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Thursday January 29, 2009 2:00 pm

Five Awesome Games You Can Play on the Cheap

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Now that we’re over the holiday hump (i.e. every game imaginable being released at the same time, oh god, why do you do this to me), a lot of sites and publications have been putting together lists of games to look forward to in the new year. Me? Nuh-uh. I don’t have the cash for that. Fallout and Dead Space alone have depleted my gaming funds for a while (not to mention a certain 360 dying enough times for me to wish ill on its relatives), and if you’re like me, you want a cheap alternative until your funds recover. Hell, even if you don’t need it, you can’t pass up a quality gaming experience on the cheap, but being a penny-pinching bastard like myself tends to help heal those imaginary wounds. So, I’ve decided to put together a list of a few old-but-still-awesome games that you can get for slightly less than the cost of a night with your mom, though they’ll probably last far longer.

You may want to note that some of these games are older and may stutter and wobble and spurt blood if you’re running more than Windows XP, so you may want to check your compatibility before you plunk down the green to have them downloaded to your inferior operating system, muahaha. Hit the jump for the rundown.

Deus Ex

Deus Ex

Deus ex is, if you didn’t know, one of the best games of all time, and if you haven’t played it just yet, a big fat ‘shame on you’ is in prompt order. It’s considered to be the magnum opus of game designer Warren Spector, and it’s one of the deepest, engrossing, most atmospheric games you will likely ever play, and is my personal number one game of all time. But enough of the artsy lonely PC geek stuck in the early 2000s that still lives inside me, yearning to be free - You’re in for a treat if you ever decide to play this FPS/RPG hybrid, and frankly, it’s a much better purchase than most of the ‘Gritty Space Marine in World Gone Mad’ material that’s being pumped into our colons month after month. Plus, it’s from the guys from Ion Storm who DIDN’T bring us Daikatana, and yes, John Romero, if you are reading this then this it IS an insult and I DO challenge you to pistols at dawn.

Fortunately, Deus Ex can be bought on both Steam for the low, low price of $10 and Gametap for all subscribers, and even cheaper if you can find a physical copy (including the graphically updated PS2 version). The game hasn’t aged well, unfortunately, but community support means that you can install high-res texture packs, full game add-ons, and other mods that may make the game feel slightly less dated, such as an entire graphical overhaul due out in 2009. There IS a sequel that’s pretty much universally reviled by fans, but that’s because they were spoiled by the first game and the expectations that came with the second one, but honestly, if you play the second one first like I did, there’s really not much of a reason to hate it. As a game, it was actually pretty good, though I hold significantly less hope for the upcoming Deus Ex 3, which seems to confirm my fears that they’re going to turn it into Serious Sam with lockpicking.

Theif

Thief: Deadly Shadows

Yes, yes, industry purists may decide to yell at me, “Hey, Thief 1 and 2 were more awesome, why are you recommending this?” First of all, get a job, hippie. Secondly, yes, you should technically play every Thief game if you want the full experience, but Thief III is the most recent and doesn’t feel as if it’s aged very poorly. In fact, since most of the game is spent in shadow, graphics aren’t a huge deal, but I can wholeheartedly recommend this game, as it is:

A) More likely to run smoothly on your PC, and
B) Backwards compatible with the Xbox 360, so you can try and hunt down a physical copy if you’d like.

It’s the same guys that brought you the aforementioned Deus Ex, and it too is available online through both Steam and GameTap. This is where Solid Snake learned it all, folks (but without the four-odd hours of cutscenes to make you want to gouge your eardrums out).

Plus, if you like horror games, one of the levels in this one (Shalebridge Cradle) is one of the most pants-sh*ttingly frightening and atmospheric stages you’ll find in any game. Speaking of which…

The Darkness

The Darkness

The Darkness was a gem of game developed by Starbreeze Studios (the same guys who made the superb Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and the upcoming CoR: Assault on Dark Athena) based on the eponymous comic book, that garnered a solid review score aggregate upon release. I played this coming down off my BioShock high during a Spring Break because I wanted a fun FPS with a strong narrative. I then proceeded to play the game start to finish in one blurry 15-hour sitting and effectively screwed myself over for the rest of the break, having bought the game solely to whittle away the days, dooming myself to a week straight of binge drinking and utter loneliness.  Sure, the Italian stereotypes can get a wee bit on the old side, but when was the last time you were able to use an evil tentacle to spear someone through the chest, suck them into a black hole, and then eat their heart? The Darkness powers are such ridiculous fun that you won’t mind that they eventually make you just shy of invincible.
Along with the great story (though a few questions are left unanswered), the game had some incredibly cool moments which I will not spoil here, including one of the best ‘Hell’ levels I’ve seen in a game. Even if it ain’t your cup of tea, you can find the game at most stores for under $20 used, and since it’s current-gen, it’s easy on the eyes. Just stay far away from the laggy multiplayer, and you’re set.

Silent Hill 2

Silent Hill 2

Again with the horror games! But if you haven’t played SH2, Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame will back me up here when I tell you that it’s the best entry in one of the best horror franchises of all time (even with SH5 or Origins cocking up the memory of a series I once held dear). It has the deepest plot and some of the most well-rounded characters in recent memory, and is still the golden standard for me when it comes to games I can get all teary-eyed and artsy-douchebag-spouting-needless-interpretation-and-exposition-y about. Just be careful how you approach it, because it’s a series known for using awkward controls and fixed camera to its advantage, so if you can’t stand something like that even as a gameplay device, you might just want to go back to playing Unreal Tournament and shooting Red Bull up your catheter, you UNCULTURED F***.

Ahem. That being said, this, like many other games, is freely available on GameTap, though you can still find it in some places for the PC (or the Dreamcast if you still swing that way).

Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus

For all the hooting and hollering we like to do about games as art, this is one of the only games I’ve ever played that actually feels like you’re playing a movie (not counting The Movies, and shut up if you’re sharing my thought patterns). The atmosphere and innovation that Shadow brings to the table is largely unparalleled in the industry today, and will likely continue to be such at the rate we happen to be going. It’s essentially fifteen or so puzzles disguised as boss fights, but it’s what happens in between that makes it so compelling. If you play this with anything less than the brilliant score going at full volume and the lights off, you’re DOING IT WRONG, and don’t come back until you’re just as pretentious as I am. What would normally be written off by critics such as myself as long, pointless romps through an expansive wasteland to get to the different colossi is instead turned into a beautiful, engrossing experience fraught with introspection and isolation, until the game smacks you upside the head with brilliantly-designed boss battles that will challenge you to figure out to beat them (while keeping the frustration at a minimum if you don’t suck). You can find it at most GameStops for less than $15 now (or $20 new), so if you spot one, buy it, take it home, and start a family with it.


ALSO:
Don’t stop here. These are just a few personal suggestions, but there are plenty of great, unappreciated games that have fallen into the bargain bin (Okami, Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, etc.) that can be found on the online services above, in a local game store, or even over Xbox Live. Remember, a penny saved is a penny towards Fallout 3 DLC!

(Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia)

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