Who does not love a solid action game? Franchises like Call of Duty and Bayonetta have embraced the allure of staging interactive blockbusters which bestow players with the opportunity to feel like superstars! Whether ridiculously overpowered or a clear underdog, the genre's appeal is evident for everyone to see. While the times may be a changing, most people grew up watching the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone blast their way through an entire army worth of enemies, and video games are the closest we will ever get to stepping into their shoes!
As the genre tends to interact with other game styles, action titles arrive in all shapes and sizes. Are entries within the Tales of series regarded as action games? How about a platformer like Super Mario Galaxy? As a definition may be necessary for the sake of this article: action games focus on real-time gameplay and the story tends to be nothing more than a means to experience different set pieces. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, but something like Final Fantasy X does not qualify as an action game.
We have been blessed with countless absolutely brilliant projects that throw everything and the kitchen sink at the player. Unfortunately, even if they are not terrible games in their own right, some releases fail to live up to the hype. Here are the 15 best action video games of all time (and 15 that disappointed fans)!
30 Best: Vanquish
Who better to inaugurate an article dedicated to the action genre than PlatinumGames? MadWorld and Bayonetta are among the greatest hack-and-slash titles to ever grace a console, but Vanquish remains something of an odd duck in the studio's gameography. A third-person shooter set in a futuristic Earth were resources cannot keep up with the population's demands, Vanquish is an impressive and tight thrill-ride that has yet to be surpassed by the genre. This is one of those games that makes everything else seem pedestrian by comparison!
29 Disappointing: Watch Dogs
Watch Dogs' trailer wrote a cheque that Ubisoft simply could not cash. By this point, Aiden Pearce's many failings have been well-documented, but the sad part is that Watch Dogs' gameplay is actually quite enjoyable. Hacking tends to be relegated to a mindnumbing mini-game in most titles, but Ubisoft gave players the necessary tools to cause wide-spread chaos in a massive urban playground. While the mechanics are enjoyable, the same cannot be said about the story, characters, or driving. Apparently, the damage was done, as the superior Watch Dogs 2 struggled to find an audience.
28 Best: Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
After dropping the ball with its first sequel, Devil May Cry returned to the scene with arguably the hack-and-slash subgenre's magnum opus. Set prior to the events of the original game, Dante's Awakening's combat mechanics bestow the player with seemingly endless methods to dispatch enemies, while the style meter provides constant reinforcement for the player's hard work. With a suitably over-the-top storyline and a gothic environment to explore, Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening remains the series' high-point and Devil May Cry 5 needs to be practically perfect to match its predecessor's excellence.
27 Disappointing: God Of War: Ascension
God of War III climaxed with Olympus in ruins and the world on the brink of destruction, so Santa Monica desperately needed to step away from Greek mythology. While this eventually happened with 2018's God of War, initially, the studio took a detour with a prequel set prior to the events of the first game. By itself, Ascension is not a disaster, but there was no shaking the feeling that this was nothing more than a side-story. With Kratos achieving his revenge on the gods, God of War III was definitive; as a consequence, this full-priced prequel felt closer in spirit to the PSP titles than any of the console-based entries.
26 Best: Dead Cells
Are we jumping the gun by including such a recent release? A Metroidvania action-platformer with adaptive levels that allow for endless replayability, Motion Twin's Dead Cells is destined to be hailed as a future classic! Responsive controls are a must for any decent action game, but this necessity is crucial when dealing with 2D platformers. There are still a couple of potentially brilliant titles set to come out by the end of the year; however, we cannot imagine any of them matching Dead Cells' intuitive gameplay.
25 Disappointing: Halo 5: Guardians
As Bungie disappointed fans with Destiny, 343 Industries strived to reach the lofty heights set by the Halo series. Putting aside the almost fraudulent marketing, Halo 5: Guardians shouldered the burden of being one of the only incentives to purchase an Xbox One. Unfortunately, the short and unspectacular campaign left a mostly negative impression on players, while the dumbfounding omission of a split-screen mode muddied the multiplayer's shine. For all of its shortcomings, 343's gameplay has mostly hit the mark, but the rest of the package needs to be up to scratch.
24 Best: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Established in 1998, Ubisoft's Rainbow Six is synonymous with polished gunplay and exhilarating team-based battles. Picking a single entry worthy of representing the franchise is no easy feat, but 2006's Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas might be the ideal place to start. Published towards the start of the seventh generation, Ubisoft's FPS served as a precursor t0 the genre's gradual dominion over the industry; nevertheless, few succeeding titles came close to matching Vegas' satisfying mechanics and stellar presentation. Intense and packed with more explosions than a Michael Bay film, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas makes war seem oddly fun!
23 Disappointing: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was far from flawless, but LucasArts hit gold with a fascinating premise centering around Darth Vader's Apprentice. Even if the combat suffered from a bit of floatiness, it was still undoubtedly fun to engage in lightsaber duels. Admittedly, the first game peaked with its opening mission, but there appeared to be a firm foundation capable of producing a much-improved sequel. In terms of combat, The Force Unleashed II plays better than its predecessor, but LucasArts rushed the title out of the gate and effectively ended the series.
22 Best: Batman: Arkham City
With Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Studios proved that licensed and superhero games were not predestined for awfulness. Building on the brilliant framework set by its predecessor, Arkham City tweaked the combat and threw the Dark Knight into a gorgeous open-world littered with goons to fight. With the exception of a handful of Spider-Man movie tie-ins, the Arkham trilogy is the ultimate dream come true for comic book fans. Gotham might be the worst city in the world, but it feels good to fly across the sky as history's grumpiest vigilante!
21 Disappointing: Metroid: Other M
As a counter to BioShock, Metroid: Other M's engaging combat is dragged down by a shockingly misguided plot which reduces Samus Aran into a parody of herself. Even with the more story-driven Prime trilogy, Nintendo acknowledged that actions speak louder than words, and restricted Aran to a couple of phrases. In a baffling move which nearly derailed the storied franchise, Other M's bounty hunter refuses to be quiet for even a second. This might have been forgivable if she had anything noteworthy to say, but Samus' dialogue chiefly boils down to out-of-character panicking and teenage angst.
20 Best: Ninja Gaiden Black
Sitting with an impressive 94 on Metacritic, Ninja Gaiden Black is a tough-as-nails adventure that pits the soft-spoken Ryu Hayabusa against an apparently endless carousel of dangerous humans and monsters. Devil May Cry's combat rewards stylish takedowns, but Team Ninja's release focuses more on efficiency. Fast paced and incredibly punishing, Ninja Gaiden Black is challenging on the lowest difficulty, but completing a level feels genuinely gratifying. With a surprisingly long campaign lasting more than 10 hours, Ninja Gaiden Black contains almost TOO much action for its own good!
19 Disappointing: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2
When discussing movies or games, subjectivity is always going to play a defining role. More of a tactical war simulator than an action romp, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon set the bar relatively high for its sequel, but Red Storm Entertainment fell painfully short of equaling these expectations. Dumbed down for the masses, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 is an arcade shooter masquerading as a tactical simulator, and it even struggles to work as the former. Putting aside the borderline unplayable GameCube port, Ubisoft's sequel abandoned the elements which helped the original game stand out from the crowd.
18 Best: BioShock
Due to the genre's moniker, gameplay tends to take precedent when dealing with action games. In most cases, the premise exists merely to provide an excuse to waste an entire battalion's worth of bullets; nevertheless, a fascinating storyline is not without merit. A first-person shooter set in the sunken city of Rapture, BioShock's success hinges on the atmosphere rather than the actual combat. That is not to say the gameplay is bad, but this aspect of BioShock is not the main reason that 2K Games' release was hailed as revolutionary.
17 Disappointing: Dead Island
Dead Island is best viewed as a test run for Techland's Dying Light, and as an example of the potential dangers of overhyping a product. Dead Island's trailer is the stuff of legend, but the final product could not hope to justify the hype. 2009's Left 4 Dead 2 coincides with the zombie subgenre's peak, and the industry was oversaturated with mindless FPS shooters by 2011. Dead Island's marketing promoted an experience that stood firmly above its contemporaries, but it marked the start of the end for zombie shooters.
16 Best: Far Cry 3
2012's action-adventure title was so good, Ubisoft has been trying to recapture lightning in a bottle ever since Far Cry 3 hit the market. Bolstered by one of the industry's most prominent villains, the FPS refined the franchise's core mechanics and removed some of Far Cry 2's more annoying aspects. Set in a gorgeous tropical island, players are presented with the freedom to explore the entire terrain. Nowadays, developers seem preoccupied with creating the most expansive sandbox in the business, but Far Cry 3 toed the line between quantity and quality.
15 Disappointing: Ninja Gaiden 3
How did this happen? We apologize if this comes across as hyperbolic, but Ninja Gaiden 3 is terrible. Love or hate it, DmC: Devil May Cry has the excuse of being a spin-off produced by a different developer. The same luxury cannot be afforded to Team Ninja's awful sequel. Clunky and surprisingly easy, Ninja Gaiden 3 plays more like a rip-off than a legitimate entry in the series. If someone really wants to try out the trilogy's final entry, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge grants a marginal improvement over the base game, but limit your expectations.
14 Best: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Always at the forefront of any technological improvements, Rockstar's games have the misfortune of becoming instantly dated once they are replaced by the next iteration. Grand Theft Auto III introduced an extra dimension to the iconic franchise, but San Andreas represents a confident dev studio working at the heights of its powers. Among the best releases on the PlayStation 2, Rockstar demonstrated that a well-written story should not come at the cost of enjoyable gameplay. While the later entries boast jaw-dropping graphics, San Andreas might be the most important release in Rockstar's history.
13 Disappointing: Max Payne 3
In a vacuum, Max Payne 3 is an entertaining blockbuster that benefits from Rockstar's bottomless pockets. With stunning visuals and gunplay that makes Grand Theft Auto V seem clunky, this third-person shooter deserves to be given a chance; however, fans of the series might be the least likely to enjoy the trilogy's finale. More of a character study than a Liam Neeson action vehicle, Max Payne dawned as a humble neo-noir thriller about a framed DEA agent who will stop at nothing to avenge the untimely passing of his family. If Max Payne 3 is gaming's equivalent to Taken, then Max Payne is Chinatown.
12 Best: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Naughty Dog does not know the meaning of disappointing. Serving as Nathan Drake's swansong, fans could not have asked for a better ending than Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Conceptually similar to Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, the Uncharted series has always compensated for its rudimentary gameplay with a myriad of awesome set pieces and enough charm to forgive any overlong shooting gallery. In terms of combat, A Thief's End is leaps and bounds above the PlayStation 3's trilogy, while the more emotionally-driven plot reflects the weary Drake's outlook on life.
11 Disappointing: Lost Planet 3
Lost Planet is a contender for modern gaming's least deserving big-budget trilogy. Bolstered by stunning visuals and opting for a more arcadey feel, the series' first two entries boasted many unique concepts but languished due to technical issues and uneven gameplay. Far more narrative-driven and linear, Lost Planet 3 barely resembles its predecessors! Released without much in the way of fanfare, Capcom clearly lacked confidence in the franchise's future, so Lost Planet was effectively left to rot. Ignoring its prequels, Lost Planet 3 is an average third-person shooter that only shines during its cutscenes.
10 Best: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Taking player choice to its absolute limit, Deus Ex's influence should not be understated. Sadly, the franchise only lasted one sequel before flying off the hinges, forcing fans to wait a further eight years for a revival. Luckily, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was worth the wait! Offering absolute synergy between story and game mechanics, Human Revolution manages to be both accessible and highly unorthodox. Allowing players to approach missions in any way they see fit, Square Enix showed that Deus Ex was not only a flash in the pan.
9 Disappointing: Gears Of War: Judgement
In the realm of third-person shooters, Gears of Wars stands unchallenged as the king of the hill. Spanning nearly the Xbox 360's entire lifespan, Marcus Fenix's trilogy elevated cover-based shooters into an art form. While the basic gameplay loop remained highly enjoyable, the numbered sequels varied the missions just enough to avoid the onset of boredom. Apparently, Judgment missed this memo. A prequel centering around Baird, the campaign boils down to a gauntlet of infested rooms to clear out, a fact that was not helped by the odd decision to limit the loadout to two guns! Gears of War is too big of a brand to chase trends set by Call of Duty!
8 Best: Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Speaking of Activision's lucrative property, Call of Duty is regularly used as a punching bag by "real" gamers to bash casuals. Popular enough to warrant an annual release schedule, the single-player campaigns tend to be overshadowed by the multiplayer modes; however, when it comes to the former, Call of Duty is far from a slouch. Blurring the line between realism and fantasy, Modern Warfare and its sequel captured the zeitgeist of the late 2000s. Holding up incredibly well and rightfully recognized as the brand's peak, Modern Warfare 2 is a testament to Call of Duty's potential brilliance.
7 Disappointing: Dead Space 3
Electronics Arts deserves every ounce of criticism flung its way. Dead Space was not meant to be an explosive action series which could compete with the industry's biggest moneymakers; no, Visceral Games simply put together an intense experience with some decent shooting mechanics. Dead Space 2 ramped up the action but managed to stick the landing, but the same cannot be said for 2013's followup. A noisy co-op shooter that alienated original fans and failed to impress newcomers, Dead Space 3 marked a disappointing conclusion to a promising franchise that seemed to have all the elements in place to stand alongside Resident Evil.
6 Best: Just Cause 2
With the Just Cause games, Avalanche Studios distilled the action genre to its purest form. Even though the first and third entries have their fair share of problems, the series' core appeal has remained consistent. Set in a huge sandbox with gameplay revolving around blowing everything up, Just Cause 2 is simply fun. Sure, the story might be laughably bad, but Rico Rodriguez's missions are merely an excuse to go commando on an island's inhabitants. If a child was asked to describe their ideal action game, Just Cause 2 would be it.
5 Disappointing: Dynasty Warriors 9
Describing Omega Force's misguided sequel as merely disappointing is the understatement of the year. In an attempt to spice up the Musou formula, Koei Tecmo opted to turn Dynasty Warriors 9 into an open-world. The switch proved ill-advised. Replacing condensed levels packed with fast-paced combat with a sprawling but empty map, Dynasty Warriors 9 shows that size really does not matter! Omega Force put together a decent sandbox for Dragon Quest Heroes and its sequel, so Dynasty Warriors 9's terribleness is genuinely baffling.
4 Best: Resident Evil 4
In life, there are only a couple of sure bets, and the chances of Capcom re-releasing Resident Evil 4 on the newest consoles is one of them. Dialing up the action without sacrificing the horror elements that defined the franchise's earlier entries, Resident Evil 4 is a masterpiece. Polished to an insane degree, we do not even need an excuse to replay this classic! As the sequels have proven, Capcom frequently struggles to strike the right balance between B-movie set-pieces and genuine scares, but Shinji Mikami celebrated the end of his Resident Evil run with style.
3 Disappointing: Call Of Duty: Ghosts
Currently sitting at 15 main releases, the laws of averages dictates that a mediocre Call of Duty must exist. A reasonable argument can be presented for anything published after Black Ops II, but 2013's Ghosts marked the brand's first big blunder. Replacing the present day with a futuristic setting, Infinity Ward transitioned from trend-setters to followers, as Ghosts reeks of unoriginality. Regardless of the fantastical plot that features multiple levels in space, Ghosts' campaign goes through the motions of what is expected out of a Call of Duty game. The multiplayer is not among the franchise's best, while the heavily marketed dog barely adds anything to the story.
2 Best: God Of War II
Honestly, any numbered God of War game deserves a place on this list, but Santa Monica's second entry embraced Kratos' violent nature and established the franchise as a Sony headliner. In hindsight, the original God of War suffers from some pacing issues, but the sequel's campaign is perfect! As this was prior to God of War III, Kratos was yet to become an irredeemable monster, but the writing was definitely on the wall. At their core, action games exist to serve as wish-fulfillment, and God of War II is the ultimate power fantasy!
1 Disappointing: DmC: Devil May Cry
Ninja Theory's spin-off is hardly the worst thing to ever happen to the genre, but DmC: Devil May Cry suffers from a genuinely terrible storyline that drags the entire experience into the toilet. Capcom's franchise has always been somewhat silly, but Dante's happy-go-lucky characterization suited the anime stylings which pervaded the ridiculous narratives. Ninja Theory's Dante is a poor imitation of the original, and the hack-and-slash gameplay cannot hold a candle to Devil May Cry 4. The definitive edition fixed most of the base game's issues, but it was too little too late.