Not many people will be offended by the suggestion that the Chromebook is not a gaming machine. Google’s nifty ChromeOS devices are designed to work and web browse at zippy speeds thanks to their super-lightweight operating systems that rely on cloud storage rather than cumbersome local processing. But gaming? Not really.
However, thanks to certain games’ ability to be played from browsers and increasing support for Play Store apps, there are some great titles that you’ll be amazed will work on your Chromebook, as well as a host of decent dedicated ChromeOS games. Here are our favorites.
Gaming minimalism in its finest form. Agar.io doesn’t look like much – a smattering of primary-colored circles floating around on what appears to be a sheet of graph paper. Start playing, however, and it’s a viciously compelling online battle for survival.
You control a circle, guiding it around a large plain expanse in a bid to consume circles of a smaller size (controlled by other players) while avoiding being munched by circles bigger than yourself. That’s it. You can cough up some money for in-game skins and so on, but the game can just as easily be enjoyed for free, so give it a try.
2. Fallout Shelter
A lot of Chromebooks now feature support for Play Store apps and Play Store games, so we’ve decided to start introducing games to our list that are proven to be playable on Chromebooks this way. If you need help with this, you can read our guide on how to install Android apps on your Chromebook.
One of the best options on this front is Fallout Shelter, the side-on spinoff of the main Fallout series which tasks you with building and managing a nuclear bunker in that game world. It plays great and looks wonderful using those distinctive 50s-style cartoon graphics players will recognize from the Pip-Boy.
3. Super Hexagon
Thanks to the generosity and ingenuity of the good people at Humble Bundle, Super Hexagon can be played in your browser. In this wonderful minimal action game, you’re a little arrow moving to a beat and trying to stay alive in an ever-shifting landscape of neon colors, fractal shapes and spinning bars. It’s quick, compelling, and makes your head spin in the best possible way. You can either buy it directly or try the demo here.
4. FTL: Faster Than Light
One of the best indie games to emerge on PC can actually be played on your Chromebook if you get the Humble Store version and play it via the Humble Web Player. (As with Super Hexagon, you can try the demo first.) FTL tasks you with keeping the crew members of a spaceship alive as they traverse the cosmos. It’s a permadeath game, so once you lose, you lose a member for good, but that won’t stop you from coming back for more.
Clash of Clans meets Civilization in this complex-looking, but surprisingly accessible, online strategy game. The goal in Dominus is to expand your dominion by conquering rival players and gathering resources from the randomly-generated terrain. If you fantasize about being an expansionist feudal lord but don’t want to deal with the complexity of deeper strategy games, then give this one a look.
Is it safe to assume you’ve all heard of this one? One of the first true 3D first-person shooters continues to be revered today for its simple, speedy gameplay and timeless multiplayer option. The good news is that this fan-made ChromeOS version has all of that including multiplayer. It’s amazing how satisfying it still is to glide around Quake’s murky corridors decimating grunts into lumpy polygonal giblets.
One of the better-rated games on ChromeOS, this isometric hack-&-slasher does a fairly good impression of a Diablo game – loot, kill, level up, loot some more. Sure, it obviously doesn’t have the gloss of Blizzard’s classic dungeon crawler, but for a ChromeOS freebie you really can’t complain. It has multiplayer, too!
Spelunky is, in my eyes, a necessity in everyone’s game collection. The permadeath, randomly-generated mineshaft crawler is a goldmine of unexpected events, crazy mishaps and hilarious situations as you work your way towards stealing the fabled treasure. This is based on the less-pretty 2008 version and not the more recent remake, but the systems and mechanics are all there.
9. Democracy 3
Another game that can be played on your browser through the Humble Store is Cliff Harris’ Democracy 3. Played through an interconnected web of bubbles representing various government policies and social issues, it’s a simple-looking game that tasks you with running your own country. So if think you can do a better job than Donald Trump, give it a try.
10. Gunslugs 2
If you’ve heard of ’80s action-hero-flavoured 2D shooter Broforce, then you kind of know what to expect from Gunslugs 2. (Though admittedly, it’s not quite as good.) It’s an irreverent 2D shooter casting you as ripoffs of your favourite action heroes, shooting and blasting your way through levels of squealing pixellated baddies. Wholesome, silly fun.
There’s a trend for digital card games at the moment, and Duelyst is among the best of them. You can play the official browser-based version for free. Matches take place on a rectangular grid with each player using their decks of minions, spells, artefacts and generals to try and outwit their opponent.
12. Town of Salem
Ever played the party game Mafia after a couple of bottles of wine at a dinner party? The browser-based Town of Salem is much along the same lines, and you don’t need to be inebriated to have fun with it. Play with a whole bunch of players online and try to work out who’s killing locals at night. (Or if you’re the killer, try not to get caught.) Devilishly deceitful.
Not exactly a game but a portal into a whole world of them (which is kind of better, right?), VBA-M is a Game Boy Advance emulator for ChromeOS that works perfectly and lets you play classic games like Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion and Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. Check out my article on emulators to find out about all the legal details surrounding emulation.
The Chromebook isn’t your typical gaming machine, but with a growing number of games becoming available in browser-based form and the ability to use Android apps and games coming soon, it’s slowly coming into its own. Are you a Chromebook gamer? What are your picks?
This article was first published in April 2017 and was updated in April 2018.