Your laptop sucks
I’m sorry, but it’s true. It’s okay, mine sucks too. Most are built for word processing, a little bit of internet browsing, and that’s about it. If you’re lucky, or on a slightly higher budget, your laptop might have a dedicated graphics card, but most don’t.
Somewhere, I have a desktop PC with buckets of RAM and a lovely graphics card. I say somewhere, because my beloved machine is currently going through the hell of international shipping. Until it gets here, the only PC I have access to is a laptop that I purchased for, well, word processing and a bit of internet browsing. And yet, I must game.
So here are some good new-ish games you can play on your crappy laptop, right now.
Here’s what I’ve got to work with…
- Make: Acer Aspire 3
- Processor:Intel Core i3 6006U (2.0GHZ)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 (integrated graphics chip)
- RAM: 4GB DDR4
- Storage: 1TB HDD (not particularly relevant, but large enough)
- Cost: £230~
Oh, and the screen resolution is a bizarre 1366×768. If your craptop™ is equivalent or better, you’re probably going to be able to run these games just fine. I’m also assuming you have some kind of plug-in mouse. Not every game will require one, but it’ll make anything you want to play much more comfortable.
I’m only going to be looking at new-ish releases here. Any old classics like Dungeon Keeper, Fallout 1&2, Baldur’s Gate, Half Life etc will run on a piece of toast these days.
If you’re new to PC gaming, I’ve kept things simple and only chosen games that are available for purchase on Steam, a service by which you can purchase, download, install and play games very easily.
1. Dead Cells
What is it? A procedurally generated ‘roguevania,’ Dead Cells is a moreish romp with incredibly satisfying combat, slick animations and a huge range of items and abilities to suit a wide variety of playstyles. Bringing together influences from Dark Souls to Rogue Legacy, the game provides a wonderful sense of progression, whether you’re playing for 15 minutes or 5 hours. Dead Cells is best played with a controller – in my case, I found that I could simply plug in a DualShock 4 via USB and it was instantly compatible.
It’s gorgeous, too.
How does it run? Awesomely. At first, I was encountering quite a few frame drops in combat, which was initially disappointing. Dead Cells doesn’t have much in the way of an graphical options menu, nor the compatibility options of Heat Signature, but I did find that most of these issues went away when I switched from ‘fullscreen windowed’ mode to just ‘fullscreen’ mode. Once I did that, I barely noticed any slowdown apart from the most intense scenes.
Craptop™ rating 4/5. This a very satisfying way to play Dead Cells, with the added bonus of portability. Take that, Switch! It’s not perfect, but it’s very close.
If you can run this you could also run some other things, probably. Dead Cells runs on Haxe, a platform I know next to nothing about. It has been used for other games such as Papers, Please and Evoland II, so I’d be fairly confident in saying that those at least will run.
2. Sid Meier’s Civilisation V
What is it? The Civilisation series is almost as old as PC gaming itself. Infinitely replayable, the grandfather of grand strategy is as good as it ever was. Pick a fledgling civilisation from an impressively varied list and guide them to victory through conquest, culture or sheer scientific advancement. Civilisation V is a game that will steal entire evenings in the blink of an eye, and it has a much gentler learning curve than others in its genre.
How does it run? Just fine. This is an older title in the series, so I was even able to turn up some of the graphical options. Frame rate isn’t so important here, as everything is turn based. I tried to run Civilisation VI, but that’s just a little too modern for this poor laptop to handle.
Craptop™ rating 5/5. Civ V runs perfectly. It’s also the best pick on this list if you’re trying to game on a plane, as you’ll not need a mouse.. The only issue is the long loading times, but that’s nothing to do with the laptop. Besides, once you’re in-game, there’s not really much reason to leave.
If you can run this you could also run similar grand strategy titles. Crusader Kings II works just fine, but I got too sad when my wife died in the tutorial and couldn’t carry on. Stellaris takes the genre to space. Galactic Civilisations III -almost- works, but I found it took an age to load between every – single – action. If you can overlook that, however, it’s another great game in a similar style. Finally, XCOM: Enemy Unknown might be worth a look if strategy is your thing.
3. Counter Strike: Global Offensive
What is it? You want shootin’? I’ve got yer shootin’. Do I really need to explain what Counter Strike is? Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists, fighting for the chance to blow up and/or save crates around the world. One of the first truly huge online multiplayer franchises, and still a popular eSport, CS:GO is the latest installment in the now venerable shooter’s lineage.
How does it run? I’ll admit, this one came as a bit of a surprise. Maybe I’ve underestimated just how powerful Intel’s integrated graphics are these days, or maybe Valve’s Source engine is much more scalable than I gave it credit for. With all the graphical options on low, CS:GO runs just fine. Not quite tournament standard, but well enough for a casual game or two.
Craptop™ rating 3/5. It’s playable, and you’ll have fun with it. However, unlike some of the 2d games on this list, you’ll have to sacrifice on the visuals in order to achieve a playable framerate. Even having done that, you’ll still be at a slight disadvantage competitively.
If you can run this you could also run Source Engine games! That opens you up to the whole Half Life series (except Half Life 3, which won’t run on anything built before 2036) as well as Portal and Team Fortress 2. You may need to bring the graphics options down low, but these will definitely be playable at least.
4. Heat Signature
What is it? Heat Signature is a top-down spaceship bothering simulator. As a randomly-generated character, your main function is to break into spaceships, complete an objective (theft, murder, kidnap or rescue, usually) and get out alive. What makes this interesting is the extremely detailed set of mechanics the player has access to. Nothing is straightforward, but nearly everyone and everything can be hacked, blown up, teleported past or, occasionally, blasted into space. It’s great fun.
How does it run? Fine… Mostly. The strange resolution causes the graphics to stretch a little on initial loading. Once you’ve selected a character and are running about the space station, frames will quickly start to drop. However, I found that a quick hop into the options menu to enable every compatibility option brought the framerate up to a playable standard without having any real effect on graphical quality. The odd resolution does mean that the HUD takes up an awkward amount of space on the screen at times.
Craptop™ rating 4/5. Heat Signature runs -almost- flawlessly, but the occasional dropped frame and overlarge HUD mean that I’d still prefer to play this on a desktop PC.
If you can run this you could also run anything else made using the GameMaker engine. Titles such as Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter and Hotline Miami should work just fine.
4. Fallout: New Vegas
What is it? Something to sink your teeth into. New Vegas is, according to many, the best of the new breed of Fallout games. Written by some of the same team behind the original games, it features incredibly witty dialogue, a wide range of quests in which your choices genuinely matter and a big, detailed post-apocalyptic world to explore. This is one for the long haul. Buggy on release, it’s since been patched up and plays like a dream. Don’t forget to grab the excellent DLC, too.
How does it run? Spurred on by my success with CS:GO, I went straight for this. As before, it runs much better than you’d expect an integrated graphics chip to handle. Fallout: New Vegas auto-optimised to ‘medium’ graphics settings to maintain a smooth framerate. It didn’t look quite as good as I remember, with some pretty glaring pop-in at times. Still, with a framerate as smooth as this, you have plenty of wiggle-room to adjust the graphics settings to suit your personal preference.
Craptop™ rating 5/5. Not just for being one of my favourite games, but also for boosting my confidence and auto-selecting ‘medium’ settings, instead of ‘very low’. Customisation is a key part of the PC gaming experience, and you’ve got some of that right here.
If you can run this you could also run the rest of Bethesda’s library, up to a point. Fallout 3 will run just fine. You could also move over to The Elder Scrolls and play both Oblivion and the venerable (but still excellent) Morrowind.
Don’t bother with…
Obviously I can’t try every single PC game. There aren’t enough seconds left in the life of the universe. Still, here are a few I thought might work, but wouldn’t even start. Don’t waste your time with these unless your laptop is significantly better than mine.
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
- Sid Meier’s Civilisation VI
- XCOM 2
Is it possible to be a happy gamer on a super-cheap laptop? Yes! You’ll never explore Novigrad in The Witcher 3 or save Talos I in Prey, but you’ll have a damn good time with some of these less graphically-intense games.
Loading times and dropped frames seem to be the main issues that I faced when trying to play these games. If your laptop is similar to mine, you probably have a spare expansion slot for an additional stick of RAM. I have a feeling that, were I to drop in another 4GB stick of RAM, a lot of the minor issues I described would clear themselves up. If I do, I’ll be sure to write about how that went and whether it was actually worthwhile.
What are you playing on your terrible laptop? Is there anything you think I missed?