SLIDESHOW

10 low-impact PC games that just let you chill

Sometimes you want to play dark and gritty games. Other times you need only a quick break from your routine. That's just what these 10 titles deliver.

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Sit, relax, and play

Some games consist of grueling tasks, dark stories, and violent events in which your favorite characters might perish. In these games, half the fun is wrapped in mastering intricate details and unraveling mysteries. We dig those kinds of games. Sometimes. But after a hard day in the classroom or on the job, those kinds of games can seem like more of the same.

The following games are just the opposite. Think of them as respites for the weary-minded. They don’t require hours to master before becoming fun—the fun starts the moment you start them up, whether you have 10 minutes or the whole weekend ahead of you.

We start with a game that immerses you in a therapeutic, cathartic activity—lighting stuff on fire.

Little Inferno

The ambiguously dark story of Little Inferno is easy to ignore when all you want to do is burn stuff. Don’t get caught up in what’s going on in the outside world; just enjoy your cozy, personal fireplace.

Start burning things, and find yourself hypnotized as the realistic fire effects consume everything in sight. Every once in a while burnt objects will drop coins, which you can use to purchase bigger and better items to burn. It’s every nine-year-old’s dream!

The goal here is to burn specific combinations to complete challenges (such as roasting corn on the cob and then a TV to complete the Movie Night challenge). The trials become tougher and more creative as you progress.

Just Cause 2 Multiplayer

Just Cause 2 isn’t the most relaxing experience, with its expansive environment and endless quests to complete. The newly released and entirely free multiplayer mod, on the other hand, delivers insane and open-ended fun.

There are no goals, no tasks, and no missions. You spawn on the map in a complete free fall, with as many as a thousand other players enjoying a giant sandbox of crazy. Join a race or a destruction derby, steal a plane and land it on a highway—with your buddy riding up top. Or just run around like a madman and shoot everyone in sight.

If you find yourself wondering, “What am I supposed to do now?” you’re playing it wrong.

Audiosurf

Can’t decide if you want to listen to tunes or play a game? Why not do both? Audiosurf plays your very own music library (or the one that’s included) as you surf on a light wave, F-Zero style, collecting and dodging colored boxes.

The game’s difficulty depends on the tempo and complexity of the song that’s playing. Fast songs mean a quicker track, and more beats mean plenty of shapes to collect or avoid. Collect similar colors to rack up a higher score, if you’re honestly trying, or just cruise along to the music. You really can’t lose.

The psychedelic graphics, along with your favorite song blaring through your headphones, provide the perfect way to unwind after a long day.

Game Dev Tycoon

Running a business needn’t be stressful, full of life-or-death decisions and nail-biting money-management chores. With Game Dev Tycoon, you can start a game company in your garage and see how far it goes.

This game puts you in the shoes of a budding game developer, fresh with ideas and a brand-spanking-new ’80s PC, ready to create the next classic (think Pong or Donkey Kong). Choose a genre, topic, and platform, and then allocate your available resources. Which is more important, pretty graphics or sophisticated gameplay? You get to decide.

Make good choices, and you can hire more staff, move out of the garage into an actual office, and score sweet, lucrative publishing deals.

Scribblenauts Unlimited
Scribblenauts Unlimited

If you can dream it, you can probably make it in Scribblenauts Unlimited.

The point of the game is to solve puzzles with your magical notebook that can create anything. But when you possess that kind of power, you might prefer to jump straight into coordinating epic duels between Cthulhu and a giant pink robot.

You can create everything from a black-hole gun to a sports-car-driving cow, using adjectives, attitudes, and attributes. You can change sizes and colors of certain aspects, too. Or, if you’re lazy, visit the Steam Workshop to download user-created items free of charge.

Osmos
Osmos

Osmos is the perfect game to play right before you hit the sack. You control a weightless orb floating around a large field, collecting smaller “motes” (bubble-like single-celled organisms).

Absorbing smaller motes helps you grow larger. Run into one bigger than you, however, and you’ll be the one consumed, ending the game and completing the circle of hostile cellular life. Your only defense is to expel motes to propel yourself through the environment and away from threats. But don’t shed so many that you become too small to absorb new ones.

Shatter

If you enjoyed the classic game Breakout, you’ll dig the innovative, high-fidelity gameplay that Shatter offers.

The object of the game is deceptively simple: Bounce a ball off your Pong-style paddle to break all the bricks without letting the ball touch the side.

The paddle can suck the ball in and blow it back out to guide it. You can also collect power-ups and shoot fragments of the broken blocks from a machine gun. It’s a simple game, evolved. For more details, see PCWorld's review.

Universe Sandbox

You get to explore the stars in Universe Sandbox, and then make a mess of them—as long as you abide by the laws of physics.

Load realistic simulations of our solar system or nearby galaxies, and then alter any property you want. Make the moon’s gravity equal to Jupiter’s. Send Mars spinning in the opposite direction. Add a couple of meteors to the mix. Now sit back and watch your handiwork. Chances are good that you’ll end up with some serious space dust.

It’s a fun and simple simulation that takes the edge off of completing goals and finding checkpoints. Just do what you want. After all, you are the master of the universe.

PixelJunk Eden

Jump gracefully from one plant to the next, collecting pollen that activates even more plants that let you jump higher. The simple, colorful graphics, along with the soft, swaying motion of the plants and the whimsical soundtrack, make PixelJunk Eden a game to lose yourself in.

Once you make progress in the first stage, or “garden,” you earn a “Grimp” that grants you the Spider-Man-like ability to swing from plants with a tether.

Trap docile enemies in your Grimp to collect more pollen. In no time, the game motion will feel so natural that you’ll breeze through the game’s fanciful gardens with all the grace of a Cirque du Soleil performer.

Poker Night 2
Poker Night 2

There’s nothing like a round of cards with your buddies to recover from a tough week on the job. A cold brew, a fresh stogie, and a bowl of salty snacks will help, but it’s your companions who really make the night. And Poker Night 2 certainly provides a fun bunch.

Start off with a modest buy-in and then play Texas Hold ’Em or another old favorite. Win tournaments to unlock achievements and get custom skins for the table, chips, and cards.

Enjoy the witty banter between your guests: Sam and Max (from Sam & Max), Brock Samson (from The Venture Bros.), Ash Williams (from The Evil Dead), and Claptrap (from Borderlands). The best part? Your dealer is none other than GLaDOS, the homicidal AI from Portal.