Five games for the Little Laptop That Couldn’t

Ants showing off

I travel a lot – on top of the daily commute I travel across the country and back every single week. That’s a lot of time on a train, time that is ideally spent gaming. However, while I have a decent computer at each end of the journey, the laptop I actually travel with is, to put it charitably, horsepower-challenged. This severely restricts the games available for me, so whenever I find something that it will run AND will absorb my time, it’s a good day.

So to save you the trouble, here’s five games for the laptop of yesterday.

The restrictions on my laptop are many – limited disc space, little RAM, woeful 3D graphics and tablet-sized screen. The processor though, isn’t bad, and it’s capable of fairly pacey 2D graphics.

One thing to note before we get to the games themselves: this isn’t just a list of games that run on old machines – there are thousands of those. No, every game on this list has sunk at least a dozen hours of my life and kept me going back over and over.

5. Hexcells


See also Hexcells Plus and Hexcells Infinite for how it manages to absorb so much time. I’ll leave it to RPS to describe how absorbing this game is and why it’s one of the best puzzle games on the market:

It quickly reaches those magnificent moments where you’re working out new rules on the fly, realising that if you apply previously acquired understandings you can make logical leaps and eliminate or highlight in a brand new way. Those are special moments that only very few puzzle games manage.
Rock, Paper Shotgun

Hexcells is as undemanding of power as you’d expect – the only issue is that it doesn’t scale perfectly at low resolutions so you occasionally find bits floating off the edge of the screen. Nothing that stopped me playing through all three games without coming up for air though.

4. One Finger Death Punch

one Finger Death Punch

I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game where your skill acquisition is so perfectly smooth that you barely notice until you go back to the early levels and cackle madly as you effortlessly slaughter hundreds and hundreds of stick-men using just one finger.

After playing it for all of five minutes I took to Twitter to proclaim the game a “masterclass of kinaesthetics”. Hours – and thousands of corpses – later I stand by that description. I can’t bring to mind a single game that plays so smoothly and with such beguiling rhythm.

It plays flawlessly on my little laptop; slow to load but once it’s there it’s indistinguishable from running it on my Obsidian Totem Of Power. Well, smaller, obviously.

3. FTL

FTL Logo

I have a love/hate relationship with FTL. It’s undeniably a wonderful game, but even now the end boss infuriates me. The important thing to note though is that I’m still going back and getting to the end boss to be infuriated by it.

This unpredictability is what divides people on FT. To some there is too much randomness, the idea that even the best player can die in the first sector is anathema. Unfair… To others, this unfairness is what gives FTL its charm and replayability. It’s a cruel, unforgiving charm, but to many it’s heavily addictive.

Simple, low-paced, low-fidelity, I don’t think the hamster-powered CPU even has to break a sweat.

2. Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon

Still in early access, and still receiving hefty content updates, Darkest Dungeon is quite possibly not only one of the best games to run on an underpowered machine, but one of the best games ever. XCOM trumps it, possibly. Possibly. The narrator has a better voice than Him From Bastion.

You often have to try and weigh the costs/benefits of bringing someone who is strong but stressed along on a mission versus someone who is a less experienced but calm and relaxed. You are worried about the veteran developing even more psychological problems and getting everyone killed.

Ironically, thanks to a quirk of Early Access, Darkest Dungeon refuses to run on my primary laptop, causing it to crash and reboot after just a few minutes of play. So not only does Darkest Dungeon run well on my travel laptop, it runs better.

1. Factorio


It took ages to decide whether Factorio or Darkest Dungeon should get the number one slot. But in the end while I think – inasmuch as you can compare two such different games – Darkest Dungeon is better, I’ve spent literal orders of magnitude more time playing Factorio. Entire cross-country journeys have vanished in a subjective instant as I build up a military industrial complex, refine it, optimise it, and then tear it down and start afresh. There’s simply nothing quite like it on the market right now, and it isn’t even finished yet.

Sat down to play Factorio for a few minutes. When I looked up the age of Man had passed, the wheel had turned and a new sun lit the skies.
– @freakylefty

Another reason I wasn’t sure about giving Factorio the top spot is that of the five here it’s the one that stretches my laptop the most. It’s slow to load and once your factory gets larger, it does start to slow down. But the fact that it’s never gotten so bad it spoiled a game for me meant that Factorio keeps pride of place.

Honourable Mentions



Duskers came so close to making the cut. It’s fun, tense, absorbing, and it almost runs smoothly enough. But not quite. It’s just a little too jerky on that poor little machine to be properly enjoyed.

Then there’s the tension of waiting. Duskers is a surprisingly potent aesthetic experience: the low moan of ship mechanisms, the whirrs and clicks of your drones, the static buzz of the interface – all create a pregnant, lonely quiet which is then suddenly punctured by a shrill alarm as the green sweeping sensors turn red.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid yet – despite the glut of zombie games, stands out as being potentially the best zombie survival experience there might be, edging close to the bleak scenarios George Romero, Richard Matheson and Max Brooks have shown us over the years. Every update from the developers just makes the game and its world more and more intriguing. And annoyingly it doesn’t quite work on a small screen. It performs fine, but there’s something about the game that just doesn’t quite work without a decent-sized monitor, which is a crying shame.

You could go anywhere and do anything, but in practice you mostly boarded up windows and rummaged around in houses for food. Then, if you’re me, you set the kitchen on fire and burned to death.
PC Gamer

The Little Laptop That Could

So there you have it. Five games ready to befriend the lowliest computer, and two ready to give it their best shot. I’m always on the lookout for something new to pass the long journeys – what time-sink games that run on a scarcity of power do you recommend?

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