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Every week we ask you to rank a series or just reminisce about PC games in a not-very-scientific survey. Look for the survey link in our Twitter and Facebook feeds each week, and the results every Friday. Previously, we ranked the Mass Effect and Call of Duty series.
You guys really love hard games, or at least, you love whichever game you remember as the hardest. In my latest survey, I asked respondents to rank the hardest game they've played on a scale of 1-10. Over 40% scored their most challenging experience a 10, and 70% scored it an 8 or higher.
You also love a lot of different hard games, and have different ideas about what makes a game 'hard.' Among 2,660 respondents, the top game cited as the hardest they've ever played was only mentioned 385 times—around 14% of the total. (Actually, one person wrote in SEGA Bass Fishing 1,006 times, but I've cut that from the results, along with several variations of "your mom.")
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Unsurprisingly, Dark Souls got the most mentions, with 14% saying it was the hardest game they've ever played. It was followed by Dark Souls 2, which took in about 5% of the results. From there, though, the results are immediately diverse, with shooters, platformers, puzzle games, strategy games, and MOBAs all bunched together. When I cut out jokes, console games, games with specific caveats, and those that received only one or two mentions, I was still left with over 70 games. (Here's my curated list of the top 77.)
The top 10, naturally, are the most popular hard games—and games that are arguably best known for being hard—so the results actually get more interesting the deeper into the list I go. At number 11, for instance, you'll find I Wanna Be The Boshy, a fan game based on number six, I Wanna Be The Guy, an intentionally difficult tribute to early platformers.
Further down (and I'm skipping around a bit), we find StarCraft II, STALKER, Insurgency, Alien Isolation, Kerbal Space Program, the Touhou series, VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, SpaceChem, Dustforce, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and, of course, Bad Rats, a notoriously awful game which has accrued a positive rating on Steam, because ironic Steam reviews are all the rage.
VVVVVV, Volgarr the Viking, Dustforce, and SpaceChem all come recommended (I don't think I ever made it past Vogarr's first stage, though). I did expect to see a few more puzzle games. One game no one mentioned, I presume because it's newer and a bit more niche, is TIS-100. It's made by the creators of SpaceChem and Infinifactory, and might be one of the most challenging puzzle games I've played (though it's presumably easier for experienced programmers, and anyone who paid more attention in school than I did). Print out the manual if you can.
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All of the games I mentioned up there can easily be described as 'hard,' if for different reasons. Against skilled opponents, CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, and StarCraft 2 are very hard, and they're complex. Dwarf Fortress and Kerbal Space Program require a lot of learning. Super Hexagon, and the bullet-hell games and platformers, require precision control.
But plenty of games which aren't known for being hard can be very hard. The Witcher 2, for instance, came in at 19, in part due to its permadeath mode and first boss. Those damn RC missions from GTA: San Andreas also came up. Civilization V on Diety difficulty, too.
In the survey, I asked which difficulty setting (based on four generic settings) the takers were most likely to choose when starting a new game. The distribution is about as I expected: almost no one takes the easy route, the most people (39.8%) leave it on the normal difficulty, and slightly fewer choose the hard (28.7%) or the hardest modes (26%).
When asked to tell us the worst thing they've done to express frustration with a game, plenty said that they don't react physically—they curse, uninstall the game, go outside, or do other healthy-sounding things. "[I] stopped playing for few months to get over my anger and hopefully renew my interest," said King_Matt. A calm and wise king is Matt. We can all learn from the great King_Matt.
And apparently, a lot of us need to. The word "broke" came up 222 times and "smash" was included in over 100 responses. Banana peels came up an awful lot, too. Here are a few examples:
I chucked my keyboard at my brick wall. It dragged the desktop with it. It corrupted my hard drive, broke my keyboard and most functions on the case didn't work properly. - Abernath
Thrown a banana peel out the window. But I picked it up later. - Kenu
I once got so frustrated while just trying to get fuel up to my ship [in Kerbal Space Program] that was trying to get to Mun that I decided to fly all my rockets into Kerbol (the sun). I spent about 5 hours just designing the booster/fuel ships to help get my whole fleet there and give them the last push into its blinding embrace. Once every single one was burned to ash, and all the crew with it, I deleted the save and went to bed. It was only after I woke up that I realized what I had done. To say the least, I cried. - Nerd__Guy
Threw my lamp out the window. It was a damn good lamp too. - Anonymous
Literally ripped out a chunk of hair in frustration once. - Nate Dogg
I actually broke my grandfather's trackball mouse while playing when I was a kid on his PC. I had to buy him a new mouse from Walmart. - Brain
Threw more money at it. This is a recurring theme with me in multiplayer games. - Ryan Daniels
In my grandest fit of frustration, I suppressed my volatile feelings with the warm, cheesy comfort of Hot Pockets. A lot of them. It turns out one man can eat a lot of Hot Pockets. They come out a lot faster than they go in. - Chudbunkis
Threw a banana peel at the screen. - As7iX
Broke a finger. - Dodie
I predicted that Dark Souls would be the most popular game in the survey, so I added an extra question. I asked everyone, regardless of which game they put down as the hardest, to agree or disagree with the statement "Dark Souls isn't even that hard, ugh." I think we can all agree that I chose an extremely unscientific way to phrase the question, but we definitely can't all agree on whether or not Dark Souls is hard.
Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.
There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.
There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example).
What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.
Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.
Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.
For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.
After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark.
For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.
With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing.
Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.
Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.
The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.
While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.
Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.
As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).
Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.
Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.
Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.
After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.
An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.
There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air.
Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."
No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.
It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.
So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.
A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.
This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.
The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.
Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.
Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.
When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.
Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.
Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.
The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.