Kill your productivity: Stuff's top 22 free browser games

22: FPS Man

Atmospheric Horror. Two words you wouldn't normally associate with PAC-MAN. But one round of this 3D first-person remake of the classic arcade title could leave a puddle of shame beneath your chair. Don't believe me? Plug in your headphones and see if you're braver than I am. 

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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 egame 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.

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20: Poppit

There is really no reason why this simple balloon-popping game should be so addictive. Bubble popping games have been a standard on smartphones for over a decade. Snood was probably the first big hit of the genre. Poppit is only a minor variation on that venerable theme. But if it ain’t broke…

Pop balloons, the larger the group the better. As the groups disappear the next row floats up to take their place. Plan ahead to build the biggest group. Realise that a whole hour has gone by. Classic.

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19: QWOP

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 not to land on your bum. It’s practically impossible. Not a game you’ll return to again and again but certainly worth a look. 

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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.

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17: Pong

Pong, that venerable table-tennis simulator, was old news before Star Wars was released. I’m not talking about any CGI-enhanced version here. I mean the original movie. And like that seminal space opera, Pong has no graphical filigrees or furbelows to distract you. This is gameplay at its most basic. 

There’s no reason why, some four decades after it first thrilled a generation of flared trouser wearers, Pong would still be playable. But it is. The basic rule-set that takes a second to grasp combines with the annoyingly competent computer opponent to make for an absorbing couple of minutes. And with browser games, that’s often the key.

We aren’t looking here at games that you’ll be playing for epic sessions that only end when you’re carried out of a Korean cybercafé on a stretcher. These are games that fill five minutes when you’re on hold with British Gas or waiting for an Apple keynote live-stream to start. And the brutally basic gameplay of Pong does that more effectively than a lot more ambitious properties.

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16: Runescape

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 an 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.

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15: UsVsTh3m.com

Not quite so much a game, as a destination, the UsVsTh3m is full of mini-games to soak up those idle minutes you’d otherwise spend working on your novel or reconnecting with your family. Probably their best, right now, is You Can’t Do Simple Maths Under Pressure. It is what it sounds like.

A series of primary-school standard multiple-choice maths problems that you have to answer against the clock. If you’re more of a wordy person, try You Can’t Write Proper English Under Pressure. Either way, you’ll be shaking like a Polaroid picture by the time you get to level 6. And what could be more relaxing than that?

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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.

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13: Battlefield Play4Free

Buyers of video games, and indeed software in general, have come to accept that they’re not just customers. They’re also unpaid beta testers. If that’s true of expensive retail games, imagine the situation with ‘free’ online games. 

Battlefield isn’t truly free, it might more reasonably be described as freemium, but it’s still a platform where you are guinea pig as much as you are gamer. It’s worth putting up with the sometimes rather clunky game mechanics though. If only for the sheer joy of jumping into a Hummer, gunning it across a map to where the enemy team is camping, and lobbing a grenade through the window — all in a browser window. 

One note: Battlefield won’t run on a Mac, but it’ll let you get a pretty long way in to signing up and downloading content before that gets mentioned. Most modern Macs will boot into Windows just fine, so it’s not impossible to get it running, but it’s worth bearing in mind. 

Battlefield is by no means the slickest online FPS, but it is by far the prettiest. And if we keep on sending in the bug reports, maybe one day it’ll be the best.

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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.

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More after the break...

11: Doom

It’s Doom. What more do I need to tell you? This is 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. Those maps that an entire generation of gamers know as well as they know their own homes are recreated in your web browser. Every monster, every power-up is in its place. 

If you’re one of the original Doom generation, and haven’t seen you 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.

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10: HRMageddon

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.

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9: Tofu Hunter

There are more ‘shooting gallery’ hunting games available online than there are real live animals to hunt. Tofu is at least the equal of its rivals in terms of twitchy track-shoot-reload gameplay, but adds a witty vegan-friendly angle. If you’re a Morrissey fan who’s occasionally tempted to express their inner Ted Nugent, this one’s the game for you. 

Choose between sniper rifle or shotgun and pick off wild, playful, chunks of tofu as they gambol in the forest. Comfortably the silliest game on our list. Recommended.

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8: Wormfood

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 Wormfood, 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.

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7: Super House Of Dead Ninjas

A fast-moving platformer with a ninja theme that takes about five seconds to master, and six seconds to fall in love with. Direct your little warrior down through a series of dungeons. Take out the guards with throwing stars, knives and bombs. Avoid the traps. Have fun. No signup. No embarrassing bulge in your email spam folder. Just good old-fashioned ninja action. 

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6: Skid Racer

I’m terrible at racing games. I’m always too slow in the straights and too fast in the corners. Of all the racers I tried out for this list, Skid Racer is the most forgiving of my utter incompetence, which seems to me to mean that it’s the best for the casual gamer who just want ten minutes of amusement. 

Serious petrolheads will presumably all have racing sims that enable to tweak every aspect of their ride’s aerodynamics. This one doesn’t offer that kind of  functionality. In fact, it’s a measure of the realism on offer that you can stack up prize money to spend on laser cannons to fit to your car. If you want realism, iRacing might be the way to go. If you want fun, you’ll get it here.

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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.

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4: Brick Force

Are you old enough to remember the video for ‘Money For Nothing’ ? Did you ever watch those blocky little guys shifting microwave ovens and thing ‘what this video needs is less Dire Straits and more first-person combat.’? If your answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, or ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ then Brick Force is for you. It’s a lively little first-person shooter with online multiplayer — but one where you build the maps. 

The simple block-stacking interface inevitably limits the type of combat arena you can build, but it’s a whole lot of fun. This list would have been finished much sooner if I hadn’t got sucked into creating the ultimate deathmatch map. The interface is gratifyingly intuitive. An icon labelled ‘M’ gives you access to a menu of possible components. Drop those into your working palette and presto! You’re a game designer! I never did figure out how to switch the music off though.

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3: Angry Birds

If you’re a Chrome user who somehow hasn’t already succumbed to the charms of these ballistic avians, you’re in for a treat. The deceptively simple catapult-based gameplay conceals myriad strategic decisions. There’s more than one way to complete most levels, but only one method will yield a three-star score. 

Once you start, it’s more or less impossible to resist repeating every level until you have a perfect score. You can only access the first chapter unless you log in with a valid Google account. You’re going to. It’s irresistible.

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2: Quake Live

Do you remember the turn of the century?  Every IT guy in the country was wasting half his working day checking that our computers weren’t going to fall prey to the mythical ‘millennium bug.’ And the other half playing Quake III Arena.  The fastest, most kinetic, cartooniest, rocket-spammiest entry in ID’s Quake series was the big hit of the 1999/2000 PC time-wasting season. And now it’s back. And it’s free. 

Sign up. Install a plug-in. Make sure you’re not using Chrome. Then, if you’re  a Mac user move the plug-in you’ve just installed into the correct path. Wait as an auto-downloaded update wiggles into your cache folder. Delve into the preferences to see where they’ve hidden full-screen mode. And then it’s instant gratification. 

There’s all the usual game modes — free for all, team deathmatch, capture the flag. The scenery and characters are stylised and deliberately unrealistic but the gameplay is fast, noisy and more fun than a barrel of heavily-armed space marines. It’s like Y2K never happened.

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1: Full Screen Mario

There’s a reason why the original Super Mario Brothers was one of the biggest games of its era. The challenge of piloting that blocky little plumber through a hazardous world in search of coins and mushrooms never quite stopped being fun. 

And the real beauty of this HTML5 re-rendering of the classic is that there’s a fully-fledged level editor included too. You can build and save your own goomba-infested side-scrolling worlds and save them to disk. Besides, just the music will have you feeling 25 years younger. 

The games I’ve selected as winners from the vast browser-game ecosystem have all have either nostalgia value, or replayability, or an interactive creative edge. Full Screen Mario has them all. 

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BONUS: Superhot

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. 

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