Bargain Basement 18

Winback 2 Art

Welcome to the eighteenth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com: the Bargain Basement.

It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin or scouring pre-owned shelves sooner or later. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.

The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any brick-and-mortar shop, often for $20.00 or less. Keep in mind that the selections in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, so it's assumed that the technology isn't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a modified scale taking this into account, and doesn't compare them to today's visual standards—gameplay is what we're talking about here.

Happy hunting!

Bargain Basement 18 – Tron 2.0: Killer App

Starting off this installment of the Basement is Tron 2.0: Killer App. More first-person adventure than shooter, 2.0 is positioned as the direct sequel to 1982's highly influential yet strangely unsuccessful film, Tron. It's an interesting approach that's wonderfully satisfying for people familiar with the source material, but the game itself is so strong that previous experience isn't necessary to appreciate what Climax has created.

A must-play effort that manages to be intensely surreal while being instantly, strangely familiar at the same time, Tron 2.0 is set inside a series of computers, networks, and the Internet itself after main character Jet Bradley is transformed into a series of 1's and 0's by a sapient math analysis program in need.

As one of the most visually striking movies in history, Tron's neon geometry and electric hues not only translate perfectly to the Xbox, but are complemented by cleverly sophisticated level design that goes hand-in-hand with both style and substance.

The conceptual work that went into imagining the game's world is nothing less than a masterpiece. Of course, the groundwork was laid by the film's brilliant creators over 20 years ago, but 2.0's developers have done a flawless job of updating and expanding every aspect of the original while remaining completely true to its spirit and themes.

Tron 2.0 Killer App Screenshot

The view from inside modern technology is represented by incredibly intricate architecture, while outdated systems feature a stark, simplistic appearance. The Internet takes the form of a vast, bustling metropolis while a handheld PDA equates to being a claustrophobic, four-room affair.

As for Jet himself, his weapons and abilities are couched as files and subroutines that must be downloaded and upgraded throughout the game while battling enemies that are aggressive programs and destructive viruses personified. The logical extrapolations drawn between the elements of Tron 2.0 and real technology are captured perfectly—fantasy, to be sure, but a fantasy that makes complete sense within its context.

Jet's journey through communication pathways and hard drives smartly balances action with exploration of the ubiquitous, miraculous creations that have become such an integral part of modern life to provide an engaging experience in a fascinatingly unique setting. Although the Xbox version isn't as optimized as it could be (the load times can be chunky, and make sure to save your game every few minutes since there are no automatic checkpoints) Tron 2.0 is one of the most perfectly designed projects I've seen in a long time, absolutely succeeding in both style and substance. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Bargain Basement 18 – WinBack 2: Project Poseidon

Readers who've been with us for the long haul may remember the original WinBack on the Nintendo 64 getting a lot of love from this site. It was a favorite of the Critics at that time, and we even ran an interview with one of the developers. Doing "stop and pop" in 1999 long before Gears of War was even a gleam in Cliff Bleszinski's eye, it was a game attempting to take action to the next level before the technology was ready to handle it.

Fast-forward seven years, and the sequel finally arrives.

Although the WinBack formula has long since been left in the dust, I feel comfortable in saying that if Project Poseidon had hit shelves within a reasonable amount of time after the original, it would have stood a good chance of becoming a leader in the action genre. In fact, it reminds me a great deal of Toby Gard's Galleon—due to their extremely late arrivals, both excellent projects were rendered evolutionary dead ends.

Hearkening back to an earlier age before third-person shooting became comfortably mapped to dual analog sticks, Project Poseidon features a team of three tactical officers as they take on hallways filled with lasers, boxes, and bad guys. The movement and gunplay is definitely on the clunky side, but it has an unorthodox team-based approach and an extremely fast, arcade-like feel to make up for it.

Winback 2: Project Poseidon Screenshot

Going through any area with one team member leads down a specific, linear path. After reaching the end, a second member of the team goes through the same location on a different route, giving players two separate viewpoints of the same mission. When the first character needs a door unlocked, the player actually does the unlocking as the second character a little bit later on. When one is pinned down and rescued by their teammate, the roles flip and the player does the rescuing soon after. Although not explored to its full potential, the concept has merit.

However, the element that really makes the game stand out to me is the speedy, performance-based play. Each level is on a timer counting down, and a lifebar is shared between characters. Do poorly in the first leg, and the next teammate starts with a handicap. Add in that Project Poseidon's shooting feels like nothing so much as Time Crisis taken off its rails, and everything comes together in a way that removes it from direct competition with other, more conventional games. It's all about shooting enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible and makes no attempt to disguise itself as a standard adventure outing—I have to say I admire the game for its honesty.

As one more addition to the very small niche of "score-based non-rail shooting galleries with a little bit of story thrown in," WinBack 2: Project Poseidon has a lot in common with the highly-influential-yet-never-credited Kill.Switch, which in turn owed a creative debt to the original WinBack. Although it comes perilously close to overstaying its welcome by clocking in at around ten hours (and whoever added mines with laser tripwires to this game should be booted out of developing permanently), anyone who enjoyed the titles I mentioned will likely enjoy Poseidon—this style of game can be addicting to the kind of player that gets a high off of adrenaline and fast reflexes. It's not for everyone, but WinBack 2: Project Poseidon sets a very clear goal for itself, and accomplishes it nicely. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

Bargain Basement 18 – Hulk

I'm a Hulk fan from way back. Something about Bruce Banner's struggle with an explosive id has always captivated me, even when I was too young to understand the metaphor. Maybe it was the dichotomy of a dwindling intellect and unlimited physical strength, or maybe it was just those cool ripped-up purple pants. Whatever it was, ol' greenskin has always been a favorite. In fact, Mike Mignola's run on the big behemoth's series in particular was some of my favorite comics work of all time.

In any event, although there have been a number of games that have attempted to capture the Hulk in an electronic format, none of them have really nailed the pure destructive essence and dual nature of the Hulk's condition until this one. It's funny, even though this particular version was created as a tag-along to the much-maligned Ang Lee film, I think the end result was even better than the more recent, free-roaming Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.

Although the scope of Hulk is very small and the project as a whole feels quite limited, I do give respect to Radical for doing a great job in crafting something that hits the right notes and stays in tune with the source.

The first thing I noticed were the graphics. Simple and clean for the most part, the individual characters are stylized in a way highly reminiscent of Killer 7. (I'd actually like to know the exact term describing this method. If any readers can clue me in, please send me an e-mail.)

Hulk Screenshot

As pleasing as the visuals was the fact that the environments are quite destructible. Just about anything the Hulk sees, the Hulk can smash. And throw. And use as a club. Considering its age, this aspect of the gameplay actually caught me off guard. There's nothing better than delivering a crushing blow to a tank, and then using that tank's turret to destroy the tank right next to it.

However, even though it's great fun to smash and wreck things, the aspect of Hulk that really sold me was the stealth-based Bruce Banner segments. I recall reading that most reviewers hated these short levels because they interrupted the flow of carnage, but to a fan like me, this is a crucial part of the character. Every bit as important as the muscles and gamma radiation-fueled rage is the anguish and inner torment that haunts Dr. Banner between rampages. Although I do admit it wasn't always enjoyable to be weak and defenseless, skulking in the shadows, the sense of powerlessness is necessary and fitting.

With all that said (and the disclaimer about being a Hulk fan at the beginning) I do want to qualify my comments by saying that I think full appreciation for this particular game will be had by paying no more than $5 or $7 and then turning on some of the codes. Game developers always struggle with bringing super-powerful comic characters to life (Superman is another prime example) because it's hard to structure challenging play when the main character should theoretically be able to destroy all opposition with little effort. It didn't make a lot of sense to me to have the Hulk bothered by crowds of soldiers with machine guns, so activate a few of the cheats and get a more accurate "Hulk smash puny humans" experience. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.