Bargain-bin games still pack thrills
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
"Thief: The Dark Project," a 6-year-old title, inspired the "Rainbow Six" franchise.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Marc Saltzman, a freelance technology journalist whose reviews also appear on the Gannett News Service.
Many video game retailers today devote a section of their store to "bargain bin" games -- older, overstocked or undersold titles. Every now and again, you can find a real gem poking through the pile of programs going for less than $10.
What's more, these games work well on a wide range of computers because they don't require the latest video cards, processors or other hardware.
Here's a look at some recommended titles from visits to some Electronics Boutique and Game Stop stores. Prices might vary slightly, depending on the retailer. Also, be sure to download and install software patches from the respective game's Web sites because these games are a few years old and probably have been updated to take advantage of newer systems' capabilities.
'StarLancer' serves up space fight
A hundred years from now, the world's major powers battle for the control of Earth, Mars and other nearby planets and their resources. As a novice pilot, you enlist as a volunteer for the Western Alliance, a union of nations including the United States, Great Britain and Japan. The enemy is the Eastern Coalition, composed mainly of Russia and China.
Game play involves dogfights in space from a dizzying first-person perspective. There are more than 25 lengthy missions in the single-player campaign, ranging from escorting allied ships to all-out attacks on rival space stations. The successful completion of missions unlocks better spacecraft and more powerful weapons.
The only beef with the game is the inability to save progress during a level. Therefore failed missions must be restarted from the beginning.
As many as four gamers can play head-to-head or cooperatively over the Internet.
Microsoft Game Studios; $1.99; "T" for teen; www.microsoft.com/games
'Baldur's Gate: The Original Saga'
Set in the popular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons universe, " Baldur's Gate" is an enormous fantasy role-playing game with more than 100 quests spread across seven chapters.
This "Original Saga" version also includes the game's first official expansion pack, entitled "Takes of the Sword Coast."
Before setting out on the adventure, you must create a character from scratch and eventually band with allies to form a traveling "party." The trick is to pick the best cohorts for the job, or the ones whose attributes complement your own.
The game is played from a top-down isometric point of view, with beautifully drawn 16-bit artwork. "Baldur's Gate" ships on five CDs and features more than 10,000 individual game screens.
Players unfamiliar with tasks such as spell-casting, upgrading armor or buying new weaponry will get some help from the game's extensive manual and help screens.
Interplay; $8.99; rated "T" for teen, www.interplay.com
'Thief: The Dark Project'
Stealth-action games are one of the most popular genres with titles such as the "Rainbow Six" and "Metal Gear Solid." "Thief," a 1998 PC game based on covertness rather than the "kill everything in sight" directive found in most 3-D shooters, influenced many of these games.
The player assumes the role of Garrett, a seasoned thief who must lurk in the shadows to remain undetected. He resides in a fictional town that fuses medieval-like buildings and stone-laced walkways with fantasy elements such as sorcery and demons.
"Thief" requires you sneak into mansions or catacombs and steal objects such as a magical scepter. The best way to complete these missions is to study a guard's patrol pattern and sneak around them. Or you could always club them on the head from behind or take them out with a silent arrow from afar.
Great fun, even with the game's glaring omission: multiplayer support.
Eidos; $8.99; rated "M" for mature; www.eidos.com
Other good bargain-bin picks include Blizzard's "StarCraft" ($7.99), Novalogic's "Delta Force" ($7.99), Ubisoft's "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six" ($5.99), Eidos' "Hitman II" ($9.99), Ubisoft's "Myst" ($5.99) and all "2003" sports titles from EA Sports ($9.99).