The best short games that you can complete in one sitting

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It's easy to see how games are getting bigger and better looking with every passing year, but that often comes at the cost to the player's downtime. Take 2018's batch of triple-A stunners, from Assassin's Creed: Odyssey to Red Dead Redemption 2, which ask for at least two dozen or more hours just to finish their main story, and that's without considering all their side quests and ancillary objectives. 

During the busyness of Christmas, it can instead help to tuck into some of the best short games on the market in between all those family arguments and movie marathons, which is where this list comes in. Most of these short games last four hours or less, and some aren't even that, but all are worth playing beyond the brevity of their runtime. Check out the best short games you can play right now for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. 

What Remains of Edith Finch 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? Interactive walking sim about the history of a cursed family living in the woods.  

Average time to complete: Three hours

You know how it’s often the single stanza poems that are the most powerful? What Remains of Edith Finch is the video game equivalent of that, roughly three hours in length but presenting an emotional range and depth that’s richer and more affecting than dozens of other, much longer games to have released in 2017. 

Developer Giant Sparrow craft a series of bite-size vignettes, akin to an anthology of short stories, but while each tale differs in gameplay variety, all share a bittersweet fondness for childhood, family, and friendship that tugs at the heartstrings (and the tear ducts) in ways you won’t be expecting. Set aside a cold, rainy evening by the fire for this one; it’s a must play.

The Stanley Parable 

Platform(s): PC

What is it? Self-aware parody of video game storytelling, featuring a guy named Stanley. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

The amount of time you’ll spend playing The Stanley Parable depends on how long you’re willing to go along with its idiosyncratic meta-commentary on the nature the video game medium. If the phrase “idiosyncratic meta-commentary on the nature of the video game medium” is already enough to make you roll your eyes, then maybe don’t give this one a shot, but anyone who’s played enough single player campaigns will find something to laugh at with The Stanley Parable’s fourth-wall breaking satire. 

It’s an annoyingly clever game, rapidly firing out the sort of shrewd observations about life, the universe, and everything that you wish you’d had come up with before hearing them. More than that, though, The Stanley Parable is a bona fide hoot, eliciting more genuine laughs over its 90 minute runtime than most “funny” games could ever hope to achieve.

Gone Home 

Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

What is it? Interactive narrative experience with puzzle elements and an emotional dramatic underlay. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

Gone Home set the standard for modern walking simulators in 2013, with a short but sweet yarn that strikes a deeply personal tone and sticks to that intimacy for the whole two hour jaunt. It threads a story through the narrative frame of a bright twenty something returning home after some extended time abroad, exploring her old stomping grounds as she reminisces on her upbringing and figures out what’s happened since she last set foot in the house. 

You never meet a single other character in the game, but Gone Home’s realistic dialogue makes you feel as though you’ve known every member of the Greenbriar family for a lifetime, which is especially impressive when you realize just how breezily the story whizzes through its neatly segmented chapters.

Grow Up 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? Endearing indie platformer starring a quirky robot attempting the long climb back into the stratosphere. 

Average time to complete: Four hours

Typically known for its sprawling open worlds full of busywork and an endless flow of activities, Ubisoft surprised everyone in 2015 with a small, indie-like platformer from its Reflections studio called Grow Home. It features an endearingly graceless robot named BUD, determined to clamber back up to his spaceship using the power of plant growth, and it was all kinds of amazing. 

The sequel, Grow Up, is a refined, expanded follow up to that heart-warming hit, and it’s just as good, if not better. You can make your way back up to the mothership within around four hours of Grow Up, so long as you make good use of its smart new features like the world map and BUD’s glider. But don’t feel the need to rush yourself; you’ll want to savour this dainty little adventure for as long as you can. 

The Unfinished Swan 

Platform(s): PS4, PS3, PS Vita

What is it? Puzzle adventure where you paint your way through a child’s imagination. 

Average time to complete: Three hours

Before Giant Sparrow wowed a lot of people away with What Remains of Edith Finch, it wowed a fair few people away with The Unfinished Swan, tackling similar themes of loss and wonder through a unique gameplay concept that really stands out on its own. You explore the world of The Unfinished Swan by painting it to life, discovering landmarks and locations as you chuck different coloured balls of paint at the white backdrop to navigate through the fantasy kingdom that comes to life before your eyes. 

It’s a nifty trick that Giant Sparrow develops into a brilliant mechanic for puzzles and platforming, while the presentation - particularly it’s twee soundtrack - effortlessly lullabies you into a transcendental state of relaxation. Like Edith Finch after it, The Unfinished Swan a short romp that’ll be over within three hours or less, but not a single moment is ever wasted. 

Abzû 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? Dream-like exploration game set entirely underwater. 

Average time to complete: Three hours

“It’s like Journey, but underwater” is the description you often hear thrown towards Abzû, and while the two share several strands of DNA - wordless interaction, a focus on showing not telling, breathtaking visuals, and a simple yet potent story - as well as a composer (Austin Wintory) and creative director (Matt Nava), Giant Squid’s first title is entirely its own thing. 

Water levels are a notoriously unpopular trope in gaming, but Abzû turns the sea into a subaquatic paradise, both from an aesthetic and gameplay standpoint, presenting the deep blue in a way that’s both inspiring and threatening in its natural immensity. You can complete Abzû in just over two hours, and trust me when I say that it’s a deep dive you’ll want to see through to the end. 

Firewatch 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? A story-focused first-person adventure where you play as a newly recruited park ranger running from a troubled past. 

Average time to complete: Four hours

With Firewatch, Campo Santo condenses the events of several months into a 4 hour, lightly interactive adventure set in the Wyoming wilderness, and the results are as good as you’d expect from a story penned by the lead writer of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. With award-winning central performances from its two leads - Rick Sommer and Cissy Jones - Firewatch uses Ollie Moss’ striking depiction of rural America as the backdrop for a meditation on ageing and remorse. 

There’s more uplifting moments in there too, and Campo Santo’s knack for the written word creates some genuinely amusing moments, but it’s most touching scenes derive from when these two humans, Henry and Delilah, are at their most vulnerable. Firewatch’s story is a little on the disappointing side, deliberately undercutting its central mystery with something much less exciting than it makes out to be, but you’ll have been glad to embarked on this brief getaway to the country either way.

Inside 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? You’re a boy running from.. something in a dark, despondent 2D platformer.  

Average time to complete: Two hours

What is Inside actually about? Industrialisation? Amoral science? A comment on the illusion of agency in video games? You’ll spend more time thinking about Inside than actually playing Inside, which is a testament to its staying power as a persuasive, provocative, and outright perturbing work from Limbo developers Playdead. 

Over the course of four hours, Inside jumps between a smorgasbord of gameplay ideas using its 2D platformer format, never content to stick with one for any amount of time that would make it feel too familiar, ensuring an unpredictability that plays well against the story’s paranoid overtones. The last 20 minutes of the game are a lovecraftian descent into madness, but when you understand the significance of what it all means… well, you’re on the path to realizing that Inside is nothing short of a mini masterpiece. 

Superhot 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS VR

What is it? Subversive first person shooter where time only moves if you do. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

Superhot is just as hyper-stylized and uber-sexy as The Matrix, but you could play it, enjoy it, and complete it in a shorter amount of time than it would take to watch the first movie in its entirety. That’s an offer you can’t refuse, especially when the high-concept gunplay is this good. 

The basic premise for Superhot is that time moves only when you do, but it’s far from a basic game, presenting high stakes combat challenges that can almost feel more like puzzles than gunfights, even as the action remains as punchy as any other great FPS romp on the market. It’s a two hour action ballet show where you can feel every blow thrown and bullet fired, resulting in the best micro mind-trip you could hope for. 

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC

What is it? Snake is back, and he’s infiltrating a Cuban black site to save his friend. 

Average time to complete: Four hours

The best and worst thing about Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is its incredibly short length. When the game came out, some customers were rightly bummed that Konami was charging up to $40/£30 for what was essentially a glorified demo to get people excited about The Phantom Pain. Now that it’s so cheap, though, you can understand Kojima’s intentions, at least from a creative standpoint. Ground Zeroes is essentially a proof of concept sample for everything great about Metal Gear. 

Self-contained, focused, and finely paced, Ground Zeroes is Metal Gear in an accessible, bitesize chunk, perfect for introducing series newcomers to its archetypal mechanics and concepts, including those ridiculously long cut-scenes. Playing it today is ideal for those who want a helping of pure Metal Gear without any of the fluff. 

Journey

Platform(s): PS4, PS3

What is it? Therapeutic odyssey across a glistening desert landscape. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

Completely wordless, deliberately cryptic, and nary a hint of a user interface in sight, Journey is two hours long, but its legacy will last a lifetime. The story seems like nothing more than vague symbolism at first, but developer thatgamecompany communicates its message through a bespoke set of gameplay languages and rhythms that elevates Journey’s narrative into something much greater, almost indescribable in its experiential impact.

It’s also one of the few multiplayer games to feel truly seamless in its interactions with other players, and you’ll still find fellow strangers making the same treacherous odyssey online to this day. There’s hundreds of theories and analytical thinkpieces as to what it all means, but - at its core - Journey is exactly what is says it is; an expedition from point A to point B that all of us can relate to in some way or another. 

Limbo 

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC

What is it? Side-scroller set in an ethereal, hellish landscape filled with all kinds of dangers. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

The Ancient Greeks believed that bad people were doomed to the underworld for eternity, but Limbo has you exploring its damp, decrepit caverns for just a little over three hours. That’s not to say it’s a breezy excursion; this 2D platformer manages to terrify and terrorise the player using nothing more than silhouettes and devious timing, but you’ll be damned if you’re not going to keep pressing on as the plucky, young boy you find yourself in control of.

Limbo is the little platforming masterwork that first put Playdead on the map eight years ago, and even if you’ve heard people singing its praises a million times by now, its snappy pace and forward thinking design has not lost any of its magic to this day.    

A Way Out

A Way Out

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? A split screen co-op game that has to be played with another human being, either locally or online.

Average time to complete: Six hours

A Way Out is by far the longest game on this list, as it takes an average of six hours to complete its story, but the extended evening binge is well worth the journey with a friend, enjoyed together either through the wonders of the internet or right next to each other on the same couch. Created by Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ Josef Fares, A Way Out is a co-op game like no other, maintaining and experimenting with the split screen format that is usually deployed as nothing more than a necessary evil to accommodate local multiplayer. 

Two players will take the roles of Vincent and Leo, a pair of convicts on a high stakes prison break, and your subsequent escape is essentially made up of a diverse series of mini games, all of which revolve around tight co-op mechanics. It’s a unique, well crafted experience, with a surprisingly engaging story at its heart... Just make sure the person you’re playing with is one you don’t mind spending six consecutive hours alongside. 

Donut County

Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC

What is it? You play as a racoon who gobbles up a city with a giant, remote controlled hole. I’m dead serious. 

Average time to complete: Two hours

If the product description isn’t enough to sell you on Donut County alone, just take a look at that average time to complete. You’re signing up to a breezy two hours of animal antics, millennial humour, and the chance to engulf an entire city into an ever expanding hole. That’s a lot to pack into just 120 minutes but, by Zeus’ beard, we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Donut County is neither particularly challenging or lively, but eating up every person and thing as the ominous hole is a strangely satisfying experience, and creator Ben Esposito’s internet humour inflected writing driving the story is merely the cherry on top. There’s even an underlying metaphor about the damage of gentrification on local culture if you want something to chew on come the end credits but, at its core, Donut County is a small shot of therapeutic catharsis.