Downloadable content is now an integral part of virtually every major release, but many gamers are still unfamiliar with the concept. Here's a handy guide to PC Advisor's favourite DLC.

Gearbox Software's sleeper hit Borderlands mixed compulsive, Diablo-inspired gameplay with anarchistic attitude, and was one of the first games to really deliver on the promise of downloadable content. All four of its updates were substantial and imaginative, but The Zombie Island Of Dr. Ned was the cherry on the cake: a loving, supremely challenging homage to kitsch horror movies that's more atmospheric than anything in the original game.

In years to come game designers will look back on Mirror's Edge as one of the most progressive commercial releases of its time, but as an overall experience it had one major flaw: guns. Fire-arms simply didn't belong in DICE's gleaming white obstacle course, disrupting movement and unbalancing the difficulty every time one appeared. The Time Trial Pack embraced this reality, trimming back the game's many elaborations until it was left with nothing but an avatar, a timer, and geometric forms floating in space.

Judging from the sales figures, you probably haven't played Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Ninja Theory set new milestones in character animation and voice-acting but nobody turned up the show, and Pigsy's Perfect 10 slipped by almost unnoticed. You switch roles from Monkey to Pigsy, whose guns, grenades and grappling hook completely alter the flow of the gameplay - Pigsy's Perfect 10 is very much its own thing, but retains the standard of writing and presentation that set Enslaved apart.

Rockstar doesn't deal in bad games. People tend to forget that. Red Dead Redemption should have proved once and for all that it was so much more than the house that Grand Theft Auto built, but at first Undead Nightmare inspired only apathy. Rockstar was accused of jumping on the zombie bandwagon, but that wasn't quite accurate: Rockstar was actually making the only valid contribution to zombie videogames since the release of Left 4 Dead. Still, that L.A. Noire will probably be crap*.

*Trust me, it really won't.

Lair Of The Shadow Broker changed my mind about the 'one more hour' variety of DLC*. A long mission is simple enough to make quickly and sell at a price that doesn't scare people away, but it's not enough time to do anything particularly engaging. Lair Of The Shadow Broker defies this tendency by picking up a nagging loose ends from Mass Effect 2 and weaving it into the very core of the narrative, before kissing you goodbye with some wonderful insights into Shepard's motley crew.

*Unfortunately, Mass Effect 2: Arrival just changed my mind back.

Grand Theft Auto IV marked the point where the series left the jet-packs and exercise machines of San Andreas behind, in pursuit of a more refined, character-driven approach. The experiment was a resounding success, and The Lost And Damned further reinforces what Rockstar was trying to do: a grimy crawl through Liberty City's biker gangs that intersects nicely with GTA IV's plot, and the studio's bleakest work by a country mile. The Ballad Of Gay Tony - The Lost And Damned's tonal opposite - achieves similarly impressive results.

If the 'one more hour' approach jars with games like Fable and Mass Effect, it's diametrically opposed to everything that made Fallout 3 so brilliant. There are few more free-form experiences in gaming, but its early DLC offerings expected gamers to be satisfied with linearity. Point Lookout is different, introducing an entirely new area that takes around 15 hours to explore - a former tourist destination that has become a crumbling ruin with strong undertones of John Boorman's Deliverance.

If there's a single quality that unites the entries on this list, it's that none are superior to the games that inspired them - Minerva's Den is the exception. Placing you in the boots of another Alpha series Big Daddy, Subject Sigma, the plot is entirely self-contained, allowing 2K Marin to craft a wonderful tale of love, loss, and the sentient AI that controls Rapture. There is a new weapon and some new plasmids for those that don't care for such things, but such people will miss what makes Minerva's Den so great. The ending, in particular, is one of the most emotionally affecting sequences of recent times.

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