Bargain Bin

One of the advantages to owning a nearly-obsolete PC is that you know off the bat that the latest and greatest games won’t run on it. So rather than spend $49.99 on the latest releases, which, let’s be frank, are usually not that good, you can hit the bargain shelf and find games for $10 or less. You’ve heard me talk about this before, as the “kielbasa sandwich in Chiodo’s” effect: it may not be a great sandwich, but it was only $2, so who cares?

My favorite bargain rack, currently, is the one at Electronics Boutique. EB is already predisposed to dump their PC game stock – the real money is in consoles, after all – so you can find some great deals on preowned PC games there. This weekend I picked up four titles, three of which I’ve been actually able to play.

Myst III: Exile ($4.99)

myst3

Myst 3: Exile

I’m enjoying this. It’s been a while – years – since I’ve played any of the Myst games. Some of the mystery of the larger game is dissipated off the bat by the presentation of the plot on a silver platter, but perhaps that is to be expected of a sequel. Once you’re past the cheesy dialogue, though, the game has the right feel. Puzzle difficulty (I’m only a quarter of the way in, so it may improve later on) feels a little low compared to the first Myst, and certainly easier than in Riven. This is compounded by the comparatively linear nature of the early puzzles. One of the beguiling things about Myst, to me, was the idea that there were various puzzles that were exposed almost from the very beginning. I found that in that game, I wanted to go around and explore all of them and taste them before picking one to spend time on and solve. The first quarter of Exile, contrariwise, has been “solve the very next puzzle in order to even open up the possibility of solving others.” That’s a disappointment.

As expected, the game is visually breathtaking. The pallette is rich and varied, and the visual style within each world consistent. It is mostly presented in the same sort of slide-show manner as the original Myst (and indeed, their earlier work The Manhole). One notable difference is that you can look around freely in environments when not moving. There’s a bit of a fisheye effect, as if you’re in the middle of a sphere upon which has been plastered an image (which, in fact, you probably are), but my eyes adjusted to that very quickly, and I don’t even notice it anymore unless I’m specifically looking for it. Good use of audio is made and is essential to solving some puzzles (“subtitles” can be turned on for purely aural clues, so this is a game even the hearing impaired can enjoy).

I haven’t finished the game yet, so I can’t give a truly full review; but I’ve definitely already gotten 5 bucks worth of enjoyment out of it. If you see it on the bargain rack, grab it.

Etherlords II ($3.99)

etherlords2

Give me a break.

I spent 4 bucks on the first Etherlords, and didn’t like it. Now I’ve spent 4 bucks on the second Etherlords, and I don’t like it either.

It’s frustrating, because this is a game that should be good. I want it to be good. It’s not good. Basically, Etherlords is an attempt to implement a game similar in nature to Magic: The Gathering without tying itself quite so closely to the idea that you are playing actual “cards.” Etherlords II has a number of improvements over the previous version. These include: it crashes more. It doesn’t support Alt-Tab, thus violating Article 3 of The Gamers’ Bill of Rights. It has higher hardware requirements for no detectable benefit.

There’s also the mostly-naked-except-for-armor-chick issue. When the first image you see when installing a game is of a chick wearing bright orange leather “armor” that exposes her boobs, holding on to the leash of a reptilian monster with a huge penis projecting from its forehead, it’s hard to have any reaction other than “uh oh.” In this particular case, the first reaction is the correct one: the game really is that bad.

Supposedly, Etherlords II brings new features to the online arena. I won’t be checking these out. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find that before I am ready or willing to spend time playing a game online with strangers, I want to play it offline to see if it’s any fun. If the offline experience is subpar, then the online experience will be as well. Are there exceptions to this? Maybe. But that’s still my rule of thumb.

Myth: The Total Codex ($2.99)

myth

Myth: The Fallen Lords

Bungie’s Myth games still engender a cult following to this day. I actually owned this years ago and managed to misplace the disks (this was before I developed the habit of making the very first thing I do with a new game be ripping each CD to an image I keep on the hard drive.) The Total Codex consists of Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soulblighter in one package.

Myth is a real-time tactical combat game. I’d call it a “real time strategy” game, but it is missing some aspects that we normally associate with RTS games. It is a stronger game for not having these elements. Rather than building structures and creating new troops, each battle in Myth is a set piece battle: both the number, type, and starting locations of all troops, both yours and the enemy’s, are predefined. This leads to the rock-paper- scissors aspect of combined arms warfare that we’ve seen in strategic-level games such as Panzer General: archers defeat infantry at distance, but infantry cuts archers to pieces in melee, for example.

I’ve had a lot of fun playing and replaying battles, trying out different tactics, seeing what works and what doesn’t. And, since it’s Bungie, the plot is fairly enjoyable as well. Style points are granted for discs that work on both Windows and MacOS (download OS X versions of the installers here, or, for Myth II, here). Out of the four bargains I picked up this round, Myth wins hands down.

Finding the OS X install binaries for Myth wasn’t trivial – I remembered that they used to be at mythdev.com, but visiting that site just brings up an annoying and useless pig that talks about Myth III, which is nice, but not what I wanted. The Internet Archive indicates that there was some sort of trouble that lead to one of the Mythdev developers getting all Fatal Attraction on a rival developer’s connectivity. If anyone knows more about this and wants to gossip about it, please drop me a line. It feels like there’s a story here, somewhere.

Silent Hill 3 ($8.99)

I splurged on this one, mostly because the PS2 version is still around $20. Unfortunately, it won’t run on my system, because it requires a slightly better video card than I actually have. More unfortunately, it let me go through the entire 5-disc install and actually try to run it before informing me of this, thus violating Article 4 of the Gamer’s Bill of Rights. On the upside, it came with a soundtrack album. So I paid $9 for a fairly enjoyable music CD. So now I need to find someone to lend me the PS2 version of the game so I can actually play it.

So, that’s what I’ve been lifting from the bargain racks, not counting Flight Simulator 2004 which, with the $20 coupon floating around the net, can be had for just $7. But that deserves its own article, which is forthcoming.

What good deals have you found lately?