Minimum System Requirements: Games for the Utility Laptop

Due to the downturn in the economy and various other factors, I’ve found myself going back to school. This has, of course, led to me being away from my precious desktop: a glowing, mighty beast that looks like a stealth bomber and may have achieved sentience. As a consequence of returning to school, I’ve felt a need to get a laptop to record lectures, to keep up with notes, etc. It is, however, a dumpy little business model. I bought it for 120$ from a questionable electronics store, and it chugs along steadily. However, it just barely chugs along with Powerpoint and Skype on at the same time. With 2.20 Ghz, 2GB of RAM, and 80 gigs of space, I have to seriously question its capacity to be a gaming platform. Nonetheless, I did find a few golden old games which have made that three-hour stretch in the middle of the day bearable.

Some of the criteria I came up with for my selections include being capable of being run on modern computers, positive past experiences, very low system requirements, and not looking incredibly dated compared to modern games. Other features I looked for were a way to save quickly or autosave, and longevity- no point in playing a game for all those hours you’re trapped on a bus, or in those three hours between classes you’re trapped on campus only to have it peter out after a week. I also went through my old library looking for a bit of variety in my games- not simply one genre or type of game. I find that while engaged, I can do quite a bit of time on a given game- but that tends to lead to burnout or frustration. I’ve selected five games under ten dollars that will preoccupy almost anyone, and suit almost any taste on almost any laptop.

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The Roleplaying Game: Planescape: Torment

One of Black Isle’s oft-forgotten classics, Torment is ranked among the very best of the genre based on its deep characters, the storyline, the number of options available to the player. As an easy point of comparison, I would list the Baldur’s Gate series as comparably long and involved. It involves, gods, philosophies, madness, as well as over 5000 pages of dialogue and reading material. It’s an easy pick as a great game- and given both the length of the game and the number of characters and options, it should preoccupy almost any RPG fan for hours on end.

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The Turn-Based Strategy: Alpha Centauri

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is the game that starts where Civilization normally ends. Upon the completion of the ‘Space Race’ victory, a ship is launched towards the Alpha Centauri star system- one containing the seeds of the seven factions of the game. Alpha Centauri starts as the factions abandon the space ship, and head down to the surface of Planet (no, that’s what they call it- Planet) to remake society in their own image. Seven factions, low system requirements, and phenomenal writing and balance make it a must-have for the strategy enthusiast and bored gamer.

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Space Fighter: Freelancer

A forgotten gem, Freelancer is an open-world space sim with dead-simple controls. It’s fully possible to play as a freighter captain, or a fighter pilot, or some mixture of the two. It may be difficult to carry on through many of the combat missions as a freighter pilot, but cargo can be hugely lucrative if you want to change pace. The scenery is gorgeous, with plenty of colourful places in both literal and figurative terms. If you’re looking for a game to grind away time, that looks good and requires very marginal amounts of space, this is it.

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The Big Stompy Robot Sim: MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries

Big, stompy robots. Clear use of MechWarrior canon, set just shy of the Blakist Jihad and during the FedCom Civil War. Really, what more could you want?  The graphics are a touch dated, but it doesn’t matter much, all things considered. The price is right, voice acting atrocious, but it’s fun as hell and has plenty of mods available. There’s a broad array of both Inner Sphere and clan mechs available, as well as a selection of weapons and the option to compete at Solaris for additional cash and bragging rights.

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The Nightmare Fuel: System Shock 2

Recently coming out on Good Old Games, this forgotten classic is a must-have for any horror enthusiast. The sound design is incredible, the characters memorable. The best part is that like most forgotten gems, it’s had a death-cult of fans modding it for a decade, so there’s a whole host of mods, upgrades, and tweaks for the game that are compatible with the GOG version.

There’s plenty of variety there, and with all of the games under ten dollars and available, there’s no longer an excuse to be burning brain cells looking at images of bananas and giraffes. Most of these games are available on sites like Good Old Games, and some are abbandonware.

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