You don’t always want to play games that put up an incredible challenge, but when you do and you find a game that does that well, there’s nothing quite like it. Even more impressive is when you turn a game that is otherwise not particularly hard up to its highest difficulty setting, and it ends up delivering a truly well balanced and engrossing experience that feels tough but fair. Here, we’re going to talk about a few games on the PS5 that feature hardcore difficulty modes – or whatever else they choose to call it – that you should definitely check out.


The Last of Us Part 1

Intensity and tension are hallmarks of The Last of Us’ gameplay, and if you want to kick that up yet another notch, Grounded difficulty is the way to go. On top of making enemies deadlier and things such as ammo and resources scarcer, not only does it completely remove Listen mode, it also removes several elements of the HUD, and truly lives up to its name in delivering a tough-as-nails experience. Combine it with permadeath turned on, and you get an even more nail-biting experience.


Horizon Forbidden West_03

If you want Horizon Forbidden West’s machines to truly feel as fearsome to take on in combat as they tend to look, then its Ultra Hard difficulty setting is what you’re looking for. The Very Hard mode is an excellent setting as well, if you’re looking for a challenge, but Ultra Hard, which is locked to New Game Plus mode, elevates things even further. Making full and proper use of your arsenal and targeting enemies’ weaknesses with pinpoint accuracy becomes key on this difficulty.


dead space remake

Dead Space is not for the faint of heart no matter what difficulty you play it on, but the truly brave will probably want to look into its Impossible difficulty setting. Like Hard mode, it makes Isaac’s attacks much less hard-hitting and enemies’ attacks much deadlier, but also adds other challenges on top. There are no autosaves and you only have one save file, and most importantly, you only have one single life- if you die, you can either knock it down to Hard and continue playing, or restart your save from the very beginning.


the callisto protocol

The Callisto Protocol has plenty of issues, and especially when compared to the likes of the aforementioned Dead Space, it falls woefully short in more ways than one. Playing it on Hardcore mode though, which was added in a post-launch update, is quite a fun experience. Resource and ammo drops are reduced, enemies do more damage, mutations happen much more quickly, and your attacks with the baton don’t hit quite as hard. It certainly ramps up the tension, that’s for sure- and given the fact that a lack of proper intensity is one of The Callisto Protocol’s biggest issues, that’s a huge bonus.


Sifu (3)

Even on its default difficulty, Sifu is a gruelingly difficult game, but for the masochist in all of us that loves a challenge, Master mode is something of a dream come true. Added in a post-launch update (alongside an easy mode, funnily enough), Master mode makes enemies significantly more aggressive, while bosses also come at you with new attack patterns, which means you essentially have to relearn the game and all of its patterns. Mastering Master mode is easier said than done, but boy is it satisfying.


Evil West

Three out of Evil West’s four available difficulty options aren’t necessarily all that challenging- but the highest of them all, called Evil mode, definitely lives up to the billing. Enemies have massive health pools and are much more aggressive, while you are much more susceptible to damage as well, making each combat encounter that much more intense. Meanwhile, if you end up enabling True Death on top of this – which is essentially Evil West’s version of permadeath – that tension ramps up even further.


god of war ragnarok

God of War Ragnarok is certainly a game that knows how to turn up the difficulty, even when you’re playing on the default setting, but on its highest available difficulty setting, which is Give Me God of War (and available only after you’ve finished the game once), the combat is able to truly shine- even more so than the base experience itself. Everything from the healing to enemy attacks to your own damage to boss’ attack and movement patterns is dialed up to eleven in this mode, and if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s absolutely glorious.


ghost of tsushima director's cut

Ghost of Tsushima can be a pretty easy game even on hard mode once you get into the rhythm of its combat, but Lethal mode hits most of those issues with difficulty head on. Both Jin and his enemies come out with attacks that hit much harder, while enemies are also bolstered with much better AI and detection ability in stealth sections. On top of that, during combat, enemies are much more aggressive and don’t wait around as much, and windows for parrying and blocking attacks are much shorter. Every slash, every block, and every movement counts on this difficulty setting.


Sniper Elite 5 is a game that puts tactics and strategy front and center, and while those do shine through even on other difficulty settings, when you play on Authentic mode, they are truly allowed to blossom. It makes the adjustments you would expect, from enemies being much sharper in stealth sections and the HUD being much less informative to ammo and health being in short supply, all of which ramps up the game’s stealth elements to new heights, but on top of that, on Authentic difficulty, sniping also becomes much harder, with players being tasked to take wind factors into account as well. It really does feel like a very different and much more enthralling experience.


kena bridge of spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits surprised a lot of people with how difficult it was even on its default setting, but for those looking for an even more grueling challenge, there is an unlockable option that’s worth diving into. Called Master Spirit Guide, this option is unlocked once you’ve finished the game once, and ratchets up the challenge in several ways, from harder-hitting enemy attacks and Kena losing Courage every time she gets hit to players not being able to lower the difficulty once the game has begun. Hell, even the very first enemies you run into can kill you if you’re not being very careful.


Running through the streets of Kamurocho and Yokohama in Lost Judgment and beating thugs to a pulp can be a hell of a lot of fun, but if you want those thugs to fight back like they mean it, you’ll probably want to turn the difficulty up a notch. In fact, if you’ve finished the game and unlocked the Legend difficulty setting, that’s definitely worth looking into. With enemies doling out massive damage with each of their attacks, combat takes on an entirely different dynamic, and a more measured and deliberate approach becomes much more suitable than the bombastic all-out one that the game otherwise encourages players to adopt. It’s still a lot of fun though, which, of course, is what matters most.