There are many great AAA action titles, like Devil May Cry and pretty much every game from Platinum Games. Plenty of people already know about those, though. Here, we’re highlighting the indie darlings that deserve the most attention.
A good action game tests a player’s skills, brings out their best potential as players, and includes visceral, satisfying gameplay to encourage endless replay value. The games in this list were all selected with this in mind. They beat you down and challenge you to fight back.
They’re the best of the best.
1. Hotline Miami Series
Platforms: PC (OSX/Linux), PS3, PS4, PS Vita
Hotline Miami and its sequel, Wrong Number, are by far my favorite games on this list. This series is developed by Dennaton Games, a two-man development team. Both games received great critical reception on their release and are noted for their unique art-style; nail-biting difficult, dreamlike, surreal storytelling; and, perhaps most importantly, their excellent soundtrack.
Hotline Miami 1’s levels are designed as small sandboxes. A central player character, Jacket, is given access to an assortment of masks and on-site weapons in order to tear through these places. While the main story can be completed in a matter of ten to fifteen hours, the replay value of each of these stages multiplies exponentially thanks to all the ways they can be played, not to mention the hidden easter eggs and the score-chasing.
Hotline Miami 2’s levels are larger and more linear. There is less choice of masks. Instead, you’re assigned to a character or a limited selection of masks, depending on the stage you’re playing, which is tailored to those playstyles. While some miss the open-endedness of the original, Hotline 2 is much more consciously designed around the capabilities of its playable characters and remains my favorite of the two because of it.
Grab these games when they go on sale. You won’t regret it.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Furi is an indie action title developed by The Game Bakers. It’s a recent release and, admittedly, a game I’m still playing through, but it’s one of the best action-gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Gameplay varies from a top-down 2D bullet hell shooter to a close-quarters swordplay game. The entire game is essentially a boss rush, too, full of challenging, multi-phase bosses with calm intermissions through beautiful, surreal landscapes in between.
Furi comes highly recommended.
3. Hyper Light Drifter
Platforms: PC(OSX/Linux), PS4, Xbox One
Hyper Light Drifter is a top-down, indie action game developed by Heart Machine. HLD is another of my favorites, thanks to how it creatively combines Dark Souls-esque brutal combat with Metroidvania/Zelda-like world exploration and design. The combat feels great, the graphics and sound are awesome, and overall the game is brimming with personality, even if it’s a bit frustrating sometimes due to its nail-biting difficulty.
Protip: go North first, not East. The East will rip you to shreds.
Platforms: PC (OSX/Linux), PS3, PS Vita
Luftrausers is an indie shooter developed by Vlambeer, and despite a seemingly basic concept, offers some of the most thrilling gameplay in its genre. You’re piloting a dogfighter on a 2D plane, fighting as many enemy planes and ships as you can until you inevitably die, chasing the highest score possible.
The music changes depending on the parts you have equipped, and each change to one of three parts of your plane can greatly modify how you play the game. I prefer a beam weapon time with a piercing body and a water-resistant engine. It’s perfect for blasting through those battleships!
5. Nuclear Throne
Platforms: PC (OSX/Linux), PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One (eventually)
Nuclear Throne is a top-down, rogue-like 2D shooter, published and developed by Vlambeer. It spent ages in Steam Early Access where it gained notoriety for being one of the best titles available on the platform. Even now it enjoys quite a lot of popularity which has seen it go from Steam Early Access to just about every modern platform. (The Xbox One release is slated to come at some undetermined point in the future.)
Nuclear Throne combines top-down shooting gameplay with rogue-like elements, meaning randomly-generated levels that reset on death. Despite this, Nuclear Throne is considered a staple of the genre, thanks to its rock-solid gunplay and upgrade schemes. It’s punishing but quite rewarding.
Platforms: PC (OSX/Linux), Xbox One
Superhot is a 3D, first-person puzzle-shooter developed by the aptly-named Superhot Team. Time moves when you move, everyone dies in a single bullet, and your enemies are terrifyingly accurate when they shoot and completely outnumber you.
In addition to the thrill typical of action games, Superhot offers something else: all the time in the world to contemplate your next move. Once you’ve found the best way to dispatch a room of people without taking a scratch, the game plays back an awesome clip of you doing that in normal-speed.
There’s no other way to say it: Superhot makes you feel like you’re a god. I highly recommend it, but I’d also recommend waiting for a sale on this one. It’s a little too expensive right now.
These are my picks for the best indie-made action games. I wholeheartedly believe each and every game on this list to be mechanically solid and a joy to play. If you’re a fan of the action genre or want to get into it, give these developers some of your love and attention – I promise you won’t regret it.
What do you think of these selections? Is there anything you’d add? Anything missing? What are your favorite parts of these games, if you’ve played them? Sound off below!