There are just some games that are too good to be true. You look at them in that bin of discards at EB and know that that five dollar price tag most likely indicates above all else a level of quality that could best be described as down in the dumps. That being said, every once in a while you come across a game that despite its minuscule cost offers us an entertainment value beyond any of your expectations. This week in the Bargain Bin I’m going to pass on our usual format and give you a rundown of the five best gaming bargains I’ve ever had.
5. Gladius (GCN)
If you haven’t heard of Gladius, it’s one the gems of the tactical RPG genre of the last generation. Giving players a nice change, it focused in on a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Rome. In the game, the player got to choose between a male and female protagonist who would then spend the game assembling a force of warriors to participate in, you guessed it, gladiator battles. This isn’t the easiest game to find nowadays. Even if you can find it — depending on what version you want — it isn’t the cheapest, either. The PS2 version is going for around sixty bucks on Amazon, while the other editions are a bit more affordable. How much did I pay for it? If I have luck at anything it’s finding cheap stuff, and this summer at the county fair I found Gladius, used, but still complete for the flat, tax-free fee of five dollars. How’s that for a deal?
4. Civilization (SNES)
A lot of people don’t even remember that Civilization was on the SNES, especially considering the big deal made this year about Civilization: Revolution “finally” bringing the series to consoles. That being said, it enjoyed a nice transfer to the SNES, and if there was any one game I played to death while I was waiting to get an N64, it was Civilization. Looking back, the wonder of this game is that I managed to pick it up for ten dollars, and ten dollars Canadian mind you. Back when I bought the game that was actually less in American money. Never underestimate the treasures you can find used at obscure Canadian rental stores. You want to know what the best part of this is? Last summer, I decided to sell off a good portion of my old games. Civilization was amongst them and I managed to sell it for around twenty dollars. The day where you can actually make a profit off of a used game is a rare day indeed.
3. Homeworld (PC)
During the last two years of high school, I can’t count the massive amount of time I poured into Homeworld. To date, it is probably my favorite RTS game and it saddens me that so little has been done with the series since Homeworld 2 was released. The ten dollars I paid for Homeworld has given me more fun than I could ever imagine. From my time spent with the main game, to the fun multiplayer, to the countless mods available for the game, it has just been a great deal. Even now, I love it. I had to dig it out recently after a Battlestar Galactica marathon to try to simulate the whole “fighting a war with limited resources” thing. It might be a bit dated in the visuals department, but if you can find a copy, BUY IT! You will not regret it.
2. Starlancer (PC)
The brainchild of the makers of Wing Commander, Starlancer doesn’t quite live up to that brilliant series. That said, it is still a great game that I managed to buy for a mere four dollars. Basically a retelling of the Cold War in space with a bit more violence and cool spaceships, Starlancer is a game of distinct strengths and flaws. On the good side, it features some of the most dynamic missions I’ve ever played in a space flight sim. You’ll start off doing one thing and then fifteen twists later you’ll find yourself blasting your way through some of the best firefights the genre ever saw. On the rougher side, however, the enemy AI is a bit on the slow side, the story is a tad lackluster, and unless you pick a fighter with auto-tracking, it can be a real pain to shoot down enemy fighters. That said, for the price I paid, it was well worth it and I count it as easily one of the best gaming bargains of my life.
1. Conquest: Frontier Wars (PC)
Never heard of this game? Yeah, that was probably part of the problem. Despite it’s strong story, awesome gameplay, and clever refinements to the RTS formula, before I saw it on the PC bargain shelf at EB Games, I had never even heard of Conquest: Frontier Wars. And trust me when I say that I read a lot of gaming magazines. In Conquest, you take on the role of a human commander thrust into a war between three competing factions: the Terrans, the Mantis, and the Celareons. The Terrans are great generalists, not excelling, but also not sucking at anything in particular. The Mantis are experts in long range and swarm attacks, and the Celareons are energy-based creatures whose ships are devastatingly powerful. I know, it sounds just like StarCraft, and to some extent it is like that most cherished of games.
That said, beyond those similarities the story was rather different, and the gameplay was in many ways muh deeper. The maps in Conquest were generally massive and broken up by worm holes that the player had to take and hold. You might dominate an entire star system and all its resources, but as long as your opponent maintained a strong defensive line on the other end of the nearest wormhole, they could just plug your ships as they jumped through. Furthermore, ships had limited supplies. Eventually those trusty laser batteries would run out of ammo and you’d either have to retreat or bring along easy-to-destroy and hard-to-defend supply ships. If you pushed your units too far and too hard, you ran the risk of finding your fleet under fire in the middle of enemy territory, completely defenseless. It was a brilliant mechanic that made combat a bit more complicated than the usual “build up a whomping big fleet” strategy that was at the core of many RTS games in 2001. Conquest: Frontier Wars was just a brilliant game that didn’t get the accolades it deserved. That being said, it’s undue trip to the bargain bin made it possible for me to buy it for an incredible three dollars, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
Christmas is often a time of huge bills and over-the-top expenditure. This week might have been a more on the anecdotal side than usual, but I still have some tips for you. Namely, swing by Amazon this holiday season. Since December 2nd, Amazon has been running a series called, “15 Days, 15 Deals.” Each day a new game goes on sale, and the price cuts have been pretty substantial. Granted, some of the games haven’t been the best –Tuesday’s was Operation Darkness, ick — but good deals are good deals. Just click on the video game section and the link is right there.