Modern Gaming on the Cheap
My rig is quite good, I have a Quad Core CPU, and an nVidia Geforce 570 GTX, it's capable of most brand new games maxed out at 1920x1080. Sure, I really enjoyed Crysis 2 on it, but the last few months I've had an insane amount of fun playing stuff which is definitely not new, or cutting edge, or even remotely pushes my system. And all of it incredibly cheaply.
Now when I say cheap, you may be thinking I'm playing old adventure games from Lucasarts that were born to run under DOS, but you'd be wrong. I'm talking here about very modern games with ridiculous hours of enjoyment, and graphics that are up there with the best PS3 and Xbox 360 stuff has to offer.
The simple fact of the matter is, games budgets for the last three or four years have been huge, and any major title you pick up in this period is going to look good and run nicely. So if you are prepared to accept playing something the Internet and your friends aren't currently all going on about, you can have an insane amount of fun on very little outlay.
What I've Bought This Year
So yes, I payed for Portal 2 and Crysis 2, which were both excellent games that have given me quite a few hours of pleasure. However, thanks to Steam and their various sales and other time limited deals which are always worth watching out for, I've actually spent a lot more time playing other things which cost a heck of a lot less.
One of the first things I bought this year were Supreme Commander 2, the sequel to my favourite RTS game of all time. I got this in January for £2.49. Yes, that's right, for the price of a few chocolate bars I got a game that has a fair few hours of single player enjoyment, combined with many many many more hours of multiplayer fun. At least I hope so, because the chap I RTS with had to wait until a few weeks ago before he picked it up on sale, so we haven't really tried it yet.
Okay, maybe a bad example, but what perhaps isn't is the fact you can buy the original Supreme Commander and the Forged Alliance sequel together on places like Amazon for a mere £5. If you like a challenging RTS which demands you balance resources with strategy, especially if you remember how fantastic Total Annihilation was, then go get this now and you won't be disappointed. If you can get a friend into it as well, you'll have many hundreds of hours fun for such a tiny outlay.
At the same time I got SupCom2, I also bought the Lucasarts Jedi Knight bundle. I do like these old classic games, and despite having owned one of the games from this series already, I couldn't resist getting a pack that included Star Wars: Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight II, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith and Jedi Academy, for £3.75. Yes, that is 5 games for under £4!!
These old games are classics and certainly should keep me occupied for a few hours when I'm somewhere with my laptop. Probably the same reason I later bought Quake, Quake II, Quake 3, and a bunch of mission packs for each of them, costing £4.24.
So there we go, that's a barrel load of fun right there, and only £10.48 spent so far. However, I appreciate that SupCom2 aside, these are really old games that whilst fun, could get you laughed at by your XBox owning friends, so let's move on to some that won't.
Scaryness and Batness
When March arrived, for £6.49 I bought Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a fantastic independent title which has a rather unique coup de grace for the bored gamer. This is a first person gothic horror adventure game, with essences of point and click, combined with some physics, a lot of darkness and HP Lovecraft inspired terror. You start out with no memory, and as you go through what can best be described as a nightmare, you'll be (hopefully) scared witless long before the end.
You see, in Amnesia, you have no weapons and you can't kill anything. So you can only run away and hide in the dark, or dive into a room and shove furniture against the door, or in some instances hide in a cupboard. The whole game is built around scaring you, and when played late at night with all the lights off (that's how I did it!) it can really make you jump.
If the original game wasn't enough, there are loads of bonus adventures written by fans which you can install and play once the main affair is complete, along with a second much smaller and harder adventure to solve.
The same month, I also bought Batman: Arkham Asylum - Game of the Year edition for a mere £3.75. Now this game looks fantastic, with a lot of really high resolution textures and great models. I've had a lot of fun playing this so far, and fully intend on completing this one as well. The only issue for me here is some 3D games give me motion sickness, so I'm limited by how long I can play them for. Batman is one of those, but not as bad as others.
So that takes us up to £20.72, not even yet the price of a full brand new title yet.
July saw Steam's regular Summer sale kick in, and I did buy quite a bit in this. Deus Ex: Game of the Year edition and Deus Ex: Invisible War both got bought for a few pounds. I also bought Fallout 3: Game of the Year edition for £6.79, which is an interesting highly rated apocalyptic FPS RPG that will keep me amused for months.
Talking of RPGs, I got Neverwinter Nights 2: Platinum edition for £5.09, which is basically NWN2 with all the expansions. I dread to think how many hours that will take to complete, I suspect the answer is more than lots. The interface is a bit clunky and the graphics have dated a tiny bit, but it still holds interest for the old nerdy part of me that enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons as a kid.
If you like a bit of shooting, then Team Fortress 2 is now completely free to play, so there is something you can enjoy without spending anything at all!
But let's finish this up with talk of driving games, and one in particular that cost me £6.79. Codemasters' F1: 2010 is an amazing Formula 1 racing title, with graphics that are just frighteningly realistic. I grew up on Revs for the BBC Micro, and remember Geoff Crammond's Formula 1 Grand Prix on the PC from DOS days. I've not really played them much since then, so this seemed a great opportunity to give it a bash.
Talk about anal levels of realism, which thankfully you can tweak a fair bit to make it more fun. The online play is great, although it lacks the ability to view other cars and your lap times once you complete a race. But hay the amount of time I've spent playing this so far, I'm not going to complain about the little things.
And lastly my latest purchase, another Codemasters racer, Grid. For £2.99 I forgive the fact that they turned off the online racing servers and forced us to spend hours trying to get a VPN working so we could use the LAN feature, which eventually we did thanks to Wippien.
Not designed to be the most accurate racer there is, the graphics are really top notch and the mere fact you can crash into other players whilst racing against each other makes it worth the pennies. Because you see my friends and I, we do like a manic race in which crashing is often involved. You can't beat a good pile up, heck whole racing franchises have been built on this feature alone.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, life moves pretty fast and if you stop and take a look around in a while, you can have a lot of fun cheaply. I've bought Civilization III: Complete for £2.54, every X-Com game for £1.70, and a bunch of others to boot.
If money is tight, then keep an eye on these sort of sales. Which I suspect will become even more frequent what with Amazon UK about to launch their own game download service. The more places that offer games legitimately for purchase as downloads, the more sales there are likely to be, and the more a discerning buying can have great gaming fun for the price of some nail polish or a few beers.
And if there is a specific title you are after, providing it is on Play.com, Steam, the AppStore or Amazon.UK, then you can always try the Reviewer Bargain Watcher. It'll check the prices daily and mail you when it is going cheap, so you don't have to!