Don’t Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer
Image courtesy of GameSpot

There are two paths I take when working on games to review for the Netbook Gamer: on the one hand I love to dig up classic PC games from the late 90’s that will still run on WIndows XP. On the other hand – particularly recently – I have been pushing the boundaries of what a standard netbook is capable of doing.

Sometimes – like in the recent Tron review – things go very well. Sometimes – like in the Thief Deadly Shadows review – they work at a level that is barely acceptable. Sometimes I even get to review a NEW game, as was the case with Torchlight.

But for every game you see reviewed here that is more recent than 2002, there is at least one or two that I couldn’t get to work. The problem is that while on paper netbooks meet many of the criteria specified by games, there are enough fine details to stop even some older games from working correctly.

The reason I bring this up is that I have been chatting with some folks who have netbooks and have been trying to play games – and the first thing one of them did was to install Half-Life 2. They assumed that since the game was over 5 years old it should work without a problem. Of course it didn’t go so well (not that you CAN’T do it … you just have to tweak the heck out of stuff and run on ultra-low settings and still expect massive slow-downs at times – and that sort of thing isn’t my goal here!) … yet looking at the system specifications it seems like the game should work – which is what that other gamer used as their decision-making basis.

So I figured I would start a post where I could add-in games that SHOULD have worekd but didn’t. Here are just a few examples of where things failed:

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

XIII – last month this 2003 cel-shaded shooter went on sale super-cheap at GamersGate ($5 standard price). I bought without thought, and went to install on my Alienware m11x and my Lenovo netbook. On the Alienware I found the first issue – the game is incompatible with Windows 7 … and there isn’t a fix I have found. To GamersGate credit is does specifically state that. On the netbook it installs perfectly … but it just wouldn’t run no matter what I tried. I had read that manually tweaking the XIII.ini file could help … but it still didn’t run – even tried reinstalling just to be sure. I remember loads of issues when I first installed the game back in 2003, and my attempts to replay on the Mac last year eventually ended in frustration as the already buggy game was made worse running in Rosetta on Intel. I really wanted to replay this graphically stylized game … but it just isn’t going to happen.

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

Greed – Black Border – according to the specs, I SHOULD be able to run this. This is a fairly standard Diablo-clone with requirements not out of line with a 6-7 year old game. In fact, it calls out the nVidia GeForce 6200, which was a ‘mid-line’ processor in 2004! So when I looked at this game based on requirements, I assumed it would work. But from the very beginning the images poured onto the screen like syrup … and it would crash – to the point where I couldn’t stand even trying to play it any more.

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

Zombie Driver – Again, according to the specifications I should be able to run this one. It installed nicely and got started, but I very quickly bogged down and became unresponsive. On other systems the graphics are not tremendously detailed or challenging, but the game doesn’t seem very well optimized as it is a bit of a resource hog – like Greed-Black Border. Interestingly the basic system requirements are nearly identical to that game – but with Zombie Driver I never successfully got to the point where I was driving!

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

Unreal II: The Awakening – this 2003 FPS follow-up to the 1998 classic Unreal boasted a new game engine and was designed to be single player focused. Given that this game was released earlier than Jedi Academy or Tron and was made by the folks who developed the graphics engine … you might expect it to work. But sadly this game is too much for the poor little netbook hardware to handle.

Don't Trust That Label!: The Netbook Gamer

Deus Ex: Invisible War – there are two ways of looking at my attempt to run this late 2003 shooter game: first, this game was developed by the same folks who made Thief: Deadly Shadows using the same engine and released 6 months earlier so it should work; second, I just wrote about Thief: Deadly Shadows and specifically mentioned the abysmal performance of Deus Ex: Invisible War as a reason I was concerned about Thief. And since Thief was a marginal performer on the netbook … why would I even THINK that Deus Ex: Invisible War would run?

So there are just a few games that ‘reading the box’ would tell me SHOULD be able to run on the netbook … yet none of them did. I will update this area with more games as I run across them. Note that my basic approach to games on the netbook is ‘hope springs eternal’ – so for example I am also playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on the netbook now, and the performance definitely falls into the ‘system stressing’ range … but I will try to play through it, because the thought of being able to play a 200 hour massive classic like that on a netbook won’t let a little lag stand in my way!


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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!

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