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The gaming market is crowded with long 100+ hour experiences begging for your attention. Endless “live games” want to be the only experience in your life— spilling content at you faster than you can play it. These games are great for immersion and a distraction from the daily grind, but not everyone has the time to invest in the latest Ubisoft icon-a-thon.
This list looks to highlight just a handful of the great short games out there that you can play and finish in less than 5 hours. That works out as just one or two sittings! These bitesize experiences nonetheless cover a range of genres and are each a great gaming experience that values your time. If you’ve played a small game that you loved that we haven’t covered here, feel free to mention it in the comments section below!
The seminal work of Danish studio Playdead, LIMBO was one of the early indie games to see global success. On the surface, it’s a simple 2D side-scrolling platformer with a black and white aesthetic. However, what sets LIMBO apart is the atmosphere surrounding the player-controlled boy. You will explore increasingly unsettling areas, encounter strange and dangerous foes, and solve a range of gruesome, perilous puzzles. The game’s presentation is startling, creating a stunning chromatic display that subtly silhouettes its horrors in an almost cartoonish way.
Playdead followed up LIMBO with a spiritual successor, INSIDE. Both games fall well within the 4-5 hours category— a perfect length for their simple natures that hide a deeper horror and complexity than their control schemes or graphics might suggest.
The debut game from studio Suspicious Developments, Gunpoint is a 2D side-scrolling stealth game. You take the role of a freelance spy, utilising gadgets and abilities to scale buildings and infiltrate security systems. The core gameplay revolves around rewiring electric circuits to gain entry— such as opening a locked door by rewiring it to a light switch, or disabling a guard’s weapons remotely. Alternatively, you can somersault through a window and shoot the guards in the head. The multiple solutions turn Gunpoint’s buildings into puzzles, and you are ranked based on how stealthily you reached your goals.
Missions are tied together by a loose espionage story told through your PDA system, and progress is rewarded with XP to spend on abilities in the store. Gunpoint’s main campaign runs 3-4 hours long, with missions split into chapters allowing you to complete it in as many small chunks as you like.
Firewatch by developer Campo Santo follows a lineage of “walking simulator” style games that place environment and narrative above all other gameplay elements. Putting you in the role of fire lookout Henry, you are free to explore the Shoshone National Forest at your leisure. The setting is a beautiful and enchanting wilderness, and the only company for Henry’s loneliness is fellow lookout Delilah, who contacts you solely via radio from another remote area.
The player-led relationship between Henry and Delilah, and the ensuing mysterious occurrences in the forest, are the main hook of Firewatch. An inventory system encourages exploration, but the unfolding story will keep you playing more so than the occasional puzzle. At just under 5 hours in duration, Firewatch can be played in one or two sittings to fully immerse yourself in Henry’s isolation.
On the surface, SUPERHOT looks like a first-person shooter with minimalist red dummies and white environments. However, one very key mechanic makes this game play more like a puzzler than a shooter. No game truly captures the feeling of being a Hollywood action badass quite like this one. The key mechanic is that time only moves when you do, allowing you to completely freeze an action sequence by simply pressing nothing. This results in some fantastic last minute bullet dodges, or clever planned sequences. For instance, plucking a glass bottle from a counter to throw at an enemy’s head right before yanking the shotgun from another’s grasp and blasting him in the face with it.
Each level concludes with a real-time playback of your incredible feats, and a clever meta-narrative drives you forward through increasingly intense scenarios. SUPERHOT clocks in at under 5 hours to complete a campaign, but the game also features “Endless” and “Challenge” modes, as well as a full expansion called Mind Control Delete. As well as a Virtual Reality version which ups the level of awesome by putting you directly in control of time through your own body movements.
Taking what they learnt from their debut game Gone Home, Fullbright studios have instilled Tacoma with the same sensibilities that made their standout game a success. Replacing Gone Home’s quiet neighbourhood house with a sprawling space station in the year 2088, you are tasked with exploring the uncannily empty hallways and cabins of the derelict craft. Your goal is to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of the Tacoma station’s crew by interacting with an onboard augmented reality system. This allows a playback of key events in the crew’s lives onboard. You can rewind and fast forward through time, as well as walking around the environment to uncover changes to the augmented environment that don’t match with the real thing.
Despite its short 3-hour runtime, Tacoma will make you fall in love with its characters and setting, surprise you with the way their relationships intertwine, and shock you with the mysteries of their fates.
6. Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
Starbreeze Studios’ Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons asks the question, “What if one player controlled two characters at once?” Best played with a controller, Brothers places each of the titular siblings on a different thumbstick in a unique control scheme unseen elsewhere. Navigating through its captivating fantasy world, you must seek a cure for the brothers’ ailing father by traversing puzzles and obstacles.
The communication between the siblings is key to success— the elder helping his smaller brother on to high ledges and lifting larger objects, the younger sneaking through small gaps and railings. Many of these puzzle moments are inventive and creative, and solving them is satisfying and gratifying as the elements of Brothers’ wider world click into place.
Through its 3-4 hours of play time, Brothers tells a compelling narrative— of the two siblings’ relationship, of their dedication to their father, and to the characters (good and bad) that they meet along the way. The cartoon animation style blends with the beautiful wilds of the setting, making this a brief but bewitching experience.
7.The Stanley Parable
“This is the story of a man named Stanley. All of his co-workers were gone.”
Davey Wreden’s Galactic Café put out The Stanley Parable in 2011 to crack open the concept of the video game and to call into question the relationship between player and developer. On the surface, The Stanley Parable appears to be a first-person walking simulator about… offices? In truth, it quickly subverts what a video game is supposed to be and offers challenging questions about player choice and decision making. Narrator Kevan Brighting is the star of the game, adding wry humour to everything you do as you obey or defy his demands, each scenario lending genuine laugh out loud moments to the game.
Despite encouraging multiple playthroughs— all of which play differently and build to the overall picture that The Stanley Parable is painting— the game will take under 4 hours in total to complete. This is best achieved in a single sitting if possible, due to the entwined nature in which each playthrough is designed.
8. Her Story
Launching in 2015, Her Story set out to prove that video games have a voice to offer in full motion video media. Your role is to dig through an archive of interview footage on a faux-desktop, performed superbly by actress Viva Seifert, to uncover a deeper mystery hidden beneath the truths and lies given by the lead character. Her Story doesn’t checkpoint its narrative, allowing you to experience it in your own unique order based on which search terms you put into the in-game search engine. There is no true end state for Her Story, only your own understanding of the events described in each of the small FMV clips.
It’s a testament to Seifert’s excellent portrayals that the game is so engaging through its 3 hours of play, and to developer Sam Barlow’s smart design decision and storytelling that put player agency at the forefront of the minimalist gameplay. Her Story is best played in a single sitting, but is truly unlike anything before it and worthy of your time to check out.
9. What Remains of Edith Finch
Much like Tacoma before it, What Remains Of Edith Finch is a spiritual successor to walking simulators like Gone Home and Myst. However, what studio Giant Sparrow’s game offers is a unique twist on the exploratory genre, as you explore a family home unlike any in the real world. The titular Finch family are seemingly cursed, each generation suffering multiple deaths that leave only one survivor to continue the legacy. Their lives, and deaths, are enshrined in the family home— and its that home that you are tasked with exploring, uncovering truths about the family history and the grizzly fates of its members.
What Remains of Edith Finch features a number of different gameplay styles that suit each family member, breaking the otherwise traditional walking gameplay up into unique skit-like episodes. It leads to the most engaging gameplay and memorable moments in the genre, and the 3 hours of gameplay— best played in a single sitting— will simply fly by.
10. To The Moon
To The Moon tells a sometimes heart-warming, sometimes tear-jerking story about a man living out his final days, and reliving key moments in his life to find the perfect ending for him. It is a primarily narrative driven experience, told through a 16-bit lens that harkens back to the glory days of SNES roleplaying games such as early entries in the Final Fantasy or Zelda franchises.
The visuals are saccharine and endearing, and the characters relatable and charming. However, the multi-award-winning story Freebird Games sets out to tell through this interactive fiction is at times just as harrowing and emotional as it is sweet. To The Moon clocks in at just under the 5 hour mark, but each of those 5 hours will grip you in this standalone tale of one man’s life.
11. The Fall
In this game, you are an artificial intelligence housed inside a military combat suit acting as passenger for an unconscious and dying human pilot. If that sentence didn’t grab you, The Fall is a side-scrolling adventure game set in a robot recycling factory featuring full voice acting, stealth, and pistol-based combat. Evocative environments hide a range of items to be added to your inventory to solve increasingly outlandish puzzles and scenarios. All in order to save the life of the human trapped within your shell.
The game also features some minor combat and stealth mechanics, but it’s the writing from studio Over The Moon that makes The Fall stand out. Painting a disturbing android future, The Fall investigates the drives and motivations of decidedly non-human characters in a hostile environment and tasks you with understanding what led to the downfall of the facility.
The game can be finished comfortably in 5 hours of play time, and in 2018 a sequel, The Fall 2: Unbound was released, with a third instalment still to follow.
12. The Sexy Brutale
Groundhog Day meets The Mousetrap as you are put in the middle of a hotel murder mystery that relives the same day over and over. During that day, the residents of The Sexy Brutale’s titular hotel are being picked off one at a time, and you are tasked with not just solving their murders, but preventing them. The art décor visual style and fun masquerade inspired characters add to the games’ quirky mystique, and the intrigue of the over-the-top murder plots is engaging throughout.
You gain interesting new powers at the conclusion of each solved murder, which enable you to solve the next. However, the time-loop element of the game means you’ll encounter clues for most of the murder as you explore the mansion. At just over 5 hours in duration, The Sexy Brutale barely meets the criteria for this list, but it’s unique concept, setting and clever twists make it more than worthy of your time.
13. Orwell: Keeping An Eye On You
The interface of Osmotic Studios’ Orwell is unlike anything you’ll have played before. As the name suggests, the omnipresent Big Brother-esque police state inspires a game that sees you pouring over documents and websites. You are on the search for incriminating evidence in a slowly unwinding plot about terrorism, activism, oppression and subterfuge. Your role is not as the plucky young rebels in this dystopian narrative, but instead as the eyes of the enforcement state.
Simply by highlighting strings of phrases and sentences from text and audio files, you must submit your findings to push the story further. However, the results of your submissions quickly has a tangible impact on the story, questioning not just the morals of the characters involved but your own too. Do you submit the evidence that could lead to somebody else’s suffering? Did you interpret that conversation correctly, or incriminate someone falsely?
Orwell lasts just shy of 5 hours, and is best played in one or more closely consecutive sittings, but the tale it tells will leave a lasting impression in your mind long after its conclusion. A sequel of similar length, Ignorance Is Strength, is the direct follow-up if you enjoyed what you experienced Orwell
Oxenfree wants you to make the hard decisions that drive real consequences in the various conversational choices through this 5-hour game. You take the role of Alex, a rebellious teenager who quickly finds her life, and that of her friends, embroiled in a supernatural plot. How you choose to cope with the situation, and interact with the people around you, is entirely your choice.
Night School Studio have coupled a beautiful minimalist art style with a complex dialogue tree and engaging characters and story, all to create a short interactive experience that will leave you loving the characters— or hating others. Though you can walk away from the game after that first 5 hour playthrough, multiple plays are encouraged to see the true breadth of Oxenfree’s endings and the depth of the consequences of your decision making.
No list of “games under 5 hours” would be complete without the inclusion of the most prolific small game in video gaming history. When Portal debuted on Valve’s Orange Box compilation, it was overlooked in favour of Half-Life Episode 1 and Team Fortress 2. However, the small 5 hour puzzle game captured the hearts of many with its fun, zany characters, meme-worthy quotes, mind-boggling puzzles, and physics-defying mechanics. Placing you inside a laboratory as the test subject of a maligned artificial intelligence, you must use space-bending portals to solve increasingly difficult testing puzzles and ultimately make your escape.
Portal is the game to show friends who have never played a video game before. Portal is the game that shows that video games aren’t all shooting galleries, or all fantasy tropes. But more importantly, Portal is the game to play if you just want to sit down for a quiet afternoon and lose yourself wholly to a videogame from start to finish.
If you liked what you read here, check out another of our lists that focuses on games that provide a much longer experience, as we look at the Top 10 RTS Games of All Time. Alternatively, check out our list of the Top 10 Horror Games to Indulge in this Summer.
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I have had a passion for writing almost as long as my passion for video games. Which came first, the controller or the pen?
My earliest memories include stapling A4 papers together to make books to write on, and playing Super Mario on the NES with my brother. Now I play a huge variety of game genres, platforms and styles, from indie to AAA, from 2 hour experiences to 50 hour marathons, from RTS to FPS to RPG and every three letter acronym in-between.