Single player PC games for the underinitiated
August 23, 2020 3:53 AM   Subscribe

I've avoided getting into gaming because of the competitive culture and what seems like a big time commitment in building my skills to be a viable opponent. But I have had some nice experiences with indie games back in the 90s and 00s. What sorts of interesting single player PC games might I be into?

I did console gaming (e.g. Super Nintendo Zelda and Mario) and some Mac gaming (e.g. Escape Velocity and SimCity) as a kid, but never got into video games as an adult. Ironically, I did do a bit of development work on some cool indie games like Aquaria and DEFCON, which I really enjoyed. And my sense is that sort of thing is more appealing to me than AAA games. I'm looking for stuff with clever gameplay or opportunity for exploration, without the social anxiety of interacting with lots superior opponents I don't know. I might be interested in playing with some gamer friends on something cooperative or outside the traditional FPS or WoW-like mechanics.

Technical parameters

I have a new System76 Linux desktop with a Radeon RX 550 graphics card. Also a 2018 MacBook Pro (with a Windows VM) that's technically a work computer, but the distinction is less relevant now that I'm working from home for the foreseeable future. So Linux is preferred but other OSes are doable if it's not graphics-intensive.
posted by serathen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Minecraft is a lot of fun for me, for some of the same reasons that you are looking for. It's fun and immersive as a single player, and has become very open ended. You can really play it however you want, without addressing any of the 'official' goals of the game. You can set your own challenges in the game and then try and achieve them. There are also huge numbers of lets plays on youtube that show you what other people are doing.
posted by carter at 4:01 AM on August 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I rather enjoyed Subnautica, an underwater survival/mystery game. There is an end. Its not terribly graphically intense.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:30 AM on August 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Planet Zoo is the game I've been most excited about since the Sims came out 20 years ago. It has cute animals, park management, animal welfare management, cute animals, and just incredible build tools. And cute animals. It answers to the best of Rollercoaster Tycoon, Cities Skylines, and The Sims. I'm so impressed with this game and I think there's a little something for everyone (save for folks who only enjoy shooty aggro games).
posted by phunniemee at 4:51 AM on August 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

This Metafilter post from a couple weeks ago of Bennett Foddy's list of underappreciated games of the decade has a couple gems in it. I'm really smitten by Hiversaires at the moment. People seem to really love Else heart.break(), but I kind of bounced off it.

You might take a look at Buried Treasure, which dedicates itself to trolling for indie gems.
posted by clockwork at 5:16 AM on August 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Came screaming in here at a high rate of speed to recommend in no uncertain terms the game Outer Wilds. (NOT the Bethesda game Outer Worlds!) Give the trailer a watch but if you do play it, it’s best to go in as blind as possible. It’s essentially solely exploration-based, and it’s fantastic.
posted by caitcadieux at 5:56 AM on August 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm a very infrequent video game player, but I recently played A Short Hike and enjoyed it a lot. Before that I liked Night in the Woods and Kentucky Route Zero.
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 5:57 AM on August 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Factorio is a very interesting single-player game that also has some very chill cooperative multiplayer opportunities if you feel like trying that.
posted by Zonker at 6:05 AM on August 23, 2020

I'd recommend Cosmo D's excellent first-person adventure games. Chill, funny, and weird, all with amazing soundtracks. Off-Peak is the first (and free) of the series, followed by The Norwood Suite and this year's Tales From Off-Peak City Vol. 1.
posted by guywithnoear at 6:10 AM on August 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Stardew Valley fer shure

If you try Subnautica and enjoy it, you might well also enjoy open-world RPGs like Skyrim or Fallout 3 / New Vegas. Big AAA stuff --but-- no option whatsoever to play with other people and as a developer you might enjoy the mod scene even more than civilians like me.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:48 AM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm currently enjoying Into the Breach, which is an indie turn-based strategy game with a pixel art style. It seems kind of a waste of my gaming rig, yet I keep coming back to it over a pile of underplayed AAA games with fancy graphics.

It's by the same team that wrote FTL, which is also excellent.
posted by automatronic at 6:49 AM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not a big gamer but I'm a big fan of a smaller game called Don't Starve Together (which you can play alone or with others, there's also their other single player story-based Don't Starve). The name sounds scary but you're a small cartoon character acquiring resources to live in the wilderness. Think of like Sims and Minecraft. It's survival based so there's elements like cutting trees for firewood and collecting berries or trapping rabbits for food. The bosses are completely avoidable ("monsters" on a map that you can engage with or walk around). It's charming with enough complexity for players to choose how they want to play.
posted by eisforcool at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Just a note about gaming on Linux: you're probably familiar with wine, which can play a lot of Windows games in Linux, but you may also want to check out Steam's Proton, which is a fork of wine that is generally even better.

If you do feel up for some co-op I can heartily recommend Deep Rock Galactic, which is an up to 4-player co-op mission-based survival/mining game. It's really good, although my graphics card is around the same speed as your Radeon 550 and I have to lower the resolution as far as possible to get decent framerates. But it does play flawlessly in Linux using Proton! The players are pretty nice. (You can also do solo but it's much less fun.)
posted by ropeladder at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you liked the old console games, try Hollow Knight. Beautiful graphics, 2D exploration, and has save points so you can play at your own pace.
posted by Spacelegoman at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2020

My current jam is Surviving Mars, which is deeply discounted today I just noticed (it's on Steam, but not discounted there). It's from Paradox, the makers of the city-building game Cities: Skylines, and Haemimont Games, who made Tropicos 3, 4, and 5. Surviving Mars is a colony-building game-- the environment is hostile, resources are limited, and life is precious. Build equipment to recover resources, build domes, bring in colonists, make them prosper. Newer DLC allows you to terraform Mars and take down your domes. There're 6 linear tech trees to pursue, a big map to explore, and each game is loaded with a particular sponsor (which gives advantages and/or disadvantages) and a challenging scifi mystery story which kicks into action once you've got 100 colonists in your domes. It's also possible to dial the difficulty up and down the start of the game-- 100% is normal difficulty; it looks like 1075% is the current maximum. Trailer here.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:33 PM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really loved Inside.
posted by TheCoug at 8:10 PM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you like puzzles at all, my two suggestions are Portal and The Talos Project - both play great on Linux via Steam.
posted by each day we work at 12:37 PM on August 24, 2020

+1 for Inside.
posted by churl at 3:01 PM on August 24, 2020

Talos Project is a nice one; like the exquisite Portal games, it's FPS, but it's a puzzle game; you don't have to shoot anything and don't really have to run from anything.

If you like it, you may also like The Turing Test. Like portal, you use a gun to actuate puzzle elements at a distance, it's not a shooting game.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:30 PM on August 24, 2020

If you have any interest in RPGs whatsoever, I can't recommend Disco Elysium highly enough. The best-written video game I have ever played, hands down.
posted by zeusianfog at 1:32 PM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't played much since the early 00s, but aside from seconding the Portal recommendation limbo is funny, easy to play, puzzle based and not graphics intensive.

(Upon googling I've realised the previously recommended Inside is the successor to limbo, I guess I'll be trying it too!)
posted by Lucy_32 at 1:32 PM on August 25, 2020

A new game you might want to try is Spiritfarer, just released last week. It's described as a "cozy management game about death", and it is indeed quite cozy, with relaxing and satisfying gameplay that's kind of like Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, etc. The art and music are lovely, and there's no competitive aspect to the game. You sail around various islands, meeting characters, collecting resources and building things on your boat. You just also happen to be shepherding spirits to their final resting place, so, uh, there's the occasional emotional gut punch. (My experience thus far is 2-4 hours of perfectly pleasant and fun toodling around, followed by a bout of weeping when one of my spirits moves on, lather, rinse, repeat.) It's a single-player game, with the option for couch co-op for someone to control your cat companion.

If you like RPG adventure type games, and if you're willing to try one with an absurd sense of humor, I had tremendous fun playing West of Loathing. The art is basically entirely composed of stick-figures in black and white, and it's constructed almost entirely out of jokes, but if its sense of humor aligns with yours, it's a lot of fun.

Also, I haven't kept up on recent updates, but Rimworld scratched some of the same itch as SimCity or the Civ games did for me. It's a game where you crash land on a planet and have to build a colony with an assortment of colonists of varying levels of skill.
posted by yasaman at 3:28 PM on August 25, 2020

The links below are to the Steam store, you can scroll down the pages to see the requirements for you pc.

ABZU -"ABZÛ is a beautiful underwater adventure that evokes the dream of diving. Immerse yourself in a vibrant hidden world bursting with color and life as you descend into the heart of the ocean"

Firewatch - If you want something more story rich with some exploration. I don't remember the action parts to be difficult. Highly recommend " Firewatch is a single-player first-person mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio."

Return of the Obra Dinn - "In 1802, the merchant ship Obra Dinn set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods. Six months later it hadn't met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea....first-person mystery adventure based on exploration and logical deduction."

Gorogoa - would definitly fall under unique. "Gorogoa is an elegant evolution of the puzzle genre, told through a beautifully hand-drawn story designed and illustrated by Jason Roberts"

also Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles which has no fighting whatsoever, or a classic Skyrim if you don't mind combat with exploration.
posted by ljesse at 8:06 PM on August 25, 2020

One of my kids is really into indie games with good design and story elements. She showed me a game called Kentucky Route Zero, which we played together a bit. It was interesting and fun, with some not-impossible puzzles to solve, and she says it's pretty much a story you play. I've been meaning to keep playing it myself.
posted by Orlop at 5:56 PM on August 26, 2020

SuperHot is kind of an FPS but has a very novel game mechanic which allows you to think your way through battles. Graphics requirements are minimal.
posted by benzenedream at 6:33 PM on September 11, 2020

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