Video games is a subject often ostracized and criticized by whoever can benefit from it. Political, social, and religious activists like to promote ideas of video games affecting youth in negative ways. I remember an article in an old issue of “The Watchtower” claiming that games may lead teenagers to satanism. At the same time, I do remember games such as “Manhunt” or “Postal” banned in a number of countries due to excessive cruelty—they were indeed sick, not entertaining.
Overall, I disagree with the thought that games are necessarily harmful. As in the case of perhaps any media product, there are games of different quality, and aimed at different target audiences. A fan of fast-paced first-person shooters will probably dislike thoughtful strategies such as Civilization V. Children will enjoy Mario Kart or Splatoon, but should not be allowed to play Outlast or Grand Theft Auto, as they could indeed hurt them (and still, it is important to remember that it is parents, not developers, who are responsible for children in the first place). Depending on what you like more, you will find a game suitable for you: role-playing games, racing simulators, space exploration, war strategies, city builders, economic simulators, and so on.
There is a genre, however, which I believe has a very limited audience: hardcore games. These video games do not just tell you a story or require you to push buttons for things to happen, but challenge you. Hardcore games make you beat them. And despite all the hardships, all the sweat and tears, there are loads of fun and satisfaction in such games, because every victory feels like a real one. Here is a list of the three most-difficult games that were released throughout the recent decade. It is completely subjective, but I believe many gamers around the world would agree with my opinion.
So, number one–and my personal favorite–is Dark Souls. On May 24th, its developer released a remastered version of the game, with better textures, effects, and resolution. It also includes several important bug fixes, and the “Artorias of the Abyss” add-on. Initially released on personal computers in 2009, Dark Souls immediately became a new standard: a dark and decadent atmosphere, deep mythology, character design, and unique gameplay made it a favorite for hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world. Unlike many role-playing games, Dark Souls forced you to improve your own skills rather than the skills of your in-game character. No armor and weapons would save you from dying in this game if your reflexes were not sharp enough to dodge attacks and memorize your enemies’ attacking patterns. The first PC version had a subheading, “Prepare to Die Edition,” which was accurate. Dying was a necessary part of the gameplay process, an indicator that a player did something wrong. The more you learned about the game, the fewer times your character would die. The game’s two sequels, based on the same principles, were as successful as the first part, and inspired multiple ideological followers. One of them made it to the second position of this list.
It is called The Surge. Released in 2017 by the German studio “Deck13,” the game tortured players with extremely unfair difficulty. If in Dark Souls every loss resulted from a player’s mistake, in the case of The Surge, losses occurred mostly because developers often put players in unrealistic fighting conditions. My favorite example of this approach is a fight against three extremely agile enemies at a time, standing knee-deep in poisonous waste next to a nearly bottomless elevator shaft. Each enemy was capable of destroying my character in two or three hits. By the end of the game, I ran into enemies killing my character with the first blow. I never made it to the end of the game, despite of being a veteran of all three parts of Dark Souls–I abandoned The Surge an hour away from the final fight. And the reason was not just the complexity: I would deal with it if there was something more to the game. However, the unusual science-fiction setting did not help to mask poor level design, a crude balance, and a small amount of content. There were some nice findings, such as tactical aiming in melee combat, but in general I remember The Surge primarily due to its unfair difficulty.
Speaking of other genres besides third-person action games, I would like to credit Faster Than Light (FTL). Released in 2012, it still remains an example of a well-done independent space simulator—at least for me. I sincerely enjoy every aspect of FTL: its 16-bit-like music, pixelated simplistic graphics, procedurally generated situations both inside and outside combat, spaceship management, and the unique atmosphere the game creates. There is no plot. FTL is all about getting from point A to point B. Chased by an enemy fleet, you must guide your ship through several star systems. During the process, you upgrade your vessel, hire crew, loot or purchase weapons, participate in mini-quests, and make tough decisions. You also have to scavenge for fuel and resources, fight pirates and other enemies, and defeat a huge boss in the end. Once you do it, you unlock new conditions and technologies for a new playthrough. The trick is that all gear, resources, and quests are generated at random, so you never know what challenges you will face, and how prepared for them you will be. Sometimes you will get to the final destination fully stocked; sometimes your ship will be destroyed in the very beginning. Success in this game depends on luck, but also on your ability to make the best even out of the worst situation.
These are just some examples of the difficult games I find enjoyable. There are many other hardcore games: Nioh, Don’t Starve, Myst, Super Meat Boy, X-3 Reunion, XCOM, Devil May Cry 3, Civilization (try playing it on the highest difficulty), and so on. Writing about each of them would take too much time and space. Some of them are about fighting—others about thinking and careful planning. Such games can be extremely frustrating, but also fun as well. Each of these games, whether you liked them or not, you will remember for a long time after you beat them. And, they make a nice form of distraction and entertainment as well.