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The saddest, bleakest, most miserable games on PC

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Sometimes it's nice just to wallow, and these glass-half-empty games are the perfect excuse to embrace the sadness. Whether you're coldly nuking half the planet in a hopeless war, or battering manifestations of your own guilt with a plank of wood in an abandoned holiday resort, these games are notable for being truly, deeply grim. Forget hope. Let's get dark.

DEFCON

(Image credit: Introversion)

A Cold War nightmare in which warring superpowers hurl nuclear missiles at each other until absolutely everyone is dead. We’re used to seeing nuclear devastation up close and personal in videogames, but this shows the other side: the eerie silence of the war room as world leaders orchestrate the total destruction of the planet. Occasionally you'll hear a woman softly weeping in the background, which is quietly one of the darkest things I've ever encountered in a videogame. —Andy Kelly

Cart Life

(Image credit: Hofmeier)

A powerfully bleak life sim, Cart Life features a trio of struggling street vendors as they try to juggle their lives and jobs. Each day is spent doing monotonous work for few rewards. Time and finances have to be managed, but there’s never enough of either. There are addictions to feed, too, like cigarettes and coffee. Another expense. They’re all lonely and tired and trapped in a sisyphean cycle, with the daily grind keeping their hopes out of reach. It’s full of quiet tragedies and grasping at little moments, like petting a cat or having a friendly conversation, to get through the day. —Fraser Brown

Dark Souls

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Rekindle the flames of fires long burned out. Previously ruled by dragons, you traipse through a world in ruin as you battle frightful entities and collect their precious souls. Dark Souls' lore is convoluted at the best of times, but it's difficult not to marvel at Lordran, a setting steeped in such historic sorrow. Firelink Shrine will always feel like home, serving as a comforting beacon in a world now absent of hope. Preserve an Age of Fire or usher in the looming darkness. —Emma Matthews

Papers, Please

(Image credit: Lucas Pope)

Work thankless shifts at a grim border crossing, ruining people's lives with cold bureaucracy, and sometimes getting them killed in the process—including yourself and your entire family if you step out of line. A spectacularly bleak game with an oppressive atmosphere, where any glimmer of hope is routinely snuffed out. —Andy Kelly

Max Payne

(Image credit: Remedy)

A New York cop returns home to find his wife and infant daughter murdered by a junkie, and embarks on a quest of bloody vengeance. Max Payne's tongue-in-cheek film noir pastiche is funny and self-aware, but there's an undeniable undercurrent of sadness to everything—particularly the section where Max has to navigate a maze of blood in a black void, accompanied by the sound of his dead baby crying. —Andy Kelly

What Remains of Edith Finch

(Image credit: Giant Sparrow)

As you trace the lives and disturbing deaths that rupture the troubled household of What Remains of Edith Finch, a little piece of you stays with them. It’s a haunting anthology that’s restlessly inventive: it plays with perspective ingeniously to thrust you close to each family member to relive, and understand, their tragic final moments. —Harry Shepherd

Life is Strange

(Image credit: Square Enix)

It turns out you’re never too old to get swept up in teen drama. And tornadoes. Despite the time travel conceit and the apocalyptic storm, Life is Strange is really about awkward teen friendships, tragic gut punches and being forced to make horrible decisions. Whatever choices you make, you’ll inevitably end up an emotional wreck by the end. It’s got big Telltale vibes, but with more grounded characters and, for the most part, familiar problems, everything hits a lot harder. —Fraser Brown

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

(Image credit: IO Interactive)

A pair of hateful, immoral criminals stampede through the streets of Shanghai in an ultimately pointless killing spree. This is a deeply cynical, misanthropic game with absolutely no heart—but that's the point. It’s a brazen, ghoulish murder-fest that’s as twisted and amoral as its heroes, and has no pretensions otherwise. It's weird playing a game where the protagonists have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and honestly, I'd love to see more of that in videogames. —Andy Kelly

This War of Mine

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

A harrowing survival sim where you play as a group of civilians struggling to stay alive in a city gripped by military intervention. This War of Mine is a sobering depiction of war showing the devastating impact on its most vulnerable group. It's an endless struggle for food, medicine and supplies, and with The Little Ones expansion introducing children into the game, This War of Mine takes its story to an even darker place. —Rachel Watts

Dear Esther

Dear Esther

(Image credit: TheChineseCompany)

Not enough videogames are set on bleak, barren Hebridean islands. This first-person narrative game, which arguably kickstarted the walking sim genre, perfectly captures the grey, wind-battered ambience of the Scottish isles, using it to weave a dark and enigmatic story. The narration is randomised every time you play, but whichever order you hear the story in, the ending is always a gutpunch. —Andy Kelly

Frostpunk

Frostpunk: The Last Autumn

(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

Congratulations, you have been tasked with rebuilding the last city on Earth in the bitterly cold winter apocalypse. This city management sim is focused only on survival and it's your job to rebuild London before the harsh cold erases the last of humanity. Introduce child labour laws, force workers to eat sawdust, or create a brutal totalitarian society—do everything you can to keep the looming generator going. Frostpunk turns you into a monster. —Rachel Watts

The Walking Dead: Season One

(Image credit: Telltale Games)

"Lee, don't go". Set against wistful violin, those high-pitched, terrified words never quite left me. The strength and emotional depth of the relationship between a convicted murderer and a little orphan, plunged in adulthood long before her time, ensures that season one of The Walking Dead: The Game remains the best in the series. Despite technical glitches and dodgy animations here and there, its finale left an indelible mark on Clementine for the rest of her life, and mine. —Harry Shepherd

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