Much like adventure games, the term “action game” can be frustratingly broad. Almost every game contains action of some description, otherwise they would be pretty boring. Still, we’ve decided to define an action game as one that focuses on high-adrenaline situations where you’re on your feet with fast-paced battles and plenty of intense moments. Explosions, blood and guns should be everywhere for a really great action experience.
If you’re looking for something a little less intense, try our ranking of the best adventure games instead.
If it’s intense action you’re after, it’s hard to go wrong Downfall. The first reboot in 2016 and this 2020 sequel perfectly capture the power fantasy of being an unstoppable super soldier. The denizens of hell don’t stand a chance when you rip and tear their limbs from their bodies. You’ll build up a large arsenal of weapons that are all useful in different ways, meaning you’ll be constantly switching between them all as you systematically take out all the enemies trying to end your killing spree.
This game is arguably as brutal as Downfall, except it takes a top-down perspective, so there’s not quite as much gore. Figuring out how to infiltrate a mansion filled to the brim with armed guards is a rewarding experience, but this is no stealth game. You want to kick down the door – probably bust someone with it as you do – grab the nearest weapon and unleash hell on anyone who heard the commotion.
Zombie games are great for action, as you can brutally slaughter endless waves without a care in the world. The whole point of a zombie horde is lots of weak enemies overwhelming you with numbers, which is always going to get your blood pumping. Whether you choose to run away, charge in with a chainsaw, or use more creative methods, encountering the undead where you can never feel safe is always an amazing ride.
This 2D samurai simulator will make you feel like a villain of the highest proportions. With clever setups and enemy patterns, you have to be extremely careful how you slice and dice everyone in the room, and it requires a lot of quick reactions and last-second clutches. This is enhanced by a dedicated slow motion button – a feature that all action games need – where you can bounce bullets at your attackers simply by hitting them with your sword.
Any game that gives you a dedicated “chaos” score has to be a pretty fun action game. Sometimes you just want a huge playground that lets you blow things up, and this is it Reason 3 only gives you. With an almost endless amount of destructive toys, the only limit to what you can do is your imagination as you fly around a military base blowing up anything and everything in sight.
With a bunch of different weapons and all sorts of weird and wonderful abilities at your disposal, Hades always pushing you to try something new. Fortunately, the “something new” in question always involves fighting your way through the monsters of the underworld. Hades’ the combat system is so refined that every hit you land feels satisfying, plus you have almost complete control over how challenging you want it to be.
Downfall might be a demon-hunting gorefest too, but everyone knows swords are cooler than guns. This game is about as smooth and stylish as hack-and-slashes get where just about every match is memorable for one reason or another. Plus, with three characters – all of whom play differently – you’ll constantly mix up your playstyle so the action never feels the same.
Ever since Assassin’s Creed series transformed into a full RPG, old stealth tactics have become far less important. This has hit the top with Valhalla where, as a raging and marauding Viking, being sneaky isn’t exactly in your wheelhouse. But that’s okay, because it turns out it’s just as fun to enter a castle while wielding two-swing battleaxes and slaughtering your way through the entire English army.
If you are looking for multiplayer action then Towerfall Ascension is one of the most intense, skillful and overall exciting games you will ever play. Even if it’s just annoying to have local multiplayer, it’s worth getting some friends in the same room to play it because you’ll be yelling and screaming at each other with excitement in no time. The nature of archery-based combat makes for so many near misses and clutch plays during rounds that are usually less than a minute long.
GTA 5 and GTA Online has stuck around so long for a reason. The single player mode is still a great playground that allows you to have all kinds of chaotic adventures despite a more grounded setting than something like Downfall. Meanwhile, the multiplayer is easily one of the best of all time, provided you can get a good session in. Whether you want races, mini-games or an all-out war between your fellow players, GTA 5 gladly gives.
Written by Ryan Woodrow on behalf of GLHF.