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The hardest games on PC

Devil Daggers
(Image credit: Sorath)

A lot of games, especially these days, will do anything to make sure you never get stuck. But some, like the following devilish examples, delight in making you miserable. Every game listed here is, in some way, hard. Sometimes it's on purpose, other times it's a result of bad design. But the thing that connects them all is that, to get the most out of them, you're going to have to endure some misery. Welcome to the pain zone.

Devil Daggers

(Image credit: Sorath)

This frantic shooter is Quake distilled into its purest, most violent essence. You spawn on a circular platform in a nightmarish void as laughing skulls and other beasts attack in increasingly furious waves. You might only last a minute, or a fraction of that, but every second that passes where you don't die feels like a victory. —Andy Kelly

Dirt Rally

(Image credit: Codemasters)

This hardcore driving sim is a nerve-shredding test of patience, dexterity, and keeping cool under pressure. Slinging one of those monstrously powerful '80s rally cars, like the lethal Lancia Stratos, through tight, sloppy mud tracks, inches away from a race-ending collision with a tree, is absolutely terrifying. But the thrill of limping over the finish line, dented, broken, and punctured, makes all the stress worth it. —Andy Kelly

I Wanna Be the Guy

(Image credit: Michael 'Kayin' O'Reilly)

I Wanna Be the Guy is a 2007 platformer where the entire game is designed to kill you. It shares DNA with the likes of VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy, but where those games are always transparent about the hazards ahead, IWBTG actively conceals its dangers from you. Spike traps will drop suddenly from off-screen, while many platforms will be invisible until you land on them. It can only be completed through learning by rote, making it phenomenally challenging. —Rick Lane

X-COM: Terror from the Deep

(Image credit: MicroProse)

When people complained that UFO: Enemy Unknown, the first X-COM, was too easy, developer MicroProse took it personally and made its sequel, Terror from the Deep, extra hard. It later transpired that this was because of a bug that set UFO's difficulty to beginner, no matter what difficulty mode was selected, but the damage was done. Terror from the Deep is a PC classic, but its gruelling two-part missions and strong enemies (curse ye, lobstermen) make it rock solid. —Andy Kelly

Icewind Dale

(Image credit: Black Isle Studios)

This classic CRPG strips almost all of the exploration, dialogue, and questing out of Baldur's Gate, instead focusing on dungeons and combat. There's still a lot of great role-playing here, and some beautiful world-building. Dorn's Deep is incredible. But most of the game is spent fighting hordes of monsters, wizards, yetis, and other winter-themed badness. And the fights, particularly the bosses, are extremely difficult, requiring a deep understanding of the game's real-time-with-pause D&D-based battle system. —Andy Kelly

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Ghost Recon today is only as hard as your armour isn’t, a matter of scraping the map for the best loot. The 2001 original, however, was an uncompromising special forces simulation. With no cover to speak of, you were forced to inch your way across blank terrain, waiting to get your head shot off by a camouflaged sniper. —Jeremy Peel

Osu!

(Image credit: Dean 'Peppy' Herbert)

Achieving a high score in rhythm game Osu! demands not only memorisation of your chosen song's beats, but the raw, mechanical skill to nail hundreds of fast movements and clicks for minutes at a time. It's no surprise FPS pros use it as a training tool while others vie for world records. If you think you have godlike reflexes, you can download it here for free. —Andy Kelly

KGB

(Image credit: Cryo)

Later released as Conspiracy, KGB is a brutally punishing adventure game set in Russia at the end of the Cold War. The game features countless sudden deaths, mistakes you won't know you've made until hours later, and a real-time clock adding pressure to everything you do. Honestly, it isn't much fun, but the classy neo-noir atmosphere and cutscenes starring acting legend Donald Sutherland make it worth a look. —Andy Kelly

Super Meat Boy

(Image credit: Team Meat)

Team Meat reduced the platformer to only its cruelest elements—buzzsaws, lasers, and insta-death drops into pits of upturned needles. In fact, I think the needles were new to the genre, a wince-worthy punchline to this infamous series of escalating challenges. The checkpoints and tight controls are a mercy, at least. —Jeremy Peel

Baba Is You

(Image credit: Hempuli Oy)

The rabbit creature in Baba is You may look cute, but don't be deceived. This block-pushing puzzle game is super difficult. By forming sentences with blocks, you manipulate the rules of each level in an attempt to get Baba to that precious golden flag. The key to solving its devious puzzles is to let go of every intuition you've picked up from playing games, and that's incredibly difficult. It's a game where the phrase 'think outside the box' has never been more appropriate. —Rachel Watts

DayZ

(Image credit: Bohemia Interactive)

DayZ is miserable by design. Everything about it is meant to sap your spirit, whether it's the punishing survival systems, bleak post-Soviet landscape, or the behaviour of other players, which is frequently depressing. And the zombies too, I guess, but they're the least interesting thing about the game. This is a game that delights in snatching everything away from you without warning, whether you're a freshly hatched player in a t-shirt or a veteran bandit in full military fatigues. No one is safe. —Andy Kelly

Jungle Strike

(Image credit: EA)

Released on DOS in 1995, Jungle Strike is an intensely challenging helicopter shoot ‘em up that originally launched on the Genesis. Throwing you into levels bristling with dangerous enemies, it offers minimal direction on how to complete objectives, with many having timed elements to them. It’s also a game that loves to mess with the player, aptly demonstrated by its evil fourth level “Night Strike”. Taking place in a pitch-black environment illuminated only by your own gunfire, Night Strike leaves you extremely vulnerable to being ambushed by enemies. —Rick Lane

Return of the Obra Dinn

(Image credit: Lucas Pope)

This nautical detective game is brilliantly designed, but correctly identifying the crew of its titular ship requires you to become an actual detective—which, as it turns out, is quite tricky. Ninety percent of the time you're playing it you feel crushingly stupid, but it's the other 10 percent when clues slide into place and revelations form that makes it special. For a brief moment you feel like a master sleuth. At least until you get stuck again moments later. —Andy Kelly

Hollow Knight

(Image credit: Team Cherry)

Hollow Knight proves a bug's life is hard. Once you've made it to a boss in one piece, you'll need both your reflexes and your memorisation skills to make it through fights that are never quite the same from attempt to attempt. But when you lose, and you will, you're dropped off at the beginning, costing you precious time. The true form of the final boss and later DLC bosses are especially brutal gauntlets. —Malindy Hetfeld

Arma 3

(Image credit: Bohemia Interactive)

The Arma series prides itself on its authentic representation of large-scale military combat. Battles generally occur at extremely long range, and a single shot can be fatal. The result is Death rears his ugly head more frequently than in all the Discworld novels combined. You often won’t know what killed you until the camera pans to a soldier hidden in a bush over a mile away. —Rick Lane

Dark Seed

(Image credit: Cyberdreams)

Time limits were all the rage in '90s adventure games, but Dark Seed took the idea to new extremes. The things you have to do to progress must be performed within very precise time limits, otherwise the game becomes unwinnable and you'll be stuck in its bio-organic Hellscape forever. Overall, a fairly miserable experience, but Dark Seed is notable because its art director was none other than H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist who is perhaps most famous for designing the xenomorph in Alien. —Andy Kelly

Dead Cells

(Image credit: Motion Twin)

To play Dead Cells is to expect the unexpected. Randomised level layouts and weapon drops keep the game fresh, but they also mean you need to be able to handle any weapon, which includes getting your timing right and positioning yourself correctly in rows upon rows of narrow corridors. —Malindy Hetfeld

Gabriel Knight 3

(Image credit: Sierra)

Gabriel Knight 3 is infamous for its terrible puzzle design, with wilfully obscure conundrums that require over-elaborate and frankly illogical solutions to mundane problems. Its most notorious puzzle (which has its own Wikipedia page) involves trying to hire a motorcycle with someone’s else’s passport and a fake moustache made of cat hair. It’s a deeply mediocre game, but you’ll struggle to find one more bamboozling. —Rick Lane

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