People play games for all sorts of different reasons. Some just want to relax and experience a digital world designed to entertain them. Others like finding clues and solving puzzles. Then there are those who go looking for a challenge.
If you fit into that last category, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a list of our favorite games to crank up the difficulty and dive into, fighting hard for every inch of progress. It’s not easy, and it’s not for everyone. But for us, it’s worth it.
1. The Last of Us
For the characters in The Last of Us, survival is a struggle from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep. So why should the experience of playing the game be any different? To get a taste of the problems Ellie and Joel face, you can always try playing it on the Survivor difficulty mode, which is unlocked when you beat the game on any difficulty.
In Survivor Mode, supplies are tough to come by. Listen mode, which helps you locate enemies, is disabled. And naturally the enemies mess you up with double damage.
But if you’re really in the mood for a challenge, you can download Grounded Mode (it’s DLC for the PS3 version of the game, but comes included with the PS4 Remastered edition). Grounded Mode further reduces how many supplies you’ll find, gets rid of the heads-up display (which lets you know how much ammo you have left), makes enemies do triple damage, and removes many of the checkpoints from the game. In other words, it’s not for the faint of heart.
2. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold : Fafnir Knight
The makers of Etrian Odyssey have been on a roll lately, pumping out excellent remakes of the series’ early installments on the Nintendo 3DS. These dungeon crawler role-playing games are known for their brutal difficulty, so in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, these remakes include an easier mode.
Our advice? After you’ve gotten the hang of the gameplay, go ahead and turn the difficulty up to hard to see what you’re missing. The game becomes an entirely different beast when death lurks around every corner. You have to ration your items, make more trips back to town to save, and watch your step against the beastly FOE enemies that lurk in every dungeon.
It’s no walk in the park, but nothing feels better than clearing a dungeon after a hard-won adventure.
3. Fallout: New Vegas
The difference between the standard difficulty settings in Fallout: New Vegas come down to how tough the enemies are to take down. Then there’s Hardcore Mode, which is a different thing altogether.
Hardcore Mode is an added layer of realism that makes the game much more of a challenge. For one thing, you now have to eat, drink, and sleep regularly. If you don’t, your health will suffer. Unlike in standard modes, ammunition counts against the amount of weight you can carry, which means you can’t vacuum up every stray bullet you come across. And stimpacks and Rad-X — which normally heal you immediately — now heal you over time.
So yes, Hardcore Mode makes things significantly more challenging. But if your goal is to immerse yourself in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, you won’t find a more realistic experience than this. Be careful, though. If you turn Hardcore Mode off, you can’t turn it back on without starting over from the beginning.
4. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
If the standard action of a Call of Duty campaign has begun to feel rote after years of annual releases, there’s only one thing to do: ratchet the difficulty up to Veteran.
Now sections that would normally require just a few well-placed headshots become strategic set pieces where every inch of advancement is hard won. There’s no charging out into battle here unless you want to be immediately overcome. Veteran mode makes you rethink your approach to the game, which is a nice change of pace after years of campaigns that start to blend together.
5. Rock Band 3
One does not simply turn up the difficulty in Rock Band 3. Succeeding on a higher level takes hours of practice and repetition. The difference between difficulty settings is plain to see right there on the screen: the cascade of notes increases significantly when you go from Easy to Medium to Hard, and finally to Expert.
In effect, Expert Mode is as close as you can get to playing the real song without strapping on a Stratocaster. It takes a lot of practice and perseverance. But once you get on the level, and you start shredding through the hardest songs on Expert, you’ll feel like Jimi Hendrix himself.
6. Fire Emblem: Awakening
The Fire Emblem series is one of the best — and potentially most brutal — strategy games around. This game doesn’t even have an easy mode. Normal is for beginners, Hard is for experienced players, and Lunatic is for experts. If you beat the game on Lunatic, however, you unlock a Lunatic + mode, which makes the game downright brutal. Weapons degrade with use and enemies pack a serious punch.
And if you choose Classic Mode, when your characters die they stay dead. Nothing raises the stakes in a game like permanently losing one of the characters you’ve grown attached to. Sure, you can reset the game to bring them back, but that doesn’t sound very hardcore.
7. Alien: Isolation
Even on the normal difficulty mode, Alien: Isolation is a horrific nightmare of struggle and death. After all, it’s a game about being hunted by a creature perfectly evolved to kill. But if you’re looking for a sustained blast of feverish difficulty, you at least have to try Nightmare mode.
Playing the entire game in this mode is not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. This mode removes the map, making it harder to know where to go. It makes your motion tracker less reliable. It removes the HUD so you can’t see how much health you have left. And it makes your weapons less effective.
What’s not to love?