13 recent games that run well on terrible laptops

1 of 14

‘Terrible’ only in the sense of their gaming capability. Honestly, I’m sure your laptop is lovely to look at and it was definitely a extremely sensible idea to spend all that money on it instead of buying a holiday or helping to save the pandas. Truth is, though, that playing recently-released games on the vast majority of laptops is about as effective as starting an online petition to uncancel your favourite television show.

A little discretion goes a long way, however. Sure, you may be denied the glossiest of exploding viscera, but it is entirely possible to keep up with the Joneses even on a Terrible Laptop that has no dedicated graphics card. Here are but twelve contemporary games – either recently released or still-evolving going concerns – that will indeed run on your glammed-up toaster. Additional suggestions below are entirely welcome.

The exact definition of a Terrible (for gaming) Laptop clearly differs, but for the sake of argument, my test system has a dual-core cpu that runs at between 1.9 and 2.9GHz depending on load and heat (and thermal throttling to prevent overheat means it’s usually the former figure) and Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics, which borrows memory from the laptop’s 8GB of RAM. Absolutely fine for general purpose computing then, but as useful as a mohawk on a lobster when it comes to games.

The Intel graphics on your Terrible Laptop may well have a lower or higher-sounding number than that, but in most cases don’t expect a great deal of variance. In some cases, though you might get excited about the mention of your laptop having AMD or NVIDIA graphics in it, the chip in question could still be so lowly as to offer you few extra options – and, as such, you are still the proud owner of a Terrible Laptop.

As for performance, my criteria is a game that looks and feels playable at lowest settings and a resolution of 1280×720. Depending on the exact nature of the game in question and of your own Terrible Laptop, you may be able to go a bit higher than that. Oh, and ‘playable’ here means a minimum of 30 frames per second. Some games, particularly turn-based ones, are absolutely fine at lower than that, but 30 is our benchmark for this piece.

Onto the games, anyway. Use the arrow keys above/below the images to navigate the list, or the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard.

56 Comments

  1. Ben Damage says:

    ROCKET LEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAGGGGUE!!

    • criskywalker says:

      OMG!
      OMG!
      OMG!

      Rocket League is one of the best games ever! You should really play it if you haven’t yet. So amazing.

      • napoleonic says:

        I played it for a few hours on its recent free weekend. What’s the point? It’s just random. The ball rolls around the side of the arena with everyone chasing it, and when it passes a goalmouth occasionally it flukes in. I don’t get the appeal.

    • monojoli says:

      what is the best game for resolution of 1280×720.
      Free Run 3

  2. theallmightybob says:

    really… a slide show.

    • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

      Yes, i always wonder why they do this. Having all entrys on a single page (or a few pages in case of the really long ones) would be so much better. Must be an advertisement thing.

      • theallmightybob says:

        Its honestly not what I’ve come to expect from this site, its just a little surprising. I understand it likely is to improve the article to advert ratio, but its annoying as hell to do to a list…

      • April March says:

        I doubt it’s an advertising thing, because it doesn’t reload the page between slides, so they aren’t getting additional views. That or I’m really dumb about how it works.

        • Rack says:

          They’re almost certainly working on the back end so it will get extra impressions. Just the content was available before the tech was. No-one WANTS the content to be harder to access and less portable.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        Maybe it’s for mobile devices like all the horizontal videos over the web lately?

        • poliovaccine says:

          Fwiw, I first found this site by googling “best [genre here] games on pc,” and finding some lists of theirs like this. Stayed for the writing, of course, but it may well be a goldmine of SEO hits.

          Also yeah, I almost always read this site on mobile, and in that format, A.) I’ve always seen RPS do slideshows, and B.) it’s never bothered me. I dont see any extra ads – if they occur at the bottom of the screen, whatever, I dont see em. Hope RPS gets the teenths of a penny per view anyway. But scrolling on mobile gets finicky the longer the page, and having all these items in one page would be annoying to scroll through on a phone.

          I do think it’d make a good option at the start, an alt view that’s all in one like that, for those who’d rather it, but from a mobile perspective I dont mind their slideshows a bit. It’s not like they’re yr average copy-paste-from-reddit clickbait with a Next button that loads below a big ad that deforms the page in hopes you accidentally click on it – like I say, I see less ads in a slideshow than I do in a regular article, cus they’re all at the bottom, I just pass em omw to comments, if ever. Idk how it appears on a PC to be perfectly fair, but equally so, I wouldnt say this is some egregious, clickbaity practice here. I get the pavlovian response against slideshows, but to me the usual complaints dont register in this case.

    • someoneelse84 says:

      I’m not one to normally complain. Having said that…

      The real thing that bugs me about the slideshow format is the lack of closure to the article. There’s no “You know guys, I learned something today…”

      It’s like there’s no cigarette after sex.

    • Eater Of Cheese says:

      The zaibatsu tick embedded in the RPS hivemind is twitching its monetisation sickle-talons, no doubt…

    • Snargelfargen says:

      This is a funny pun, intentional or no.

  3. Danarchist says:

    Empyrion works well on crap rigs as well. Although I guess its not released yet so…theres that

  4. Moulinette says:

    League of Legends came out in 2009. 8 years ago is recent? Ok

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      I’d add the original Skyrim then, ran terrific on this old shell even without SSD.

  5. Fomorian1988 says:

    I suspect any lo-fi indie game will run on most laptops. VA-11 HALL-A, Papers Please, the Cube Escape games, any game by Kitty Horrorshow, Oxenfree, Sunless Sea…

    • Barts says:

      Oxenfree actually run like crap on integrated graphic cards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely game, but I bought based on your assumption and had to postpone playing until I get a decent rig. So I’m sharing this here so that noone else makes the same mistake.

    • nottorp says:

      Just stay away from indies made in Unity – even if they look lo fi, at the least they’ll put your laptop in screaming vacuum cleaner mode.
      Back when the “new” x-com 1 was new, i used to get 50% more battery life and less fan noise than any random Unity indie when playing it. And it’s still 3D.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Yknow, I never realized it, but that’s super true. In fact I tend to whack down settings further than I need for smooth visual performance, cus I specifically want to chase down that horrific sound of whining, straining effort. Hadnt put it together but yeah, the first three games I can think of like that are Unity. Seems like even when CryEngine chugs it doesnt whine, ditto UE4. It’s certainly a hit or miss thing – I mean Prey is running beautifully for me, on Medium settings. A topdown isometric shouldnt run worse than that.

  6. CelticPixel says:

    My laptop’s bust at the moment, so I’m doing all my gaming on a Surface Pro 4. Eve Online looks and runs great on it and Killing Floor 2 is surprisingly playable at the lowest settings, with the odd bit of slowdown.

  7. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Another for the list is RPS’s own bestest best game of 2016, Devil Daggers.

  8. GeoX says:

    Seriously, you take the trouble to make this list, and then you include 2-D indie games that it’s transparently obvious would run well on any computer? What value did you think you were creating by putting something like that into the world, exactly?

    • someoneelse84 says:

      I’m pretty sure the the point of the list was to highlight recently released titles that would run well on a non-gaming laptop.

      • GeoX says:

        Yes, thank you for answering a question I didn’t ask.

        • Premium User Badge

          lasikbear says:

          I think he was answering a question you implicitly asked, regarding the value of creating a list highlighting recently released titles that would run well on a non-gaming laptop.

        • Kala says:

          u mad, bro?

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Get triggered, bro.

  9. criskywalker says:

    I have to add Thimbleweed Park. Such a great game that is not demanding at all.

  10. dongsweep says:

    Great article, hope you keep it updated every few weeks or months. I preordered the surface pro 5 and am excited to use it for streaming PS4 and some good old rimworld but these add some additional possibilities to the mix! Thanks Alec!

    • ooshp says:

      I use my sp4 extensively for rocket league, gamecube & wii games on the go. A wireless controller, display port adapter & hdmi cable + pretty much any hotel room and you’re sorted.

  11. tehfish says:

    Ooh, caught me offguard with the Prey entry there.

    I’m currently loaning my new GPU to my brother, so i’m rocking my old 6950 GPU at the mo, which is well below the listed minimum specs so i had discarded that as an option for now.
    But if it’ll somewhat run on an intel IGP it’ll run on that for sure…

    Would mean tearing myself away from Rimworld though :P

  12. Expose Gaming1 says:

    Wow, two of my favorite game are on this list. Rocket League and League of Legends. I am surprised at some of these picks, like Prey and Elder Scroll Online, I thought you need an amazing PC to run these.

  13. torkan217 says:

    An older workstation at much lower price will get you decent specs, especially cpu’s like the qm line which perform on par with some modern cpus in the passmark tests. I’ve got a Dell Precision m4600, 15.6″, 1080p, i7-2620m@2.7ghz/3.4 turbo dual core, 8GB RAM, quadro 1000m 2GB. From what I saw on the web the quadro 1000m is 20% overall less than an hd 4400. Most reviewers don’t even try newer or games perceived to be too demanding, this is a serious error.
    30+ FPS means over 30 in normal play and usually above this up to 45 FPS.

    Call Of juarez Gunslinger, 1080p, 30-45, avg settings
    MGSV Phantom Pain, 30+, low/med settings, 1280×720, still looks really good
    MGS Ground Zeroes, 30, low settings, 1280×720, constant weather hurts it somewhat
    Fallout New Vegas Utlimate, 1080p, 35+, low/med settings
    Company of Heroes 1, 1080p, med settings, 35+
    Dirt 3, med/high, 1080p, 30+ always
    WRC 4, med, 1080p, 30+
    Infra, med 1080p, 30-40
    Grid, med/high, 1080p, 35+
    Need For Speed Hot Pursuit/NFS 11, 1600×900, 35+, med
    Skyrim, low/med, 1080p, 30+
    Resident Evil REvelations, low/med, 1600×900, 40fps+
    Deus Ex HR, low/med, 1600×900, 35+
    Witcher 3, ultra low preset mod file, ~30 FPS, 1280×720
    Arkham City, 1600×900, 35+, low/medium

    Fallout 4 was in the less than 20fps lowest settings, unplayable
    NierA, less than 20fps lowest, unplayable

  14. left1000 says:

    dead cells should not be on this list. although it looks like it doesn’t require a fancy gpu, and I’m sure it doesn’t. It’s poorly optimized and lags on non-topoftheline cpu’s.

    • Bernardo says:

      Yes, I’m having the same problem. It bugs me a bit, because I love to play these games when travelling and have only my work laptop with me. To be fair, the game gives you a warning that it’s not optmised for Intel cards, and hints at future optimisation. So there’s still hope.

  15. HoboDragon says:

    Motorsport Manager, esp. in the 2D mode runs well.
    Almost any 2D, pseudo 3D “pixel-art” game will run well (as already mentioned Stardew Valley), e.g. To The Moon, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Duskers, Terraria, Dungeon of the Endless, or older games such as SW KOTOR1/2…. (most games RPS recommended if I recall :-D)

  16. Bernardo says:

    Recent Games that run smoothly or at least reasonably well on my integrated Intel HD 4400 Ultrabook not on this list:
    Salt and Sanctuary
    Shrouded in Sanity
    Order of Battle
    Thea: The Awakening
    Pillars of Eternity

  17. Bernardo says:

    Not that recent, but Legend of Grimrock 1 and 2 also work like a charm (medium setings).

  18. April March says:

    That Prey screenshot looks like it’s from a Prey tribute mod for Deus Ex.

    • poliovaccine says:

      As an owner of a terrible laptop, longtime lover of the immersive sim (since way before we had that term, i.e. back when Deus Ex looked like Deus Ex), and someone who’d previously ogled at Prey but felt forlornly resigned to spend the next year or so admiring it on others’ rigs from afar, I can safely say I care not an ass! That was some exciting news to me.

  19. Barts says:

    I played these on my Dell Latitude E7250 and I highly recommend them:
    Darkest Dungeon
    Sunless Sea
    Invisible Inc.
    Faster Than Light
    Rain World
    Duskers

  20. ropeladder says:

    Another option is to just to play newer games on the lowest possible resolution. Speeds them way up and gives them a charming retro feel.

    How did that old quote go? “640×480 ought to be enough pixels for anybody.”

  21. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Prey is the only entry that surprised me. Most indie games aren’t graphic fiestas and shouldn’t really need much performance. Same goes for mobile ports. Or anything not asking for x64 architecture specifically could run on obsolete hardware.
    Cartoon graphic adventures? Some developers can’t optimize them even for sota-gaming rigs but it’s not the fault of the hardware really.

  22. Kitano1314 says:

    hi, laptop users should also consider : Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, Panzer Corps, all the Paradox 4x’s, War in the East, Factorio, Battle Brothers, Tales of Maj Eyal, Pike and Shot, Medieval TW 2 and Starbound to name a few.

  23. Thirdrail says:

    I would really like to check this out, but you did it as an obnoxious slide show so instead I’m just going to leave.

  24. Lurid says:

    What about a laptop that overheats and shuts itself off if it runs minecraft for more than 10 minutes?

  25. Skales says:

    Did this guy even play stellaris for longer than first hour?

  26. Nixitur says:

    A recent game that I really like is Cosmic Star Heroine. To my surprise, it ran entirely smoothly on my potato of a laptop which is far worse than what Alec described as “terrible” in the article. Definitely worth a look if you like turn-based RPGs.
    Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes came out in late 2015, is lovely, hilarious and runs well enough on that, too.
    Khimera: Destroy All Monster Girls is an exceedingly good 2D platformer. Not a fan of the artstyle, personally, but the strength of the gameplay made it very easy for me to look past that. Also, it’s free.
    VA-11 HALL-A is a cyberpunk bartending simulator with lovely characters and a fantastic soundtrack. Since it’s a visual novel, it running smoothly on terrible laptops is no surprise.

    And for those who think it “obvious” that 2D indie games would run flawlessly on laptops, I would like to point out that <a href="link to store.steampowered.com is very deliberately not on that list. It’s a fantastic game, don’t get me wrong, but it runs much slower than it’s supposed to on my laptop. That makes the game much easier.

    • Nixitur says:

      Somehow messed up the link there and ran out of editing time. That was supposed to be Downwell, must have messed up a closing bracket.

  27. poliovaccine says:

    Donno if it’s been said here already, or if this is too late for anyone to even read it, but upon discovering it works, I’m too excited not to share myself:

    Resident Evil 7! On a terrible laptop with an integrated Intel HD gfx card! Gotta whack down the resolution but it damn well plays!

    I had longed for that game but never thought my system might be able to handle it, so wrote it off til an upgrade. But then I found it has a demo – demo works a trick. Proceeding to get the full thing! Woop!

    Never would’ve thought to try, if not for Prey being in this list. Gotta thank RPS (again) for that one.