If you’ve got a full-time job, kids or better yet, a dog, chances are your time is very precious these days. Starting a 100-hour RPG can be a matter of writing off an entire season of a year. The idea of a game you can finish in one night becomes increasingly appealing when that’s the case—in this list, we’ve rounded up the best of the bunch when it comes to the PC’s shortest games. If you’re after puzzles, time attack games, first-person shooters, RPGs or more unusual fare, chances are you’ll find something fun to squeeze into one night in the next few slides.
The action only moves when you do. This satisfying and stylish first-person action game takes place in a series of puzzle rooms, where you have to use your limited space between enemies to disarm, slice, shoot and twat everyone in the room. With everyone successfully taken out at the end of the round, your Matrix-style killer moves are played back in real-time, which is the best moment. Superhot takes about three or four hours to beat, and in that time it perfectly explores the potential of its central idea.
Set in an atmospheric Wyoming wilderness, this first-person walkabout game explores the relationship between Henry, a fire lookout, and his colleague, Delilah. It’s more linear that it initially seems, but navigating this gorgeous environment and unravelling its mysteries is a compelling hook—and the voice acting between the two characters.
Don’t read anything about it, just play it. It might look like an FPS set on a farm, but it really isn’t (although that game would no doubt be a blast as well). Moirai is free, and it takes ten minutes to finish. It respects your time and your wallet.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Finishing a full Far Cry game is pretty overwhelming, given the sheer amount of stuff there is to do on the map. If you don’t fancy committing that amount of time, Blood Dragon relays much of Far Cry 3’s appeal into a five or six-hour chunk, handily brought to life with a neat sci-fi theme that encompasses sci-fi dragons, cyber sharks and Michael Biehn. The jokes aren’t for everyone, but the systems-driven sandbox shooter stuff is spot-on. If you want more of what Blood Dragon offers, there is no shortage of long-ass full Far Cry games also available.
A perfectly formed puzzle game by Valve. The simple idea of firing two portals to move from one area of a level to another, while avoiding obstacles and reaching an objective, is explored for four hours or so yet never gets boring. A more comprehensive standalone sequel was released in 2011 (the original was originally sold as part of the Orange Box, alongside Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2), however the first Portal is above and beyond the best.
Inside and Limbo
Limbo and its non-related follow-up Inside are both interesting and intuitive puzzle platformers from Danish indie studio Playdead. Both are also great fun and while the former is probably the better of the two, both can be played through and enjoyed over the course of an evening. It’s difficult to say any more than that because much of what makes each game recommendable are the things that are best experienced first-hand.
By filling the shoes/flippers of a deep sea diver, Abzu tasks you with exploring a vibrant underwater world filled with colourful fish and plant life and vacuous caverns. There’s a story of sorts which plays out over a few hours, however there’s something to be said about basking in Abzu’s wonderful setting that’s definitely worth your time. The game’s creative director, Matt Nava, was also the art director on Flower and Journey.
Imagine Monty Python’s Flying Circus hadn’t been written by its cast of characters but had instead been penned by David Lynch. And then it was transformed into a videogame. That’s sort of what Jazzpunk is like in that it’s funny, intentionally jarring, and completely and utterly off-the-wall. Via a series of missions, you’re aimed towards a central objective however are free to explore the zany game world at your own pace en route. This often means engaging Jazzpunk’s wide range of interactable NPCs—each of whom is desperate to show off their personal party tricks.
Tom Francis, formerly of PC Gamer, made this brilliant stealth game that’s about rewiring buildings in order to steal things and uncover government secrets. Besides some superb writing, the ways in which Gunpoint gradually introduces new mechanics, obstacles and enemies to the original concept is wonderful. Later levels are filled with head-scratching conundrums that are eclipsed only by their eureka moments. What’s more, throwing yourself through a third floor office window into the streets below never gets old.
The Stanley Parable
What began life as a Half Life 2 Source Engine mod, The Stanley Parable is a game like no other. Led by the fantastic narration of Kevan Brighting, you follow the mundane nine to five rat race lifestyle of the titular Stanley protagonist, and can either follow the narrator’s instructions or go against them—the latter of which often causes Brighting’s character to break the fourth wall. In doing so, the whole experience is not only funny but also remarkably thought-provoking. This is another game that needs to be played to be understood, which is what you should totally do.
A fun and frivolous physics platformer that never takes itself too seriously. After arriving on a low-poly planet, full of flora and fauna, you’re asked to help hero character BUD—a Botanical Utility Droid—make a huge star plant grow and blossom—a process which’ll help send our protagonist home. Doing so can be done within two hours, however Grow Home’s pacing, as it introduces new mechanics, is second to none. Side note: BUD’s climbing animations brought a smile to my face each and every time.
Combat is a central tenet of the RPG genre, however this ‘un comes with a twist: it’s possible to finish the game without killing a single enemy. Naturally, you’ll play Undertale as you see fit, however I’d recommend giving this particular tact a bash. Not only do your choices affect outcomes down the line, keeping everyone alive unlocks extra dialogue from its cast of weird, whimsical and wonderful characters. You’ll meet many a memorable monster in Undertale’s short lifespan, however watch out for the exchange between Papyrus and Sans—they're genuinely laugh out loud funny.
The Room series
A series of beautiful puzzle boxes await your attention in this tactile and meditative puzzle game. The boxes are made up of complex arrangements of compartments, intricate clockwork switches and magic lenses. As you manipulate these to penetrate each layer, the boxes change, unfolding into complex new formations. It’s such a simple idea, but wonderfully executed. It’s surprisingly ominous too. The strange rooms the boxes inhabit are full of weird secrets.
A simple exploration game set in a mansion full of notes, cassette tapes and broken dreams It’s a human drama communicated through found objects. As you unlock new rooms, you piece together the lives of the mansion’s inhabitants and discover the secret at the heart of the family.
Dear Esther is a poetic brood-’em-up set on an abandoned island. As you explore, taking in the rugged scenery, a narrator reads randomised excerpts of a fragmented script. The island isn’t interactive, but it’s a well-crafted experiential journey with some great music and a lovely cave.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
This puzzle platformer gives you two kids to control at the same time. Each thumbstick on the controller represents a sibling. Using this novel interface, you have to guide the children through a world of tricky terrain and grumpy fantasy monsters. It’s funny, sad, and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
It’s trick or treat night and monsters have taken over the town. You command a band of cosplaying kids in this charming ode to old-school JRPGs. You command the whole squad in turn-based scraps that let the kids transform into powerful alter-egos based on their Halloween getup. Between fights there are three worlds to explore, populated of Double Fine’s particular brand of quirky NPC.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes
A test-run for the vast open world stealth/action game, The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes nonetheless excels as a standalone, highly-replayable stealth level. As stealthy commando Snake, you must sneak into a blacksite to free prisoners and discover more about the skull-faced villain’s activities. In story terms, it’s nonsense, but if you’re interested in a powerful systems-driven infiltration sandbox, Ground Zeroes is an excellent short option compared to the enormous (but also fantastic) Phantom Pain.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
This extraordinarily detailed facsimile of a small British town is yours to slowly walk around Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Everybody’s gone, but strange golden lights still linger in the village, leading you through a series of flashbacks, in which the town’s former occupants play out scenes as ghostly forms. The rural drama recalls the ancient and ever-living BBC radio drama, The Archers, but more fantastical themes emerge as you move across the landscape.
Accessible, short, and yet full of twists and turns, Her Story is a great little detective game. You must search archives for live-action interview clips with a woman. Who is she? Why is she being interviewed? Where did she suddenly get that guitar? To say more would spoil things. Don’t miss this clever mystery.
To The Moon
Proof that games can tug at the heartstrings even with simple RPG Maker graphics and animation. To the Moon is a bit like Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, gradually probing deeper and deeper into the minds of its characters to to understand their relationships and all their flaws. It’s sweet and sad and will probably bring you closer to tears than anything else made in the style of 16-bit pixel art. The theme music really sets the tone. After you’ve played it, read more about it here.
Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX+
While not quite as brilliant a Pac-Man resurrection as the original Championship Edition on consoles, which sadly never got a standalone PC port, CE DX is still a ridiculously fun take on the concept of Pac-Man. Chain ghost chomps to crank up the game speed to ludicrous degrees, and power pellets appear in the maze in waves as you clear the board, making CE DX half arcade twitch, half puzzle solving. Setting a high score takes some strategy and memorisation of a level. You can easily play for a fun 10 minutes, picking your favourite era of Pac-Man skin (acid trip or weird Lego knock-off?), or lose an entire evening to obsessive high score chasing.