2023 games: Upcoming releases
Best PC games: All-time favorites
Free PC games: Freebie fest
Best FPSes: Finest gunplay
Best MMOs: Massive worlds
Best RPGs: Grand adventures
If you’ve got a full-time job, kids or, better yet, a dog, chances are your time is precious and starting an RPG can be a matter of writing off an entire season of a year. And so the idea of a game you can finish in one night becomes increasingly appealing—and in this list we’ve rounded up the best of the bunch when it comes to PC games with shorter running times. If you're looking for shorter games on a tight budget, we also have a great list of the best free PC games, many of which are less than two hours long.
We've made a couple additions to this list for 2020 and organized them from least to most hours estimated to beat. Start at the top and work your way down!
Under 2 hours
Release Date: 2017 | Developer: Bithell Games | Steam
Set entirely on a futuristic subway line called the Subsurface Circular, this short dialogue-heavy narrative game sees you, a robotic detective, trying to solve a series of strange disappearances. The robots you meet and interrogate all have vivid personalities, and there are a few clever puzzles including one that involves manipulating a robot's emotions to get to the truth.
The Stanley Parable
Release Date: 2013| Developer: Galactic Cafe | Steam
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.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Release Date: 2014 | Developer: Konami | Steam
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.
About 2 hours
Release Date: 2012 | Developer: thatgamecompany | Epic Games
Seven years after launching on the PS3, Journey made its way to PC. It's just as beautiful a game as it was in 2012, and quick to beat too. This adventure game has you explore several beautiful levels while doing a bit of light puzzle solving to uncover the story of your people. It can get a bit spooky at times, but the climax of the story is well worth it. Best yet, make sure to play online for a chance to be paired up with another player who you can only communicate with through little chirps from your character. No text chat or angry headset yelling here.
Release Date: 2017 | Developer: Buried Signal | Steam
Gorogoa is a beautiful hand-drawn puzzle game about a boy on a journey to meet a colossal monster throughout his life from a child to an old man. Puzzles play out on a four-by-four grid made from four images which the player can move, swap and stack to create new landscapes. This deceivingly simple structure opens up space for elegant design and evocative puzzle mechanics that no other game has quite captured. A must-play for puzzle fans.
A Short Hike
Release Date: 2019 | Developer: adamgryu | Itch.io
A Short Hike keeps the promise in its name at around 2 hours to beat. It's an adventure game where your character Claire the bird hikes from base camp to the top of Hawk Peak. Along the way, she meets lots of other animal characters who offer side activities. Some like to race, others teach her to fish, many she can complete small quests with by finding and trading items hidden around the park. One of the best parts of A Short Hike is exploring the island by climbing to a nearby high point and gliding down and around the mountain looking for new secrets.
Release Date: 2018 Developer: Ben Esposito | Steam
Think Katamari Damacy but holes in the ground. That's Donut County. Also your annoying space dad is an annoying raccoon friend instead. BK the Raccoon is deploying giant holes all over the county that swallow up anything that fits inside them, getting bigger the more they ingest. It's got some light puzzle elements as you work out what order to swallow everything on the screen to torment each of the locals. It's got a cheeky little story too.
The Darkside Detective
Release Date: 2017 | Developer: Akupara Games | Steam
An anthology of comedy/horror stories (with the emphasis on comedy) about a detective investigating strange happenings in the city of Twin Lakes. Smartly written and gloriously self-aware, the puzzles are simple, but the dialogue and increasingly absurd mysteries keep you playing.
Release Date: 2017 | Developer: 12 East Games | Steam
A bizarre, dreamlike game where you solve puzzles by inputing verbs. With a superb score by Makeup and Vanity Set providing the soundtrack, you work your way through a series of challenges and trials on your way to witness 'the object', a sacred object few people get to see. There's nothing else like Trackless on PC. One of the most wonderfully strange games we've ever played.
Release Date: 2017 | Developer: Giant Squid | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2014 | Developer: Necrophone Games| Steam
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.
Release Date: 2013 | Developer: Fullbright | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2015 | Developer: Reflections | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2015 | Developer: Sam Barlow | Steam
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.
Three to five hours
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Release Date: 2013 | Developer: Starbreeze Studios | Steam
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.
The Lion’s Song
Release Date: 2016 | Developer: Mi'pu'mi Games | Steam
This four-episode adventure game is set in Vienna in the early 1900s and tells an emotional, interconnected tale with common themes: namely inspiration, or the lack thereof, in various fields, from painting to mathematics. Rich characters, great writing, and an evocative setting make this essential for anyone who loves story-led games. The first episode is free (see link above), but it's not until the second one that the game really comes into its own.
Release Date: 2007 | Developer: Valve | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2013 | Developer: Suspicious Development| Steam
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.
Release Date: 2010 + 2016 | Developer: Playdead | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2016 | Developer: Campo Santo | Steam
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.
To the Moon
Release Date: 2011 | Developer: Freebird Games | Steam
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.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Release Date: 2016 | Developer: The Chinese Room | Steam
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.
Over five hours
Release Date: 2011 | Developer: Double Fine | Steam
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.
Release Date: 2015 | Developer: tobyfox | Steam
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.