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The most satisfying physics in PC games

One Off The List

An obscenely rich teenager throws his VR controller across the room in a fit of blind panic while playing Half-Life: Alyx. It leaves the window of his bedroom at 5m/s. It falls 10m vertically and hits his neighbour’s greenhouse, smashing the glass. How many metres did the controller travel horizontally before coming to a stop in the tomatoes? Use a kinematic formula to determine your answer and show your wor--

UGH, physics. Here are 10 games where physics is not boring, but good.

Grand Theft Auto V

From cruel pushes to comical stumbling, Rockstar’s crime ‘em up is a ragdoll paradise, casting you as both nasty minion of tyrannical physics and its frequent victim. The physical laws of Los Santos will tolerate silly stunts, but they will not tolerate a head smashed against a sidewalk at speed. The mercurial physics engine also makes cars control suspiciously well, whether they are novelty bangers or superfast richmobiles. But it went one step further recently, when it transpired Formula 1 racers were generating so much lift, they stuck to the ceilings of tunnels, Rollcage-style.

Kerbal Space Program

Rocket science might be the default metaphor for impenetrable realms of knowledge, but Kerbal Space Program has faith in you to learn. It is easier, granted, when all those stuffy equations are replaced with tiny green men and women with bulbous heads and irrepressible smiles. This spacefaring sim will give you expensive, dangerous rockets and wait until you’re having fun launching schmucks into space, and then it will stealth-teach you orbital mechanics and the laws of motion. It’s a sort of trojan spacehorse with the entire staff of Khan Academy hidden inside, ready to pounce out and kick the definition of Delta-V into your head. An admirable game that challenges you not only to giggle at physics going wrong, but to learn how far we can go when we get it right.

Just Cause 4

Or you could just stick a bunch of tiny rockets to a deer’s arse.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

A puzzle platformer without the clueless protagonist. It must have been a deeply cathartic moment for the makers of this draw-your-own-solution puzzle game when they realised it didn’t need to include a tiny, square-shaped being with a hat or something. All you need to do is get a ball from one place to another, with liberal use of Crayola. Draw a plank. Draw a see-saw. Draw a big crooked robot with swinging arms and a head full of teeth. As long as it gets that red ball where it needs to be, and Mother Physics approves, it’s a perfectly good solution. Shame it being digital means you miss out on the traditional post-drawing activity: eating the crayons.

Totally Accurate Battle Simulator

Should be taught in military academies.


What is physics if not the liberal administering of large rocks? Okay, maybe better suited to an engineering listicle, but still, you cannot deny the brute strength of this simulation. You can make a plane that flaps like a bird and a dragonfly all at once and manages to stay aloft. You can make a terrifying and laughably inaccurate fireball cannon. You can destroy the world. That's good physics.



Line Rider

Ride the lining

With this minimalist sled ‘em up, human ingenuity reached its apex. There is nothing left for us to offer the world. All science is cancelled. The problems of quantum mechanics no longer require a solution. The standard model of particle physics has been dismissed. There is only the Laws of Line Rider. An object in motion must be riding on a line. Energy between objects is always transferred, by doing cool flips. Every sweet video of a rad line ride has an equal and opposite fail vid.

Half-life: Alyx

I haven't played Half-life: Alyx, because I am not a bazillionaire. But just watch Matthew and Katharine tackle the first couple of hours and tell me that's not some good physics. Cor.

Human Fall Flat

400g drunkenness from Gang Beasts
200g physics puzzles from Half-Life 2
½ teaspoon controls from QWOP
2 tablespoons chaos of Transformice
7g sadism

Mix thoroughly, knead for as long as arms obey own commands, leave to rise until doubled in idiocy, play for thirty minutes until furious at mate Larry.


Everyone’s fave teleporty puzzler might not seem special physics-wise. You fling yourself across rooms, and sure, that’s neat. But the box-moving and fluid-sliding could just be a set of Half-Life 2 puzzles substantially beefed up with glowy spacetime-warping. However, physicists love Portal. Because these daft dimensional doorways offer some hidden problems. The most famous is the “Portal Paradox”, which basically asks: “what happens if one of the portals is moving?” One experimenter tried finding out, crushing themselves between two portals. And, uh, it all went a bit 2001: A Space Odyssey.


The bird is known as Newton's Pigeon.

One Off The List from…

Last week we stepped gingerly across the lavas of the 10 best hells in games. But one of these was not hellish enough for your liking. It’s… Diablo III.

"It’s Diablo III," said list decimator Germansuplex, "on account of being Diablo III".

Well, that was easy. See you next week!

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