underground comics. So the look of both flora and former humanity (zombies!) stayed with you. But what else would you expect from the PopCap guys? They've returned to their roots in hardcore gaming, which began back in the '90s when Brian Fiete and John Vechey invented ARC (Attack Retrieve Capture, a crude but addicting online multiplayer game that has fans to this day) as college students.

Best PlayStation 3 DLC

Flower

While it was a riff on the same theme as Flow, Flower brightened your gaming day. It also was the most relaxing drug you could purchase legally. Flower's high-definition graphics made you feel like you were hiking to exotic lands where you could be the god of flora. And since I don't have the greenest thumb in the world (witness my as-yet un-flowering lily bulbs from the island of Nevis, not to mention that orange-less mini-tree on the windowsill), Flower made me feel like I could grow anything. And dream. Flower was a verdant dream set in a darkened urban cityscape.