The iPad and similar tablet devices have been getting all the media love lately, as your poor netbook keeps chuggin’ along outside the spotlight. But did you know it can run some amazing games Apple’s shiny new toy can only dream of?
Technology has advanced substantially in the past 5-10 years, so much so that games our monstrous rigs choked on in 2001 can be run on simple, modest notebooks today. In fact, even lowly netbooks with their standard integrated Intel graphics adapters can handle some seriously good games nowadays. First, a few tips: make sure to close out of all other programs. While this seems like a no-brainer, pulling up your task manager can reveal some real memory hogs, which, while not a big deal on your decked-out home rig, can really break your gaming experience on your relatively low memory-endowed netbook. Second, be ready to tweak: some games may run better on certain netbook configurations than others, while some may not run at all on your setup, some you may need to platy directly from the internet like the games from slotsbaby.com. Be ready to mess with some config files should something act up. Finally, I’ll drop a few references on the bottom of this page for any tweaking you may have to do. Once you’re ready, get an external DVD drive, whip out your old install discs, and get crackin’, or else many of these can be had on digi-distro stores such as Steam.
Yup, Valve’s revolutionary 1998 first-person shooter runs perfectly on netbooks with little tweaking. The common Atom processor handles the old GoldSrc engine with ease, even at relatively high resolutions; as a bonus to the great performance, the gameplay holds up to many modern shooters. Also check out the incredibly fun expansion pack Opposing Force, the slightly less awesome Blue Shift, and all the mods like Counter-Strike, They Hunger, and The Specialists that helped Half-Life become such an enduring classic. Oh, and be sure to grab a mouse for this one.
Tweaking: Little to none
Cost: $10 on Steam
2.) Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
If you haven’t experienced Raven Software’s 2002 sequel to Dark Forces II, you are missing out. The gameplay still endures as an awesome third-or-first person action game, letting you pirouette and prance about as previously apostate Jedi Knight Kyle Katarn, easily besting the mindless action in the mediocre-at-best Force Unleashed series. The story is perfectly paced, centering around Kyle being thrust back into Jedi-hood as he investigates the Reborn and the mysterious Shadowtroopers. The Quake III engine performs well with some settings turned down, though you may see some slowdown in the bigger battle scenes (as a rule of thumb, many earlier Quake I-III-based games should run with some degree of success on your netbook.)
Tweaking: Simple, turning down settings
Cost: $10 on Steam
3.) Halo: CE
Mentioning Halo in a PC gaming article? Heresy! Surprisingly, the PC version is an OK port: not perfect optimization for the platform, but Gearbox didn’t do a terrible job, either. There are even some exclusive multiplayer maps and weapons, including the Banshee and the rocket-launcher Warthog. The downside: some tweaking is required, as Intel’s weak graphics adapters aren’t quite up to snuff for some of the more advanced specular and shading effects. Don’t expect buttery performance or high resolutions, but the end result is perfectly playable. I highly recommend Tweak Guide’s walkthrough to get optimal performance on your ‘book.
Tweaking: Moderate to advanced: config files, console commands
Cost: $10 at Best Buy and similar outlets
4.) The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
As I type, the release of Skyrim looms over our heads, as we wait impatiently to be unleashed in the Elder Scrolls world once again. I can’t think of a better way to prime oneself on the universe than a romp through Morrowind, the game that I spent hundreds of hours absorbed in without ever bothering to complete the main quest. Its strange landscapes, threatening wildlife, and unique fantasy world have mesmerized gamers for years, and it’s pretty well-acknowledged that it’s one of the better entries in the series. It runs well on netbooks, and though framerates may take a hit in some of the larger areas, it’s not a twitch-based game that really demands buttery performance to be playable.
Performance: Average to Good
Tweaking: Little, turning down settings
Cost: $20 for GOTY edition on Steam
My favorite game of 2010 was Fallout: New Vegas. My second favorite game was unlikely candidate VVVVVV, an unbelievably fun, perfectly challenging little 2D platformer styled after games of the Commodore 64 days. I played it entirely on my netbook, too, as it’s the perfect game to whip out for the ten or fifteen minutes of downtime throughout your day, whether it’s on a commute or on the toi- er, anywhere else you might find yourself for an extended period of time. Also, the music is intoxicating. If you haven’t played it, it’s your duty as a gamer to correct that as soon as possible.
Cost: $5 on Steam
Remember, these are just a few to get you started; plenty of PC games old and new run on netbooks quite well. Also, be sure to check out these resources to help you along on your portable playtime journey.
- Netbook Gaming – offers a moderate-sized database of games that will run on netbooks and what settings to try.
- Netbook Gamer – some short articles on which games should run
- Intel 9xx Gaming – offers modded Intel graphics drivers and an extensive list of games that its readers have gotten to run on their ‘books.
- 3D-Analyze – a tool that can spoof newer games into thinking you have more advanced hardware than you do, letting you launch games that would otherwise terminate at a minimum hardware check.
- GMABooster – a program that can overclock your netbook’s graphics card to help with performance.
- Tweak Guides – a constantly updated site that offers advanced, game-specific tweaking advice