If you find yourself cash-strapped this holiday season but have a few gamers on your gift list — or want to treat yourself to a virtual getaway — consider picking up an inexpensive computer game.
Many game retailers and online merchants devote a section of their stores to "bargain bin" games — those slightly older, overstocked or undersold titles. If you look hard enough, you can find a real gem poking through the pile. And these games generally will not require the latest PC hardware to run them.
The following are five recommended $10 picks that won't disappoint, found at software vendors (including Electronics Boutique), computer stores (such as Best Buy) and value chains (like Wal-Mart), unless otherwise specified.
'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 2nd Edition' (Rockstar Games; rated Mature)
This well-crafted adventure from Rockstar Games spans three huge cities, based on Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and many points in between. As "CJ," you must perform dozens of "run-and-gun" missions to track down his mother's killer, and climb behind the wheel of dozens of cars and other vehicles to explore these sprawling metropolises. A great soundtrack of '90s rock and rap songs adds to the fun.
Portal (Valve Software/Electronic Arts; rated Teen)
In this ingenious strategy game meets 3-D shooter, your job is reach a destination by firing your gun to create interdimensional portals in objects such as a floor or wall. A blue portal (left mouse button) is the one you can jump through and an orange portal (right mouse button) is where you'll appear. As the game gets tougher, you'll need to send objects through the portals, consider the speed in which you're traveling, and solve other challenging tasks to reach the end.
Penumbra: Black Plague (Paradox Interactive; rated Mature)
Adventure gamers with a yen for scary films will enjoy clicking through Penumbra: Black Plague, a critically acclaimed interactive horror experience with thought-provoking puzzles. You play as Philip, trapped in a creepy underground complex, who must use items in the environment to escape and unravel the mystery behind his father's disappearance. This macabre game uses real physics, so you will use the mouse to pull on a drawer handle to open it, turn gears by cranking clockwise and push boxes around to climb on.
BioShock (2K Games; rated Mature)
Found at CircuitCity.com and ConsumerDepot.com is one of 2007's best games — at just $9.99. The atmospheric BioShock is a first-person shooter that lets you biologically modify your body to take on the mutated creatures roaming about Rapture, a hidden underwater city you stumble upon after a nasty plane crash in the North Atlantic. Not only must you find a way out alive in this nonlinear world — with incredibly detailed graphics and surround-sound audio — but you also solve the mystery about what happened.
Shogun: Total War Gold Edition (Sega; rated Teen)
Why merely read about history when you can rewrite it? Armchair generals can get their fill in Shogun: Total War, a gripping real-time tactical combat game of samurai warfare, allowing you to experience epic battles on enormous battlefields as you vie to become the military ruler, or shogun, of 16th-century Japan. This Gold Edition also includes Shogun: Total War Mongol Invasion, an expansion pack that takes place 300 years before the civil wars in the main game, and adds new historical campaigns and unit types.
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