Updated: Thirty great games you can play on a Netbook (photos)

You knew all along Netbooks were not made for gaming. Still, somewhere along the way, the thought crept in--maybe I can find some games that'll run on this wimpy Intel Atom processor and integrated graphics...

Dan Ackerman
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Dan Ackerman
1 of 30

Deus Ex

Since a new sequel was briefly spotted at the 2010 E3 video game trade show, it's worth a look back at the original Deus Ex game, currently available on Steam for a $10 (and sometimes discounted to $5). Despite the dated graphics, this 2000 action/stealth/RPG hybrid is still considered one of the greatest PC games ever made.
2 of 30

Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper

Frogware's ongoing collection of Sherlock Holmes games manages to (mostly) nail the writing and voice acting, and the most recent episodes let you jump between first-person and third-person views on the fly. It's normally $20 on Steam, but we found it on sale recently for $10.

Note that this is one of a handful of games on this list that are meant for premium Netbooks with upgraded graphics, such as the Nvidia Ion or ATI Radeon HD 4225.

3 of 30 OnLive


Want to play current A-list PC games, such as Borderlands or Splinter Cell: Conviction on a Netbook? We got the new OnLive streaming game service up and running on an entry level Netbook, even though the system reqs suggest a dual-core CPU.

See our hands-on feature for more details, but this may be the biggest thing to hit Netbook gaming ever.

4 of 30 GoG.com


A classic point-and-click adventure game, Syberia set the standard for PC mysteries for years. The original still looks great, and plays well on Netbooks. It's available as a DRM-free download for $10 from GoG.com.
5 of 30 Telltale

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent

Federal agent Nelson Tethers runs the US Department of Puzzle Research, and is often sent on Professor-Layton-style quests to decipher puzzles and solve mysteries. This new game, from the makers of the Sam & Max series, runs a bit slow on a standard Netbook (although the deliberately lo-res animation hides that most of the time), but works great on Premium Netbooks with Nvidia's Ion GPU. The downloadable PC version of Puzzle Agent is $10, available directly from the publisher.
6 of 30 Valve


Another PC gaming classic made available via the Steam online service for only $9.99. Easily one of the best first-person shooters of all time, and hugely influential. Runs great on a Netbook, and you'll never look at crowbars the same way again.
7 of 30 Armor Games

Crash the Castle

Browser-based games are always good for Netbook players on the go. Finding a good one in this very crowded field is always tough, but we've been enjoying the heck out of this free physics-based game, where you use a catapult to knock down increasingly complex castles. Also available as an iPhone app.
8 of 30 Runic Games


Cool Diablo-style action RPG that scales well for low-end machines. It even has a "Netbook Mode" check box in the settings menu (but too many enemies on screen at once can cause slowdown if you don't have an Ion Netbook). Available from a variety of online sources, including Steam.
9 of 30 Activision

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

The first entry in the classic adventure game series about a detective-turned-paranormal-investigator. Best known for its sharp writing, New Orleans flavor, and over-the-top turn by Tim Curry as the title character, Sins of the Fathers is a great example of a game that benefits from the small screens and low resolutions of Netbooks (on a big HD monitor, it just turns into a pixelated mess). One of the new Activision/Sierra games available DRM-free from GoG.com for $5.99.

Note that this game was also on our previous list of Five Classic Adventure Games that should be Re-released as Digital Downloads.

10 of 30 Activision


A steampunk RPG from 2001, Arcanum is a cult favorite, thanks to its gigantic open-ended world. Like many of the classic games here, it looks a bit dated by today's standards, but it perfectly suited for low-power Netbook gaming. Available as a DRM-free download from GoG.com for $5.99.
11 of 30 Valve

Aliens versus Predator Classic 2000

Sega has a new AvP game about to hit store shelves, but it's tough to beat the original creepy classic from a decade ago. Play as a human, an alien, and as a Predator in this new version that's been tweaked to run on modern PCs. The original's multiplayer mode is currently missing, but on the plus side, it's only $4.99 via Steam.
12 of 30 Pop Cap

Plants vs. Zombies

An addictive take on the tower defense genre--easily one of the most fun casual games ever. Available on Steam or direct from PopCap for $9.99.
13 of 30 Blizzard Entertainment

World of Warcraft

The world's most popular MMO isn't exactly a natural fit for Netbooks, but it does run if all the graphics settings are turned down. The full client is available as a download, which is great for systems like Netbooks without an optical drive. Recommended for Nvidia Ion Netbooks.
14 of 30 id Software

Quake Live

Years ago, hardly a day would go by without enterprising office drones jumping into an intra-office Quake III match in the middle of the day. This free, browser-based version of the game is an amazing simulation, and works on nearly any PC. Play it online at QuakeLive.com.
15 of 30

Alien Shooter 2/Zombie Shooter 2

Part of a line of new 2D, top-down (isometric, actually) action RPGs, these blood-soaked games are great fun, and easy to play even on low-power machines. Both are available for $5.99 to $9.99 on Steam.
16 of 30 Bethesda Game Studios

Fallout/Fallout 2

Sure, Fallout 3 is one of the best open-world RPGs we've ever played, but the original 2D Fallout games were also great, and known for their sly humor and engaging characters (even if the control interface seems needlessly clunky today). Both are available as DRM-free downloads for $5.99 at Good Old Games.
17 of 30 Zynga


With more than 70 million active players, this might be the biggest online game of all time, and it has helped legitimize Facebook as a gaming platform. Check it out here. (Coincidentally, my better half has some FarmVille tips and tricks here.)
18 of 30 Piranha Bytes

Gothic II

No matter how much you tweak the settings, the current hot epic RPG, Dragon Age, isn't going to run on a Netbook. However, Gothic II is a well-remembered open-world sword-and-sorcery RPG that will (if you turn everything all the graphics settings to low). Available as a DRM-free download from Good Old Games for $9.99.
19 of 30 Raven Software

Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

A completely kick-ass first-person shooter that makes up for the dozens of poor Star Wars games released over the years. Available for $9.99 on Steam. Recommended for Nvidia Ion Netbooks.
20 of 30 Zynga

Mafia Wars

While also available on MySpace and the iPhone, the Facebook version of Mafia Wars is where it's at. It's a simple turn-based text RPG, but a surprising hit for a sub-genre that was thought to have died out in the era of MUDs.
21 of 30 Pop Cap

Bejeweled Twist

The ubiquitous match-three series of games is on every device and platform from iPhones to Facebook. The easy to get Web-based version is also available to download.
22 of 30 ASC Games


A great classic 1998 point-and-click adventure, Sanitarium was recently re-released as a $9.99 DRM-free download from Good Old Games.
23 of 30 Her Interactive

Nancy Drew series

This long-running PC game series has managed to stay popular, despite not making many changes to its graphics or interface over the past decade. In fact, these games are expressly designed to appeal to non-gamers, by running on almost any hardware. These are $14.99-$19.99 on Steam.
24 of 30 Revolution Software

Beneath a Steel Sky

An excellent mid-'90s point-and-click adventure. While the graphics may look primitive by today's standards, it's available as a free download from Good Old Games.
25 of 30


This indie-game favorite is available for PCs and also for the Xbox 360. Besides being a new game, as opposed to a re-released classic, it's also an interesting, dark take on the classic platform game genre. Get it for $9.99 on Steam.
26 of 30 Pop Cap


The only problem with this addictive puzzle game is that your mom is probably better at it than you are. Play it in a browser-based version or download it from PopCap.
27 of 30 Ninja Kiwi Games

Bloons Tower Defense

Crazy monkeys and balloon-popping -- what more could you ask for in a tower defense game? There are a ton of these games available online, but this Web-based one is an off-kilter favorite. Play it online at developer Ninja Kiwi's site.
28 of 30 Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto 2

Rockstar Games has made some of its classic titles available as free downloads, including the excellent GTA 2, which is played from a top-down view, but will be surprisingly familiar to modern GTA fans.
29 of 30


The latest social-network gaming hit is basically little more than a social virtual pet, but it's worth playing just for the insane theme song--you'll be humming it all day. Find it on Facebook.
30 of 30

Duke Nukem 3D

An early 3D classic that still provides tons of great one-liners and pop culture in-jokes. Sure, your Netbook can run even new shooters, but this is a great excuse to go back and relive this classic. Get it for $5.99 at Good Old Games.

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