The best action-adventure games have been capturing 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. From Pitfall through to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, we got our fix through platformers or point-and-click adventure games, but then 1996’s Tomb Raider melded the two together and perfected the action-adventure game – and it’s only grown in popularity since.
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 – so we’ve put together a list of the best action games around. This includes some of the finest games ever made on PC, action-adventure or otherwise, including several titles that changed the entire gaming industry.
There’s no Uncharted here, as emulation or PlayStation Now doesn’t count, but we’d take any one of these games over Sony’s series. Here’s the definitive list of the best action-adventures on PC.
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.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a revelation in 3D platforming. It’s one of the few action games that successfully made the jump from 2D to 3D. In that regard, it sits alongside the likes of Mario 64, but that’s where that comparison ends.
While Mario 64 took a sandbox approach to adapting to the new dimension, Prince of Persia built upon the old formula, treating its jumps and platforms as careful acrobatic puzzles to be solved – rather than just a means to move upwards or forwards.
Just getting across a room in Sands of Time is hugely satisfying. And that’s before you add in the incredibly clever Sands mechanic. If you screw up a jump, the Sands of Time allows you to rewind time and give it another go immediately – and you can repeat until you run out of sand. It’s still a wonderful idea today and one that more games should adopt.
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Assassin’s Creed became the poster-child of open-world games when it first graced our screens in the noughties. However, by the time Syndicate – the ninth core game in the series – rolled around, players had started to tire of annual Assassin’s Creed games. That’s when Ubisoft took a break and came back with Origins – the best entry in the action-adventure game franchise. Sorry, Ezio fans.
Generally speaking, Origins doesn’t deviate from the Assassin’s Creed formula much, everything in it is just a lot more satisfying. Combat has been revamped completely, with a more RPG-like upgrade system and a wider variety of tougher enemies. There’s no more chain-kills or dodge-attacks to take you through whole crowds of enemies here, and you can’t even rely on the previously insta-kill hidden blade anymore.
The game’s recreation of Ancient Egypt is gorgeous and full of challenges, relics, and puzzles to discover – and it isn’t the usual Ubisoft open world packed with little icons to hunt down, either. There are fun points of interest all over the map, from tombs you can raid to intriguing side missions. Plus, the revenge tale of main character Bayek is one of the best in the series.
Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil abandoned its survival horror roots and went full action-adventure with Resident Evil 4. But, instead of complaining, fans couldn’t have been happier – Capcom delivered one of the finest games of all time. It’s had a huge and long-lasting influence, too. Over-the-shoulder camera angles on third-person games? Blame RE4 for that, since it worked so brilliantly.
Resident Evil 4 mixes up panicked shootouts, thrilling action scenes, and tense puzzle solving for a whole lot of boulder-punching fun. It lasts far longer than most single-player games usually do – at least, those that aren’t in a sandbox – and yet, Capcom never stops throwing exciting set-pieces at you. Massive shark in a lake! Troll monster! Giant robot version of the weird antagonist!
And it all begins with an assault on a house by weird villagers – very Night of the Living Dead – followed by the hideous sound of a chainsaw cutting through your defences. Yes, the parts that have you defend Ashley are annoying, but Resident Evil 4 remains the high point of the series – and it’s just as great today as it was then.
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, are 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 single third-person action-adventure has to rip-off now – such as Marvel’s Spider-Man. Other action games may be bigger, but little else is better than the first Arkham game.
The original Darksiders from THQ was an entertaining mix of God of War and The Legend of Zelda. But while the story of Apocalypse Horseman War was cool it felt lacking in some areas. Darksiders 2, on the other hand, lacks nothing.
Taking control of War’s brother Death, you hack and slash your way through an epic open world while trying to clear War’s name. The combat successfully evokes the frenzied, entertaining style of Sony’s original God of War games, and it’s deeply satisfying. The Zelda-style dungeons are just as much fun, with puzzles actually involving exploration and paying attention to the environment. There’s even some excellent platforming that would make the Prince of Persia blush, too.
While Darksiders 2 admittedly takes most of its ideas from other action-adventure games – even Shadow of the Colossus, enemies can get truly massive here – it mixes them all together with an unmatched style. Even better, the recently released “Deathinitive” Edition packs in a load of DLC and spruces up the graphics to modern standards.
Psychonauts expertly skirts the line between action-adventure, platformer, and point-and-click adventure. It’s Double Fine’s first game and is still the most beloved – sorry, Brutal Legend. Studio founder Tim Schafer is known for his excellent writing, but Psychonauts is a cut above. Raz, Lili, Dogen, and the rest of the Whispering Rock characters are wonderfully memorable and a joy to hang out with.
The platforming is entertaining, too, but the real joy of the game is discovering that every single level is highly imaginative and bizarre with it. Some don’t even have platforming. A giant board game? A day-glo boxing match? Raz as a Godzilla-like monster rampaging through a city? The best level of the game, the Milkman Conspiracy, is actually an adventure game inside a twisted paranoid delusion.
The best bit about the PC version of Psychonauts is that the most infamous level, the dreaded Meat Circus, has been patched – no more obscenely touchy jumps and constant rabbit attacks. There’s a sequel on the way at long last, and we can only hope it’ll be as great – and that Dogen’s still in it. Gotta love that little guy.
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 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 a mortal enemy. If one of them kills you (even a random grunt) they’ll make a name for themselves and be a far tougher threat the second time around.
Shadow of Mordor is a mix of Assassin’s Creed’s exploration and climbing with Batman’s stealth and combat, and it work perfectly. Then, halfway through, the game suddenly introduces the ability to recruit orcs so you can create your own army, making it feel like a completely different, and fantastic, game.
Beyond Good and Evil
Beyond Good & Evil leans hard on its Legend of Zelda influence and actually gets darn close to beating Nintendo at its own game. It’s the story of photographer Jade, her adoptive pig uncle Pey’j, and their fight against the alien DomZ. The opening sucks you in with its peculiar sci-fi world but it’s the plot that keeps you interested as it only gets deeper as you head further into the conspiracies.
Mysteries, twists, and hearty characters will have you falling in love with Beyond Good & Evil. The world of Hillys is immersive, too, being cartoon-like and full of character, and Jade’s hovercraft is a fun way to get around it – especially when you start racing.
Stealth sections may be a touch weak, and the combat is simple if enjoyable, but everything else about Beyond Good & Evil is so good you can understand why the entire internet is still clamoring for a sequel to one of the best action-adventure games of all time.
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb
As Indy’s cinematic adventures inspired the whole genre we have to include one Indiana Jones game on this list. And as Fate of Atlantis is a point-and-click adventure, we’ll happily settle with his action-packed race against Nazis to find the Heart of the Dragon, buried in the tomb of the First Emperor of China.
The story is a globe-trotting one, taking in Sri Lanka, New York, Prague, Hong Kong, Xi’an, and even the afterlife. Shooting is kept to a minimum in The Emperor’s Tomb, which is good as the hand-to-hand combat system is superbly well designed – it’s surprising how tactile and satisfying it is. Everything has heft and weight, so when you slam a chair into a Nazi it really looks like it hurts.
The levels are entertaining with plenty of secrets to find, and the story acts as a decent prequel to Temple of Doom. To top it off, the orchestrated soundtrack – by Fate of Atlantis and Outlaws composer Clint Bajakian – is so good that more than one reviewer at the time mistook it for John Williams’s score from the movie.
While it has some flaws, such as being unable to save mid-level, Emperor’s Tomb earns its place on this list for truly making you feel like Indiana Jones. You can whip a gun out of an enemy’s hands, pick it up, and use it against him – or just throw a beer bottle at him then punch him into a crocodile pit. Classic Indy.
The supernatural action-adventure game from Remedy pairs the studio’s trademark free flowing third-person combat with their strongest storytelling yet. 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 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 own 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 in spite of the fantastical paranormal activity it 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.
Those are the most epic action-packed adventures you can find on PC. We hope you didn’t break too many priceless historical artifacts on the way here, or sent numerous archaeologists to their doom. Still, if you did, we hope you had fun doing so. However, if you like your adventures with a little less action, check out the best adventure games on PC instead. They’re a little less perilous.
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