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5 Most Brutal Difficulty Spikes in Gaming



Difficulty spikes have been laced into video games for decades, simply as ways to keep the player on their toes as new endeavours unfold. For many, these are a vital part of any bog-standard game, as they help act as interludes between drastic shifts in pace. Though, for the remainder, they're tedious fillers that are unnecessarily complex and unforgiving.

Anyway, it doesn't matter which side of the fence you sit on, because the fact is, difficulty spikes are a huge part of gaming, and it's unlikely they'll get the formal boot at any point in the future, either. The question is, which games possess the harshest difficulty spikes in 2022, and which haven't we still forgiven even to this day? Well, here's how we currently see it.

5. Opening (Frostpunk)

FROSTPUNK Trailer (2019) PS4 / Xbox One / PC

Frostpunk is a city-building game that sees you governing an icy citadel in sub-zero temperatures. As the world around succumbs to frostbite and mass starvation, you must do all in your power to turn the tide and give the people something to fight for. The only problem is, well, you're given roughly ten minutes to devise a concrete strategy that'll guarantee your people's survival. Herein lies the brutal difficulty spike that only a minor portion of players will find the patience to overcome.

Of course, there are perks to solving the harsh temperatures and natural disasters that plague the frosty walls. However, to reach such a goal and enjoy the benefits of stability, you'll first have to learn to swim in the deepest depths of morality. Every decision you make bears a harsh consequence, so you'd best make fifteen to twenty good ones right off the bat, or else it's a cold, wintry and bitter death for you.


4. VATS (Fallout 4)

It's funny, because anyone who considers themselves hardened veterans of the Fallout series will probably laugh at those who struggle to comprehend the VATS strategy. It's a combat system that can quite easily shift the tide in any battle, and yet it also comes with quite the learning curve. Once mastered, however, it becomes an essential tool in any given encounter. But, for newcomers to the franchise, it's a labyrinth inside of a maze, as well as a complex weapon that's made to feel technically advanced.

VATS, or Vault-Tech Advanced Targeting System, is a combat technique that allows for players to slow down time and stack precision over blind fire. Sounds useful, sure, but it goes much deeper than that, and it certainly adds a bit of complexity to the game once introduced. For many, believe it or not, it's a redundant feature that bears little use other than to throw the player off their game. It's laced with mixed feedback, that's for sure.


3. Asteroid Defense (Dead Space)

The one thing that's been bugging us ever since the Dead Space remake announcement is the memory of the god-awful asteroid defensive mini-game. Truth is, we still haven't forgiven Visceral Games for that monstrosity. It was so bad that it actually caused a huge portion of players to jump ship and abandon the game for good. And what made it worse was the fact that it popped up about 95% into the campaign, which made the punishment just that little bit crueler.

Of course, Dead Space isn't the easiest game in the world. After all, with ammo preservation being the key for survival, it does make the countless bullet sponges that much harder to defeat. That said, it was tolerable, and definitely avoidable so long as you chiseled in stealth every once in a while. But once the asteroid mini-game came around, stealth flew out of the window, and it was suddenly every player for themselves. Not a great way to end an otherwise perfect horror story, to be fair. Tut tut, Visceral.


2. Sauron's Army (Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor)

Shadow of Mordor is in receipt of a whole ocean of innovative ideas. On top of its flawless Arkham-style combat mechanics, it also holds a military-like hierarchy of orcs that aids the overall upkeep of the campaign. Nemesis, which is another way of basically saying food chain in Middle-earth tongue, is a tiered system that involves orcs of all ranks and backgrounds. Your role, while also undertaking an entirely different story, is to unravel the Nemesis system and dismantle it from the ground up. Easier said than done, of course, as each death you suffer results in the enemy ranks getting thicker.

You see, if an orc kills you in Shadow of Mordor, then it automatically moves up the hierarchy. If you yield to multiple orcs, then you'll quickly find yourself being hunted and crushed by an entire army with every respawn. So, to counter Sauron's Army and all of its subordinates, you must first learn to whittle down its numbers in the appropriate order. If you die one too many times, then the game basically becomes impossible to beat, as Middle-earth sinks into an uncontrollable bloodbath of skirmishes and boss encounters. Not fun, like, at all.


1. The Race (Mafia)

There's nothing more off-putting than seeing a race sewn into what should technically be an action-adventure game. It catches you off guard, and it disrupts that all-powerful mojo that you spent hours trying to perfect. Such a thing exists in Mafia, and to this day we still haven't been able to get over how tedious it was to beat. Even the Definitive Edition failed to rectify the car crash that was the big race.

At a glance, Mafia is hands down one of the best story-driven video games of all time. But ask anyone who's shoveled through it what their least favorite moment was, and they'll tell you the brutally difficult race, every time. For a few, it was the nail in the coffin, and the reason for countless rate quits. Crossing that checkered flag never felt so good, but boy, it sure took a few times to reach it. Worth it? Meh.


So, what's your take? Do you agree with our top five difficulty spikes? Let us know over on our socials here or down in the comments below.

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.