OXM INVESTIGATES: HISTORY OF ACTION
From inventive mechanics to amazing combat, these are the action games that defined Xbox’s past
Over the years games have blurred the lines between genres. You frequently see RPG elements in modern games such as Destiny, with their loot and gear progression, for example. But it’s action titles that are the originators. From simple stage-based brawlers, to sprawling open worlds to traverse, they’ve changed massively over the last 14 years—to the point where it’s difficult to tell what does and doesn’t count as an action game these days.
All of the games in this list have excellent combat and movement, be it fisticuffs, swords, or even a little gunplay—but dedicated shooters are out. So while games such as Gears Of War and Wolfenstein are full of action, they’re just too gun-heavy for this list. However, including guns as part of a hero’s repertoire like in Bayonetta doesn’t rule it out. The games all have one thing in common: They provide the best action in Xbox’s history.
01 Prince Of Persia: Sands Of time
Remembered for its time-bending mechanic, this adventure lets you pull off impressive moves by slowing enemies down or freezing them in time completely to leave them open to your attacks. Alternatively, just reverse time, and you could undo a mistake and pull off a better jump. It also played with camera angles to make combat and platformingstyle sections more cinematic. It feels a little quaint and rough around the edges by today’s standards, but you can see so many of the genre’s foundations here. That same slow-motion mechanic is now an industry standard when you go in for a killing blow or critical hit, and the traversal formed the basis for Assassin’s Creed. While action games may have been around long before this, Sands Of Time went on to influence the modern, 3D evolution of the genre. Dev Ubisoft Release February 2004 Format Xbox
02 Beyond Good & Evil
A cult classic action-adventure game that’s finally getting the modern prequel that everyone has been clamoring for. While its controls are a little clunky, even for the time it was released, it’s a great example of how weaving environment and story into an action title can really pay off by giving every movement a greater sense of context. For example, stealth sections really amp up the tension because you know what’s at stake, even when the controls aren’t great at executing it. Jade’s camera is also an invaluable tool that feeds into how you solve puzzles and interact with the world around you. It goes to show that you don’t need flashy weapons to make a great action game. DEV Ubisoft RELEASE February 2004 Format Xbox
03 Ninja Gaiden
There’s a special kind of love-hate relationship with game difficulty—it’s both horribly frustrating to run up against, but also wonderfully rewarding once you manage to conquer it. Ninja Gaiden was one of the first series to purposefully push players in this way, which made actually cutting down some of the harder bosses all the more satisfying. Filled with excessive blood and strangely erotic demons, it created a great deal of uproar and backlash, but beneath all of that bluster lay a great combat system that let you string together some impressive combos while you went about fighting evil and saving the day. The storytelling is far from sophisticated, but the fighting was so impressive for its time that it didn’t need to be. DEV Team Ninja RELEASE May 2004 Format Xbox
04 Assassin’s Creed
This is the point where more modern, openworld action games started to take shape— providing large play areas full of obstacles to navigate around using all the moves available to you. With its wall-running and rooftop gymnastics in ancient cities, you can see where Assassin’s Creed imitated Prince Of Persia, but with the new tech that the Xbox 360 provided it really opened things up. While there were set objectives to follow, there was a new, added joy in just exploring the city and doing an elegant eagle dive off its highest points into the safety of a bale of hay. Since that jump’s inception it’s become one of the most iconic moves in gaming. DEV Ubisoft RELEASE November 2007 Format Xbox
Stylish, slick, and wonderfully over the top thanks to its heroine nonchalantly strutting her way through stages, effortlessly slaying thousands of angels, while still finding time to have fun posing for the camera and teasing players. While stages might seem relatively small in size, there was a grandness to each setting’s scale. From ancient city centers, to fighting in space in order to take down God, Bayonetta takes you on one hell of a journey. Thanks to the smaller arenas there’s a much greater investment in how you physically move, making for some of the most polished combat in gaming history. DEV PlatinumGames RELEASE January 2010 Format Xbox 360
06 Red Dead Redemption
Set in a huge Wild West open world over several areas, this makes our list because of how good it feels to travel around and get into all kinds of cowboy mischief. Its brawling and gunplay feel raw and grimy, just like you’d expect from outlaws in the Wild West, which only adds to the feeling of the declining frontier setting. Everything you do has a positive or negative effect on your reputation, so you have to be careful about how much trouble you’re willing to get into. But our favorite thing is the way it feels to ride a horse through the countryside—it just feels like such a natural part of that world and something we would spend hours doing. The plot can wait. DEV Rockstar RELEASE May 2010 FORMAT Xbox 360
07 Dark Souls II
Souls quickly established itself as a cult favorite thanks to its challenging combat, but the second entry in the series is where it really came into its own—and its popularity started exploding. The bleak world was full of insanely tough enemies and unforgiving fights that could see you losing all of your progress. It may have been too much for some, but conquering its harsh bosses has become a badge of honor among gamers across the globe. There’s nothing quite like finally defeating those blasted gargoyles and scratching down a comment on the stone floor for others to see. “I did it!” DEV FromSoftware Release March 2014 Format Xbox 360, Xbox One
08 Batman: Arkham Knight
The final entry in the Batman Arkham series is the finest of them all when it comes to action. Building on everything that came before it, this presents the ultimate version of the series’ super-slick reactive combat. The fighting style of dealing out blows with button-prompts to react to incoming hits has since influenced other games—you can see a very similar version in Middle-earth: Shadow Of War. You also can’t beat the motion of Batman gliding around the city, his cape glistening in the night sky as he dips and grapples his way from building to building. The sense of movement is fantastic; it set a bar for the feeling of flight that other games will need to work hard to beat. DEV Gearbox Software RELEASE June 2015 Format Xbox One
09 Rise Of The Tomb Raider
One of the most famous action series of our time received a complete makeover back in 2013, cementing it as one of the faces of Xbox. This follow-up came two years later, tweaking on the lessons learned from the first title and giving us one of the best action titles of the last ten years. There’s a pretty even split between combat and exploration, which feels very in keeping with Lara’s character—fights are often messy and frantic rather than the polished moves of a fighting veteran, and you can almost feel the fear when she leaps across a large gap, desperately clasping at the edge with a grunt of pain as she holds herself. The subtlety of how she moves is as much of a character-builder as her story is. DEV Crystal Dynamics RELEASE November 2015 Format Xbox One
10 Dishonored 2
The best recent example of the action genre, Dishonored 2 follows on from the story of the first, letting you play as either Emily or Corvo as they attempt to reclaim the throne after a bloody coup. With its steampunkesque setting and multiple endings, there’s a vast array of ways for players to approach its challenges. It excels thanks to the sheer depth of abilities, and thanks to combat that lets you play in any way you like, allowing you to be creative with how you link various skills together. There’s also enough scope to adjust to your preferred play style—whether you prefer to sneak around areas unseen or slaughter everyone in sight, both options are viable. From a range of weapons including swords and crossbows, to supernatural abilities that let you teleport across huge gaps or summon a swarm of rats to dispose of dead bodies for you, the game is flexible enough to support any combination you choose. You can even reject powers completely to give yourself a different kind of challenge if you wish.
Dishonored 2 represents the modern pinnacle of action games, taking lessons from everything that has come before it and providing its own endlessly flexible and creative take on the genre, with a setting that gives depth and purpose to your actions. It’s amazing to see just how far the action genre has come on Xbox. Here’s to a future packed with more astonishing action. DEV Arkane Studios RELEASE November 2016 Format Xbox One