Video games are meant to be fun. A lot of people forget that. In a medium where even the biggest of triple-A titles come wrapped up in sweeping narratives and game worlds with vast depth and backstories, it means we can focus too much on aspects of games that were once considered periphery to the core experience.
“Hmm, Arno of Assassin’s Creed Unity isn’t exactly the most engaging character.”
“But did you enjoy jumping off that building and stabbing a hapless henchman in the neck?”
“Err, yeah I suppose so.”
But the success of recent punishingly tough titles like Bloodborne has proven that there are players who seem to go the other way in their pursuit of non-fun. They ramp up the difficulty to sadistic levels of soul-sapping masochism, extending the time it takes to complete the game, and forcing them into exploiting the game’s mechanics in new and interesting ways. It’s surprising some of these players even make it to the parts where they get to off some nameless goons.
But some games do more then just ramp up the difficulty with less player health or bullet soaking enemies. They adjust the inner systems of the game itself to change the way players approach the challenges laid about before them.
Here, we set out some of the best games that are improved by playing on these ridiculously tough difficulty modes.
Call Of Duty
The more recent additions to the Call Of Duty canon have been met with many a sneer from the gaming community for being somewhat uninventive in their approach. It’s easy to see why: the current CoD model basically boils down to shoot some guys, scripted set piece, shoot some more guys, scripted set piece. It means that the game rushes by at an almost incomprehensible, Michael Bay-esque pace, with the player being handheld down restrictive corridors just to make sure they get to the next pre-scripted explosion.
Stick things on Veteran however, and while you still get the same frequency of set-pieces, the time spent between each is greatly increased, with the firefights taking a lot more precision and planning to get through in one piece.
Admittedly (and hundreds of irate forum posters agree with me here), sections of the series feel particularly ‘cheap’ on Veteran difficulty. Moments where enemies spawn infinitely from hidden doorways can blight certain levels, and at one point, an on rails section atop an APC nearly had me throwing my controller about the room in fits of rage.
Gears Of War
Gears Of War is a game for the ‘hardcore’ gamer. You can tell that because it’s got ‘War’ in the title, and loads of manly men being men by lopping off the limbs of aliens in a shower of blood without a shred of conscious remorse. But only the truly steel-nerved sect of gamers atttempt the series on its hardest of difficulties.
Gears Of War has Insane mode. Things start off well enough; Gears Of War’s cover based mechanics means that whether you are behind cover or not is binary; you either are or you aren’t. No poor clipping decisions from the game engine if your head happens to stray slightly above the concrete protrusion you’re camped out behind.
But things quickly get very difficult, and by the time you’re sniping final boss General Raam in a maelstrom of offensive language you’ll be in love. And the key word here is sniping. It’s almost certainly not the most noble style of play, but hanging back as far as you can from the action and firing off a few headshots is the best course of action.
Fallout: New Vegas
With fervent rumours of a Fallout 4 announcement getting the community all in a tizz, let’s take a look back at a game from earlier in the series.
New Vegas continues the highly successful franchise of post-apocalyptic RPGs, but this time takes its setting to the already pretty barren Mojave Desert. So far, so bleak. But the game’s Hardcore mode takes things to the extreme by offering arguably the most ‘realistic’ gameplay mode on this list. When tackling the mode, health pickups do not heal the player instantly as they normally would, but instead increase health over time in a much more true to life manner.
Ammunition has weight, and carrying too much of it will slow your character down; you must stay hydrated and nourished throughout by drinking from fountains and eating regularly; and going without sleep for long periods of time will have detrimental effects on your health.
We thought games were supposed to be a form of escapism from our slowly deteriorating bodies, but New Vegas’ hardcore mode will have you ruing every one of your character’s broken limbs as you struggle to see a doctor (the only way to heal them at this difficulty level). It all makes complete, life mirroring sense when you think about it.
The Dead Space trilogy is one of the defining achievements of last gen’s crop of still brilliant games (Dead Space 4 at this year’s E3 please). If you haven’t played this tense, space-set sci-fi survival horror, you really must. It’s one of the best made survival horror games made in recent years, and we’ll no doubt be looking back with fondness at some of the more brutal moments for years to come (the part where you have to inject the strategy to defeating your enemies directly into your eyeball comes to mind).
If you have played it before, we recommend heading back to tackle the game again through the new unlocked New Game+ mode. Like other games with New Game+, the mode basically allows you to start from the beginning of the game with all of the power-ups and extras you earned on your first play-through intact. Of course, this is offset with a major heightening of the difficulty, and Dead Space removes ammo and health pickups that may have been abundant on your first time around. This only adds to the tense, ammo conserving strategy, and you’ll be jump-scaring your way to an early grave before you know it.
Yet another modern day classic, the Bioshock series ranks up there with their terrifyingly atmospheric settings and amazingly detailed lore. Straddling the lines between straight-up shooter and survival horror brilliantly, it was only a matter of time before the developers added in a game mode surpassing the standard ‘hard’ level that came originally bundled on the disc.
Enter Survivor mode. Exclusive to the expanded PS3 version of the original Bioshock, the modes in-menu description is quite simple: “every bullet counts”. Found yourself emptying entire clips at your enemies when you took a leisurely stroll through hard? You won’t be so lucky on Survivor, with scavenged weapons coming with the least amount of ammunition possible (sometimes only one measly bullet).
You’ll be forced to conserve you ammunition, and this will raise the stakes to pant wetting levels. Enjoy.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Sometimes, video games will allow players the opportunity to unlock further difficulty levels beyond the already stupidly hard ones that are available at launch. Wolfenstein is one such game, proudly baring its old-skool gaming roots through a series of gameplay modifying difficulty levels, most of which even I’m too scared to attempt (there’s one called ‘I Am Death Incarnate’ for instance).
To unlock them, players must first find a series of 72 enigma code pieces scattered throughout the campaign mode, before solving the corresponding codes at the menu screen. So far, so impossible without YouTube walkthrough videos.
Once the enigma codes are solved, you can look forward to such joyful game modes as Hardcore (which removes all health and armour pickups from the game), and the delightful Ironman mode that gives you only one life and permadeath. Great.
The daddy of all survival horror games, Resident Evil tread new ground with its reserved approach to in-game resources. Never before had players been forced to think so carefully about just what it was they could afford to carry around with them, balancing health upgrades with ammunition in a way that probably drove many to OCD levels of inventory management hell.
It already sounds amazingly panic attack inducing, but add into the mix high difficulties levels and you’ll be chewing your fingers to the bone before you know it. The most recent addition to the series, Resident Evil 6 offers a No Hope mode, unlockable through an optional downloadable update. The usual practice of removing health and ammo upgrades is applied, but in a gameplay twist that is sure to herald the sound of shattering plastic against wall, your character’s health isn’t restored between checkpoint reloads. Backed into a corner and surely conquered by the boss you’ve been tackling for hours? Reloading the checkpoint won’t save you here, you’ll have just as little health as you did before. You’ll have to try harder than that!
The latest Alien game is the title that fans of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic have been waiting for for years. A tense, survival horror where you’re stalked through a space station by a lone Xenomorph, Isolation is a masterclass in tension-building game design and downright upsetting scenarios. Players must rely on ambient sound (!) to track the location of the terrifying creature as best they can, and resources are scarce at best. Add into that frequent attacks from terrifying androids, and the tendency for the few surviving humans you do come across to unload their shotguns into your faces, and you’re looking at one of the toughest games of last year.
Reviews from established gaming sites like Gamespot and IGN genuinely leveled criticism at the difficulty of the game, saying that the Aliens attacks often felt random and cheap, popping up on your with little to no prior warning and scuppering your progress through the game. So developer Creative Assembly took the entirely rational approach to these concerns and added a brand new Nightmare mode for free that was even harder. The developer said of the update: “[It’s the] ultimate Alien: Isolation experience, challenging players to explore Sevastopol with a broken motion tracker, no health bar or ammo counter, and all maps offline.”
If Metro 2033’s dank post-apocalyptic setting (the citizens of Russia have been forced into the subway system to escape the harsh nuclear winter raging outside) wasn’t tense enough for you, you could always try ramping things up a notch with the dreaded Ranger difficulty. Intended as a more realistic approach to the underrated shooter, the mode removes all HUD elements such as the usually all important on-screen cross-hairs, and gives you one – maybe two – chances to soak in a bullet before showing you the Game Over screen. Good luck.