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Game Drift Linux review

Could this be the first truly viable Linux-based PC gaming OS? Russell Barnes takes Game Drift for a spin…

Pros: Small ISO size. Pre-installed Crossover Games comes at half the price compared to stand-alone. The Game Store shows potential
Cons: Missing essential multimedia applications. No free trial or 64-bit build. Game Store needs to grow
Price: $19 (from $4)
Homepage: Game Drift Linux

Game Drift Linux is a brand new Ubuntu-based distro from the Danish company, Linos. The firm specialises in creating Ubuntu derivatives for various special uses. As well as Game Drift, for example, the company also offers GoSchool, an Ubuntu-based live distro used by Danish schools to allow students to carry out exams on their own computers while still ensuring an identical software set and, more importantly, a secure and level playing field. Another project (still on the Linos drawing board at the time of writing) is DGSP, or Dedicated Game Server Platform. Although little is known about it at the moment, we understand it’s designed to make the running of a dedicated gaming server a much simpler task than it is right now.

Game Drift treats its Ubuntu 10.10 base with subtle tweaks as opposed to sweeping changes. Compared to other game-centric distros like Ultimate Edition Gamers, which weighs in at a hefty 4GB, Game Drift is as light as a feather with the standard ISO able to comfortably fit on a standard CD. This is because instead of pre-installing a plethora of games, applications and add-ons, Game Drift is more interested in providing the means of quickly and easily installing the latest open source and Windows-based games. It does this through a strategic partnership with Crossover Games (more on this later) and by offering a web-based Game Store, a shortcut for which sits on an otherwise completely clean, black, Ubuntu 10.10 desktop.

The Game Store offers a small but quality selection of Linux-native games ranging from Urban Terror, Nexuiz and Super Tux Kart to Second Life, Savage 2 and Stunt Rally. There really aren’t that many games on offer currently; they are being added at a rate roughly equivalent to one or two per week. While the selection is light, the information on offer and installation scripts that power it are very well executed. As well as a screenshot, brief synopsis and score, each game has a link to its homepage, pre- and post-installation file sizes and a link for installation and removal. Once you’ve clicked the link, everything else is done for you automatically and the game appears in the system menu. It’s a great idea (though installations are a little slow at present), but it has some growing to do before it lives up to our expectations.

The problem is, while the Game Store caters for native games with flair and skill, it simply lists the 1,200-or-so Windows games in genre-order without even creating a simple script to link it to its equivalent Crossover Games entry to help initiate installation. For those of you wondering, Crossover Games is the paid software solution based on Wine, the popular compatibility layer used by business and gamers to get Windows software working under Linux. The great thing about Crossover is the execution and ease of use – while a standard Ubuntu installation with Wine (plus Wine Tricks bolted on) might run into glitches, bugs and complex problems getting Windows software working, a comparable Crossover and Ubuntu combination offers no such trouble – nine times out of ten the software ‘just works’.

With 1,200 of these games at Game Drift Linux’s disposal it represents an incredibly powerful and flexible solution for gaming in Linux. What’s really interesting, though, is that Game Drift, complete with a full Crossover Games licence and six months’ full support, costs just $19 – half the price of obtaining a Crossover Game licence on its own.

Verdict: 4/5
Game Drift is arguably the best way to get into PC gaming with a Linux computer. Having Crossover preconfigured and costing half the price (not to mention the dedicated Game Store), it offers clear value for money. That said, with just a 32-bit ISO offered and a worrying lack of multimedia software (where’s VLC and Banshee?), there’s still ample room for improvement.