essential buyer’s guide

Challenge accepted: The hardest
games on PS4 and PS5

Tackle some of the most notorious and difficult games on PlayStation. The harder the struggle, the richer the rewards!

Hardcore character action

From colourful platforming to slick sci-fi horror, these games define themselves within their genre by being the toughest in their class.

Devil May Cry V Special Edition

Developer: Capcom | Genre: Action adventure

The fifth entry in Capcom's larger-than-life action series continues its reputation for epic-scale boss battles and immense technical depth. Winning in DMCV simply isn't enough: achieving top scores and consistently 'SSS' ranking encounters in every area of the game demands an expert understanding of the game's complex combat mechanics along with effortless timing and a genuine sense of style. Remember: it's not about winning, it's about how good you look doing it. 

Toughest moment: Feeling masochistic? The unlockable 'Dante Must Die' difficulty mode will take absolutely everything you have.

Returnal

Developer: Housemarque | Genre: Roguelike shooter

A novel evolution of it's arcade shoot 'em up legacy, Housemarque's PS5 exclusive pulls no punches. Designed to intensify the main character Selene's ongoing struggle for freedom, Returnal's world and enemies transform every encounter into a desperate, fast-paced fight for survival. Escaping Atropos for good demands patience, skill and smart tactical play.

Toughest moment: Phrike, the boss barring the exit to Returnal's first biome, is an unapologetic skill check for first timers.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time

Developer: Toys for Bob | Genre: 3D platformer

The fourth mainline instalment of the influential platforming series brought Crash and company thoroughly up to date, with sleek new visuals and mechanics, and bags of optional content to tackle. One thing remains unaltered, however: the finger-twisting difficulty. Precision timing, eagle eyes and breakneck speed will be required to net Crash Bandicoot 4's elusive 106% completion rating. 

Toughest moment: The game's final act culminates in one of the toughest levels in platforming history, a precision gauntlet that can only be overcome with pixel-perfect play. 

Nioh 2

Developer: Team Ninja | Genre: Action adventure

The sequel to Team Ninja's ruthless samurai adventure ups the ante in every department, featuring enormous bosses, fiendish level design, and nuanced combat that offers a wealth of options depending on your playstyle. You'll need to hone your skills if you're going to see the end credits – prepare for the fight of your life.

Toughest moment: The vicious ape-like Enki is a large yokai blocking your path early on, and represents Nioh 2's first – but certainly not last – 'get good or go home' moment.

Monster Hunter World

Developer: Capcom | Genre: Action adventure

Play online with a bunch of friends in tow, and Capcom's extraordinary beast-hunting blockbuster can be a relatively comfortable and collaborative experience. Go it alone however, and the New World is a thoroughly inhospitable place, filled with enormous fanged creatures itching to turn you into a light lunch. Worry not, though – there's a huge, welcoming online community ready to help you out.

Toughest moment: Make sure you are well-prepared before taking on fearsome Elder Dragon Teostra – it's as tough as they come.

Created by FromSoftware

The Tokyo-based developer behind the 'Souls' series has forged a fearsome reputation for itself amongst gamers - and an industry byword for uncompromising design. 

Elden Ring

Developer: FromSoftware | Genre: Action RPG

Building on over a decade of experience designing hardcore fantasy roleplaying games, FromSoft returns in collaboration with Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin, with a sprawling adventure set in fantastical new world known as the Lands Between. Elden Ring combines stealth, action, character building and open world traversal to deliver their most ambitious game to date - all with their signature style of brutal difficulty.

Toughest moment: Limgrave's Tree Sentinel will be most players' introduction to FromSoft's take on mounted combat and the learning curve is steep.

Demon's Souls

Developer: FromSoftware / Bluepoint | Genre: Action RPG

The progenitor of the now legendary Dark Souls series, FromSoftware's uncompromising PS3 classic defied the trends of the day to create one of the most singular, deep and intensely satisfying games of the generation. Fully remade for PS5 with cutting edge visuals and updated online play, Boletaria's brutal but hauntingly beautiful world has never been more enticing or intimidating.

Toughest moment: Crossing the poisonous, waist-deep swamps in the Valley of Defilement's rotten bowels. 

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Developer: FromSoftware | Genre: Action adventure

From the same merciless team behind Bloodborne and Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a meticulously crafted ninja adventure that demands concentration, patience, and precision. What's more, you'll be suffering alone – unlike its forebears, you can't call on other players to help take down bosses. The rewards are worth it, though: brilliant combat, extraordinary enemy design, and a huge world to explore.

Toughest moment: The only way past notorious mid-game boss Genichiro Ashina is through total mastery of the game's twitchy parry system. Practice makes perfect...

Dark Souls III

Developer: FromSoftware | Genre: Action RPG

Devotees can argue for days over which is the most challenging entry in the groundbreaking Dark Souls series, but the third instalment makes a very convincing claim for itself, featuring some of the series' most complex environments and demanding boss encounters. An unapologetic celebration of the influential series, Dark Souls III features a huge array of build and weapon choices, some truly enormous areas to navigate and more than a few familiar faces.

Toughest moment: Archdragon Peak's optional boss - a dragon-riding knight known as The Nameless King - is perhaps the toughest fight in the entire series.

Bloodborne

Developer: FromSoftware | Genre: Action adventure

FromSoftware's Lovecraftian horror remains one of the finest games of the PS4 generation – and one of the toughest. Something beastly has overcome the inhabitants of Yharnam, and it's up to you to cleanse its streets. Balance risk and reward as you inch your way through a treacherous world dripping with atmosphere, hunting down a grisly array of monsters.

Toughest moment: There's no such thing as a pushover in Bloodborne, but Ludwig, The Holy Blade (mercifully tucked away towards the end of The Old Hunters expansion) arguably represents the game's stiffest challenge.

Indies that bring it on

As one of the most diverse spaces in gaming, indie development has something to offer everyone - including those up for a serious challenge.

Spelunky 2

Developer: Mossmouth | Genre: Roguelike platformer

The sequel to Mossmouth's quirky, break-out roguelike expands and refines every aspect of the original game: including the hard-as-nails challenge. Through deceptively simple design, Spelunky 2 continually ratchets up the challenge in each new zone you enter, adding myriad traps, hidden enemies and additional objectives to the mix and asking you to strike a deadly balance between risk and reward at every turn.

Toughest moment: Trying to rob a shopkeeper for an item you absolutely can't do without and getting your head blown off for the trouble.

Cuphead

Developer: Studio MDHR | Genre: Side-scrolling shooter

Despite deriving its striking art-style from 20th-century children's cartoons, Cuphead is anything but child's play. Beyond the colourful, characterful facade is a brutally challenging bullet-hell shooter. You'll need patience, careful timing and deft thumbs to overcome the many, multi-stage bosses, some of which comprise whole stages by themselves.

Toughest moment: Though the game has a huge number of challenging bosses, King Dice, with his random mix of mini bosses to tackle in the same bout, is the toughest of the lot.

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

Developer: Team Cherry | Genre: Explorative platformer

Beware the stylish presentation here - the denizens of Hallownest might not look all that threatening, but don't let that fool you. An award-winning action platformer, Hollow Knight is famed as much for its high level of difficulty as it is for its outstanding art direction, brilliant level design and snappy combat. There are cunning bosses and hidden challenges everywhere and your primary means of defence is a nail - best of luck!

Toughest moment: The Soul Master boss at the top of the Soul Sanctum is a make-or-break moment for most who brave Hallownest.

Dead Cells

Developer: Motion Twin | Genre: Roguelike platformer

French studio Motion Twin deservedly found a huge audience with its phenomenal procedurally generated action platformer. Progress can be slow in its unforgiving world, but it's the journey, not the destination, that counts – moment-to-moment, Dead Cells is a joy to play. And while death can come quickly, you'll always want to jump straight back into the fray for just one more try.

Toughest moment: Each of the game's biomes suits different playstyles, but most aficionados agree the Prisoners' Cells are an experts-only zone.

The Witness

Developer: Thekla, Inc. | Genre: Puzzle

This sophisticated puzzler from Braid creator Jonathan Blow drops you on a mysterious island without context or explanation, and points you in the direction of a simple grid-based brain-teaser – the first of many, as it turns out. As you explore, the puzzles escalate in complexity and difficulty. Can you solve them all and unravel the island's secrets?

Toughest moment: Hidden within the island's central mountain, The Challenge constitutes 14 optional, algorithmically generated puzzles guaranteed to make your head hurt. 

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