Let’s get one important fact out of the way before we dive into the deep end of the pool: This is not a historical examination of the most groundbreaking PC games. Not. Even. Close. Sure, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain redefines stealth-based action and Forza Horizon 3 is the definitive open-world racer, but they didn’t make it into this guide based purely on those metrics. Simply put, this an ever-expanding collection of all-around excellent titles you should buy if you own a gaming desktop or laptop.
To clarify, games don’t need to have been released in 2017 (or even 2016) to qualify for this roundup. Any game that’s still available and still considered excellent when ranked against the best of today is eligible. We think that’s the most useful approach to helping you decide which video games deserve space on your PC’s hard drive, and which aren’t worth consideration even when their prices are cut by 85 percent during a Steam sale.
Gaming the System
Compiling this guide was no small undertaking. PCMag’s in-house and freelance editors have played a ridiculous number of PC games over the years, so creating inclusion criteria was essential. Here’s what we came up with. To be included, a game must have been reviewed by PCMag, still be available for purchase, and received a rating of 3.5 stars or greater.
The first requirement is to ensure that we can give you more insight into a game. Yes, this guide goes into some depth on each game entry, but the ability to link to a full review benefits those looking for a deeper cut. The second point we’ve already covered. The third point required a bit of pondering. We didn’t want to set the star rating so low that damn near every PC game qualified for the guide, yet we didn’t want to set the star rating so high that we exclude quality B-tier games, such as Killer Is Dead and Transformers: Devastation. For now, three stars is the happy medium, but, as we review more games, we may have to be choosier, to keep the list at a manageable size.
Digging Into Our Picks
There are currently more than 100 games in this PC gaming guide, so making navigation as simple as possible was an extremely high priority for our creative commandos. The games are grouped alphabetically by genre, and the titles in each category are listed in alphabetical order. Simply select a genre, say Fighting Games, and the page jumps to that section. Easy!
Please note that we are currently working to fill in a few thinly populated genres. Commenters have noted the dearth of horror and MMORPGs in previous incarnations of this guide, so our editorial team is focused on reviewing more titles that might warrant inclusion in those categories. This, friends, is all about you.
Join the Conversation
If you disagree with our picks, or feel that we should review a game that somehow slipped through the cracks, sound off in the comments section below—we welcome your input! Just keep it civil.
Oh, and if you’re a console gamer who thinks that we’re biased toward PC gaming because we’re PCMag—you’re right! Still, our staff has assembled their top picks for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and 3DS. Those roundups aren’t quite as robust as this one, as the PC has a much deeper library and, well, this is PC Magazine.
We now present the best PC games. Enjoy!
Best Action Games
Tic Toc Games’ Adventures of Pip is a side-scrolling action-platformer that’s based on an interesting premise: evolving and devolving a pixel-based hero between his 1-bit and 16-bit forms to fight through level after level of goons and bosses. The unique premise, rich environments, and fun gameplay combine to form a game with a lot of heart and charm, despite the limited scope of its weapons and power-ups.
Developer Tom Happ, who is known for his work on EA Sports’ Tiger Woods PGA Tour and NFL Street franchises, has gone indie and crafted a delightful tribute to the exploratory action genre (aka Metroidvania). This 2D platformer combines the best aspects of classic side-scrollers like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid to deliver a refined experience for newcomers of the genre and seasoned vets alike. Axiom Verge is a fun, engaging title, but plodding story elements and seemingly pointless weapons mar the experience a bit.
“If you liked X, you’ll love Y!” might be the cheapest of critical plaudits, but sometimes nothing else will do. So here goes: If you liked Batman: Arkham Asylum, you’ll love Batman: Arkham City. Developer Rocksteady Studios borrows everything from Asylum that worked (thrilling fighting, excellent voice acting), though it delivers far less innovation. This makes Arkham City derivative, but the game’s packed with enough goon-busting fun that it still stands as one of the PC’s best action games.
The original Bayonetta is one of the best action games ever made, and it easily stands alongside such genre classics as God Hand, Devil May Cry 3, and Ninja Gaiden Black. It features explosive action, and it tests your combo prowess against every divine creature in the good book. Despite Bayonetta’s poor PlayStation 3 performance, this PC port is excellent. It delivers the action at a rock-solid frame rate and a range of uncommon resolutions, which makes this version the definitive angel-slaying experience.
Cuphead is a charming run-and-gun/shoot-’em-up hybrid that channels Konami’s iconic Contra series, while also taking heavy inspiration from the rubber-hose animation style that was prominent during 1920s- and 1930s-era cartoons. If you’re familiar with the Contra series’ fast-paced gameplay, then Cuphead should be right up your alley. The titular protagonist and his brother Mugman must best a wide variety of perilous stages and bosses to complete their quest. Cuphead lacks the expansive level design featured in Contra and other genre classics, but the hardcore action game gives you a beefy list of complex and satisfying boss fights to overcome, in the style of Treasure’s beloved Alien Soldier.
$19.99 at Green Man GamingWhen Techland’s Dead Island trailer debuted, it featured one of the most moving video game sequences ever produced: a small child and her family being slaughtered by zombies against the backdrop of a soft, haunting Giles Lamb musical score. Dead Island’s gameplay doesn’t quite match the trailer’s promise, but the open-world action-RPG offers a very solid zombie-slaying good time as you craft weapons and try to stay alive in an island paradise gone wrong.
Best Price at AmazonFrank West returns to zombie-slaying action in Dead Rising 2: Off The Record. Capcom’s reimagining Dead Rising 2 sees the gruff photojournalist facing off against a wider array of monsters, building new weapons, snapping photos, and best of all, mixing it up in a new open-world sandbox mode. Stomping the undead is fun—for a while—but bugs and repetitive gameplay keep Dead Rising 2 from achieving true greatness.
$24.99 at Green Man GamingDevil May Cry 4: Special Edition takes everything that made Capcom’s original 2008 release an impressive action game and expands on it. The game includes the Legendary Dark Knight enemy horde mode that was added to the original PC port, as well as three new playable characters, improved visuals, and subtle gameplay tweaks. Some of the weaker aspects of the original release, such as the repetitive story campaign, remain and slightly tarnish an otherwise brilliantly polished title. Overall, Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is a rock-solid action game that is well worth picking up for fans of the series and action buffs alike.