When it comes to tough, grind-it-out gaming experiences, the Xbox line of consoles certainly features more than its fair share. Its abundance of chaotic shooters, heart-pumping action games, and creepy survival horror romps geared towards older, more experienced audiences set the stage for a ton of insanely hard games.
This software usually comes with an even higher difficulty setting, often rendering already tricky campaigns as nearly impossible for all but the most skilled and patient gamers.
With that said, let's get locked and loaded as we examine 10 of the strongest examples of titles that feature impossibly tough hard modes.
If you thought this insane top-down shooter was punishing on normal mode, just wait until you manage to power through the game and unlock hard mode!
You basically have to gun your way through the myriad of baddie-filled rooms with military precision, as Hotline Miami 2 feels essentially rigged to work against you at this point. Not only are enemies sharper and react more quickly, but your own efficiency in firefights is also somewhat diminished. Gone is the ability to lock onto enemies when aiming, your ammo is reduced by 65% (Ash and Son notwithstanding), and the level design is tweaked in a number of ways, keeping you even more off-balance.
9 Call Of Duty: World At War
For the most part, Call of Duty campaigns offer some pretty palatable experiences on the games' default normal modes. Yet, cranking the difficulty to Veteran (the hardest difficulty in most of the CoD games) rapidly revs up the insanity in a number of areas.
You'll have to be extremely accurate, swift, and efficient in returning the bombardment of enemy fire you'll be taking. This is because enemies will be quicker in reacting to you, have sharper accuracy, and deal a ton more damage. Checkpoints will also be fewer and farther between, making lethal errors even more costly and inconvenient. Basically, you'll have to use covering to your great advantage, playing in a style that's almost more similar to Gears of War than a typical run-and-gun FPS.
And speaking of which...
8 Gears 5
The Gears series is one that's really emphasized popping in and out of cover at the right time, in addition to maneuvering through obstructions in such a way that allows for a swift, clean kill while making you hard to hit. This even tends to be the case in Gears 5's intermediate mode. Yet, cranking things up to insane or even experienced can yield some quick and unpredictable deaths from all sides.
This is true for earlier games in the Gears of War franchise as well, but this most recent iteration for Xbox One can be particularly maddening with its liberal use of explosives, explosive enemies, crazy boss battles, and sharp-shooting Locust snipers. Basically, there are a ton of ways you can be ended with one hit, and even when you're downed, your AI companions aren't always the sharpest or most reliable. You'll have to really use the assists and upgrades of Jack to your advantage, and even then, nothing is guaranteed.
7 Resident Evil 7
Exploring the Baker household and its psychotic inhabitants can be a creepy endeavor even on the easier difficulties. But in the appropriately titled "Madhouse Mode" your sense of vulnerability is truly at another level. Jack harasses you quite a bit more, and he and other enemies you'll be facing will be smarter and speedier. They'll typically spend a lot less time messing around and often sprint right towards you.
You'll have to play a smart and careful game, because checkpoints become more scarce while enemy spawns become more frequent. You'll even need a Cassette Tape to save at the few Tape Recorder checkpoints you do find. Powering through Madhouse Mode in RE7 may just end up causing you to go mad!
6 Halo 2
The iconic FPS franchise known as Halo hasn't really been known for its absurd difficulty as a whole. Yet, this epic 2nd entry in the series can be quite the rough experience for Master Chief, especially when playing on Legendary.
Much like Gears 5, there are a number of ways which you can get taken out before you even knew what hit you, between the frequent use of enemy grenades, super-powered weapons early in the game like Plasma Rifles, and the pinpoint accuracy of Covenant snipers which can blindside you. Your shields also run at only 50% of its potency, and you'll have to deal with a far greater number of baddies that tend to stick together a lot more.
5 The Evil Within
Much like our previous entry, this nail-biting survival horror game comes with its own version of a hard mode that sports an appropriate name - called "Nightmare Mode."
The already crafty AI hits a level of intelligence to the point that you'll often find yourself ambushed with their sneaky, unpredictable behavior throughout the game's heart-pounding 16-hour campaign. You'll have to fight and spend a decent amount of resources for just about every victory, especially for the insane bosses which must often be evaded. You also won't have an auto-aim ability, nor will you be alerted to nearby foes.
The Evil Within definitely seems to take on the feeling of walking on eggshells when wading through this grueling campaign on Nightmare Mode.
4 XCOM 2
One of the most iconic tactical strategy franchises is the renowned, long-running XCOM series. And, boy, do you need to have a strategic mindset when playing. Not only does the gameplay require a large degree of plotting with its intricacies, but the enemy AI can be unforgiving. This sequel to the 2012 reboot can be particularly grueling, with its vast battlegrounds that require smart, tactical placement and targeting of enemies.
The game comes with 4 difficulty tiers, all of which are at least partly challenging, even the game's Rookie mode. But cranking it up to Legend will truly test your wits and skills. You're stripped of tools to aid you such as a tutorial and aim modification, resource costs are higher, and you'll be clashing with tougher foes at a much earlier point in this extended game.
3 Alien: Isolation
Similar to Resident Evil 7, this thriller effectively keeps you on edge with its relatively small array of enemies harassing you. The tricky (and creepy) part, in this case, is the often erratic, sneaky, and unpredictable nature of the Alien that's out to end you.
While it can be hard enough to evade this creature on the default setting, cranking it up to hard mode makes simple progression through this 20-hour campaign nearly impossible at times. The Alien's senses are greatly heightened and it tends to scour a greater number of areas in closer range of the player. Even playing a crafty, stealthy game could prove futile, particularly towards the end of the game when the Alien seems to come across you regardless. The hostile androids will be much harder to take down as well.
As most gamers who have even casually played this zany sidescrolling shooter know, Cuphead can be an absolute grind just on normal mode. Partnering up with another player helps given the added ability to revive, but often times it can make it hard to focus on the increased chaos in the already enclosed space. But if you've somehow managed to complete the game in its initial phase, you'll unlock Expert Mode, which will have you throwing that controller with great frequency.
The already ominous bosses - which make up the majority of the gameplay - will be given even more health and bring the action to a fever-pitch. You can change the difficulty before these boss fights, but you'll need to fight through Expert Mode to earn those coveted "S" ranks; a feat that's far easier said than done.
1 Dark Souls
More than any on our list, you could make the argument that the entire experience of Dark Souls is itself one large version of "hard mode." But for those masochists who, for some reason, are seeking an even tougher run throughout the grueling 32-hour campaign, you'll find it in the form of "New Game Plus."
This is unlocked following the hard-fought completion of the game's default mode. While enemies will provide more useful souls upon slaying them, you'll also have to fight hard to earn this added loot, as they'll sport even more power and health, forcing you to be both quick and smart in your play.