What makes an action game? Is it a bounty of explosions? Awesome firearms? Quippy protagonists? Massive set pieces? Maybe it’s all of those things, rolled up into a neat, entertaining package. While the definition of “action video game” can be broad and encompass different subgenres, that didn’t stop us from filtering through the more than 200 applicable titles to find you the best action games on the PlayStation 4.
The following fifteen games are a diverse mix that proves that the best PS4 action games can be mindless or story-driven, fast-paced or meticulous, and over-the-top or down-to-earth.
We know by now to expect the zaniest things to come from Japanese developers, and the Earth Defense Force series has always been a prime example of how strange things can get. As a member of the Earth Defense Force, you battle endless waves of giant insects and robots. That’s it. There’s a story built in there somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. That’s how the series started, and by the fifth entry on the PlayStation 4, that’s where it remains.
There have been minor changes to gameplay since the series first premiered on the PS2, but the core has always been about battling giant ants and spiders, humanoid robots, and UFOs in urban, country, and underground environments. By Earth Defense Force 5, there’s a hefty arsenal of weapons to toy around with, each one featuring its own perks and disadvantages.
It’s the type of game you can mindlessly play for hours, regardless of how little changes between earlier and later levels. Let a friend join in and it’s even easier not to realize you’ve been blasting bugs for hours on end.
Earth Defense Force 5 is the kind of game you can play for hours on end and still be entertained. Co-op remains fun as ever (though in local you’re stuck with an ugly vertical split-screen), and the faster pace and variation from the previous games makes this the most engaging EDF yet. Add to that the higher difficulties offering improved Weapons and Armor and there is no lack of replayability. The quirks of the series are an acquired taste to be sure, but this has proven itself as a great EDF game for veterans and newcomers alike.
2. Titanfall 2
Developer: Respawn Entertainment Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expanding upon the concept of its less-than-stellar predecessor, Titanfall 2 winds up being a shining example of fixing past mistakes. Respawn clearly listened to player complaints regarding Titanfall and used them to put forth a well-rounded action title that works in both online and offline settings.
It’s true that Titanfall 2 shines as a multiplayer game, but solo payers will still have their chance at controlling the mechanical Titans. The development team did double down on the multiplayer experience, however, and released the game with 11 different multiplayer modes. Among them are a team deathmatch where you can’t summon Titans and a one-on-one competitive battle.
Of course, the best part about the Titanfall series is piloting the different Titans, but Titanfall 2 made playing as the pilots a more enjoyable experience.
It may have been rather unfairly wedged between the two biggest games of the year in the release schedule, but Titanfall cannot and should not be considered an also-ran. At the risk of getting hyperbolic, it’s an incredible experience from the ground up that should be played by anyone who loves a first-person shooter with ambition and heart. It’s on another level to its predecessor and almost all of its rivals.
3. Gravity Rush 2
Developer: SIE Japan Studio’s Team Gravity Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Visually, Gravity Rush 2 is beautiful. The award nominated design is an effective use of cel-shading, but Gravity Rush 2 doesn’t just rely on being visually pleasing. Team Gravity expands upon the gravity-based controls of its predecessor, introducing three gravity styles for more in-depth and varied gameplay.
Players take control of Kat, who returns from the original Gravity Rush. Taking place immediately after the first game, Gravity Rush 2 returns to familiar locations and expands upon the universe with a map that’s 2.5 times larger. Players have plenty to explore as Kat, using her gravity skills to defend herself against the Nevi, solve puzzles, and access the floating districts.
Not only is Gravity Rush 2 one of the best action games on the PlayStation 4, it’s also one of the console’s best games overall.
Just when we started to grow tired of slaughtering Nazis, MachineGames reminded us why they’ve become a staple video game enemy. In Wolfenstein II, William B.J. Blazkowicz makes his triumphant return, battling through his deadliest and bloodiest mission yet.
The American hero finds himself facing off against Frau Irene Engel, returning antagonist from The New Order. Engel is ruthless, cutting down Blazkowicz allies in some of the most unsettling scenes in the Wolfenstein franchise. Thanks to Engel, there are many unforgettable moments in Wolfenstein II, making it the most impactful of the series.
The New Colossus may be very over-the-top, but MachineGames uses the tone to its advantage to carve out an experience that amplifies what we’ve come to expect from the Wolfenstein series.
Despite some occasional issues with abrupt tonal shifts and some frustrating elements of combat and difficulty, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus continues New Order’s deft combination of smooth, exhilarating gunfights and a story and setting with surprising depth and character that effectively tackles some dark and heavy themes while ultimately remaining fun and hopeful.
5. Dead Cells
Developer: Motion Twin Publisher: Motion Twin
Motion Twin’s Dead Cells is the ideal hybrid of Roguelite and MetroidVania gameplay. Players battle through a procedurally-generated castle filled with horrors waiting to be cut down with an array of weapons and special attacks.
Dead Cells emphasizes upgrading skills and weapons, which open up different areas of the ever-changing world. You’ll have to master your arsenal to uncover secret rooms and hidden passages and take on a horde of unique enemies. Dead Cells launched with more than ninety different weapons and skills, four special abilities, and the promise of the occasional rage-quit.
There’s a significant learning curve as all thirteen levels and four bosses can be punishing, especially since Motion Twin decided to challenge players with permadeath.
An utterly compelling and challenging ride, Dead Cells is a dense and consistently evolving game that is what every budding Early Access game should aspire to become.
Developer: id Software Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Rip and tear your way through a horde of demons in this reboot of the series that helped pioneer first-person shooting. When it comes to the best PlayStation 4 action games, you don’t get much more action-packed than Doom. Well, so long as you ignore Doom 3.
The 2017 iteration is a fast-paced love song to the original, serving as the perfect update the series has needed. Equipped with an arsenal of devastating weapons designed to tear fleshy things apart, the Doom Slayer goes on a relentless killing spree across Mars and through Hell. It’s a nonstop gorefest that gives players very little breathing room between the waves upon waves of familiar demons.
Backed by a soundtrack of synthesized progressive metal, Doom doesn’t try to pretend to be some narrative-based shooter with a profound message. It even gets this point across early on when Doom Slayer impatiently smashes a screen delivering exposition.
Doom is brilliant. As a shooter it’s a breath of fresh air that, rather than being in thrall to recreating the second hand spectacle of blockbuster movies, succeeds because it wholly embraces its gaming heritage and puts the spectacle in the hands of players to create themselves.
Developer: Guerrilla Games Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Try to play Horizon Zero Dawn like a straight-up action game, and you’ll die pretty quick. It’s a subtle piece of this open-world RPG, but it’s undeniably a big part of the overall experience. You may not be able to run and gun through a pack of Watchers, but those epic battles against Thunderjaws and Bellowbacks are action-packed.
In the wake of robotic world domination, primitive tribes are at the mercy of dinosaur-like machines. As Aloy, an outcast of the Nora tribe, players set out across the unfamiliar world armed with a bow, an array of arrows, and other gadgets. Combat requires players to be meticulous and careful with their supplies. The advanced AI of the machines makes them formidable enough to require a bit of planning to overcome.
Horizon Zero Dawn succeeds at combining a fun and unique concept with visuals that help showcase the capabilities of the PlayStation 4.
Horizon Zero Dawn boasts a stunningly realized vision of the post-post-apocalypse, accompanied by a fascinating and chilling mystery surrounding the fall of civilization and surprisingly deep and strategic combat which combine to create one of the best new IP’s in years.
8. Kingdom Hearts III
Developer: Square Enix Publisher: Square Enix
For 17 years, Square Enix has been delighting fans of Disney and Final Fantasy with the Kingdom Hearts series. The core struggle between light and dark and the central theme of the power of friendship may make it seem like a kiddy game, but plenty about it appeals to more mature fans.
That rings especially true in Kingdom Hearts III, which sees the heroic trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy returning after the 14-year hiatus since the second entry. The series signature combat has been tweaked a little to be more accessible, but it’s still a mix of action and strategy. Button mashing won’t get you far in this action RPG, especially as the villainous Heartless grow stronger and your enemies more relentless.
Kingdom Hearts III introduces new Disney and Pixar properties, like Frozen, Toy Story, and Monster’s, Inc. for Sora’s biggest adventure, earning it a spot as one of the best action games on the PlayStation 4.
Despite its flaws, Kingdom Hearts 3 provides a more than fitting ending to Sora’s chapter and its presentation will leave a lasting impression on long-time fans. With careful lessons learned from its past, Kingdom Hearts’ future has never been so bright.
9. Red Dead Redemption 2
Developer: Rockstar Studios Publisher: Rockstar Games
While it would have been nice for Rockstar to go the Grand Theft Auto route and feature an all-new story with no connection to its predecessor, it’s hard to criticize the decision when Red Dead Redemption 2 is every bit as good.
Red Dead Redemption 2 follows John Marston’s original gang. Rather than play as Marston, however, players control the Van der Linde lieutenant, Arthur Morgan. The Wild West setting may be similar, but Rockstar built out a new map for players to explore, and boy is it a doozy. Red Dead Redemption 2’s map is even larger than Grand Theft Auto V’s, which was 3.3 times the size of John Marston’s explorable space.
It’s up to you whether you want to be an outlaw or an honorable cowboy. Well, as honorable as you can be as the lieutenant of a gang of miscreants. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a faithful sequel with upgrades to mechanics of the prior entry that allow for more fluid gunplay. There is a solid story to enjoy, but you’re more than welcome to ride across the massive map and wreak havoc wherever you go.
Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Much has changed for Kratos since God of War III. He’s once again lived the life of a loving husband and fell into the role of a strict father. As if to mimic the personality growth of the aging warrior, the latest God of War also matured. Kratos may not be the same rage-filled Ghost of Sparta, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a formidable warrior.
Swapping out the frantic action of the original trilogy, combat in God of War is more intense, requiring a better grasp on timing and more focus on enemy patterns. A switch to Norse mythology pits the former Spartan and his son, Atreus, against all-new foes and aligned with characters ripped straight from classic lore.
The result is a solid action game for the PlayStation 4 that lays the framework for another series of God of War games.
While the changes brought around for God of War may rankle some, it feels like the natural evolution for a series that you wouldn’t believe is now seven games deep, judging by just how re-energised it feels in its latest incarnation. Kratos is back, and so too is one of PlayStation’s least heroic heroes with great aplomb.
11. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Nathan Drake returns to the PlayStation 4 for one last adventure. Pulled from retirement by an unexpected figure from his past, the famed treasure hunter once again faces the deception of thieves, this time from a close ally.
Naughty Dog has always been a master at storytelling and A Thief’s End only solidifies that point. While maybe not as strong as its predecessor, Drake’s Deception, the fourth entry rounds out the series nicely. Featuring a semi-open world, A Thief’s End is the first to really let players explore and feel like a treasure hunter.
Combat remains largely the same, though the addition of a grappling hook makes it easier to use the large set pieces to your advantage. Uncharted 4 is Drake’s most personal journey yet, making it a fitting end to the adventurer’s story.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Leaving behind the lands of Azeroth and the dungeons of Tristram, Blizzard turned its attention to a series of arenas set across a fictional version of Earth. Overwatch was a change of pace for Blizzard, which had been known for the slower-paced action of games like Diablo, Warcraft, and StarCraft.
It took some time and a few updates, but the team-based, first-person multiplayer shooter eventually became a well-rounded and balanced online game. The roster of colorful characters falls into three unique classes, (Damage, Tank, and Support) each one serving distinct purposes on the battlefield. It may not be a new concept to online shooters, but Blizzard’s choice of abilities make each class equally as fun to play.
Originally launched with twelve characters, the roster has since blossomed to more than 25 heroes. It’s one of those rare instances where there truly is someone for every kind of player.
Ultimately, Overwatch is a game that can threaten to take over your life if you let it, and if you have willpower as bad as mine, it will do. Once you move past any initial head-scratching over what the hell is going on, it will have you, utterly and irrepressibly. Even though the year is still young, expect to see Overwatch at the top of GotY lists for many.
Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Take to the streets of Yharnam equipped with one of several weapons that fit well on a list of the best PlayStation 4 action games. Bloodborne may require players to be meticulous with their actions, but that they wield a weapon that can transform mid-combat is as cool as it gets. Image thwarting a plagued citizen of the Gothic city with a sword, then turning it into a serrated whip on-the-fly to keep a hellbeast at bay.
Bloodborne may have been bred from the Dark Souls series, but it stands on its own with a setting and story that appeals more to horror fans. As a nameless Hunter in search of the Paleblood, players square off against a host of monstrosities, from Wolf Beasts to oversized trolls.
Standing in your way is a series of horrifying bosses that either test your patience or your skill as a hunter.
14. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec Publisher: Ubisoft
After finally taking players and long-time fans of the series back to the beginning of the Brotherhood, Ubisoft rewound the clock even more to the 5th century. The story further expands upon the lore of the Assassin’s Creed series through modern and historical segments.
Odyssey took the new combat of Origins and tailored it to fit in the Grecian setting. As Misthios, one of two Spartan siblings cast off a cliff, players explore the sprawling map of Greece, partaking in a variety of missions along the way. As with all Assassin’s Creed games, the core story is based in a fictional version of history that winds up being intertwined with supernatural elements.
The Misthios wields an array of pointy and sharp-edged weapons used to cut through enemies and targets on their quest to restore their family. Paralleling the historical segments are moments of exploration in modern times as Layla Hassan, the Abstergo Industries researcher first introduced in Origins.
15. Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar Games
Rockstar is known for its ambition, but Grand Theft Auto V was – and remains – its most ambitious title to date. Though Red Dead Redemption 2 was larger, the combined regions of San Andreas and Los Santos are brimming with life, life that you can ignore completely or snub out in true Grand Theft Auto fashion.
Possibly the best part of Grand Theft Auto V, beyond the mindless violence, was the three intertwining narratives. As three very different characters, players unravel a story ripe with betrayal, redemption, and, of course, the occasional psychopath.
Though Grand Theft Auto V has a mission structure that leads to a clear ending, whether you make it to that point is totally up to you. Like with any other entry in the series, it’s far too easy to get sucked into hours-long murder sprees.