That important piece of work you have to finish off? That dodgy garage door you were meant to fix? That costume you were going to make for the school play?
Yeah, none of that's going to happen, because we've rounded up the finest browser games floating around in the digital ether, and best of all, they're all free. Sort of.
Some of the games under consideration here are truly gratis, with maybe an ad banner on the page or, in some cases, a pre-roll advertisement every few levels.
Some are free but require an email address so that news about interesting and useful products can be delivered direct to your inbox. And by interesting I mean Viagra and by useful I mean please God make it stop.
Some are freemium - they’re free to try out but all the really sweet add-ons (weapons, cars, whatever) require some sort of payment.
I’ve included games from most of these categories but drawn the line at anything that requires a credit card impression before you start playing.
Most run in your browser using Java or HTML 5. A few require an initial download of game content before playing. I’ve included one or two of those: but in general anything requiring a substantial install has been ruled out. Instant action, and a small hard disk footprint are our watchwords here.
Oh and fun. Above all, fun. So, without further ado, here are (in no particular order) the 30 best free browser games available right now.
Additional words by Sam Kieldsen
READ MORE: The 200 greatest games of all time
Originally a tasty slice of PC freeware, Spelunky more recently became a darling of the PS Vita indie scene. It’s easy to see why: the mix of traps, monsters, route-finding and secrets, and fast-paced classic platforming action across randomly generated maps, is intoxicating stuff.
The original was in 2012 reworked for the browser, and remains one of the very best examples of browser-based gaming around - although you might not agree when your cute little adventurer is suddenly shot out of the air with a poison dart or clubbed to death by an irate caveman yet again.
29) The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
In order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its release, the BBC “remastered” this classic text-based adventure game by putting it in browser-playable form - meaning a whole new generation of players can die in lots and lots of different ways. Based on the first of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide novels (reading it may provide you with some much-needed clues), it even supports game saves, so you don’t need to complete it in one sitting. Which is just as well given how tough it is.
28) Robot Unicorn Attack Evolution
Adult Swim’s endless runner isn’t a huge departure from the countless other endless runners you might have played on your phone or tablet, but succeeds by virtue of its quirky charm: you are a robot unicorn in some kind of dreamland, racing, jumping and rainbow-dashing (yes, that’s a thing) sideways for as long as possible before collision with an object sends you up in a shower of sparks, flames and chrome-plated horse-parts. The Erasure soundtrack only serves to slather another layer of campy charm on to proceedings.
Coma is clearly inspired by indie classic Limbo, sharing a similar art style and even the “find your lost sister” plot-starter – but even if you’ve played through the latter, it’s worth spending some time with the former.
And you won’t have to spend much, either. This Flash-based platform-puzzler can easily be completed in under 20 minutes – by which time you may be a little sick of the keyboard controls, which aren’t quite as accurate as a control pad. Still, a diverting and quite beautiful little game.
26) Kingdom Rush
A tower defence game in which you have to build fortifications to fend off waves of ever-stronger bad guys. There’s a fantasy setting, which means archers, knights, wizards and so on are your staples as you attempt to hold back hordes of goblins, orcs, ogres and bandits, and as you progress you gain stars enabling you to upgrade your towers to counter the increasing threat levels. If you like your strategy games fairly casual and cutesy (not to mention free and not too time-consuming) Kingdom Rush fits the bill like a suit of tailor-made armour.
25) Experimental Shooter
This appropriately named time-sink has a basic enough premise – use your mouse to control a swivelling gun turret and shoot a number of floating balls to clear a level – but goes about each stage in a totally different way, meaning you’ll have to use your wits just as much as your trigger finger. Examples? Well, one level is essentially a big pool table, while another only has your shots count once they’ve rebounded off the arena’s walls.
Note: a mouse is a must for this one, as trackpads won’t give you the degree of control you need.
From the creator of cult text-based title A Dark Room, Gridland superficially resembles a typical match-three puzzler.
The word ‘superficially’ has been used quite deliberately here, because Gridland is in reality something else entirely, in terms of mechanics and structure. This only becomes clear after a few failed attempts to battle through day and night, building structures with your earnings while the sun moves across the sky, and then battling all kinds of evil horrors in the darkness.
To say more would spoil one of the best games of 2014, but there is one tip worth bearing in mind: if you find yourself being regularly defeated, think more about how you’re approaching the game, and recognise day and night are very different beasts.
23) Abobo’s Big Adventure
A glowing, nostalgia-fuelled tribute to the Nintendo Entertainment System, Abobo’s Big Adventure stars one of the forgotten faces of the 8-bit era (the eponymous Abobo, the muscle-bound “sub-boss” from Double Dragon) as he sets out to rescue his son.
But the plot, such as it is, doesn’t matter: what matters is the way the game pays homage to many of your favourite NES games, with characters from games including Donkey Kong, Spy Vs Spy and Super Mario Bros all making appearances – and that’s just in the first stage. The gameplay varies between beat 'em up and platform styles, and it’s unashamedly, unreformed old school in its approach.
22) World’s Biggest Pac Man
Built to promote the original Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary (they grow up so fast!), World’s Biggest Pac-Man makes two major changes to the original title. First, the two wraparound tunnels are replaced by four doorways, one at each screen edge, enabling you to escape to another maze. Secondly, the creators enabled anyone to submit mazes. Within a week, there were over 10,000. Now there are over 150,000 - enough to last even the most ardent dot-muncher several lifetimes.
21) Cube Slam
You liked Pong? Cube Slam is Pong on meth. It's a beautifully 3D rendered version of the classic (which you'll see more of below) with power-ups and satisfyingly meaty sound effects. You can play against real people online, and because the e-game supports webcams you can even see those annoying people that keep beating you.
Or if you prefer to embrace artificially intelligent nature, go up against Bob the Bear. He's an AI bot who's always there for you when your friends aren't. Try it now, but be prepared to lose at least half an hour.
20) Contre Jour
Originally a hit on mobile, Contre Jour loses a little of its tactile qualities and immediacy in the browser — but none of its charm; it soon sucks you in.
The aim is to guide cycloptic blob Petit to the exit in each single-screen level, manipulating the local environment to do so. You therefore warp the ground to roll him about, swing Petit around via springy ropes, and catapult him across the screen (and, frequently, into painful spikes) with tiny trampolines.
The physics of walking on two legs is an astoundingly complex affair. Running is even worse - in essence it’s a barely-controlled fall. Because we’ve all forgotten when we learned how to do those things, we don’t think about the complexity of it all too much. QWOP brings it all back.
This astoundingly frustrating game gives you control of a runner’s leg muscles using just four keys on your keyboard. You’ll no doubt be astounded to hear that they’re Q, W, O and P. The only objective is to not land on your bum. It’s practically impossible. Not a game you’ll return to again and again but certainly worth a look.
18) Little Alchemy
About the most ‘casual’ casual game you can imagine, Little Alchemy requires you to use lateral thinking to synthesize some 400 compounds by combining a few basic elements. This isn’t Breaking Bad we’re talking about. It’s a resolutely unscientific diversion that is at its best when played competitively. There isn’t an online multiplayer, but you don’t need one. Just emailing a pal and saying ‘have you made bacteria yet?’ is all you need.
17) Impossible Mission
*Another visitor! Stay a while! Stay FOREVARRRRR!* If you used to own a C64, Professor Elvin Atombender’s deranged rant may well be burned into your brain; even if you’re a newcomer, look past the blocky graphics and you’ll find Impossible Mission is one of the best platform games in existence.
Your aim as a somersaulting secret agent is to search Atombender’s fortress for puzzle pieces that form a password; this is then compiled in a control room, as a means to halt armageddon.
Unfortunately, the agent is a buffoon and his only defence against the deadly robots that roam the fortress’s platforms is to run away or leap over them, rather than blowing them to pieces with a really big gun.
As long as you have an absolutely limitless appetite for installing Java updates, Runescape is the MMORPG for you. The game does have a spiffy new HTML5 beta, enabling the game to access your machine’s hardware for 3D rendering - but that only works for users running Chrome under a recent build of Windows. For the rest of us, it’s a question of running endless Java updates until Runescape sees sense. It can be a testing experience.
Once you’re in, you’re met with a giant troll invasion which you need to help repel. It’s standard ‘click on thing, select option from mini-menu’ stuff. You won’t be confused. It all works perfectly well.
There’s nothing especially innovative about either gameplay or setting, but the solo missions are sensibly paced, and there are enough hints on screen to prevent anyone from getting too lost. It’s an entertaining, accessible route to a fantasy version of the past where men were men and nobody had to worry about which version of Java they had installed.
But be careful. Before you know it, you'll be mining and selling coal for eight hours a day just so you can reach level 60 and access the fancy private mine which is free from lesser lower-level peasants. You have been warned.
15) Cut The Rope
You’ve probably heard of Cut The Rope. Initially an iOS mega-hit, the game stars grinning green greedy-guts Om Nom, who lives in boxes and demands to be fed candy via ludicrously intricate set-ups. Instead of just handing it to him (although the ravenous creature would probably take off your hand), you use ropes, air cushions and bubbles to get candy into his maw. The web version’s a bit hidden these days: click ‘Give it a try’ and it’ll appear at the bottom of the screen.
14) Desktop Tower Defense
Swarms of jolly little cartoon blobs want to migrate across your desktop. Build towers to create a gauntlet for them to run. The more you destroy, the more credits you have to build more towers. More sophisticated types of blob appear. You upgrade your defences. Rinse and repeat. Incredibly stupid. Unbearably addictive.
You’ve probably had your fill of mini-golf games on your PC and handhelds, but give Wonderputt a go anyway, because it’s like someone took the genre, got Escher and Gilliam to bang heads about how to design a course, and filtered the end result through the talents of a first-rate modern digital artist.
Initially, your little ball tonks about a simple hole comprising four discs, but then the entire landscape dramatically shifts and transforms again and again, with some astonishing transitions that will make you grin like a loon unless you’re dead inside.
12) Pandemic 2
There are plenty of games where you get to play as the bad guy. This is the first one I remember, though, where I’ve been invited to eradicate all human life on Earth.
In Pandemic 2 you set the parameters of your virus, and let time take its course. Depressingly, from the point of view of a human being, the disease always seems to win in the end. The goal is to wipe out humanity in the minimum possible time.
As your disease spreads you rack up more evolution points, which you can spend on more infectiousness or drug-resistance for your pathogen. This is the kind of game that doesn’t require constant close attention, so you can leave it running in a spare browser tab while you get on with something less genocidal. The perfect pastime for the more morbid, easily-distracted, gamer.
It’s Doom. What more do I need to tell you? This is a near-flawless recreation of the Daddy of them all. The original shareware levels of the first major FPS hit are recreated with impressive attention to detail in your web browser. That means every monster, every power-up is in its place on those maps that an entire generation of gamers know as well as they know their own homes.
If you’re one of the original Doom generation, and haven’t seen your original floppy disks (remember them?) in years, you’ll want to take one last stroll around the mazes that you know so well. If you’re one of the new breed, it’s worth taking a look to see what us old guys are going on about. But remember, no matter how much those Cacodemons or Lost Souls surprise you, you can’t jump.
I mean it. You actually can’t jump.
An awful lot of these games are going to be played by people in offices. So what could be more deliciously metatextual than a game about people in an office. Admittedly, your IT guys might not swing a computer mouse as a sort of improvised mace as often as the characters in this turn-based combat game do. And for that matter your receptionist might not be quite as deadly with a stapler.
What HRmageddon may lack in realism though, it makes up for in chuckles. Capture as many cubicles as you can while dealing damage to your rivals. You can play against the game’s surprisingly Machiavellian AI, a random internet opponent or — for maximum irony — a colleague elsewhere in your office.
9) Gods Will Be Watching
Fancy yourself something of an artist? Put your sketching skills to the test in this devilish AI-based take on Pictionary, in which you’re tasked to draw everyday objects (“fire engine”, “clarinet”, “frying pan” etc.) and have them recognised by Google’s deep learning-based judge. If your crude scrawling hits the mark, you get to draw another one, again and again until you fail.
Yes, it’s really that simple – but c’mon, we’re talking about browser games here, not Bloodborne. What do you expect?
8) Worm Food
If there’s any justice, anywhere in the world, you’ll have seen the film Tremors. In it Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward repel an attack of giant subterranean slug-beasts that rear up out of the earth and devour a selection of citizens from a small American town. In Worm Food, Tremors goes interactive. Only instead of, as might be a bit too predictable, taking the part of Bacon or Ward or even the scene-sealing survivalist played by Michael Gross, you get to be the slug.
Pick up momentum by accelerating through the soil, break through the surface and scoop up as many townsfolk as you can before the time runs out. Crashing into buildings and other obstacles slows you down, and in the later levels your prey have begun to fight back by planting land-mines in your path. About the best fun you can have being a worm.
7) Cookie Clicker
It’s hard to know what to make of Cookie Clicker. On one hand, it’s essentially a Skinner box, rewarding players with nothing in particular in return for them clicking like crazy. But it also appears to be an amusing satire on the state of modern ‘idle’ gaming.
Initially, you click and you get a cookie. The more cookies you have, the more power-ups you can afford, including cursors that click on your behalf. Eventually, you’re using time machines to bring cookies from the past, “before they were even eaten” and converting raw light into cookies with giant prisms, to bring in millions of cookies per second. To what end? Stuff’s not sure, but currently has 509 billion cookies in a really big plastic box if you fancy one.
6) Alter Ego
Alter Ego isn’t a pretty game — visually or in terms of content. It’s a browser-based remake of an ancient PC game, dealing with progress through everyday life. It’s about as far from The Sims as you can imagine — instead of cute little idiots blundering about, you get stark icons and multiple-choice text. But there’s depth here, with a clever (if admittedly slightly conservative) script written by a psychologist, which offers branching progress that could lead you to a happy old age or abruptly dying as a toddler, having just necked some bleach found under the sink.
5) 10 Bullets
There are countless button-mashing casual retro shooters out there. What makes 10 Bullets special is the paucity of ammunition. You have, as the title suggests, just ten projectiles to take down as many of the passing spacecraft as you can. The trick is to time your shots so that debris from the ships you destroy causes chain reactions in the surrounding craft.
With careful timing and a little luck, you can take down entire formations of enemies with just one bullet. If you’re playing games while you should be working, you don’t want the clack-clack-clack of frantic keyboard bashing to give you away to any passing manager. The sound of someone playing 10 Bullets is indistinguishable from the thoughtful clicking of a very thoughtful writer. I know. I tried it.
4) Wizard of Wor
Wizard Of Wor appears to be a browser-based remake of a C64 conversion of an ancient arcade game! Which is a bit weird. Its a fantastic old-school title, though, where you roam claustrophobic mazes and blast monsters before they tear your face off. Best of all, there’s a simultaneous two-player mode. Hit Shift and player one (blue) can use AWSD and Shift, while player two (yellow) uses the cursors and Enter. Given that you can ‘accidentally’ shoot each other, too, either of you can then use the entire keyboard to smack your opponent with.
Indie developer Lukas Pope made his name with Papers, Please (available for Windows, Mac, Linux and iPad), a superb lo-fi dystopian thriller in which the player is not some highly skilled secret agent but a bureaucratic drudge working in border control. It’s deeply affecting and human, and we highly recommend it.
And his free browser game Unsolicited is in a very similar vein, casting you as a worker sending out junk mail on behalf of various charities, credit card companies and timeshare schemes. Filling out forms may not sound like much fun, but much like Papers, Please, Unsolicited manages to be both a challenging game (you have limited time to correctly fill out and dispatch the letters) and a wry commentary on modern life.
2) A Dark Room
Coming from the same developer as Gridland and supplying a similar “thrive ’n’ survive” challenge to the player, A Dark Room nevertheless takes a very different tack mechanically. It’s a text and menu-driven adventure in which you have to build up and maintain a successful community in a harsh wilderness. Logistics and supply management are as important as surviving animal attacks here, and the adventure can be a long and gruelling one – luckily, you can save in your browser in order to continue at a later date.
It might not look like much, but we guarantee that this will be the best (and quite possibly the only) game about digging you'll ever play in your life.
MotherLoad sees you take control of a banged-up digger, with the mission of exploring the depths of the Martian soil to uncover its secrets.
It's slow going at first, but the more ore you mine and sell, the more upgrades you can bestow upon your trusty digger.
From diamond-coated drills, to larger fuel tanks and expansive cargo bays, you dig down, down, down, fuelled by one single obsessive aim:
You must go Deeper.
Go deep enough and things will begin to get a little… weird. Deeper still and…
Well, we wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for you now, would we?
As addictive as upgrade-orientated games get, you'll soon be tinkering with your fork to get to the bottom of your jacket potato as efficiently as possible.
Some of the best games start as simple concept demos, and that’s the territory SUPERHOT occupies. Part first-person shooter, part physics puzzle, SUPERHOT's greatest triumph is that it's turned an entirely new gameplay mechanic into a game that works amazingly well. So much so, the concept has been accepted into Steam's Greenlight program, which means we should see a fully-fledged PC game soon.
The premise is so simple you’ll wonder why no-one's done it before. Time only moves when you move, giving you precious thinking seconds between bouts of blasting. It makes for a unique and hugely entertaining gaming experience – not just as good as a game you'd pay for, but in some ways even more imaginative and impressive.
Bonus 2: Game of Bombs
Game of Bombs transforms Bomberman into a massively multiplayer online retro arcade experience. The premise remains the same as ever: amble about, set bombs to take out walls and monsters, get away from the bombs so they don’t blow you to pieces, and collect whatever’s found in the retro carnage. The difference here is in the giant maps, and being able to bomb (or team up with) people from all over the world. And remember: if in doubt, RUN AWAY!