While action games are universally loved, only a handful can claim to be a cut above the rest. These are the kind of games that get your heart pounding with fast-paced combat, fluid movement, and impressive visuals
In this list, we’ll be highlighting the best action games on PC to play in 2021.
Given the broad spectrum of action-based titles, we’ll be including a mix of RPGs, metroidvanias, shooters, fighters, platformers, and action-adventure games. While most of the games listed here can be purchased and played through Steam, many are also available on the Epic Games Store and GOG.
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Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Steam, EGS, GOG
Control sees you playing as Jesse Faden, a woman tasked with exploring a secret government facility called the Oldest House, which just so happens to be overflowing with paranormal activity. While some parts of the game can feel spooky, the game is less horror and more cinematic action, resembling a fast-paced third-person shooter.
Jesse can wield supernatural abilities and a shape-shifting gun called the Service Weapon, which alternates between different firing modes. Harnessing Jesse’s superpowers, ranging from levitation to telekinesis, players can quickly navigate large, open environments filled with waves of enemies.
As you delve deeper into the Oldest House, areas begin to shift and change, opening up new pathways to explore. Control combines the best parts of Metroidvania games, shooters, and science fiction to deliver a thrilling rollercoaster of frenetic combat and dynamic exploration.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Steam, EGS
Respawn managed to capture the cinematic quality of the Star Wars films and adapt it to video games in a way that feels both engaging and authentic. Set after the events of Episode III, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order sees you playing as Cal Kestis, a Jedi Padawan on a mission to uncover the mysteries of an ancient civilization in a galaxy far, far away.
Cal quickly finds himself in the crosshairs of the Empire and their deadly Inquisitors, who continue to hunt him throughout the game. Armed with a lightsaber and the power of the force, Cal is ready for anything the Empire has to throw his way.
The gameplay is a mix of close-range combat, open-ended exploration, and 3D platforming on par with third-person action series like Dark Souls, Tomb Raider, and Uncharted. The game does a great job of using the Star Wars mythos to flesh out its world, including numerous in-universe references, interesting character backstories, and big set-pieces set in familiar locations.
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
If there’s one thing the DOOM series is known for, it’s action. Each installment sees you exploring hellish landscapes teeming with all sorts of demonic monsters as you fulfill your role as a badass space marine by the name of Corporal Flynn Taggart, aka the Doom Slayer.
While 2016’s DOOM reboot helped resurrect the iconic first-person shooter in line with modern gaming conventions, its follow-up takes things even further. DOOM Eternal doubles down on the ‘push-forward’ combat design of its predecessor while encouraging players to discover new tactics.
Environments are presented as massive jungle gyms that make it easy to avoid incoming fire as you take down the biggest threats. The addition of a new grappling hook provides an extra layer to the game’s traversal system, with movement overall feeling more fluid than ever.
Devil May Cry 5
Set five years after the events of DMC 4, Devil May Cry 5 tells a brand new story from the perspective of three playable characters. This time around, Dante is joined by a demon hunter with a retractable arm named Nero in addition to V, a client of Dante’s who can summon animal familiars to battle on his behalf.
The trio set off on an adventure to defeat the Demon King Urizen before he can wipe out the entire mortal realm. While veteran players will appreciate the return of Dante and Nero’s sophisticated fighting styles, newcomer V offers an exciting alternative approach to combat.
Of course, this is still Devil May Cry, so expect to be rated on your hack n’ slash skills via a style meter that fills the longer you keep your combo going. This shouldn’t be too hard, considering that the game features an expansive arsenal of demon-killing blades, guns, and gadgets that are just as ridiculous and over-the-top as the characters who wield them.
Grand Theft Auto 5
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: Steam, EGS
The Grand Theft Auto series is one giant power fantasy fueled by fast cars, guns, and money. Each installment sees you playing as a different work-for-hire criminal who’s more than willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty for various mob bosses, street gangs, and sometimes just for the sake of anarchy.
GTA 5 presents the biggest and boldest experience to date, introducing three new playable characters in its single-player story as well as the ability to create your own avatar in GTA Online. The game’s sprawling open-world is comprised of two regions: Los Santos and Blaine County, with both offering an exhaustive amount of activities to explore.
Whether you’re looking to flip stolen cars, participate in street races, or clean out every bank vault, there’s a near-endless number of ways to get into trouble, earn cash, and increase your street rep. The online version of the game is well-supported with post-launch content and benefits from a host of community-made servers, mini-games, and activities.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Publisher: Square Enix
The third entry in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise depicts a much dark, morally gray Lara Croft than previous installments. Developed by Eidos Montreal, the action-stealth game follows the explorer as she travels to a tropical rainforest to stop the evil organization Trinity from triggering an ancient Mayan curse.
Gone are the days of playing as an inexperienced Lara who would stand her ground when necessary, but otherwise avoid violent conflict. Instead, we get a version of Lara who’s more unhinged than ever before, exploring new hellish tactics to take down Trinity’s soldiers for good.
This includes mastering a wide array of new tools, traps, and weapons. While there’s an emphasis on stealth-based gameplay, you can make it through many sections with a ‘guns blazing’ approach. You can dive into Shadow of The Tomb Raider without having played the first two entries, but they’re worth checking out as well.
Resident Evil 3
Hot off the success of Resident Evil 2 remake, Capcom set out to recreate the tone of the next game in the series, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. While RE3 remake may not be as long or fondly remembered as previous entries, it stands out for delivering a concise, action-driven narrative.
Just like the original, the game follows Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira as they try to survive a zombie outbreak while also being pursued by a highly-sophisticated bioweapon called Nemesis. Combat is mirrored after third-person shooter mechanics, with players able to manipulate the camera freely.
What makes RE3 remake such a good action game is the urgency in which Nemesis hunts you down. This forces you to keep moving forward and discover different ways to momentarily distract or stun him. A lot of the game is spent focusing on this idea, and it makes for some of the most heart-pounding moments you’ll ever have playing a video game.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
The Yakuza series is known for its distinct blend of action-heavy combat and intricate story spanning decades of games. While the franchise is littered with remarkable entries, for this list, we’ve decided to highlight Yakuza 0, which serves as a prequel that sets up events for later installments.
It chronicles the beginning of Kazuma Kiryu’s criminal career and has you guiding him from low ranking thug to head honcho of the Yakuza crime family. The game tosses you into semi-open world environments where you’re forced battle rival gangs using a variety of melee weapons or sometimes just your bare fists.
In true Yakuza fashion, the game does an excellent job of toeing the line between drama and comedy, presenting both serious and absurd sequences that benefit from expressive animations and excellent writing. Fans of beat ‘em ups and brawlers, in particular, may be incredibly surprised by the quality of the game’s combat system.
Definitely a bit dated by today’s graphical standards, Vanquish is still one of the most important third-person shooters to ever release. Upon first glance, it may resemble any other generic sci-fi shooter from the late 2000s, but under the hood there’s a lot more going on.
For one, the game features some of the best, most fluid movement we’ve ever seen in a video game. The crux of Vanquish’s traversal system relies on your character’s ability to slide across surfaces, snap behind cover, and dash through enemy fire.
This works in tandem with the game’s fast-paced combat, which sees you wielding an assortment of weapons and special powers as you progress in the story. Creating a sense of momentum in video games is not an easy thing to do, yet PlatinumGames was able to nail the concept and while also making one of the most underrated action games of all time.
Developer: Dennaton Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
At the start, Hotline Miami presents itself as a top-down stealth game where you’re both outgunned and outnumbered by enemies. It’s only after memorizing certain guard behaviors and coming to grips with the fact that a single bullet or knife wound could spell out your death at any moment, that things truly open up.
The game does a great job of helping you adjust to its brutal combat difficulty by presenting dozens of scenarios designed for you to repeat over and over again until you find the perfect route.
Eventually, you find yourself racing through rooms, killing enemies solely off instincts as you get closer to your goal: wiping out the entire Russian mafia. Playing the game is a one of a kind experience filled with tons of memorable and zany moments, each one typically accented by some sort of ridiculously gruesome death. Hotline Miami’s well-designed twin-stick combat and movement are further complemented by a bombastic 1980s-inspired soundtrack.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
One of the best PS3/360-era titles available on PC is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a spin-off of the original series co-developed by Kojima Productions and PlatinumGames. Instead of emphasizing stealth-based gameplay like the mainline series, Revengeance is all about stylish sword combat.
In it, you play as Raiden, an elite cyborg ninja who appeared in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Raiden is seeking out revenge against a private military organization that defeats him early on in the game and teams up with numerous allies throughout the game.
Revengeance is fondly remembered for its over-the-top combat, cinematic cutscenes, and the quality of its destructible environments, which was technologically impressive for the time. The Steam version includes expanded graphics options, all three post-launch DLC missions, and a selection of custom body upgrades for Raiden.
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Supergiant Games are known for putting out polished, well-written indie games that put a unique spin on a familiar concept. Such is the case with Hades, an isometric roguelike dungeon-crawler that places a greater emphasis on story-telling while still delivering across all gameplay fronts.
In it, you play as the titular Hades as he sets out to escape an ever-shifting underworld guarded by powerful gods. Each run sees you exploring a randomized map filled with obstacles and rewards that can help you advance to the next area.
Upon death, players return to the starting area, but with a bit more experience and resources under their belt. Of course, since it’s a Supergiant Game, pretty much every interaction is accented by quippy dialogue and crafted story beats, making this action roguelike a cut above the rest.
Developer: Nolla Games
Publisher: Nolla Games
Platforms: Steam, GOG
Noita is another action game that falls under the roguelike umbrella and features its own clever twist on an existing concept, a 2D action-platformer. In it, you control a magic-wielding witch with the power to freeze, explode, or melt anything that crosses their path by crafting and casting new spells while exploring procedurally-generated dungeons ranging from dark coal mines to freezing-cold wastelands.
Where it differs from most games is how it goes about rendering each pixel on screen. The game applies a physics simulation to different objects and terrain, allowing for unique interactions and increased destructibility. What exactly does this mean? Well, you can jump inside a lake filled with piranhas and kill them all with one zap from your staff because that’s how electricity would work underwater.
Progressing further through dungeons opens up new kinds of environments and reveals more secrets about the game’s world. While death is an always looming threat that will see you transported to the start, you’ll be able to apply everything you’ve learned for the next run and hopefully make it even further.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Steam, GOG
Katana ZERO is a stylish 2D action-platformer that sees you playing as a katana-wielding assassin known as Subject Zero, as he fulfills contracts issued by his psychiatrist. In addition to giving you assignments, your therapist also provides ‘Chronos,’ an illicit street drug that lets the user slow down time and look into the future.
The game is laid out in a series of side-scrolling levels that introduce new enemy types and traps as you progress. What makes Katana ZERO stand out is the absence of any health bar indicator, accompanied by instant 1HKO damage for both you and enemies.
Your character gains the ability to deflect bullets with his sword and can dodge attacks using rolls. This all sounds like the makings a competent and gratifying action game. Additionally, a real-time conversation system allows you to interrupt characters speaking and affect the story.
One Finger Death Punch 2
Developer: Silver Dollar Games
Publisher: Silver Dollar Games
Platforms: Steam, GOG
The sequel to OFDP is just as satisfying and fast-paced as the original while benefitting from a host of improvements. You’re still mashing away at two keys while enemies flood in from both sides, only with better controls and more combo variety.
This includes 26 different unlockable skills that can all be performed using a simple control scheme tailored for casual players. That’s where developer Silver Dollar Games’ unique design philosophy comes into focus.
Basically, they designed the game to be somewhat of a palette cleanser; a buffer game you can play in between more demanding titles in order to scratch that adrenaline itch most action games provide. With that in mind, it’s undeniably one of the most valuable and replayable games on this list.
We would be remiss not to include at least one fighting game on this list considering how much they excel at delivering minute-to-minute action. Slap City is a platform arena fighter that draws inspiration from the Super Smash Bros. series, specifically the Melee-era.
What sets it apart is its roster diversity and the surprising amount of depth within the game’s combat system. Each character introduces a one-of-a-kind playstyle with special moves that can be pulled off at both the casual and expert levels.
It’s one of those games that you can pick up and instantly feel like you’re putting in work. While it may have a ‘barebones’ appearance, we encourage you to give it a try; you may be surprised by how robust and satisfying the combat can be. Slap City includes various game modes to help keep things fresh, whether you’re playing locally or online with friends.