I just bought a brand-new, director's cut Blu-ray movie and technically two PS3 games. Total cost: 50 bucks. You see, the deals are out there--you just need to know where to find 'em. So stick around for a list of surefire ways to entertain yourself without going broke in the process.
1. The Bundle Deal
You've seen it your whole life: Buy One, Get One Free. Reading between the lines it usually means, "Buy One, Get One [Clunker] Free."
Fortunately, some companies get it these days. Warner Brothers earns "the nod" for Watchmen: The Complete Experience. I was a little leery of buying the Watchmen movie on Blu-ray, considering all the cross promotional chaos that swirled around the movie's launch. But I did a double-take for this package. The Complete Experience comes with the director's cut version of the flick, as well as parts 1 and 2 of The End Is Nigh--the next-gen game/prequel to the events in the movie. Most nerds would add the movie to their collection on its own; and if you own a PS3, this is a no-brainer--as long as you don't mind button-mashing beat-'em-ups. (Think: A high-resolution version of Double Dragon.) PC/Xbox 360 Watchgeeks: Sorry, you've got the short end on this one.
2K Games takes a slightly different approach in mashing two of its best-sellers together on a single disc. Bioshock and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion sell together in a bundle for 30 bones. Yeah, they might not be the shiniest, newest games, but you can't argue with awesome. If you haven't played BioShock (REALLY?!?), you should just know that this is one of the most immersive games ever and will will suck in gamers and nongamers (their spouses) alike. Just trust me on that. As for Oblivion, this massively single-player game has so much user-created mod content online, you'll never leave.
2. Dumpster Diving Online
Even though you'll save a few bucks, don't buy used games from stores. The money doesn't go back to the guys who actually made what you're playing. Unless, that is, you go to SwitchGames.com. CEO Jason Crawford's plan: "When gamers selling used titles have the option to share a percentage of a used game sale with the people who actually made the game. Like everything else at SwitchGames, gamers are always in control and it's up to them to decide whether they'd like to cut in developers and publishers." It may not be a perfect solution, but it's a step in the right direction.
Some (like me) prefer the unmarred new copies without the Cheetos-stained instruction manuals. Bargain hunters, let me introduce you to your new best friend: Cheapassgamer.com. The name, subtle; the point, unavoidable. You shouldn't have to spend top dollar on the latest and greatest games. This burgeoning community collects and shares the latest deals on games (and sometimes videos) found at places like Amazon and Best Buy. This is one of my go-to sites for bargains.
A huge assortment of classic PC games are available online--DRM-free and at minimal cost--through Good Old Games. I've recently raided this site for everything from pinball to the original Fallout games. Most of the games cost under six bucks. Old school deal city!
Speaking of bringing back the classics, LucasArts opened up the vaults on some of its more memorable titles (and one remixed game for a new generation). Want to play Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis? For five bucks, it's yours. But one game that is an absolute must-buy, whether you're a PC gamer or an Xbox 360 gamer is The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. On one hand, it's a masterfully redone graphic adventure with lush artistry, great voice acting, and plenty of LOLs* (*Disclaimer: Your LOLs may vary. Not valid in the state of Alaska.). Then, at the push of a button, you can flip between the remake and the original game--crusty, nostalgic graphics and all. A steal at $10.
3. The Next Episodes
Did someone mention Monkey Island? Then I'd be remiss if I didn't point out another low-cost game experience hitting the market. Telltale (and LucasArts) has just kicked off Tales of Monkey Island. Some of the key characters who made the original games so good are putting together this five-installment adventure in goofy piracy.
What I find interesting here is that Telltale is one of the few companies (if not the only one) to follow through on episodic gaming. I'm talking about stand-alone games that you can buy piecemeal or opt to buy as a full "season." So far Telltale has also released seasons of Bone, Sam & Max, Strongbad, and Wallace & Gromit.
One other company that's made an amazing showing with regular updates is Bethesda Softworks, which has perfected the art of rolling out supplimental content to support a game. Suppose, for instance, that you eked out every minute of enjoyment from 80 hours of exploring the nuke-blasted landscape of Fallout 3; now there are additional downloadable updates (for a price). The extra bits include scenarios that take you to Pittsburgh, to a simulated battleground in Alaska, to post-apocalyptic redneck marshlands...I'm losing count! In the fifth expansion, Mothership Zeta, you're abducted by aliens. It comes out next week, and you'll pay only $10 more to stretch your game even further.
4. Last but Not Least: Free Games
Sometimes, even $10 is too much. Hey, times are tough--and you don't need to be a penny-pinching, freeloading mooch to appreciate the occasional freebie. Heck, I've been ferreting out free finds for PC World here, here, here...and do I need to keep going?
To tip you off to some of the best places to find the latest, greatest independently driven free games, I'm just going to give you a shotgun list of some must-visit sites. Click the links now and thank me later.
Kongregate: Home to a huge collection of great flash games.
Indiegames and The Independent Gaming Source: These two sites are my not-so-secret weapons. They contain the heartbeat of the indie game design scene. Just about every upcoming trend in gaming passes through these pages first, so check here often for some seriously fun (and sometimes avant-garde) stuff.
Wikipidia's List of Open-Source Games: Many benevolent designers release their old code into the wild so you can appreciate their games, gratis. The Wikipedia community has done a bang-up job of collecting this killer list of free apps.
Need even more nerdity? Follow Casual Friday columnist and PC World Senior Writer Darren Gladstone on Twitter (gizmogladstone) for games, odd links, and time-wasting tips.