Glorious, full-on, ass-kicking action; these are the games you go to when you want badass heroes, big guns, chases, explosions and narrow scrapes – the sort of games that get your heartbeat racing and your stomach in a knot. Nothing beats a big action game for spectacle, excitement or blockbuster thrills, or for tests of skill and daring, yet it’s a genre that covers everything from mindless blasters to epic adventures to dazzling visions of slice-and-dice swordplay. Whether you want sci-fi, fantasy, gritty ultra violence or superheroes, there’s an action game that has you covered.
With so many greats on every platform, not to mention some amazing remakes and remasters, narrowing down to just a few games isn’t easy. We’ve gone for games that you can play right now and focused in on games that deliver all-out action, hitting you with adrenaline hour after hour.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
Magnificent, baffling and quite possibly unfinished, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is such a titan of action gaming that it’s hard to know where to begin. It delivers the stealth and gunplay that made the series famous, with enough bombast for a dozen eighties Schwarzenegger blockbusters, yet in open world settings that reward different approaches and experimentation. Sneak and snap necks? Snipe from a distance? Set ingenious traps with smutty magazines and high explosives? It’s all good. And while you poke the world to see what happens, the world pokes back, your enemies adapting to your stratagems. Systems layered on systems click into place and keep on giving, making for a game that’s smart and addictive, with a weird but compelling narrative. A monumental game on every level, The Phantom Pain rides the line between genius and lunacy in a way we might never see again.
Play it on: Xbox One, PC or PS4
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Each episode of Naughty Dog’s saga has raised the bar for cinematic action adventure, delivering the exotic locations, thrills and spills of an Indiana Jones movie, but with more gunplay and gravity-defying derring do. These are games with huge set-piece action scenes, but that take time to build characters you actually care about. The final Nathan Drake chapter gives you all the same great stuff, but with tighter combat and more scope to do things your way. When mercenary goons block your route to a lost pirate treasure, you can gun them down or play things slow and stealthy – it’s up to you. And while Uncharted 4 ups the ante for its big blockbuster sequences, with skirmishes in crumbling cities and a jaw-dropping chase, it still finds space for some free-roaming exploration and personal drama, where an angry glare seems to hurt more than a hail of bullets. If you can, play Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection first, but do play this.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
If the 2013 reboot was Lara Croft’s Casino Royale, Rise of the Tomb Raider skips Quantum of Solace and goes straight to Skyfall. This is a smarter, more confident Lara in a smarter, more confident game, with more in the way of actual tombs and temples to raid, plus a snowy wilderness that makes the survival elements fun. The combat’s great, letting Lara loose with an array of handcrafted grenades and deadly arrows against tough foes tough, while bears, wolves and mountain lions make the great outdoors a little scary. Most of all, Rise of the Tomb Raider serves up spectacle – it’s one of the best-looking games on PS4 Pro and Xbox One – while bringing in more of the exploration and puzzle solving we remember from Lara’s nineties heyday. A great Tomb Raider and a brilliant action game.
Play it on: Xbox One and PC or PS4 in the Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration bundle
Now, this is how you remake a venerated classic. The new Doom isn’t the old Doom with shiny 4K graphics. It’s hell-bent on messing with the monsters, the weapons and the settings. it has a storyline you can’t take seriously and a bonkers, glory-kill mechanic where a last-minute blow to a staggering hellspawn kills it instantly, showering you with health and ammo. Yet the new Doom has the old Doom’s attitude – it’s very soul. It’s ludicrously fast-paced, thrives on mayhem and has no time for subtlety or guile. It knows all about the joys of killing hideous monsters in equally hideous ways, and it’s packed with jump scares, gruesome scenery and opportunities to carve-up demons with a chainsaw and a smile. Big, dumb and incredibly gory, Doom is both entertaining and unrelenting. A true action great.
Play it on: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Batman: Arkham City
Look, we could argue forever about which of the first two Arkham games is best. Do you go for the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of Arkham Asylum or the scale and great set-pieces of Batman: Arkham City? Right now we’re going for the latter, just because gliding down from the rooftops to take a gang of thugs down makes you feel like the Dark Knight, and because its best moments – the Penguin’s museum, the Mr Freeze boss fight, the whole climactic run – are arguably the highlights of the series. Rather than make the biggest Gotham possible Rock Steady went for making it the most compelling, building so much personality and detail into each location, then making sure that every mission and every side-quest plays into its vision of Batman and the tale it wants to tell. Other games have borrowed the Arkham approach to stealth or block-and-counter melee combat, but Arkham City nails that authentic Batman feel. Possibly the best superhero game ever.
Play it on: Xbox One, PC and PS4 as part of the Return to Arkham collection
Gears of War 4
With Gears of War and its two sequels, Epic built the badass action games that inspired a console generation. Gears of War 4 lives up to that legacy. Give it a break for the slow start and let it find its rhythm; before you know it, you’ll be battling hordes of the Locust-like Swarm in the middle of a lightning storm or blasting screen-filling critters in the classic Gears of War style. This is a tough, all-action shooter, pushing you to make full use of cover and the most of a brutal arsenal. If you’re not under siege you’re in the middle of a massive set-piece or battling impossible odds – and that’s just the way we like it. Throw in a set of meaty multiplayer modes, including the legendary Horde mode, and Gears 4 puts the series back on track.
Play it on: Xbox One and PC
From System Shock through to Bioshock, to Deus Ex, Dishonored and their sequels, there’s a long line of thinking-person’s shooters where stealth and ingenuity are a serious alternative to gunplay. Arkane Studio’s Prey sits naturally in that lineage, putting you on an alien-infested lunar space station, then letting you discover the weapons and powers you’ll need to survive. As well as guns that immobilise enemies and construct paths and bridges from bubbles of goo, you develop alien abilities that enable you to morph into ordinary objects, control the minds of others or manipulate gravity and energy. The result? Transforming Talos-1 into a playground of invention and destruction where there are a dozen different ways to destroy your terrifying foes and you want to explore every one. If you’re looking for an action game with more upstairs, Prey is it.
Play it on: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
The Last of Us: Remastered
Other games give you combat at a distance or glamorise violence. The Last of Us makes it brutal, scary and uncomfortable to watch. It’s a searing vision of the end of the world with nods to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and The Walking Dead, following a grizzled, middle-aged tough guy, Joel, as he escorts a young woman, Ellie, on a journey west from Boston through to Utah. In your way? Ravenous mutants, government troops and feral gangs, to be avoided where possible and slain where not using scavenged arms and makeshift, botched-together weapons. The amazing thing about The Last of Us is that it balances all this horror with moments of tenderness and compassion. Combined with its prequel expansion, Left Behind, it’s still as awe-inspiring as it was on first release.
Play it on: PS4
Dark Souls is one of the greatest games ever made, but if you want action go straight for its more aggressive sibling. Effectively a Souls game in goth black leather, on a really bad trip with an attitude to match, Bloodborne dumps the shield and all that wussy blocking stuff for a combat system that rewards bold moves and an offensive strategy. And, to be frank, the inhabitants of Yarnham have it coming. If they’re not bloodthirsty cultists they’re freakish, nightmare-inducing monsters, and your cool, shapeshifting weapons are the perfect tools, each one dishing out extra damage when you change their form at the perfect time. Call it Dark Souls meets Devil May Cry in a nightmare world where you’ll die an awful lot.
Play it on: PS4
There are so many ways to play GTA 5, from exploring Los Santos to off-road racing to flying smuggling runs in stolen jets, that you don’t always remember that it’s an amazing action game. With GTA 5, Rockstar finally fixed the series’ broken gunplay, then gave us characters and missions where the violence made sense. Whether you’re taking on hostile gangs as the psychotic Trevor or handling heists as the middle-aged Michael and his protégé, Franklin, there’s plenty of scope to blast your way through San Andreas, all tied in seamlessly to the usual races, chases and stunts. Before long you’re thinking of it less as a game, and more as the world’s biggest sandbox for your make your own (Michael) Bayhem movies. Next-gen remasters and continual updates to the online game have only made GTA 5 more all-absorbing, ensuring that the most essential game of the last generation still feels cutting-edge today.
Play it on: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
While every console generation brings its share of overhyped, here today, forgotten tomorrow blockbusters, Titanfall 2 has never quite got the limelight it deserves. This is a crying shame. Like the original Titanfall it’s a fantastic multiplayer shooter, where jetpack-equipped pilots leap from rooftop to rooftop and race along walls while their colossal armoured mechs battle it out in the streets and open spaces. Squads of AI grunts and pilot-hunting robots add to the feel of a future battlefield, while special Titan capabilities and anti-Titan weapons make you feel deadly whatever scale you’re operating at. The big surprise with Titanfall 2, however, is its brilliant, inventive single-player campaign, which effortless combines influences from Half Life 2, Super Mario and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in levels where platforming and puzzle-solving figure. Titanfall 2 is the shooter you didn’t know you wanted but really ought to play.
Play it on: Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Psst, it’s free to EA Access and EA Origin Access subscribers through the vault.
Battlefield has always nailed its multiplayer. If you’re looking for large-scale battles between teams with dozens of combatants, where walls crumble under a machine-gun onslaught as tanks duel on the ground, it’s the go-to series. The single-player? Not so much. Well, by moving back through time to World War I, Battlefield 1 delivers another amazing multiplayer experience; massive in scale, chaotic in nature and more thrilling and bombastic than ever before, but also a single-player campaign that’s every bit as good. The secret sauce is its ingenious ‘War Stories’ concept that puts you in the shoes of different men in different circumstances throughout the war, making you a member of the Harlem Hellfighters on the ground in one, a British Airforce pilot in another, a solider following T.E. Lawrence through Arabia in a third. It’s a game that tries its best to put a human face on the Great War, without losing the thrills of a classic action game.
Play it on: Xbox One, PS4 and PC