The term 'budget' is generally treated as being more synonymous with rehashed mediocrity than top quality gaming. Very often a game from yesteryear will be re-released on budget, with manuals printed in miniscule print on a CD booklet, and no indication as to whether there are additional patches or configuration changes that need to be made for it to even function on a modern Windows PC.
Enter Sold Out Software, whose latest range of budget software is aiming to change your way of thinking, with their £4.99 and £9.99 "Extreme" range of top quality games. What you get with each CD is a simple inlay slip and the CD itself, but that is it. "What of the manual", I hear you cry! Well, cunningly enough this has been included on the CD itself in Adobe Acrobat format, as part of Sold Out's new .now technology. It will even install the Acrobat reader should you not have it already.
The idea behind .now is to assist you with the game installation process in every way that is possible. Each CD auto-starts with a Macromedia Flash 4 based menu system, which includes a remastered installation routine, online manual, and any patches or updates which are currently available for that product.
In this round-up I will be taking a look at "Tomb Raider" and "Worms United", available in the £4.99 range, along with "Special Ops", "Grand Theft Auto" and "Jimmy White's 2" in the £9.99 range.
Grand Theft Auto
The game that caused such an uproar that they even tried to ban it when it was originally released! Yes folks, it's Grand Theft Auto time again, but now available for the princely sum of ten of your English pounds. So what was all the fuss about then? Surely breaking into cars, mowing down pedestrians, running amok with guns, blowing up buildings, and generally taking no notice of the police force persuing you, is not such a terrible thing? Essentially GTA is all a bit of harmless fun, but it is deemed by some to be promoting and glorifying such ill behaviour in real life.
You begin life standing on a street in Liberty City, America, with nothing but the clothes you are wearing. Parked rather temptingly in front of you is a flashy car, which you promptly get into. A voice comes in over the radio directing you to some phone boxes, where you are to receive your mission orders. Missions can be a simple pick up and drop off of a fellow criminal, or can involve the planting of an explosives-rigged tanker to blow up a building. Let's face it, you are not going to be flower arranging in this game!
The idea is to attain enough points to complete the current city you are in, and you are told the target you have to reach at the beginning of the level. For the best scores you are better off taking jobs handed to you by the Mob; while giving you nice rewards though, these missions are more likely to land you in trouble with the local constabulary. If you "die" you are taken to the nearest hospital, losing all your weapons but keeping your current score. Get arrested however, and you will return to the streets weaponless and half of your score deducted .. but at least your Wanted level is reset to zero!
Although quite pixelated, the graphics are easy to identify, and the top down scrolling cruises along at lightning speed. A wide variety of vehicles are at your disposal, or should that be mercy, and you can be driving a top of the range sports car one minute and a garbage truck the next. Where GTA really flourishes is in the music department, with superbly selected rap tracks booming out of the speakers in some cars, and more mainstream tunes in others. All of this is played to you like a radio station, and is utterly convincing in its execution.
I loved the game when it was first released, and I still love it now - there is simply nothing that tops it for mindlessly violent and addictive fun. Sure the ethics are questionable, and maybe it should not be played by a younger audience, but ultimately it's no more violent than watching the every day news bulletins on the television. The add-on pack "GTA London 1969" is also available from Sold Out for £9.99, so for a score you can have the lot mate.
Spec Ops: Ranger Assault
Listen up soldier! Your duties are many, including upholding the prestige and honour of the elite group of soldiers known as the Rangers. You are expected to move faster and travel further than any other soldier, keeping yourself mentally alert, physically strong and shouldering more than your fair share of responsibility. You are always to be neatly presented, respect your superiors, and care for your equipment. You are better than the enemy, and you will defeat them on any battlefield, and never leave a fallen comrade behind. That will be all Ranger.
Spec Ops is a third person strategic warfare game, set in various locations around the world. Think of a "Hidden & Dangerous" style of play and you won't be too far off the mark. You are the leader of an elite unit of US Rangers, tasked with a variety of missions including your normal search and destroy type, counter strikes, and hostage rescues to name but three. The game uses the much touted (at the time) Viper 3D engine, and whilst it gives you reasonable looking graphics, it does produce a really annoying liquid effect at the base of the screen.
The movement of the characters is reasonably trouble free, but can be infuriating when you are near a solid object and your character cannot decide whether to walk past or detect it. The result is that your character jerks around the object, making it a difficult task to pick up any health or ammo that may be lying nearby. The combat system is not exactly brilliant either, with the soldier auto-detecting enemies for you, but often not the one you really could do with being killed.
The night vision mode is a little overpowering, very often disguising the enemies more than if you did not have it on, and it can also be difficult to isolate where an enemy is firing from, night vision or not. It is a pretty tough nut to crack, and even on a lower skill level you will be staring at the 'mission failed' screen more often than not.
I found Spec Ops to be a pretty laborious game to play, with the niggly little problems shining through more than they should. The enemy AI leaves something to be desired, and in a stealth game where this is so important, it defeats the object somewhat as a target meanders into your line of fire without a care in the world. With the sheer number of missions on offer and their great variety it may provide a tenner's worth of fun to deep fans of the genre, but the casual gamer should definitely avoid it.
Jimmy White's 2 : Cueball
Let's face facts, snooker is perhaps one of the most niche marketed of all the game types - you really have to like the green baized snoreathon to actually get along with a computer version of it! I love playing the real game itself, but I find more excitement from a packet of flower seeds than I do watching it on television. I have enjoyed computer based snooker offerings in the past, "Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker" being a fine example, but their long term appeal is rather limited.
Enter "Jimmy White's 2 : Cueball", which is no ordinary game of snooker, taking a refreshing change of direction and providing you with an entire suite of indoor games. You begin inside an elegant hallway which has two doors, one leading off to the snooker room, and the other to the pool hall. Yes, there is pool too, an instant plus in the game's favour, but it doesn't stop there. You also have a dartboard, a Drop Zone arcade machine, a draughts board, a fruit machine, and even a jukebox to tinker around with.
Of course, the main attractions are the snooker and pool tournaments, and mighty fine they look and play too. The snooker table is situated in a grand lounge with a roaring open fire, and your computer opponent is invisible except for two white gloves - kind of like Rayman, but with less limbs! You decide who you wish to play against, one of the computer opponents or another human player if you so desire, and then the first frame begins. Shots are achieved with relative ease using either the traditional dotted line as a guide, or your own judgement if you are feeling particularly cocky.
The early computer opponents are not exactly the most adept of cue wielders, but as you get further into the game the opposition gets tougher. The net result is that you can often have some extremely good frames of snooker or pool, and it is very rare for a shot you have lined up to do something you did not expect it to. There are times where real physics would mean certain shots made to look easy would not be possible though, particularly with shots in the center of the table.
Graphics are as you would expect really, nothing too fancy; after all there is not much you can do to make a set of snooker or pool balls look anything more than solid and spherical! However, even though there are more gaming options available to you, you will soon tire of it all, and quite possibly seek out a pub or snooker hall to play the real thing. Good entertainment for half an hour, but not much more than that.
"Worms United" takes the original game and bolts on its add-on pack "Worms : Reinforcements" in one tidy package. Worms can be likened to "Lemmings", but replacing the cute green fellows with little pink worms armed with weapons of mass destruction.
The idea is simple enough - take your team of military trained worms onto the battlefield and be the last to survive. The range of violent measures you can take against your foe is impressive, from simply lobbing grenades to ordering a full blown airstrike, all viewed from from side-on. There are four worms to a team, and you will need all your cunning and skill to keep them alive. You can play against the preset computer teams, or crowd around your PC with your friends and take it in turns to make your move, risking much spillage of beer and violent misconduct.
Each worm begins with one hundred units of health, and when a worm's health reaches zero it will self destruct, taking any other worms in the vicinity with them. It is therefore prudent to make sure the worm which you are about to wipe out is not too close to one of your own team members. You can teleport your worm to 'safer' locations on the map if you feel they are vulnerable, but this costs you your turn, and the computer opponents are adept at seeking out even the most well hidden of hermaphrodites.
Alhough graphically crude and with horribly grainy sound, being a DOS based game, there is something about Worms that keeps you hooked and wanting more. Maybe it is the sadistic side of our natures that compels us to snigger with an evil furrowing of the brow as you finally take that troublesome worm's life. At £4.99 it represents outstanding value, and with the seeding method of randomly creating landscapes there are literally thousands of levels for you to wade through.
Lara Croft needs little introduction, being one of the most widely known computer born characters ever created. "Tomb Raider" is how it all began, and the original is regarded by many as her finest adventure. I was certainly one of the first to rush down to my local Special Reserve and grab myself a copy. Originally released in late 1996, does the original still stand the test of time? The answer is a resounding yes.
Wealthy Lara Croft seeks more excitement in her life, as rattling around a mansion house is clearly not enough to satisfy her whims! When she meets up with a tycoon who offers her the chance to retrieve an ancient artefact, she jumps at the chance of exploration and adventure. Successfully retrieving it, she discovers that it is actually just one of four pieces of something called the Scion. Ever the greedy one, Lara sets about retrieving all of the pieces, but she is not alone in the hunt for the Scion, and soon discovers that the tycoon has more than a casual interest in the it.
The tycoon's henchmen are just some of the enemies you will face in the game. You also have to contend with the local wildlife, which includes lions and gorrillas. You will even come up against the more pant-filling Raptors and Tyranosaurus Rex, the latter of which scared the bejesus out of me when I first played the game. As you no doubt know by now, you control Lara from a third person perspective, jumping, climbing and shooting your way through a variety of locations, which in the first game includes Peru and Atlantis.
Graphics and sound are excellent throughout, but you will need to do some digging to find the right 3dfx or OpenGL patch to show Tomb Raider in it's true glory. Unfortunately these are not available on the Sold Out CD, but are not too difficult to locate on the web. Even in software mode though, the game still plays and looks good, and for a fiver you can't moan.