Go it alone
Playing a game solo has its benefits. You get to go at your own pace; you don't need to worry about maintaining an online connection, and no one's screaming in your ear over voice chat. Games like Doom, Portal and Sid Meier's Civilization VI are great for letting the hours fall off the clock without the pressure of keeping up with someone else in an online environment.
Playing on a gaming laptop with no Wi-Fi connection? Perhaps you're a busy person who needs to be able to pause a game and take frequent breaks to address some real-world stuff? If either of those apply, then these are the games you need to know about.
Credit: CD Projekt
Dead Cells is an early access roguelike title in a sea of other games that fit that exact description, yet it still manages stand out. Combat in this 2D pixel-art game is fast and demands even faster reflexes. You can't expect to make it very far on your first time out, but once you complete a level, you can cash in any weapon schematic you find and put points toward character upgrades that carry over to your next run. Soon enough, you'll have access to a deep pool of weapons that can appear on your run, and you'll be making it further and further into the game.
Multiple level-exits help keep each run from getting too samey, and there's always some new ability to work toward that lets you access more of the levels you've been running through. The steep difficulty curve can easily keep you busy with this game for dozens of hours.
Credit: Motion Twin
Who needs Gears of War on PC when you've got Vanquish, otherwise known as the fusion of the GoW games, Sonic, Bayonetta and a little Platinum Games special sauce. You play as a guy in an Iron Man suit that rockets around on his knees at mach-five while slowing down time and running up robots so he can backflip off them and shoot saw blades through their chests. This game is the definition of "extra." The campaign is only 6 hours long (and that's all there is, besides a small mission mode), but it's infinitely replayable and the game itself is cheap as hell. Go get it.
If you've ever wanted a game that's built for cruising around while moodily listening to Halsey's "Gasoline," Mad Max is the the somber swan song of Australian outback gaming for you. It's got car combat, regular car racing, Arkham-style punching combat and even a shotgun for when Arkham-style punching gets tedious. It's a violent, gritty open-world adventure that's fueled by a sad, angry plot about a sad, angry man, and if you're not crying and simultaneously growing a beard while playing, it means you forgot to launch the game.
Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Styx: Shards of Darkness
Fans of hardcore stealth who want none of Assassin's Creed's safety crutches or Dishonored's overblown superpowers should try Styx: Shards of Darkness, a "true" stealth game that aligns itself with classic titles like Thief. You play as a four-foot-tall goblin who hides in shadows and breaks the fourth wall to give you guff each time you get caught and die. Combat in the game is nonexistent if you're doing your job right, and if you're not, the combat will get you killed every time, so learn AI patrol routes, roll around a lot and stay out of the limelight.
Credit: Focus Home Interactive
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
If you've been a PC-only gamer for a while, or if you simply never owned a PS2, then this game is new to you. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a remaster of the PS2 original, rendered now at 60 frames per second and given a reorchestrated soundtrack. The game's remaster treatment polishes the title up to a very presentable state by today's standards, and together with the still-excellent voice acting, it's poised to be a classic you didn't know you were missing.
The gameplay of Final Fantasy XII is unique to the series, relying on preassembled basic instructions, known as Gambits, for your party members to follow during combat. With these simple if/then statements, you can play whole chunks of the game by just allowing your party to take care of the fights on their own. The new 4- and 10-times speed-up function lets you whiz through battles even faster. It won't be all hands-off, however, as the Gambits can't do it all on their own and the game will demand your attention during tough boss fights.
Credit: Square Enix
Prey is a moderately horrifying first-person shooter that fits the slot on this list we'd have otherwise filled with Alien: Isolation. In Prey, slimy, shapeshifting black tentacle creatures turn into mugs, chairs, and other inanimate objects, constantly revealing themselves at inopportune moments deliberately to make you soil yourself. Thankfully, the game equips you with Dishonored and Bioshock-esque powers with which to combat the alien menace, as well as some pretty neat guns. You'll need all those tools to battle your way through the scariest art deco space station in gaming.
Hitman - Game of the Year Edition
The 2016 reboot of the Hitman series originally released episodically, giving players a drip feed of new locations and new missions to undertake. But now, the latest title in this long-standing third-person stealth-action series is available to enjoy all at once. Hitman casts you as Agent 47, taking on missions for a secret international organization that wants to eliminate various powerful people around the world. You'll be dropped in to locations and will need to observe civilian and security personnel movements in order to work your way into secure areas.
You can either figure everything out on your own or let the game's guided-opportunities system show you how to eliminate your targets using environmental hazards. Opportunities are fleeting, however, and replaying missions to try all of the different assassination options has its benefits. As you play, you unlock map-specific proficiencies that give you perks like starting with different equipment or in different parts of the map.
Credit: Square Enix
XCOM 2 and its recent expansion, War of the Chosen, brings the classic tactical gameplay of the XCOM series back, but with even more pressure points and time limitations. XCOM 2 can feel downright brutal at times, requiring players to balance various priorities of managing a surviving enclave of humans after a successful alien invasion and hostile takeover of the rest of humankind.
Resource and time management play a big role in XCOM 2, but tactical ingenuity is no less necessary out on the field. With a squad of soldiers, you'll have to move people around on a grid using turn-based combat mechanics to scout and flank a deeply entrenched alien presence on Earth. With the War of the Chosen expansion, you'll have access to even more soldier classes, which translates into more tactical options on the ground.
Credit: 2K Games
Doom's long hiatus paid off in the end, as the fourth game in the old-school first-person shooter series is easily the best yet. True to the franchise's roots, there is no regenerating health, you can't aim down the sights of most weapons, and power-ups are scattered all around the linear but dense levels.
This game is all about pressing forward as hard and aggressively as you can. You won't be taking cover and sniping from opportune vantage points, because the game rewards you with ammo and health for finishing off each weakened enemy with a glory kill that often depicts you ripping your demonic foes apart with your own hands.
Credit: Bethesda Softworks
Fallout 4 is the latest in Bethesda's postapocalyptic role-playing game series, and it continues to focus heavily on player choice and story development. You travel across the remains of Boston, known now as the Commonwealth, to find your kidnapped child. Along the way, you'll find people willing to travel with you who have their own stories and goals.
Combat is mostly done in real-time, but the VATS system returns, letting players slow gameplay to a crawl as they pick specific parts of the enemy to shoot. The result is a shooter that has a strategic flavor that rewards trap-setting and careful exploration.
This first-person puzzle game is renowned for its clever and mind-bending puzzles as well as its dry sense of wit. Using your portal gun, you must escape a secluded testing facility that is overseen by a malevolent AI bent on putting you through increasingly lethal "scientific" tests. One mouse button makes your gun fire a blue portal, while the other button fires a red portal going through a blue portal pops you out at the red portal. This and picking up boxes are your only means of interaction, so you need to press switches, traverse gaps and hurl yourself over pools of acid to make it to each test chamber's exit as GLaDOS, the AI, criticises your every move.
Resident Evil 7 Biohazard
Resident Evil 7 marks the triumphant return of the old survival-horror series, this time using a new first-person perspective. Taking place many years after the events of previous games in the series, you play as Ethan Winters, who set out to Louisiana to look for his missing wife. Deep inside the Baker residence, a run-down mansion in a swamp, Resident Evil 7 lays the horror on thick. Eventually, the survival elements kick in, too, with Resident Evil staples like limited inventory space and the need to cart around special keys in order to progress.
Sparse ammo and healing supplies are also mainstays in the series, made all the more terrifying by the game's focus on monsters that never seem to stay dead. You'll have to keep cool under pressure while solving puzzles and manage your resources for when it comes time to whip out the big guns.
Sid Meier's Civilization VI
The latest in the Sid Meier's strategy series, Civilization VI brings all the same addictive city-building and turn-based tactics people have known for years. But now, it also comes with improved graphics and further gameplay balances that make it possible for more than just your usual warmongers to win the day. You choose from a list of famous real-world leaders of civilizations from around the globe and across time, each with their own special skills that help your cities grow in different ways. With your leader chosen, you build your empire from a puny Stone Age tribe to a powerful, high-tech nation.
Different skill trees let players take things down different paths, like the newly added Civics tree, which rewards peaceful interactions and diplomacy rather than warfare or espionage. Thanks to the game's turn-based nature, players can take as much time as they need to puzzle over their next moves and, most importantly, access an easy stopping point for saving and returning. As Civ fans can tell you, a single game can last for hours or even days.
Credit: 2K Games
SteamWorld Dig 2
The original SteamWorld Dig was a simple but charming game that featured a steampunk robot mining for jewels and other resources beneath an old Western town. The further you dug, the harder the rock became, which would prompt you to turn in all those resources you collected for better gear.
SteamWorld Dig 2 does all of those things but a lot better. You get more-interesting abilities, like being able to hover or grapple around, and the above-ground town is populated with far more interesting people (well, technically they're robots). New challenge rooms and a better combat system round out the package without overcomplicating things. At its core, SteamWorld Dig 2 is still a fun indie game about digging and resource collecting.
Credit: Image & Form
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition
Dark Souls doesn't need much introduction, but you can always find someone who hasn't tried this notorious series yet. If that's you, then strap in, because Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and Dark Souls III are all fantastic PC titles worth the time of any action-game fan. The series does come with a high learning curve at first, but you'll eventually get more comfortable with Dark Souls' style of deliberate combat. Once you've become acclimated, you can appreciate the dreary yet majestic locales, and slowly puzzle together the story.
Each of the three games in the series offers up a lengthy and challenging campaign that's fully playable offline. According to the game's own page on the Steam store, use of a controller is strongly recommended.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut
The world of Deus Ex is highly futuristic, slightly dystopian and full of body augmentations. You play as Adam Jensen in a third-person adventure capable of being either an action or a stealth game. You're given as much choice in how you handle a room full of guards as you are in how the plot develops. You can take a firm and aggressive approach, in combat and in conversation, or a sneakier approach that relies more on misdirection. You'll easily get more than one play-through out of this game, because it's not possible to experience every dialogue outcome or to earn enough points to fill out the skill tree fully on your first run.
Credit: Square Enix
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is the same third-person action-crime game you've known since Grand Theft Auto III, only now with a far more detailed world to explore and a campaign that's split among three characters. You return to the city of Los Santos, last seen as a location in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and you can switch among the three main characters at any point as they go about their days in the city. Named Michael, Trevor and Franklin, each one leads a very different life, and yet they find themselves working various jobs together, like high-profile bank heists or infiltrating a government intelligence agency.
About as open world as it gets, Grand Theft Auto V puts only a light pressure on players to pursue the main story. You're otherwise free to get lost in Los Santos' many diversions, like street racing, or take part in a long list of side missions as any of the three protagonists.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The latest in the Metal Gear series is a big departure from the linear, story-heavy games of past entries. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you play as Venom Snake, ostensibly the Big Boss spoken of in previous games, as he manages the soldiers under his command on Mother Base. Combat is stealth-oriented, but it's by no means your only option. You get many tools for crawling and sneaking around and blending in with your surroundings, but you can also go in guns-blazing if you wish.
Out in the field, you'll collect all sorts of resources, including recruited enemy soldiers, to help expand the capabilities of Mother Base. With enough money and workers, you can develop more weapons and armor to take on future missions, with a potentially vast arsenal at your disposal to help encourage a diversity of play styles.
Originally a PS3 exclusive, Valkyria Chronicles is a semi-turn-based Japanese tactics game with a beautiful, cell-shaded art style. You control a squad of a small nation's military as you attempt to fend off an enemy invasion roughly analogous to the events of World War II. You control each soldier in your squad individually, maneuvering them into position to fire on enemy units. Time is paused for all other units as you maneuver one; however, the unit you're moving can still take reaction fire from enemies with line-of-sight access to you.
This particular blend of real-time and turn-based tactics gives a good dose of action without sacrificing the value of strategic planning. With a lengthy campaign and a good amount of challenge, Valkyria Chronicles should keep you busy for a while.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher series has been somewhat impenetrable up until this current entry, but that just means we didn't know what we were missing. The fantasy lore in this series pulls from a particular and rarified Eastern European mythos that's both familiar and yet not just another Tolkien derivative. As a witcher, it's your job to to take contracts posted by people who need help expelling devious ghosts or slaying a marauding griffin. You'll take these jobs on top of tracking down your missing witcher protege and the closest thing you have to a daughter, Ciri, who is being pursued by the demonic Wild Hunt.
Gameplay in this third-person, action, role-playing game focuses a lot on preparation, as you'll brew up special potions, coat your swords in certain oils and lay traps to help take out your opponents. Many of these mechanics have been greatly simplified from past games in the series, making The Witcher 3 the most accessible one yet.
Credit: CD Projekt
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
On the surface, Skyrim operates a lot like Fallout, minus the VATS slowdown system and in a high-fantasy setting instead of a high-tech setting, but the differences do go deeper. Your character class plays a big role in what stats you have as well as how nonplayer characters will interact with you. Complex magic systems let you hurl fireballs, control enemies and summon allies, while the melee combat also plays a much bigger role than it does in Fallout.
What isn't too different is the very large open world to explore and the great many hours it will take you to see everything this game has to offer. The updated Special Edition includes remastered graphics, improved performance and additional quest content.
Mass Effect 2
If we're going to cherry-pick one of the three Mass Effect games in the original trilogy, it may as well be the game that struck the best balance between a deep character-driven space opera and an action-packed third-person shooter. Even if Mass Effect 2 is your first foray into the series, the game does a good enough job catching you up on who Cmdr. Shepard is and who your crewmembers are on board the Normandy. You'll then go on to work as a Spectre for a mixed-species council, policing the Milky Way, going on personal missions for allies and ultimately contending with a far-flung threat known as the Collectors.
Credit: Electronic Arts