It seems like a lot of people tend to ask me, “Hey Brett. What’s like a really good cheap game? Something I can pick up at Gamestop used and enjoy for a few days?” These games are something I’ll usually pick up during the Summer months when new titles are scarce or once I’m sick to death of playing a new title. They’re commonly known as “Once A Year” games because well, no matter how long you’ve owned them, you tend to play them once a year. You’ll find that my list contains mainly large single player experiences with an exception or two. Why? Because they’re something you can bang out in a few hours/days and most of the time the multiplayer community is dead for it. While my list could go on forever, I figured I’d start out with ones from this current generation of games. While some are still a bit pricey, you’ll get just as much, if not more, time out of them than $59.99 titles. As much as I hate free promotion, if you have a Gamestop card you’ll save even more money. Feel free to drop your list in the comments. It’s always cool to see what people are playing. This list isn’t in any particular order. Just my top 10 games I always see myself never wanting to get rid of. Not to mention for you Xbox 360 owners, it’s a good way to get some random achievements. Whether you’re a broke ass college student or just wanting to take a break from the latest trends, try these out.
Prey (360, PC) Gamestop Used: $2.99
Prey is one of those games that was so revolutionary when it came out. With a unique storyline and really fun FPS gameplay, this one was a sleeper hit. You play as Tommy, a Cherokee who along with his whole family and pretty much Earth, has been abducted by aliens. The story centers around Tommy trying to rescue his girlfriend and his family as he battles aliens and sees the horrors being performed by the aliens. Using your ancestor’s powers, you’re able to walk on walls and ceilings in certain areas while shifting gravity around. It sounds like Portal, and also shares another resemblance to Portal. This game introduced the concept of shifting areas instantly. For example, you could crawl into a crate in the middle of a room and all of a sudden you’ll be in a different area than you previously were. The game still has some of the most memorable moments I’ve seen this generation and is rather graphic. With the sequel potentially cancelled for the time being, you should at least play this sleeper. It’s also three bucks.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $7.99
Rainbow Six Vegas 2, to me, will always be one of the best shooters ever made. It came out in the months following COD4 and although it was in the shadows, the multiplayer was absolutely amazing. With the friendly ability of being in first person only to switch to third person in cover by holding down a trigger button, it was honestly once of the best gameplay mechanics for shooters I’ve ever enjoyed (even if it does give you absurd accuracy). While the game has a pretty lengthy and damned good campaign that lets you and up to two of your friends play through it together, the real “once a year” here is the alternate multiplayer mode: Terrorist Hunt. T-Hunt is somewhat like a horde mode. However, the enemies do end. Basically, either just by yourself (lone wolf, which is still a blast) or with a bunch of your friends choose from a large number of maps with CPU enemies spread about it. You can increase the quantity and difficulty of the enemies to your liking. T-Hunt has taken many, many hours from a bunch of us here and we wouldn’t have it any other way. RSV2 also features one of the best customization systems I’ve ever seen to this day. You unlock gear by playing the campaign, multiplayer and T-hunt. This ranges from scopes on guns to shoulder pads, helmets, you name it. Your character has a loadout for campaign and a loadout for multplayer/T-Hunt. You can just duplicate the exact loadout if you want. This lets you deck yourself out from head to toe in body armor or do variants with no armor. Ours included “Streets,” where all of us agreed to as little armor as we could, only using pump action shotguns and pistols. It will always be some of the most entertaining memories for me, and you should make them a part of yours too. Go get it right now. I guarantee you won’t put it down.
Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis (Xbox 360, Wii) Gamestop Used: $1.99
Much like Rockstar Games did when they released this game, everybody gives me odd looks when I recommend this one to them. Look, what the hell do I need to say about it? It’s ping pong. But beneath that, there’s an extremely fun time waiting to be had. Not known to many, but this was the first game to use Rockstar’s R.A.G.E. engine, the same engine that would go on to be used in Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, and Max Payne 3. Because of this engine, the game feels more than a simple back and forth. Obviously that’s what it’s about, but they spiced it up. In usual Rockstar fashion, everything is real as possible. There’s no power-ups to be found anywhere. It’s something about the way the controller was utilized that just makes the game feel…right? I’m not sure. But what I am sure about is how competitive you can (and will) get while playing this. In addition to the strangly addictive campaign mode where you try to beat table tennis champions from all over the world, the multiplayer is awesome. There’s nothing like destroying your friends after a long bout of over 30 hits back and forth. The game is two dollars. Two of them. That’s less than a couple burgers at a fast food joint. Grab your buds, go pick it up (or a few copies for over XBL…it’s TWO BUCKS), drink some alcohol and play some ping pong, you idiot.
Bioshock (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $14.99
While it seems like everybody’s played through Bioshock, I disagree. I know a ton of hardcore gamers that never touched it. Made by Boston’s own Irrational Games (2K Boston at the time), it’s probably one of the best storylines of this generation. Mix this with awesome FPS gameplay and deep RPG elements and you can’t go wrong. Set in 1960, you play as Jack, a man you know very little about. While on a plane over the Atlantic, it crashes, leaving you as the sole survivor. Swimming through the wreckage to a mysterious platform, you board a submarine which takes you down to Rapture. Rapture is an underwater utopia built for the rich to live away from a government by a man named Andrew Ryan. However, once you get there, you find that the city has been completely destroyed. Through audio recordings, you learn the city’s history all while trying to unravel the mystery of Rapture and avoiding the horrors that await you. With arguably the most beautifully haunting setting ever made along with some crazy twists in its excellent writing, it’s odd to think there’s people that haven’t played it yet. Once you play through and enjoy it (you will), you can pick up Bioshock 2 for about $13. While not made by Irrational, it held it’s own. However, the first is the best hands down. With Irrational’s Bioshock Infinite hitting in February 2013, this is a great time to become a Bioshock fan.
Hitman Blood Money (Xbox 360, PC) Gamestop Used: $24.99
If anybody ever needed to know why the Hitman franchise skyrocketed to my favorite series of all time, it’s because of Blood Money. The Hitman franchise is so unique because it’s a concept that can’t ever get old: look at a list of specific people needed to be killed and use any means to make sure it happens. You play as Agent 47, the greatest assassin to ever live as he does what he does best. Blood Money’s specific levels and scenarios make for a game that shouldn’t be missed. If you want to go charging in killing anything that moves to get to your target, do it. If you want to put the waiter to sleep, steal his clothes, go into the kitchen and poison your target’s meal, do it. With some unique situations such as a level where you can switch a blank gun with a real one so the the actor kills your target (also an actor) in front of a packed house at an opera, or shooting him yourself from the balcony when the blank is fired so nobody hears the shot, this game takes creativity to a whole new level. Some levels include massive amounts of people walking around, all for your disposal or to help you blend in. The game lets you approach the same situation in each level from many different ways which is something that even now is a rarity. Whether I feel like going back and playing through each level trying to make my hits look like accidents or (when I’ve had a bad day) charging into the redneck wedding level strapped head to toe with machine guns to get to my targets, Hitman Blood Money is a game that I will never, ever get rid of. With the sequel, Hitman Absolution, FINALLY coming after a six year wait this November, get learned on your assassin abilities now.
Mirror’s Edge (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $14.99
Back in 2008, parkour was starting to gain a greater amount of popularity in the United States. It worked well with Assassin’s Creed a year before and it’s now become a big element of platformers. One of the hidden gems that really emphasized this was EA’s Mirror’s Edge. The game takes place in a totalitarian society where everything is monitored and crime has been pretty much wiped out. Many rebel against this way of life because the government opened fire on protesting civilians eighteen years earlier. You play as Faith, a “runner” who dislikes the government. Runners deliver messages to different organizations by hand in order to avoid traced telephone calls and e-mails. Your job is to run around the city, hopping rooftops, sliding under billboards, jumping fences, and doing whatever else it takes to deliver those messages. The game is known for it’s unique use of colors to show you where to go with the rest of the city white (perhaps a metaphor for the views of the society). It is also known for it’s different first person gameplay that involves you sliding, flipping, and climbing all from that perspective. With a somewhat interesting story and unique gameplay, I’ll usually visit this game once a year. It’s also pretty fun to sprint at a dude holding a gun in first person and kick him right in the face.
Just Cause 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $29.99
It seems like it was much longer ago that I was introduced to the greatness that is Just Cause 2. Probably because you lose so much track of time once you boot this game up. The sequel to the not-so-great Just Cause, it changed everything and for the better. Just Cause 2 has you playing as Rico Rodriguez, a mercenary sent in to blah blah blah…does anyone actually care about the story in this game? First thing off, the game is entirely open world supported by one, if not the largest game map ever created, clocking in at 500 square miles. There’s multiple islands, jungles, mountains, and hell, even a sky fortress, all for your exploring. I even found an island that referenced Lost from my plane crashing after hearing a weird sound as I approached the island, to finding a mysterious hatch while exploring the island. The gameplay will have you playing this game for days on end because of the addition of a grappling hook. The grappling hook allows you to shoot into the air and open your parachute from pretty much any place you want, grapple to another point in the area in a second (vehicles and objects alike), whip guns out of enemy’s hands, send the enemy flying to you, or my favorite, attach two objects together. One time I grappled a giant boulder statue to the back of my truck and stepped on the gas, causing the giant boulder to create a swinging ball of death behind me as I floored it down a mountain. Another time I attached my car to a Boeing 747 that was about to take off. Around 30,000 feet, I hopped out of the car, while in free fall, I hooked onto the plane and hijacked it as my car still swung below waiting for me to drop the cable. It’s all these small events that will just blow your mind that a game like this even exists. Vehicles (land, water and air) and weapons are plentiful, allowing you to do whatever the hell you want, with as much damage as you want to inflict. So the next time you want to drive a school bus off the top of a snowy mountain and roll it all the way to the bottom, boot up this game. Seriously, don’t skip this one.
Dead Rising (Xbox 360) Gamestop Used: $6.99
Before zombies became REALLY huge, there was Dead Rising. It’s odd to think of a time where one had to actually beg for a decent zombie game. Dead Rising was definitely the answer. The comically insane game stars Frank West (he’s covered wars, you know), a reporter who sneaks his way into Willamette, Colorado, which has been quarantined off by the US government. His helicopter pilot lands him on the roof of the city’s mall. Once inside, he interviews some survivors that have barricaded themselves by the large amounts of zombies outside. Eventually, a dumb lady tries to rescue her dog and is eaten to death, causing all the zombies to make their way into the mall. Frank’s pilot will not return for him for 72 hours, a clock the game sets once you’re inside. No, it’s not in real time and it gives you plenty of time to mow down hordes of zombies. The cool thing about the game is all the different endings. Say you focus on gathering survivors, you’ll achieve one ending where in other cases, you might not. There is a “true” ending to the game that also eliminates the countdown, but I’ll let you find that out. With literally hundreds of weapons (you’re in a damn mall), crazy bosses, and enormous amounts of zombies able to fit on the screen at once, how have you not played Dead Rising? In 2010, Dead Rising 2 was released to much praise. It was even one of my top 10 games of the year. You can get that used for about $18 and is definitely just as great as the original. Plus you can play the entire game co-op online with a buddy! Don’t miss the Dead Rising series, period.
John Woo’s Stranglehold (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $3.99
Stranglehold is one of those games that people have never heard of when I suggest it. Unless you’re a big John Woo fan or follow gaming like I do, I don’t expect you to. A cool fact, Stranglehold is actually a sequel to John Woo’s Hard Boiled, which is pretty much one of the best action movies ever made. The game also stars Chow Yun Fat playing his same character, Inspector Tequila, from the original movie. In traditional John Woo fashion, the game packs some crazy cinematic action and tons of awesome moves to pull off. The plot basically involves police, kidnapping, scandals, everything you’d expect in action movies. The gameplay, however, kicks so much ass you can’t take it all in. The gun battles are insane. Using different buttons on the controller allows you to pull certain action movie-type moves. For example, any time you dive you will enter slow motion. Doing things like sliding down stair rails or shooting from a moving food cart with double pistols gets you bonus points and turns the situation into all kinds of badass. Along the way you’ll also unlock moves such as a 360 spin that lets you reload your magazines super quick, a bullet cam that follows it to the enemy’s body, and situations involving shooting many guys in slow motion as they surround you. While the multiplayer is dead and should stay that way, the campaign is a hell of a good time. While it’s nothing special in length, it can be played over and over again. Especially for four bucks. Add it to your pile on a rainy day.
Portal 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Gamestop Used: $29.99
Portal 2 is another one of those games that seems like everybody played, but many actually didn’t. Maybe it’s the puzzle background, maybe it’s the science stuff, or maybe it’s from all the people not shutting the fuck up about lying cake, this game definitely kept a lot of people away. Those people also suck. With some of the most creative gameplay combined with some of the best (and funniest) writing that gaming has to offer, you shouldn’t turn your back to Portal 2. Portal 2 is, obviously, a sequel to the much acclaimed Portal. This one makes the first game seem like a prequel. The gameplay is simple, yet blows your mind. You have a portal gun. You shoot one portal at one place, and the other at another. You walk through the first portal, you come out at the other. Seems easy, right? Wrong. Between only certain walls being able to have portals on them, three different kinds of paints that change the physics of things, and a really awesome story that keeps you wanting more, this game will make you frustrated; but in a good way. I’ll always argue Valve is the Pixar of gaming and this game will make you understand why. Between the hilarious Wheatley, the insanely over the top AI robot trying to kill you GLaDOS, and the dark but super funny Cave Johnson, the writing is full of charm and humor. With some of my darkest gaming moments involve being stuck on certain puzzles, it also comes with some of my greatest accomplishments figuring them out. Not only is the campaign a pretty good size, but there’s a whole co-op campaign too. While it helps to play Portal to kind of understand the story, I wouldn’t say you need to. Just jump into this and admire everything about it. Just truly…shut up about cakes lying. It’s a saying that just needs to be shot into space (ha!).
Honorable Mention: Anything Recent From Bethesda
If you don’t know who Bethesda Game Studios is, they’re the guys who have made some of the best open world RPGs of all time. If you want games that you can spend literally hundreds of hours in, pick pretty much any of them up. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is only about $10 for the vanilla edition and around $18 for the GOTY edition. Now that Skyrim is out, it has gone down in price but still is just as fun. Fallout 3 might just about be my favorite game of all time and is also $10. It also takes place in post-apocalyptic Washington DC for you people that like to avoid the dragons and fantasy, or just want to steal the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s personal handgun. Fallout New Vegas, the follow up, is just as amazing but takes place in Las Vegas and in a desert setting. With people clocking in close to 300 hours just exploring these huge open games and running around killing things, why wouldn’t you pick up at least one of them? If I had to, I’d say go with Fallout 3 hands down. But hey, that’s just me.
So there you have it. What are some of your favorite “Once A Year” games? They don’t have to be from this generation. Maybe I’ll make that list next. Let us know below!