The best action-adventure games capture the thrill of an expedition ever since Indiana Jones swung across a chasm with his trusty whip to retrieve an idol from a booby-trapped tomb. The PC boasts some true classics of the genre, from classic tomb raiding to games with enough exploration to fill an entire sandbox – not the one in your backyard.
This list has some of the best PC games ever made, action-adventure or otherwise, including several titles that changed the gaming industry. The original Uncharted trilogy isn’t here, as emulation or PlayStation Now doesn’t count, but we’d happily change our minds if it ever came to PC. Here’s the definitive list of the best action-adventure games.
The best action-adventure games are:
A gritty Lara Croft origin story that takes huge inspiration from Uncharted should have been a terrible idea, especially after the well-received (but poorly selling) Underworld, but developer Crystal Dynamics made it work. While most of the challenges Lara experiences should have killed her – like that rusty nail through the stomach – they give the game emotional weight and shock value.
The gameplay is the perfect mix of combat, exploration, climbing, and puzzle solving, all of which you want to see in spades from an action-adventure game. The story is so gripping that the 2018 Tomb Raider movie practically copied it wholesale. The climbing feels more tactile and natural than many other games in the genre, and the combat is entertaining without overwhelming the game and really drives home the struggle Lara goes through. Then there are the incredible Challenge Tombs – fantastic, well-designed puzzle rooms that evoke the earlier games in the series.
The original 1996 Tomb Raider created the genre, but some might say the 2013 reboot perfected it. Just don’t mention the movie.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The Assassin’s Creed series goes full adventure-mod with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which not only represents an excellent open-world game, it’s also a great Viking game as well. You play as Eivor, a Viking raider caught up in the political upheavals of 9th-century Scandinavia. While a surprising amount of the game takes place in Norway, the lion’s share occurs in England during the great heathen invasion that brought Alfred the Great to prominence.
While there is a meta plot in the present day and the usual Templars vs. Assassins stuff happening in the past, what we’re really here for is to live out our Viking dreams to the fullest. There is a settlement you can build up and manage, but you can also take out your longship to go raiding coastal and river settlements and just embark on good old-fashioned horseback raids as well. Anything a Viking can do, you can do, and Valhalla lets you revel in that completely. The ending is a bit bonkers, mind.
Resident Evil 4 Remake
How do you improve on what’s widely considered the best game in a series? This is the question that Resident Evil 4 Remake answers with style. It has its issues, but perhaps the biggest question answered by our Resident Evil 4 Remake review is if its most important set pieces in the classic survival horror game are still there. The answer is yes. It still follows the same path the original did, right down to the bit where you throw spears at a giant fish in the lake.
Arguably, its masterstroke is in what the remake changes. Resident Evil 4 Remake mixes up panicked shootouts, thrilling action scenes, and tense puzzle-solving while adding new sections for Ashley and new boss encounters to replace some of the more boring encounters in the original.
And, just like the original, it all begins with an assault on a house by weird villagers – very similar to Night of the Living Dead – followed shortly thereafter by a fight for survival as you hear the hideous sound of a chainsaw cutting through your defences. The audio and visual design is incredible, and even though the parts where you defend Ashley from infected villagers are still annoying, Resident Evil 4 Remake at least tries its best to make it more manageable.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Licensed games were a joke before Batman: Arkham Asylum. Publishers picked up IPs and crapped out a game to make a quick buck. Then Rocksteady came along and raised the bar forever.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is, arguably, perfection in game design. By keeping Batman confined to Gotham’s most iconic location, Rocksteady had full freedom to carefully design every inch of the Asylum so you flow through its rooms beautifully, the dark architecture being one of the most daunting characters in the game.
The Metroidvania-style gameplay fits perfectly with Batman’s inventory, too, and the setting gave the perfect excuse to bring in a range of iconic villains. Who can forget the first time they encountered The Scarecrow? The fact that Rocksteady cast many actors from Batman: The Animated Series and hired veteran comics writer Paul Dini is just the icing on an astoundingly delicious and multi-layered cake. A bat cake? Battenberg? Whatever.
A big part of what makes Arkham Asylum brilliant is the beautiful rhythm of the combat, which every third-person action-adventure has to rip off now – such as Marvel’s Spider-Man. Other action-adventure games may be bigger, but little else is better than the first Arkham game.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Many action games with ensemble casts would have you play as each character throughout the game, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy keeps a narrow focus. As Star-Lord, you can bark orders at your team while supporting them as a good leader should, rather than take control of the fight as an overpowered hero with sidekicks chipping away.
In our Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy review, we also praise the story as it “mostly nails the quirky tone and characters that Marvel fans will be hoping for”. The superhero game also has an excellent soundtrack filled with licensed music, even if the randomised tracks sometimes manage to turn the most dramatic fights into “fittingly off-beat” moments.
Psychonauts 2 is, according to our review, better than the first. It skirts the line between action-adventure and platformer with its memorable characters and a superb story. While we don’t get to see some of the campers at Whispering Rock, we do meet Dogen’s grandfather, and let’s say they share some rather explosive personality traits.
The real joy, though, is discovering Psychonauts 2’s bizarre and highly imaginative levels, from a TV game show where you must impress goats with your culinary creations to a library filled with sentient pictures from books. By far, the best level is the PSI King’s Sensorium, which is set in a music festival with more colours and trippy visions than The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Psychonauts 2 was well worth the wait, but hopefully, we don’t have as long to wait for the next one.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monolith used to be known for first-person games such as F.E.A.R. and Condemned, but the studio really took it up a notch when attacking the action-adventure game genre, much like a Ranger stabbing an orc through the head. Monolith’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor competes with the best of them, and it’s thanks to one word: Nemesis.
The Nemesis system Monolith introduced with its Lord of the Rings prequel allowed orcs to bear grudges and even become mortal enemies. If any enemy kills you, even a random grunt, they’ll make a name for themselves and be a far tougher threat the second time.
Shadow of Mordor is a mix of Assassin’s Creed’s exploration and climbing with Batman’s stealth and combat, and it works perfectly. Then, halfway through, the game suddenly introduces the ability to recruit orcs so you can create your army, making it feel like a completely different and fantastic game.
Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection
Uncharted 4 focuses on a more personal story than usual, with Nathan Drake forced back into the world of thievery after retiring from fortune hunting. Drake soon sets off with his brother, Sam, to find the long-lost treasure of Captain Henry Avery aboard the Libertalia.
Much like the other games in the series, you’ll face off against other tomb raiders in intense gunfights while navigating deadly traps and perilous obstacles. This game also introduces the grappling hook, allowing you to close in on enemies or snatch their weapons from them before they attack you. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a white-knuckle ride and gives you a taste of more adventures in the past and future. This collection also comes with the standalone DLC featuring Nathan’s mate, Chloe Frazer, as she attempts to find the Golden Tusk of Ganesh to keep it out of the hands of a warmonger.
The supernatural action-adventure game from Remedy pairs the studio’s trademark free-flowing third-person combat with its strongest storytelling. You play through a secretive agency headquarters and investigate an otherworldly threat known as the Hiss. Described in our Control review as “a gripping descent into something between alternate history and fever dream, realised beautifully in audiovisual flair.”
Control focuses on adventure over action, with combat mostly there to break up exploration and narrative. There’s a sprinkling of puzzles to gain access to new areas and a challenging checkpoint system that demands your knowledge of The Agency’s map. You play as Jesse, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Control, and it’s your job to figure out what the source of the Hiss invasion is while also unravelling the mystery of your past. Character upgrades let you specialise in different skills, such as bumping your health pool or making your telekinetic powers even more devastating. Your arsenal grows as you progress through the game, and you’ll accumulate supernatural items such as a revolver with infinite ammunition that can change between a sniper rifle, shotgun, pistol, or machine gun in an instant.
What Control absolutely nails, however, is a strong sense of place. The Bureau’s headquarters is a shapeshifting labyrinth of eerie corridors and pristine board rooms that feels utterly convincing despite the fantastical paranormal activity you encounter there. Snippets of the story are scattered everywhere in the form of radio programs, TV shows, case files, interview recordings, and reports, but each one is brimming with so much intrigue that reading through them all never feels like a chore.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t do anything particularly new or fresh in action-adventure games, but it does it with a Star Wars lick of paint, which is worth celebrating in itself.
With heavy Dark Souls influences in its combat and level design, plenty of puzzle tombs to solve, and secrets crammed into every nook and cranny, this is a Star Wars game that feels adventurous and playful in every Jedi flip and lightsaber battle. And more importantly, with BD-1, Respawn Entertainment might just have created the cutest droid in the Star Wars universe, which is no mean feat.
Those are the best action-adventure games you can find on PC. We hope you didn’t break too many priceless historical artefacts on the way here. Still, if you did, we hope you had fun doing so. However, if you like your adventures with less action, check out the best adventure games on PC or the best idle and clicker games on PC instead. They’re a little less perilous.
Additional entries by Jordan Forward, Dave Irwin, and Joe Robinson