Top 10 Action Games Of The Generation

by Tim Turi on Aug 01, 2014 at 09:45 AM

The last console generation was packed with some of the greatest action games of all time. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4's life cycles were longer than any consoles before them, allowing developers to become more familiar with the powerful tech and deliver better and better games. Imaginative new IPs like Uncharted and Assassin's Creed started as demonstrations of raw potential and matured into blockbuster franchises. Long-running series like Tomb Raider received their best entries in years.

The action genre is, by definition, a fairly broad category. Games that don't obviously fit into more defined genres like shooters, sports, or RPGs tend to fall under the "action" umbrella. For example, Nathan Drake shoots tons of evil mercenaries in Uncharted, but labeling it a shooter does a disservice to the fun environmental exploration and puzzle-solving. With that in mind, by Game Informer's qualification of action games are generally third-person affairs with significantly more to them than a combat hook. As one final note, keep in mind that we limited our list to one entry per series. (Click here to explore the rest of our articles exploring last generation)

Without further ado, these are the 10 best action games of the generation.

10. Tomb Raider

Going into last generation, few would've likely guessed that Lara Croft would star in a new game worthy of this list. The indomitable explorer managed to survive a series of rough entries before Crystal Dynamics righted her path on the PS3 and 360 - Didn't Crystal do the last 3 or 4 games??. Visually stunning, the Tomb Raider reboot did an incredible job of transporting players to the mysterious, deadly island of Yamatai. Lara's ordeal in the island's wilderness and crumbing ruins is filled with intense moments like tumbling down a waterfall and escaping a collapsing ship. The visceral, bone-breaking nature of these close calls would be enough to make Nathan Drake feel like he has it easy.

9. Dead Space

Horror games dried up on consoles last generation, but Visceral's Dead Space series stood against changing trends. Isaac Clarke's fateful mission on the USG Ishimura combined the core third-person gunplay of Resident Evil 4 with the innovative ability to move while shooting (something Capcom wouldn't implement until RE 6). The winning combination gave players more control, but also inspired Visceral to make deadlier enemies. The twisted, mutated Necromorphs shake up the tired headshot-centric firefight formula by forcing players to aim for the limbs - an engaging twist that stands the test of time. Dead Space's HUD is also entirely in-universe, allowing players to immerse themselves in the nerve-fraying sci-fi nightmare. Dead Space kicked the series off on the right foot and set a high benchmark for all horror games to follow.

8. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

This PS3 exclusive is the dramatic conclusion to the iconic Solid Snake's convoluted yet entertaining story (until Kojima decides otherwise). Kojima Productions shook off the series' history of tricky cameras and quirky control schemes in exchange for a stealth game that controls like a competent third-person shooter. Snake's optic camouflage further streamlines the action, allowing the daring clone to blend with his environments instead of changing his clothes on the battlefield. These gameplay changes, along with its goofy multiple story climaxes, makes it one of the high points for the generation.

7. Batman: Arkham Asylum

Rocksteady put an end to Batman's long line of awful video games last generation in one fell swoop. The Dark Knight's perilous adventure into the deepest recesses of the lunatic-filled Arkham Asylum introduced us to a terrific story with a who's who of fun enemy cameos and groundbreaking combat. Batman's ability to fluidly battle mobs of enemies and the clever counter-attack cues made every battle a blast rather than a chore. The larger open-world sequels did a great job of expanding Gotham City, but we love Arkham Asylum's sense of Metroid-like progression that comes with unlocking new sections of the more compact madhouse. Arkham Asylum reinvented the Caped Crusader and put Rocksteady on the map with undeniable style.

6. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Ubisoft kicked off its wildly successful Assassin's Creed series last generation and delivered a staggering six core entries on last-gen hardware. Of these alternate history/sci-fi tales, Ezio's second chapter narrowly edged out AC II as the standout title. The saucy hooded Italian takes to Rome, scaling ancient ruins with a more fluid parkour system. The combat system also underwent enhancements, making it easier to string together flashy kills. Making a bad-ass character even cooler, Ezio could even sit back and call in his fellow assassin brothers to spring from haystacks and other hiding spots to take out targets. Arguments can be made for the strengths and weaknesses of each Assassin's Creed game, but Brotherhood has the fewest glaring dents in its armor.

Keep reading to see where stellar action games from Naughty Dog and Rockstar fall on our list...

5: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

The very opening sequence of Uncharted 2 lets you know this sequel blows the original out of the water. Drake clutches a bloody hand against a gunshot on his stomach as he comes to, realizing he's in a busted train car teetering over a fatal precipice. This in media res moment sets the stage for the terrible things to come for the cavalier treasure hunter. Uncharted 2 ratchets up the white-knuckle action of the original with new set pieces like escaping a building that collapses in real time and fleeing from a mysterious creature in a frozen cave. The improved controls, unforgettable moments, and Drake and Elena's charming banter make this sequel a high point for the series.

4. God of War III

Kratos is no stranger to action. The God of War himself probably can't brush his teeth in the morning without decapitating a minotaur or two. This PS3 sequel has no shortage of Chaos Blade-flailing and gratuitous evisceration. The silky smooth combat feels great on the PS3, with extra help coming from Sony's powerful hardware. This bloody romp hit all the series' key pillars, with awesome battles, platforming sequences, and environmental puzzles. God of War III even outdid the grand scale of its impressive PS2 predecessors by placing Kratos on the back of a tremendous living Titan right out of the gate. Kratos' final chapter in his revenge against the nefarious Zeus remains one of the best in the genre.

3. Grand Theft Auto V

Choosing between GTA IV and V for our list was no easy task. The former creates a convincingly diverse and detailed version of New York, while the latter offers a vast approximation of the greater Los Angeles area with tons to do and explore. GTA V tips the scale with three unique protagonists that can be swapped between on the fly, more quirky missions than you can shake a bazooka at, and the ambitious GTA Online. The stories of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor weren't quite as nuanced and relatable as Nico Bellic's, but the absurdity of their dramatic lives kept us hooked. We've all dumped hours of our lives into Los Santos and don't regret a single second.

2. Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar delivered a plethora of impressive games last generation, including the aforementioned GTA games, L.A. Noire, and Max Payne 3, but the Wild West saga of John Marston is the real sheriff in town. Rockstar's beautiful, sprawling frontier was a revelation in open-world exploration. Marston's tale of revenge is expertly delivered, but some of the real joy comes from simple activities like hunting game and helping out imperiled strangers. Red Dead also delivers one of the most memorable moments of last generation, with a moving acoustic song that kicks in as the cowboy anti-hero crosses into the Mexican wilderness. Rockstar even manages to make galloping across the plains on a horse a joy, unlike most uncoordinated video game steeds. The whole package, down to its unforgettable conclusion, is a masterwork of what video games can accomplish in terms of storytelling and open worlds.

1. The Last of Us

Much has been said about Game Informer's best PS3 game of last generation, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. The glowing conversation usually revolves around the subtle, powerful tale of a troubled man protecting a young girl in a post-apocalyptic hell, but The Last of Us boasts a combat system that's both deeply rewarding and challenging. Scavenging for constituent parts to craft Molotov cocktails and shivs feels true to Joel and Ellie's dire situation, but also offers a profound sense of hope when your back's against the wall. Naughty Dog also managed to make sneaking through Clicker-infested ruins and silently taking out deadly marauders an enjoyable stealth experience - a rare feat. These core gameplay elements combine with the moving story and gorgeous overgrown cityscapes to create an experience that's both beautiful and melancholy. The Last of Us's grim story closed out last generation by sparking hope in the bright future of video games.


Those were our top action game picks – what are yours? Sound off in the comments below, and make sure to check out our Top 10 shooter, racing, and role-playing lists.