Video games have come a long way from the days of bouncing back and forth on a screen between two white lines competing for points. Characters and storylines have development. Graphic capabilities have enhanced. And the levels of action have grown dramatically. With the enhancements in gaming power, the worlds have expanded to create bigger adventures offering more room for action.
Many games have stood out as the cream of the crop or revolutionary titles in the action game genre, but only a few can be the most popular within the genre. Though they may not have the highest reviews, the following games are undeniably the most popular. For the purposes of this list, only sales — as recorded by VGChartz – will count toward a games popularity. Also, though they have high-octane action, first-person shooters won’t be included, as they more or less stand in a category all their own.
So, without further ado:
10. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Drake’s Deception was the third game in the Uncharted series, which follows adventurer Nathan Drake as he explores foreign lands, hidden temples, and fights massive criminals organizations and the occasional supernatural creature. Drake’s Deception follows him from London to France, Syria, and Yemen. The action and adventure take place both high and low, as well as featuring game sections for both the grown-up Nathan and a young, teenage Nathan.
Without countless shootouts, wild quick-time fight sequences, and ample chasing, climbing, and fleeing sequences, the game delivers on action. As an added bonus, the game features multiplayer to thoroughly extend the action. With a worldwide total of 6.32 million game sales on the PlayStation 3, it ranks tenth on the list.
9. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The second and most popular entry in the Uncharted franchise, Among Thieves naturally also follows Nathan Drake along cliffs, caves, crumbling ruins, a high-security museum, and one very dangerous train. This journey spans Istanbul, Tibet, Nepal, and adventures as high as the Himalayas.
Among Thieves features more of that same climbing, running, gun-slinging action that made the series a PS3 hit — plus more multiplayer, both coop and competitive. With action ranging from stealthy takedowns to head-on, guns-blazing assaults, the game earns its status as a top action title. With 6.37 million sales worldwide, it ranks in just above its successor. And don’t worry, this is the last Uncharted game to hit the list.
8. The Legend of Zelda
That’s right, not all of the best-selling action games are recent. Developed in 1986, this original Nintendo game comes in as the oldest on the list and the only one on such an old gaming console. Despite only have a half-dozen buttons to play the game with — four of which were simple directions — the game had an expansive adventure to offer gamers as well as plenty of sword fighting.
The Zelda games have all been known for their focus on adventure, puzzles, sword play, and special items to conquer the vast array of foes and temples that stand in the way of the hero, Link. Though the game might seem a little low-intensity compared to modern action games, it still earns its spot here with worldwide sales of 6.51 million.
7. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Though comic book hero video games haven’t always been the greatest success — especially the weak attempts to cash in on the success of movies – Batman: Arkham Asylum proved it knew how to do Batman right, how to do him justice. The game introduced a high-intensity fighting mechanic that kept the combat flowing on an even level with the players skill. A wide variety of enemy types kept combat interesting, and the many Gotham evil-doers always brought the action to a climax.
Stealth combat and grueling, long, close-quarters fights kept the action going throughout the game. Though the game deserves extra credit for spawning the successful franchise, it will only get credit for its sales. With a heft 7.24 million sales across multiple platforms, it ranks seventh.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The more modern iterations in the Zelda franchise have taken the adventure to new lengths, and the action has been amplified as well. Far more complex enemies appear in Twilight Princess compared to the original Nintendo title. With the Wii remote acting as the control for aiming some weapons and swinging the sword, the action feels that much more real.
The game pits players against numerous baddies, some familiar and some new, and the 3D environment makes combat that much more complex and intense. With hours upon hours of gameplay and sprawling open environments, the game definitely offers an extensive action experience. With 6.94 million sales worldwide, Twilight Princess would fall into seventh place on this list, but the inclusion of Gamecube sales brings the total up to 7.53 million, though the Gamecube version lacked the added intensity of playing with the Wii remote. Of course, any fan of the Zelda franchise can probably guess that this wasn’t the most popular one.
5. Batman: Arkham City
The successor to Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City follows Batman as he sets out to undo the corruption that is plaguing Gotham due to Professor Hugo Strange’s rise to power and the subsequent annex of a section of Gotham committed to housing the city’s worst criminals. When Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and thrown onto the prison island, the action begins, and it doesn’t even wait for him to get his handcuffs removed.
Including and adding to the gameplay featured in Arkham Asylum, the game takes the action to higher levels. With plenty of enemies filling the city, supervillains, and a poison slowly killing Batman the whole time, the action doesn’t stop. The game was released on multiple platforms, and between them it sold 9.21 million copies, landing it fifth place on this list.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Any real fan of the Zelda franchise will have played this game, or at least they should have. It is considered by many to be not only one of the best action-adventure games of all time, but also one of the best games of any genre — sometimes even just the best game ever, period. Link’s adventure in this game sprawls from forests to desserts, from below water and underground to the top of an active volcano. Not to mention one of the games core elements: time travel. One whole section of the game even takes place inside the body of a giant sea creature called Jabu-Jabu.
With the vast array of baddies typical of Zelda games, an impressive arsenal of weapons to fight them with, and plenty of variety created by the numerous missions and settings, the game offered unprecedented levels of action and adventure at the time of its release in 1998. Though it would have fallen lower on this list for only the Nintendo 64 version, fans loved the game enough to buy up an impressive sum when it was released for the 3DS, bringing total sales to 10.99 million — instead of the N64′s 7.6 million — and earning it fourth place on this list.
3. Red Dead Redemption
When Red Dead Redemption came out, Rockstar Games was already known for producing amazing open-world games with plenty of gun-slinging action and essentially endless gameplay, thanks to the sandbox style of play. Plus a previous game in the Red Dead franchise had helped establish the time-slowing gunplay known as Deadeye targeting.
The pairing of the sprawling open-world Wild West and Grand Theft Auto style action — but with horses instead of cars and six-shooters instead of Uzis — earned the game massive success. Between sales on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, about 11.88 million copies were sold, earning it third place on this list.
2. Assassin’s Creed Series
The case for Assassin’s Creed is a special one. If the games weren’t all clumped together into one, they would individually occupy five of the top ten spots, and that wouldn’t leave room for a lot of games deserving of honors. That said, Assassin’s Creed definitely deserves a hefty share of honor in the action genre. On an individual title basis, Assassin’s Creed II and III would have taken third and fourth on this list, while Red Dead Redemption would have been bumped up to second
As Desmond — and any of the many ancestors whose memories he experiences — players explore historic locales all while fleeing or chasing using impressive free-running style movement. On top of that, the assassin-style stealth and endless and complex close-quarters battles keep the action high. With a broad arsenal of medieval weapons and more, the leaves very little to be desired in combat. And with numerous side quests and a wide open-world environment, there’s plenty of play-time, especially considering the number of installments in the series. All told, the series has sold 51.75 million copies. Earning it the second spot on the list, and it’s a spot that the game is not likely to lose any time soon.
For reference, the five titles that would have come in the top ten on their own will be listed below along with their sales:
- Assassin’s Creed II – 10.38 million sales
- Assassin’s creed III — 10.38 million sales
- Assassin’s Creed — 10.09 million sales
- Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – 8.10 million sales
- Assassin’s Creed IV – 6.86 million sales
1. Grand Theft Auto Series
If the Assassin’s Creed series was a special case, then the Grand Theft Auto series is a very, very special case. While Assassin’s Creed games would have taken a majority of the top spots on this list if they weren’t all joined together, they wouldn’t have even had that opportunity if the Grand Theft Auto games weren’t first added together. Individually, Grand Theft Auto titles would have snatched up all of the top five spots — even without combining different console version of each game.
The Grand Theft Auto games have been around for a long time, with carjackings, chases, police pursuits, gunfights, gang wars, tank rampages, and massive open-world environments as a mainstay. The games have always had intense action, with the added bonus of much of it happening at high speeds in fast cars. Since police in the game will engage the player after just a few gunshots, or less, the ability to turn on the action is always in the players hands. Of the top 200 action games listed on VGChartz, a number of Grand Theft Auto titles showed up, and together they sold 130.93 million copies.
Once again, for reference, here are the top-selling GTA titles:
- GTA V — 31.73 million sales
- GTA: San Andreas — 23.67 million sales
- GTA IV — 21.68 million sales
- GTA: Vice City — 16.15 million sales (doesn’t include sales of a package with Vice City and III)
- GTA III — 13.11 million sales (doesn’t include sales of a package with Vice City and III)
- GTA: Liberty City Stories — 11.13 million sales
Honorable mention: Metal Gear Solid Series
Metal Gear Solid games had a strong showing for the action genre, and several titles fell just below the cut-off for the top ten. Because the first Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation helped to pioneer the stealth-action sub-genre, it deserves mention on this list, along with each subsequent entry. With the combined sales of Metal Gear Solid, MGS 2: Sons of Liberty, MGS 3: Snake Eater, MGS: Peace Walker, and MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots, the top titles in the series had combined sales of 24.15 million units. Unfortunately, none were strong enough to place on the list individually.
The Metal Gear Solid games have combined the tense action involved with sneaking around opponents that can often overwhelm the player with their firepower, along with difficult boss battles, close-quarters hand-to-hand combat, the odd smut magazine, and the ubiquitous box for sneaking around. On top of being great action games, the immeasurable cut-scenes offer up something of an action movie experience interwoven with the game.
Let us know what your favorite action games are in the comments below.
More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- 9 Bizarre Video Games It’s Hard to Believe Exist
- A Trip Down Virtual Reality Road: 6 Systems of the Past
- Xbox One vs. PS4: Sony Wins on All Fronts in March
Follow Mark on Twitter @WallStMarkSheet