In tough economic times like these, it’s not unwise to tighten your belt and cut your expenditures down to the bare necessities. Of course, what qualifies as a “necessity” is open to interpretation: while some (sane) people make paying the rent or making sure they have food to eat their top priority, my personal need to be entertained overrides any basic survival instincts. I am an 20-something American male dammit, and society demands that I engage in blind, insatiable materialism and media consumption. As worrying as the thoughts of going hungry or bankrupt are, my hands shake like a withdrawing drug addict at the thought of not being able to afford more games.
Thankfully, it’s possible to feed my socially crippling addiction to games without having to go to the poor house: despite a few fact-less claims from people who don’t understand terms like “inflation” or “supply and demand,” games are actually more affordable now than they ever were, and thanks to copious amounts of competition and the secondary used market, even big budget $60 releases tend to drop in price fairly quickly. Sites like Cheap Ass Gamer and daily sales on Steam have made it a good time to be a gamer on a budget. While gaming will always be an expensive hobby, minimizing your expenses doesn’t mean you have to minimize your fun. With that thought in mind, I’ve compiled a list of some of the better games you can pick up for less than 10 bucks:
Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST
Average price: Halo 3 – $5 used, Halo 3 ODST – $8-10 used
While they’re not my favorite entries in the Halo franchise, both Halo 3 and ODST are still worthy of your time: while not quite as polished as the more recent Halo Reach, both Halo 3 and ODST offer campaigns that are filled with more than enough memorable moments and intense, tactical firefights to justify the games’ rock bottom used prices. Despite Reach having usurped the attention of most of the Halo community, there’s still a healthy amount of players fragging each other online in Halo 3’s varied multiplayer modes, so if you’re looking for a good multiplayer experience for cheap, Halo 3 and ODST (which includes Halo 3’s mutliplayer modes plus all of it’s DLC on a seperate disc,) will give you dozens of hours of entertainment for less than the cost of a movie ticket. Plus, there’s no better way to prep yourself for Halo 4 then by replaying Master Chief’s final battle (?) against the Covenant one more time.
Prince of Persia
Average Price: $3-5 used
While the Wii and the PS3 have cultivated a surprising amount of worthwhile platformers, it’s slim pickins on the 360 if you’re looking for a quality, old school run-and-jump. Thankfully, Ubisoft’s 2008 Prince of Persia reboot should be enough to make 3D platformer fans momentarily forget about Mario or Ratchet: with smooth, flowing gameplay, pixel precise controls and one of the most beautiful and most original art styles to appear in a game since Wind Waker, Prince of Persia is, in my opinion, one of this generation’s must-plays.
The game was criticized by a few misguided critics and gamers upon its release for it’s lack of death, but the game’s penalty for falling off of a cliff or losing a fight — being sent back to the last piece of solid ground you were standing on — is in practice not all that different from having to reload your last checkpoint. Anyone who gave the game a fair shake and was more interested in experiencing a fun, whimsical adventure (rather than those sad, sad people whom I mentioned earlier, who seem to think games exist as some sort of platform for them to show off their misplaced machismo) found that Prince of Persia was one of the best, most underrated games of this generation.
I say “underrated” because despite decent reviews, the game failed to sell as well as previous entries in the series. While this sadly means we’ll never get a proper follow-up to the game (a thought which is made even more frustrating once you see the game’s cliffhanger conclusion,) it also means you can pick it up for pretty cheap nowadays.
Bioshock and Bioshock 2
Average Price: Bioshock $7-10 used, Bioshock 2 $10 new (via Amazon)
Bioshock Infinite is finally nearing completion, and from the looks of it, Infinite may redefine what we’ve come to expect from narrative in games. While Infinite’s story and setting are seemingly unrelated to the first two Bioshock games, it’s still very much recommended that you make at least one trip to the flooded metropolis of Rapture before taking to the skies in Bioshock Infinite.
Both Bioshock games deftly combine elements of the FPS genre with some heavy RPG elements, and both games offer some of the most atmospheric, downright creepy locations and characters to be seen in a game since the original Resident Evil. As for which one is better, that’s a matter of contention: The first game has a much better story, but the second game offers some substantial improvements over the first game’s combat mechanics. Regardless of whichever game you prefer, both Bioshock titles are generally regarded as classics, and for less than ten bucks each, there’s no reason to say no to these influential masterpieces.
Average price: $3-6 used
Fable certainly is a divisive series: Some people love it, while others absolutely loathe it’s existence. Personally, while I didn’t care for the first and third entries in the series, I think that the second Fable game is a fun, above-average action RPG with a charming sense of humor and story. The end game feels kind of rushed (see also: every other Fable game) but on the whole, Fable 2 feels much more polished and offers a meatier main quest than both its sequel and prequel.
Gears of War and Gears of War 2
Average price: Gears of War – $5 used, Gears of War 2 – $5-10 used
Epic’s… well, “epic” third person shooters set the standard for the genre (as well as creating every “dudebro” gaming stereotype out there) and now the first two entries in the series can both be had for less than the cost of your average Greatest Hits game. The original Gears of War remains as fun and as visually impressive today as it was the day it was released, and Gears 2 manages to improve on the original in every possible way. Sure, the stories and characters are laughable, but there’s still nothing more exhilarating than just barely surviving a particularly brutal wave in Horde mode.
Average price: $3-4 used
Forza 2 may have two sequels at this point, but it’s far from antiquated: despite being an older 360 title, the graphics are still relatively pretty, and more importantly, the handling of the cars and physics still feel suitably realistic. While the game lacks many of the more modern features that it’s successors enjoy, there’s still plenty of content here for racing fans to enjoy, and the whole game can usually be found for about the price of a gallon of gas. How can you argue with that?
Average Price: $10 (800 MSP) via Xbox Live Arcade
There was a time when a physical copy of Ikaruga for the Dreamcast or Gamecube would cost you anywhere from 75 to 100 dollars, but now Treasure’s heralded color-changhing SHMUP can be conveniently downloaded to your Xbox for a mere pittance. The game is well worth it at any price however, as Ikaruga is regarded as the king of the SHMUP genre for good reason: while it’s streamlined, color-based mechanics seem simple at first, Ikaruga quickly proves itself to be one of the deepest, most challenging, and most addictive games ever made, mostly thanks to it’s ruthless but never frustrating level and boss design. Newbies will likely struggle to make it past the brutality of level 3, while genre veterans will likely pour hundreds of hours into the game, trying to get their names on the leaderboards and achieve the “perfect run.” Regardless of your level of skill, every level survived or high combo chain achieved brings with it a level of satisfaction that most “full” big budget, retail releases could never hope to match.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong
Average price: $10 used
At this point, I could understand why you’d pass up King Kong if you saw it in a store: it’s a movie licensed game and it’s in the bargain bin, and that’s usually a recipe for shovelware. Thankfully, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is anything but: created through a collaboration of the acclaimed film maker and a development team at Ubisoft headed up by veteran game designer Michel Ancel (creator of Rayman, Beyond Good and Evil,) King Kong not only proves that it’s possible to create a great licensed game, but that it’s possible to work within a license without having to sacrifice innovation or originality.
While King Kong is outwardly a first person shooter, it’s a far more cerebral experience than your usual corridor shooter. Ammo for weapons is very limited, and you’ll have to make creative use of the environment in order to survive: enemies can be distracted with fresh bait (usually gleaned by killing another enemy) and the game’s jungle environments can be altered with fire. While the game has some occasionally obtuse puzzles, for the most part it’s a clever, challenging adventure that’s well worth the 10 bucks most stores sell it for. Achievement whores take notice as well: the game basically gives you a full 1000 gamerscore points for doing a single play-through, so if you want an easy way to inflate the size of your e-peen, you might as well pick up King Kong and get a surprisingly good game to go along with your new achievements.
Average Price: $7-10 used (non-GOTY edition)
All of the games on this list are good values, but Fallout 3 definitely gives you the most bang for your buck– for about 10 bucks you’re getting a game that potentially has hundreds of hours of content in it. Like Bethesda’s other RPG’s, Fallout 3 drops you in the middle of a massive open world and pretty much lets you do whatever you want: you’re allowed to be a heroic vigilante, a selfish outlaw, an evil slave trader, and pretty much anything in between, and the game has enough side quests to ensure that you won’t need to buy another game for at least a few months.
As to be expected of any game with this type of structure, Fallout 3 still has a few bugs and is still kind of janky at parts, but that’s the price you pay for freedom. It’s worth noting that Fallout 3’s semi-sequel, New Vegas, can usually be found for about $5 more, and while that game suffers from even more stability problems, I actually prefer it over 3 thanks to its more interesting setting and story. That’s not too say that Fallout 3 is a slouch in the narrative department either, and both games are easily worth your time… And hey, by the time you finish one of them, chances are Bethesda’s newest (and best) open world RPG Skyrim will be down to a budget price too.
Average Price: $5 (400 MSP) – via Xbox Live Arcade
Instead of spending anywhere from $20-50 on one of Sonic’s newer (and far worse) adventures, you’d be better off dropping five bucks on one of classic Sonic’s best moments — Sonic CD. Unlike other classic Genesis-era re-releases available on XBLA, Sega’s HD port isn’t a simple cash-in on fans’ nostalgia: the core game is as great today as it was in 1992, and the port has some added features, like online leader boards and the option to chose between the American and the (far superior) original Japanese soundtrack, that make the downloadable HD version of Sonic CD the definitive version of this classic. Sega may still be in the process of relearning how to make a proper Sonic game, but until they truly get it right, you’re better off spending your time with the classics, and at $5, there’s no reason not to give Sonic CD a try.
Devil May Cry 4
Average price: $8 used
Sure, it’s not the best Devil May Cry — that title belongs DMC3 (soon to be available on 360 and PS3 as part of the Devil May Cry HD Collection,) — but DMC4 is still an excellent action game in its own right. While the new protagonist (the sullen pretty boy Nero,) was off-putting to some, DMC4 retains and streamlines the series’s trademark stylish, fast combat and lighthearted (some would say cheesy) tone. Traditional series main character and fan favorite Dante is in there too, and while the game loses some points for basically forcing you to play through every level twice (once as Nero, once as Dante,) the two characters’ move sets and combos are just different enough to make each repeated fight seem fresh. While the game has its problems, its still definitely worth playing, if only to get one last glimpse of the original version of Dante before the Western developed, Hot Topic-ified “DmC” reboot drops later this year.