Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence and Curse Of Darkness both have "Crazy" modes unlocked after completion. The former's version is still much easier than the latter's and actually changes things other than the amount of damage the enemies can take and dish out, such as giving bosses additional attacks and changing a jumping puzzle, while the latter focuses more on enemies that take absurd amounts of abuse to kill and who kill you in 1 or 2 hits unless you spend the first 10 hours of gameplay grinding levels on skeletons. And to add more insult to injury, you can't even use the Bragging Rights Reward you get for beating the mode in a normal game in COD like you can in LOI, making it practically useless.
Hard Mode Level 1 Cap without starting aNew Game + . Order Of Ecclesia, an already really hard game, becomes a nightmare until a certain point if you're playing as Shanoa. As Albus, it's a breeze until you reach the Skeleton Cave, in which you'll probably have a much harder time than Shanoa due to lack of items and the Zombie familiar, which can block fireballs for you. Let's not even get started on what would happen if you ever decided to play with the Old Axe Armor while stuck at level one in Portrait Of Ruin... Luckily, all the HP, MP, and, if they're separate from the MP, Heart upgrades can be found to make life easier and, if you're playing with a character that can change their attacks and armor and use items, things become significantly easier as the game goes on.
An Untitled Story has "Simple", "Regular", and "Difficult". As an extra difficulty, it also has "Masterful" which is Nintendo Hard to the extreme. "Insanity" manages to top that by making your character a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
And Mega Man Zero: where Hard Mode means no Cyber Elves, no charge shot, and you take double damage from everything.
Luigis Mansion Dark Moon has Normal, Hard, and Expert for its Scare Scraper mode, and the latter fits this to a tee perfectly. The description literally states 'virtually impossible on your own', which in this case means 'if you're playing solo, expect to have to take on about 10-15 difficult enemies in one tiny room and get crushed' Seriously, 20 odd floors of Hunter or Surprise mode on Expert is damn near suicidal, and 25 floors of Rush mode is basically a death wish. Endless also ends up coming under this, since it seems to start off on hard mode difficulty and end up being as tough or even more so than expert by about the 10th floor.
"Dante Must Die" in the Devil May Cry games. "Heaven Or Hell" from the third game, where both the main character and all enemies die in one hit, is somewhere between a gimmick mode and Harder Than Hard. "Hell and Hell," in the fourth game and the Ninja Theory reboot, has onlythe main character dying in one hit and is very much Harder Than Hard. Of course, if you perfected your style play on Sons on Sparda with no health lost, you, sir, are set...mostly.
In the initial US release of DMC 3, Easy was equivalent to Japanese!Normal, Normal was equivalent to Japanese!Hard, and US!Hard is possibly the first time that Hard is Harder than Hard. The Updated Re-release made the difficulties more in line with the Japanese difficulties, wherein US!Hard was rechristened "Very Hard".
The Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden has a Very Hard mode, while Black and Sigma added Master Ninja, which was even harder.
Ninja Gaiden 2 also features a Master Ninja mode which is, arguably, even harder than Master Ninja in Black and the leaderboard for Master Ninja in Black had less than 1000 people. It's worth noting that the only requirement to be on this leaderboard was to actually complete Master Ninja mode.
God of War has a God mode and (in the sequel) a Titan mode. One section in the latter (the second titan minotaur), which is already hard in normal, becomes a purely luck-based affair. The enemies took more hits and hit harder, you received less orbs, and magic used substantially more magic - the game was not pulling any punches. Its a wonder they didn't try to replace the blades with cotton swabs.
God of War III once again trumps God and Titan with the Chaos Difficulty. It sure says something that the first game's Harder Than Hard difficulty is by now considered the Normal Difficulty.
The Super mode in the PS2 version of Shinobi is only available after completing the Hard setting.
Dantes Inferno has the Infernal difficulty setting, which comes with the considerably stern but sincere warning, "You are damned." On this difficulty, enemies and hazards dole out horrific damage, including regular enemies being able to one-shot you from maximum health, and Mana and health fountains giving back pathetic refills. It almost seems as though this mode was intended to be played on Resurrection Mode, as both it and the Infernal setting are unlocked after beating the game on any of the normal difficulties.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has two difficulties: Very Hard which changes enemy layouts, changes some enemy tactics on top of the usual hard mode changes (enemies getting more life/attack power, healing items heal less, etc). Revengeance is similar to Very Hard save for two things: Enemies inflict terrible damage with their attacks, easily killing you in 2-3 blows with a fully upgraded life bar. Good news? Your parry counter is powered up to do similar damage to them.
Saint Seiya: Sanctuary Battlenote or Saint Seiya Senki in Japan has God difficulty. Your Gold Saint with maxed stats that was kiling bosses with two hits and taking a hair worthy of damage from their attacks a few moments ago? Watch as the bosses become mighty glaciers that will shrug off anything but your strongest Cosmos boosted attacks, while being able to kill you in four hits or less, and once their health drops below 50%, activate their 7th Sense and start moving and attacking so fast that unless you activate your own 7th Sense (that will consume your Cosmo gauge) you won't be able to get a single hit in.
Beat Em Up
Streets of Rage 2 has Very Easy (locked), Easy, Normal, Hard, Hardest, and Mania (also locked). On Normal, bosses typically only have upwards of three life meters; minibosses on Mania tend to have four. Also, enemies will move very fast and will use their lesser-used, more powerful attacks more often.
Unleash the Fury difficulty in The Warriors. All enemies do extreme damage, most enemies are immune to instant kills from special rage attacks, and all of your Warriors have the Baseball Furies outfits while the real Furies use the Warrior models.
The Dishwasher on easy is already incredibly hard. On Samurai difficulty, everything, even zombies, move faster and can almost one-shot you. The sequel, Vampire Smile, has greatly more balanced difficulty. Samurai is still wrist-crackingly difficult, though.
God Hand features a difficulty system that scales based on your performance.. on Easy and Normal modes. On Hard mode, the difficulty scale is set to the highest level and will not decrease by any means. It doesn't help that even on Easy mode, the game is much harder than your typical title.
Casual players of the original San Francisco Rush 2049 will usually only see the first three tracks, with the latter two being classified as "Advanced." The fifth track, which is unlockable along with the fourth, is classified as "Extreme," and is chock full of right-angle turns and other obstacles intended to keep your speed low.
The Special Edition has two extra even harder tracks. The sixth has several hard-to-hit shortcuts that must be unlocked in sequence, and if you screw up anywhere, they can be Lost Forever. The seventh has a lot of high hills with sharp turns along the way.
Initial D Arcade Stage had Bunta Challenge. Objective: Beat a grossly overpowered vehicle. Then beat an even more grossly overpowered vehicle. Then beat a vehicle that will leave you in the dust the instant you make the tiniest error. And if he wins, you lose points. No wonder Sega discontinued this after 3.
Need for Speed Shift. Any of the Manufacturer duels. Just try it. The single opponent in these races is far more aggressive than in other types of races, and the grass or sand on the sides of the tracks may as well be black holes - once your car goes onto it, it's nearly impossible to even get back on the road, much less retake the lead.
The original F-Zero for SNES had an unlockable Master level. In this mode the most noticeable difference is that the normally laughable "filler cars" become serious competitors and can actually get first place. Oh, and certain tracks become literally impossible with certain cars (seriously, not even tool assisted cheating will help).
Likewise, GX has Master difficulty in GP mode, and Very Hard difficulty in Story Mode. Beating all cups on Master unlocks the visually-impressive AX cup, while beating individual Story levels on Very Hard unlocks extra racers, some of whom are some of the best in the game.
The latest game of the Forza Motorsport series, Forza Horizon, has an Insane difficulty setting, in which all CPU racers race like they were clones of Sebastian Vettel or of Michael Schumacher, and use effectively ALL of the shortcuts in the racetrack. However, if you play this mode with all driving assists turned off, you get a 125% bonus to the credits you earn after completing the race.
The unlockable Expert difficulty in Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Thought Hard was difficult enough? Then enjoy a difficulty where the AI is very aggresive, brutal with items and knows where every shortcut is. Combine that with tracks like Burning Depths and you will rage A LOT.
And then there's certain World Tour events like the Boost Challenges where you have to do near perfectly to win.
Dragon's Crown has an unlockable Hard mode after beating the game the first time, then an Infernal mode after beating the game on Hard.
The Super Smash Bros. series, in two out of three games, has the following difficulties in the 1 player mode: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. Super Smash Bros Brawl has Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Intense. Intense is likely a reference to Kirby 64, which had an intense difficulty for the minigames if you could beat the computer on very hard.
Brawl's Boss Challenge mode doesn't let you continue at all, so it's a nightmare on Intense.
Soul Calibur 3 has Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, Ultra Hard, and Extremely Hard. Couple that with the AI in the game....
The best part is that the game is pretty much defaulted to Extremely Hard, as difficulty levels only apply to two or three game modes. None of them are Story Mode.
Mortal Kombat games typically have five difficulty levels: Very Easy, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Very Hard. To make matters worse, as of Mortal Kombat 3, there was the Choose Your Destiny system, where you could choose how many enemies you fought. Yeah.
The Touhou fighting games are still Touhou games, so they have a Lunatic difficulty setting.
The BlazBlue games have Very Hard and Hell difficulty settings, but Score Attack Mode is set to a difficulty harder than Hell. In BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND, Score Attack is not as difficult as a new mode, Unlimited Mars.
Weaponlord has Adventurer, Warrior, Barbarian, and Warlord. Thanks to the game's unforgiving controls and the overbearing AI, even the Adventurer (the easiest difficulty) feels like a hard mode. Easy-Mode Mockery drives the knife even further in by making the endings only appear in the hardest difficulties.
In most Dead or Alive games, there has been a Very Hard mode. Dead Or Alive 4 even lacked an easy mode. However, Dead Or Alive 5 takes this to a new level with its difficulties being: Rookie, Easy, Normal, Hard, Champ, Master, True Fighter, and Legend. Good luck clearing the survival courses on those last 4 difficulties. You'll need it.
First Person Shooter
Bungie has had little ditties referring to each level's difficulty for some time. Myth was particularly amusing as apparently beating the game on higher levels would give your character greater notoriety - from "The taste of success will turn to ashes in your mouth" to "In an age not yet dawned, your name will be spoken of as a God!"
There, of course, are the "Heroic" and "Legendary" levels in the Halo series.
And in Halo: Reach, it was described by Bungie as being "harder than any other Halo game." They weren't kidding.
This all however is put to the ground as "novice" stuff by the true hardcore of the hardcore of the community. The unnamed, unofficial, yet definitely intentionally programmed to be damned hard to do is the "Mythic" difficulty (otherwise known as "LASO", or "Legendary: All Skulls On"). It involves turning on all skulls in the game. Each skull basically turns up the difficulty in distinct ways by one level in terms of modifying gameplay needed to succeed and THERE ARE MORE THAN 12 SKULLS. Three of which are basically "fun" skulls, but they can still prove fatal if not accounted for, as they do still modify the game. One of them ("Iron") even causes you to restart the entire level after dying once if you're playing solo, and some of them make deadly combinations, such as "Thunderstorm" which causes all enemy units in the game to rank up, and "Mythic" which just gives a straight-forward 100% health bonus to the already-hard-to-kill high-ranking enemies. There is an entire community basically made to conquer this hell. Usually less than 100 people in the entire world accomplish the feat, and that's with thecommunity-builtguides! To go at it alone is virtual suicide. Recently, Bungie have been basing the Reach weekly challenges around completing levels Solo, Legendary, All Skulls On.
Or the Fuel Rod Shades, Revenants, Banshees, and Ghosts of "Pillar of Autumn". That's just on normal, too.
Even from the start, the Marathon series had the oath of the vidmaster, essentially a commitment to play the game as hard as possible. Not only do you only play the hardest difficulty, appropriately named as Total Carnage, but you are also tasked with punching every switch note Switches would also trigger when shot with certain guns, and some switches cannot be reached, so must be shot. (which can often lead to problems), firing grenades whenever they were available, running by holding a key other than Caps Lock (turning on Always Run in the later Open-Source releases probably counts as the same thing), and killing all NPCs (who would attack you after a few already died). Needless to say, Bungie likes making hard games harder.
"Nightmare!" in Doom. Cheat codes are disabled, monsters attack much more often, enemy projectiles fly faster, a certain enemy type is twice as fast, and monsters respawn after death. The only plus is that you get double ammo from Power Ups. The fact that the game asks you whether you really want to play on it or not when you select it is telling.
There was once a fan-made difficulty mod that's even harder called "Pray to God." It's just like Nightmare, but you have no weapons other than your pistol!
Nightmare! was one of the earliest incidents of a difficulty level released with the announced caveat that it was not fully playtested, ergo came with no guarantees that it was fair, or the game was winnable on this level. Many a fanatic player, however, has succeeded in doing so.
According to the Word Of God, Nightmare difficulty was made specifically so that it would be impossible to finish. It is a testament to the dedication/lack of salsa of the gamer community that there are competitions, complete with titles awarded to players who can do just that.
Particularly annoying is Doom 1 EP 4, where whole levels can be different depending on what difficulty you're playing as because items are moved around depending on difficulty. Naturally, Nightmare makes these as hard to get as possible.
Duke Nukem 3D, being a Doom clone, had a Harder Than Hard mode where in addition to being stronger, any enemy who left a corpse (basically, who wasn't killed by an explosion, the shrink or freeze ray, or crushing) would respawn, including the clones of the first episode's boss who, in addition to being the strongest enemy in the game, would always leave a corpse even if you did blow him up, forcing you to waste another grenade or rocket to get rid of it.
Quake's Harder Than Hard mode took advantage of the game's in-game difficulty selection (in other words, a Hub Level), with the "Nightmare" difficulty only accessible through a secret hidden inside a magical pond.
Then again, unlike Doom or many other examples here, Quake's Nightmare difficulty has few player handicaps and is in fact only slightly less manageable than Hard.
Quake II's Hard+ mode was even more well hidden, accessible only through the console. Unlike the first Quake, this one is significantly tougher than the "normal" Hard difficulty. Enemies are faster and surprisingly intelligent, and their weapons deal much more damage.
Descent has its Insane difficulty. The enemies have learned how to fire faster than you, dodge better than you, flank better than you, thus nearly all the enemies are Demonic Spiders, especially the Goddamned Bats in the second game, and all the powerups that are so vital to your survival are now pathetically ineffective. As an added bonus, your weapons take much more energy to use than normal, so you can easily run out of ammunition. And on the second game's Insane, the matcens(mook makers) are inexhaustible.
In the PSX games, the Ace and Insane difficulties are hidden and must be unlocked via code. Due to the framerate drops when there are a lot of enemies on screen, and the even faster speed of projectiles such as missiles, Insane may be literally unbeatable here.
The other two Prime games are similar; making your way through the game on the hardest is tougher than normal but the difficulty really spikes on final bosses, especially Prime 3's final boss.
Serious Sam has Tourist ("for non-FPS players"), Easy ("for non-experienced FPS players"), Normal ("for experienced FPS players"), Hard ("for experienced Serious Sam players"), and Serious ("Are you serious?"). Beating the game unlocks Mental difficulty ("You can't be serious!"), which is as advertised because all the enemies are friggin invisible!!!
Unreal Tournament has Average as the second difficulty level - out of eight. It starts Novice, Average, Experienced, and eventually ends up at Godlike.
Average is actually easier than Quake III: Arena's easy mode and would only be a serious challenge to a beginner. The real medium difficulty is "Experienced" or "Skilled".
The description for Call of Duty's "Veteran" difficulty is "You will not survive". They're not kidding. Even worse in the expansion United Offensive, due to the sheer number of enemy soldiers at points.
Not to mention Call Of Duty 4's Veteran, where enemies killed frequently hold out to draw their pistol and two-shot you. Staying out of cover for more than two seconds is entirely suicidal.
Speaking of cover, the enemies don't like when they can't shoot you. Their solution is to herd you from your safe hiding place with LOTS of grenades. There are many points where you're given the choice between getting fragged or getting ripped up by a machine gun.
This was particularly aggravating in "World at War", by Treyarch. In that game, if you didn't proceed forward fast enough, the game would try to get you to move by spawning grenades near you, even if you already killed all the enemies in the level. They came more frequently on harder difficulty levels.
In addition, Special Ops stays the same difficulty-wise regardless of if you play solo, or two-player coop. Trying to play Veteran Special Ops without a second player is akin to bungee jumping without a bungee cord. Your chance of survival is about the same.
To sum up how the difficulty feels during gameplay, here are the basics. On Recruit, the game is more or less a gritty action film. Mooks miss a lot, and their rounds aren't all that damaging. Timed objectives give out substantially more time. The number of enemies is dramatically reduced. Basically, it's very easy to do a no-death run. On Regular, the game offers a standard level of challenge and you will likely die a few times, but most situations can be won in a few tries with enough firepower and cover. So long as you don't make a habit of disregarding cover, then the game isn't all that hard. On Hardened, the game becomes a real challenge. There are more enemies, they hit more frequently, and can kill you in a few hits. You may need to get creative in how you deal with situations. The game is fair, so except for very few occasions, the game is not a Luck-Based Mission, and the computer will not cheat. Veteran is close to impossible. Enemies come in much higher numbers, have noticeably more health, have much better aim, and to top it all off, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard and only lets you win on rare occasions. This is at least 2x harder than Hardened. Here, enemies love to survive what ought to be lethal wounds, go into last stand mode, and most infuriatingly, suddenly kill you with three rapid shots in such close succession that you can't do anything. Even more annoying is that the odds of being suddenly and unfairly killed increase inversely proportionally to the number of enemies remaining, so you can down four mooks at the start of a fight with no trouble, but the last enemy kills you the moment you stick your head out of cover!
Turok (2008) has Normal, Hard, and Inhuman difficulties. Inhuman takes away your ability to instant-knife-kill dinosaurs, and also allows enemy soldiers to kill you with about half a second of sustained gunfire. So basically, just like how it'd be in real life.
System Shock 2 adds 'Impossible' with the final patch. Players start with a mere trickle of health and gain laughable amounts with Endurance increases, making the Tank bonus upgrade an absolute must. Skills and abilities cost an absolutely prohibitive amount of cyber modules past the first level, and as a result hacking skill is ridiculously expensive to purchase - this is a moot point however, as hacking difficulty starts at an insane higher than 100% chance of failure on average before bonuses, and several security consoles are removed altogether in key areas loaded with cameras and turrets. Enemies are faster to hit, and learn new attack techniques. Vending machines also charge more than ever, and stop selling the recycler item that could earn you more money on easier settings. This is one Impossible setting that complies with truth in advertising.
Painkiller's difficulty levels are named Daydream, Insomnia (normal), Nightmare, and Trauma. You have to beat Insomnia and get all the Black Tarot cards in order to unlock Nightmare, and you have to do the same on Nightmare to get to Trauma. On Trauma, there are no quicksaves, and no souls. That's right, the souls enemies release that give you that vital + 1 health bonus when you pick them up and turn you into an invincible demon every time you get 66 of them are no longer in the game.
And of course, this is the only way to unlock all the levels (Prison and Forest unlock on Nightmare and Trauma, respectively) get all the Black Tarot cards and see the Good Ending... which isn't canon as of the expansion pack, but it's the thought that counts.
Far Cry's "Realistic". First off, the game is already more challenging than most at the default levels, this just makes it worse. If you don't know how to take cover properly, or know where the armor is, you're fucked. Hiding isn't an option, since a mercenary will gather up his buddies and try to flank you.
More specifically, realistic difficulty dramatically increases the damage enemies do to your health, causing you to die after only a couple shots if you're not wearing armor. Which is, of course, realistic. (Your armor itself can still take several hits before failing, so the game is still beatable as long as you can find armor). However, realistic difficulty alsoincreases the damage that enemies can take, so that even the basic grunts wearing nothing but a t-shirt can soak several assault rifle bullets before dying. Which is, obviously, not so realistic.
"Infamous" on '"Far Cry 2'' is roughly as close to reality as the game will get: running checkpoints or trying to take them out by rolling into them blazing away on the gun of your truck/boat is a good way to get ventilated within seconds, forcing players to sneak up on them and perform massive one-man ambushes with explosives and fire. Enemies are experts at seeking you out when you hide in buildings, turning stealth from a neat way to play into a necessity.
Crysis has Delta difficulty, which is supposed to be Harder Than Hard, as your health regenerates much more slowly. Additionally, there are a bunch of little handicaps such as the fact you have no crosshair (unless aiming down iron sights or a scope, or using an attached laser pointer), you can't drive a vehicle and operate the rooftop machinegun turret at the same time, and enemies all speak Korean, making it harder for the player to gauge their moves.
Of course, that last part is irrelevant if the player can speak Korean...
Delta is referred to as Bauer mode in the game files.
Crysis2 has this not for the players but for their computers. The graphic quality presets start with "high" and then go up from there ("very high", "ultra high", "extreme").
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games have the harder-than-hard "Master" difficulty. It's perfect for people who have mastered the game on lower difficulty levels and know how to gain advantages over enemies who can take and inflict damage on par with the player but are much more numerous. People who don't know how to pull this off might as well map quickload and quicksave to a mouse button. Actually, scratch that: even people who DO know to pull this off will have to spend a lot of time reloading, because it takes only a moment of inattention to have your brains blown out. Just to set a parameter, the game is already Nintendo Hard on the easy difficulty setting. And some modders have released mod packs, notably MISERY and Oblivion Lost, that make the games even harder.
Doom 3's Nightmare mode has enemies doing about 3.5 times as much damage as normal, allowing them to kill you in less than a dozen hits or so. Additionally, you also constantly lose health every couple of seconds. To balance this out, your start out with the Soul Cube, which allows you to steal health from enemies.
Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil's Nightmare difficult goes beyond Harder Than Hard and into the realm of truly insane. Just like in regular Doom 3, you constantly lose health throughout the game. Unlike Doom 3, you don't have the Soul Cube around to steal health from enemies. As a result, you pretty much spend the entire game as a One-Hit-Point Wonder, with death being instant if you ever take a single hit from any enemy.
Quake IV had the General difficulty. Enemies did 3.5 times as much damage as normal, and thus could kill you in just a few hits if you didn't have armor (and you didn't even GET armor until after 2 or 3 levels). Even with armor, you could still die after just several hits. Enemies also had significantly more health, to the point that even mid-level enemies like the Berserkers and Gunners required more than a full mag of assault rifle fire to kill. Finally, the Gameplay Ally Immortality of your Rhino Squad squadmates was disabled, turning previously fun firefights into tedious escort missions, since you got an automatic game over if any of them ever died.
Mission-critical squadmates can die on any difficulty, it just happens much more easily on General.
Soldier of Fortune has the Unfair difficulty, where the noise meter is much more sensitive than on lower difficulty levels, making it much easier to spike it and get tons of Respawning Enemies. In fact enemies can randomly spawn as soon as the PADD meter reaches halfway or so. It's Nintendo Hard, but not quite as unfair as Doom's Nightmare difficulty.
In addition to their three standard difficulty settings, both GoldenEye and its Spiritual SuccessorPerfect Dark feature unlockable difficulty settings (called "007" and "Perfect Dark" respectively) that allow the player to alter the challenge by fine-tuning certain enemy properties: their health, accuracy, damage and reaction times. This allows players to set up a Self-Imposed Challenge that is far harder than the standard difficulty settings. Level runs done with minimum enemy health and all other settings on maximum (meaning both player and perfectly-accurate guards will die in a single hit) are known as "Licence to Kill" (LTK) settings. Runs with everything set to maximum, so that guards have ten times more health than normal, are known as "Dark LTK" runs. In Golden Eye 1997 this is stupidly hard since a dead foe doesn't drop enough ammo to kill the next one (though it is possible to complete certain levels; in Perfect Dark it's marginally more manageable thanks to the game's "quirk" that headshots on unshielded NPCs are always instant kills.
Said customisable difficulties can also be used in conjunction with the games' many unlockable cheat options, some of which make the game harder: the "Enemy Rockets" cheat, for example, arms every enemy in each game with a rocket launcher with infinite ammo.
Perfect Dark's multiplayer mode allows players to set up deathmatches that involve bots of varying behaviour and difficulty level. "PerfectSims" and "DarkSims" have near-perfect accuracy and reaction times.
While the remake GoldenEye Wii has more modern trappings of FPSes like regenerating health, there's "007 Classic" mode, complete with health bar and armor pickups. True to this trope, it's also the hardest difficulty level of the game.
Left 4 Dead has Easy, Normal, Advanced, and Expert. They probably should have called them Easy, Normal, Hardcore, and Madness.
If it helps, the internal identifier for Expert mode is Impossible. The common infected deal 20 damage per hit, Hunters and Smokers do at least 30 damage per hit, Tanks can incapacitate a Survivor in one hit and then kill in two hits, and the Witch will instantly kill you if provoked. Friendly fire damage is significantly increased where a stray shotgun blast or few bullets can incap a Survivor.
And if the Director feels like being a Jerkass on Expert, he will spawn special infected on you repeatedly and/or keep spawning Tanks right in the beginning of the level.
The sequel now sports Realism mode, which is a mode of play instead of difficulty. Realism mode removes the colored auras around allies and items, making communication about who and what is where a must. Head shots to zombies are now more vital than ever since it will do more damage and more likely to kill in one shot than two shotgun blasts to the torso. To top it off, you can play Realism mode on any difficulty setting, including the already hard as hell Expert setting.
This man has completed all five original maps of the first game on the Left 4 Dead 2 engine on Realism Expert solo.
The PS3 port of BioShock, in addition to the Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulties, has Survivor mode, which is described on the difficulty selection screen as "Every bullet counts." The very first enemy will kill you. And one of the trophies asks you to beat the game on Survivor without using Vita-chambers. This trophy is fittingly called "I Chose the Impossible."
It's only difficult up until the end of Neptune's Bounty. Once you get past that, you should have enough ammo and plasmids to survive most situations. As for the vita chambers, you still get a lot of checkpoints, so it's not too punishing.
Bioshock Infinite has 1999 Mode. While in the other difficulties Death is a Slap on the Wrist, getting revived here costs 100 Silver Eagles and if you don't have enough cash, you will be kicked back to the main menu and forced to restore a previous checkpoint. You are also forced to choose a weapon specialization that can't be changed again. Resources are more difficult to find, with Elizabeth taking longer to toss you items. Enemies deal more damage and have more health, with even your Regular Garden-variety Mook being able to overthrow you without difficulty. Even an enemy with a simple wooden Baseball Bat can take away 1/4 of your health on a single strike. Let alone Handymens. To put the cherry on top, the achievement Scavenger Hunt requires you to beat this difficulty without using any Dollar Bill vending machines. And on the Zeppeling Defense level? May God have mercy on your soul. Goddamn Rocket Launchers. Seeking cover regularly, managing resources wisely, knowing the Infusion locations and also being filthy rich is the only way you are beating this difficulty.
Killzone 2. Let's see, Veteran makes the Helghasta pain in the ass to kill (your normally powerful side-arm is now worthless, and they can take four shots to the head - if you don't wind up shooting them in the neck), and amps the damage (if you're out of cover for more than five seconds, YOU WILL DIE). Coupled with a crappy cover system, where it can take precious seconds to stick and unstick from a wall while Helghast happily round the corner and shoot you, AND a jerky aim that can't be fixed. Now, picture this in Elite, where, in one or two shots, you die. With a long regen time, and cover that can blow apart in certain levels. Also, did we mention no reticule?
F.E.A.R. had Extreme difficulty, in which you had roughly the same durability as the basic Repica Soldier, while being outnumbered by them by a few hundred to one. If you use your slow-motion power, it's just fairly challenging, but you try to beat the game without Slo-Mo it's crazy hard.
The sequel, Project Origin, originally just had Easy, Normal, and Hard. However, the 1.02 patch for the game transformed Hard mode into Harder Than Hard by significantly increasing the damage done by enemy attacks, to the point that you died after just 8-10 bullet hits or 2 shotgun blasts or sniper rifle shots. Again, it's still manageable if you use Slo-Mo, but certain fights (most noticeably the final shootout) are super annoying.
The threequel, although easier than its predecessors, still has a harder-than-hard difficulty in the form of Insane mode, which is unlocked by completing the game on a lower setting.
The 2010 Aliens Vs Predator game has Nightmare difficulty. It's just like Hard (enemies do increased damage, have higher health, command prompts no longer appear on screen to tell you when to block or counter, aliens can no longer be knocked down in melee, and marines are much more aware of their surroundings) with the added handicap that there are no checkpoints, so if you die at any point in a level you have to start over from the very beginning.
When you beat Killer7, you get access to "Killer 8". In it you get an additional character with both a clip size and rate of fire drastically larger than any of the normal caricatures. However, the down side is that the enemies are faster and more deadly; just shooting at them normally does almost nothing, the weak points that you use to kill them instantly are now completely invisible, and the enemies give you less "blood" to level up and heal with.
Oh, and that extra character? He has a metric ton of health (to the point that he's the only character besides Mighty Glacier Mask who can take more than one hit in this mode,) but on the flip side, since resurrecting dead characters requires Button Mashing as fast as you can until refill their health gauge, you better make damn sure he doesn't die if you value your thumbs.
The first two Brothers in Arms games have Easy, Normal, Difficult, and Authentic difficulty modes. To unlock Authentic mode, the whole game must first be completed on Difficult mode. Hell's Highway has only three difficulties: Casual, Veteran and Authentic. In this game, to unlock Authentic mode, you just need to finish the game once. Regardless of the game, in Authentic mode, the difficulty is set very high, there are no save checkpoints, and suppression indicators are turned off by default, to make the game as close to an actual World War II battlefield as possible.
PAYDAY 2 features a unique spin on this. The difficulties cover Normal, Hard, Very Hard and OVERKILL, with higher difficulty stacking higher rewards with greater opposition. However, should you level enough, PRO Heists become available on Hard and above; for even larger prizes, the game throws numerous curve-balls at the players, such as extra objectives, changes to the map, and/or other variables mixed in with even harder difficulties and with little warning.
Metro 2033 has the 'Ranger' difficulty levels, which are associated with their own achievements. Notably, it's not so much just 'difficult' as 'realistic': Ranger Easy disables your HUD and thus things like ammo counter and the crosshair (you have to use your watch or journal to know how much ammo you have left) and reducing looted ammo from clips of ten-plus bullets to one or two bullets apiece, making resource management a must. At this point, it becomes far more practical to depend on your knife for almost every single encounter, reserving your extremely scarce ammunition for dire emergencies. Using stealth practically becomes a requirement to deal with human enemies, who will otherwise kill you in extremely short order. 'Ranger Hardcore' ramps this up by making you even more fragile; one or two bullets will usually kill you, though on the flip side most enemies die from one or two shots as well. However, due to the extreme scarcity of ammunition (100 dirty 5.45x39mm rounds might be all you find in an entire PLAYTHROUGH), you're going to end up using your knife for almost absolutely every single fight. Enemies are also more alert, making stealth essential but difficult.
Metro Last Light brings back the ranger difficulty modes. And things are worse this time around, because human enemies, who were the bane of your existence in Ranger Mode in 2033, but were mercifully rare, are much more prevalent in this game.
Ordinarily the hardest difficulty on Civilization II was named Deity and really stacked the odds against you. However, since the penalties for the player and bonuses for the CPUs were generated algorithmically, editing the text file to insert more selections for difficulty level actually worked. So now you can have cities where the first few citizens are doubly unhappy!
Civilization III has Chieftain, Warlord, Prince, Monarch, Emperor, and Deity. One of the Walkthroughs in GameFAQs says the possibility of winning a game in the last setting is theoretical. The ConquestsExpansion Pack takes this even further with a Demigod level, which actually replaces Deity - thus resulting in an even harder Deity difficulty - and an even harder Sid difficulty level.
It should be noted that good players can consistently beat Sid level, especially on certain map types the AI has a hard time with (Archepelago in particular).
And then there's this guy. The AI build time was 10 time better than his. It started with 3 settlers, in a game where getting one free is a game breaker. And he won.
Civilization IV features eight difficulty levels, going up to Deity. The difference? Surprisingly detailed tips described exactly how badly the computer cheated for or against you in every other level. Deity's details? "Ha ha, good luck."
Master of Orion also has an Impossible level, in which the AIs get huge bonuses to production and research. Experienced players can win, but not without difficulty.
Galactic Civilizations has no less than eleven difficulty levels for the game as a whole, and several more for the computer AI. The higher ones have charming names like "Crippling", "Masochistic", "Obscene", and "Suicidal" (that's right, the game literally dials this trope Up to Eleven). By this point the question is not whether the computer is cheating, it's how much. The GalCiv wiki states that a computer AI set to "Ultimate" has an economy running four times faster than yours, with more points to spend on abilities than you do, and massively increased sensor range. Oh, and all its components are about half their normal size, so they can stick more of them on a ship. Suffice to say that any difficulty set to "Masochistic" or higher pretty much demands you use an A.I. Breaker, because otherwise the AI will rape you to death, eat your flesh, and sew your skin into its clothing, hopefully In That Order.
In Dynasty Warriors 6, two additional modes can be unlocked beyond the standard-issue Easy/Normal/Hard. Those are 'Master' and 'Chaos'. Considering the way the Dynasty Warriors games always work, I bet you figure you can just level a character to 50 in Free Play, and then use him to sweep through Chaos Mode with ease, right? Well, let's just say that Chaos Mode is DESIGNED for level 50 characters...
Even with super high level characters, Chaos is absurdly difficult. You could spend 30 minutes playing perfectly, dancing around the enemy officers and picking them apart one at a time until there is just the head general left...Oh and that generic officer you bypassed 15 minutes ago, who's been chasing you the whole time, and is dashing at you right now. Oh look, he just pulled off a one hit kill.
Some of the games, such as the Samurai Warriors games, have had Very Easy and (in the Warriors Orochi games) Chaos as the only one above Hard. The names in the Japanese versions? Heaven and Hell.
Chaos difficulty, in Warriors Orochi at least, is no different from Hard, for the most part. Enemies have the same HP (more or less), AI is the same, they deal the same amount of damage... the only difference is that their attacks completely ignore defence. A regular mook can now kill you in four hits. And did we mention you will often be surrounded by a few hundred mooks, with a few officers in the middle to spice things up? Enjoy.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade has three difficulty levels: Muso, Shura, and Shigurui. Muso is standard 'easy' mode (well, 'easy' for Odin Sphere veterans), Shura ups the HP and damage of all enemies and significantly ups their aggressiveness, and Shigurui (only unlockable after beating the game on Shura) is like Muso... Except your character is now a One-Hit-Point Wonder. None of your enemies are. Enjoy.
In addition to the highest difficulties, Diablo games also have Hardcore mode, which is like Roguelikes in its difficulty in that you only get one life to play through the game with, and once you die, that's it for your character.
The game Logical Journey of the Zoombinis featured levels titled, by increasing difficulty, Not So Easy, Oh So Hard, Very Hard, and Very Very Hard.
Interestingly the game also uses Dynamic Difficulty. Progressing further in the game not only unlocks the higher difficulties by will eventually lock you out of the lower ones. By the end, every stage will be locked on Very Very Hard. This can actually render 100% Completion Lost Forever if you don't do well enough, as doing a No Casulties Run of every individual difficulty level is required to get the monuments in Zoombiniville.
Light Gun Game
Most GHOST Squad arcade cabinets have the mission difficulty levels go up to 4. Think that's hard? The other two arcade versions go up to level 16, and the Wii version to level 20.
This only affects the boss battles and certain parts of the game. For example: later levels of the third level require extreme concentration. Taking too long to destroy a shield will get you killed, and especially with the last boss - if you don't time grenades right, you will be a second off, and you will get captured by the enemy leader and laughed at. (okay, not really.)
Phantasy Star Online had an unusual use of this trope - each new difficulty mode was a chance to replay, with better item drops, tougher enemies and an even more ludicrous final boss - each difficulty mode increase added a new, more final part of the fight. Mostly, though, the tendency to make the next stage impossible was averted, as the main purpose of the increase in difficulty is to grind your character up to the next weapon set.
... Except when you reach the highest difficulty level, Ultimate, at which point the difficulty curve leaps up like you just cast Foie at its butt. Suddenly the attack patterns become more aggressive, new enemies you'd never encountered before appear, and even the most common of the old enemies are now throwing around instant-death spells.
World of Warcraft example: with the release of the Ulduar raid instance in patch 3.1, all of the new boss encounters had triggerable "hard modes" with better loot, which were of course harder. Then there was the Bonus Boss of Ulduar, Algalon the Observer. The first warning should be that Algalon lacks a regular difficulty - he is always hard mode. He earned his quasi-official title and tagline of "the Raid Destroyer" and "He feeds on your tears".
"He Feeds On Your Tears" is also the name of a special achievement where you have to defeat him on your first try without anyone dying. Then there's "Herald of the Titans" that requires you defeating him only using gear that has nothing better than what drops in 10man Ulduar - this one is a 10man only achievement.
The Argent Coliseum also has a similar achievement on 10man mode, where you have to complete the raid without a single wipe and only wearing gear you could obtain up to and in Coliseum 10man.
Mists of Pandaria introduced Challenge Modes for 5-man dungeons. Not only do enemies hit harder, but player stats are capped and several special items do not trigger in Challenge Mode, essentially putting all players on an even playing field. The group also needs to kill a certain number of trash enemies in addition to the bosses for the Challenge to comple, and did we mention it's also timed?
In Rusty Hearts, all dungeons starting with the Wine Cellar have a difficulty tier above "Very Hard" called "Blood" mode, which can only be entered after reaching a high enough level (and meeting certain other conditions). Enemies in Blood-level dungeons are several levels higher than their Very Hard counterparts, and they attack far more aggressively. You also don't get experience points or gold for defeating enemies, but they do leave behind high-quality items that you wouldn't otherwise receive even on Very Hard.
Worse yet, playing on Medium will cause the game to mock you by giving The Kid a cute pink bow and having all Medium-exclusive points have "WUSS" instead of "SAVE" written on them. The idea is to man up and pretend Hard is the default difficulty.
"Impossible" is so hard that the creator of the game was publicly shocked to find out that someone had actually beaten the game on Impossible. The first official comment was "holy crap your not serious are you" (sic)
Most (read: two. Yes, that's still most.) of the people who beat impossible did so by exploiting a bug: there's a save point that attacks you. If you happen to have a bullet at exactly the right spot when it dies, you can save. Still really impressive, though, considering said save point is immediately before the final boss.
Viewtiful Joe has Kids, Adult, and V-Rated and Ultra V-Rated with the latter two being unlockable by beating the one below it. In Ultra V-Rated pretty much anything can kill you in one hit, and you lose the hitmarkers that show if the enemy is going to attack high or low.
In fairness, enemies all have unique tells for if they're going for a high or low attack, so losing the hitmarkers means little if you're paying attention. However, you likely WILL die against each new kind of enemy you find until you learn its tells.
Fire Leo, however, becomes That One Boss, since the only tells during his spin attack are audio cues with only subtle differences between them.
Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors poked fun at this one with an impossible difficulty that was literally impossible. During the game you would get laser'd, prompting the following quote:
Lou Reed:This is the impossible level, boys. Impossible doesn't mean very difficult; very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize. Impossible is eating the sun.
Wario Land 4 has a secret Super Hard difficulty level which pretty much puts health starting at one, adds about twenty times more enemies to the levels and massively cuts down on allowed time for level escapes and boss fights.
Remember Palm Tree Paradise, the stage with the relaxing background vocals and pretty much the easiest aside from entry stage? On Super Hard mode you trip the Frog Switch as soon as you enter the stage.
Dynamite Headdy had a secret difficulty mode, activated by holding START to start the game after the level select code has been entered. Essentially, one hit kills you.
Iji has Normal, Hard, Extreme, and Ultimortal. The first three are pretty similar, you just recover less HP from red nanofields and can't level up as much, as well as enemies becoming smarter. Ultimortal (which you must beat Extreme to unlock) only lets you level up health (which means shotgun only and no skipping the penultimate boss) and imposes a level timer, as well as removing all non-blue nanofields, meaning you can't heal. At all. And when you beat that, you can unlock the "reallyjoel's dad" difficulty.
In Ristar, a game for the Sega Genesis, there's Normal Mode, Hard Mode... and Super Mode, unlocked through a password. On Super Mode one hit means game over. However, you do get unlimited continues.
Crescent Pale Mist, a game noted for being Nintendo Hard, has an Easy Mode, a Normal Mode, and a Hard Mode. After getting a certain Artifact from a certain enemy and spilling the blood of over 8,000 enemies in the original PC version (we're not kidding), it unlocks Fear Mode. And what else is there after Fear Mode, you might ask?: Planeriel Mode, even worse than Fear Mode, and that's if you manage to find its artifact in the clutches of a Boss in Mook Clothing.
Distorted Travesty has "Distorted" difficulty. According to the creator, the game was originally far more difficult than its final incarnation (this is saying something), so he removed some sadistically placed traps and made the bosses a lot easier. Distorted restores the game to its original incarnation. Even the game's creator admitted to having severe difficulty beating his own creation on Distorted (and even then he didn't manage it until long after the game's public release).
Beating the game's normal hard mode ("Old-School") unlocks "Hard as Balls", where the weapons are weaker, the enemies are stronger, the Check Points are invisible, and you have two hit points, five lives, three continues, and must beat the game without saving.
Similarly, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge has Super Hard and Intense above Hard.
After beating Tetris Attack on Hard, you get a series of buttons to press that will allow you to play the game on Very Hard. Interestingly, the difficulty is still listed as Hard during the game.
Tetris: The Grand Master ACE's 150-line time attack mode has Normal, with somewhat TGM-esque speed curve. Hi-Speed 1 starts the game off at somewhat high speed, Hi-Speed 2 starts the game off at instant-drop speed. Then there's Another mode, in which the game starts off at instant-drop and timings shrink down with more line clears, similar to Death mode from TGM2. Then there's Another 2, which constantly remains at Another's maximum speed.
The NES and Game Boy iterations of Tetris typically only allow you to start as high as level 9. However, a simple code allows you to set the starting level as high as 19.
The puzzle game Kirby Star Stacker has "Easy" (represented by a happy Kirby face), "Normal" (hesitant), "Hard" (angry), and "Super" (Eye Pop) difficulty levels. If you clear all of the puzzles on those levels, you get the aptly-named "Ouch!" (Wingding Eyes) difficultynote The US version names the difficulty levels "Normal", "Hard", "Very Hard!", "Super Hard", and "Insane!". On "Ouch!", the clear objectives rarely ever drop below 100, there are no intermissions between stages, and you have to clear 50 puzzles (as opposed to 16 on the previous difficulty levels) in order to win the game. Scoring exceptionally well on the Score Attack and Time Attack modes also unlocks "Ouch!" difficulty, where drop speed and line clear speed are always maxed out.
Dr. Mario 64 allows you to press two specific buttons to play on Super Hard difficulty, which doesn't pull punches, as you'd expect. In the Multiplayer, you can also press two combinations of buttons to ramp up the computer opponents to Hard and Super Hard as well. Good luck trying to beat Rudy, Metal Mario, and Vampire Wario like this.
Super Hexagon has six difficulty levels. The first three are "Hard", "Harder", and "Hardest". The unlockable ones are "Hardester", "Hardestest", and "Hardestestest".
C&C 3: Tiberium Wars adds AI personality modes, including a special mode called "Steamroller". Beating a Brutal Steamroller AI in a duel is a serious challenge even for highly experienced C&C players (but mostly because The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard). The Xbox 360 version takes the AI difficulties from the PC version and adds forty levels of ass-kicking. The medium difficulty setting will have an AI spamming you with Mammoth Tanks inside of five minutes.
When adding AI Bots to a skirmish game in Supreme Commander, the difficulty modes for each AI run from Easy to Hard to Cheater.
It gets better in the Forged Alliance expansion pack - to provide a challenge for the elite tournament-level players, even the 'normal' difficulty setting plays with maximum efficiency. Said tournament-level players will wipe the floor with its bad tactical decisions, but the other 99% of the player base will wonder how the hell to get rid of the strike-force sized tank squadron that comes knocking on your doorstep two minutes in. Needless to say, the cheating AI levels are just brutal.
Elite Beat Agents for the DS has "Breezin'" and "Cruisin'" which are available when the game starts. Beating "Cruisin'" unlocks "Sweatin'". Beating "Sweatin'" (a feat in itself) unlocks "Hard Rock". Each difficulty has its own main character with the same two sidekicks for the first three difficulties. "Hard Rock" replaces the Agents with the Divas (basically their Distaff Counterpart). Interestingly, Hard Rock is just Sweatin' with smaller buttons, a quicker pace, and of course, everything is backwards. Have fun.
The Japanese game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan has the exact same difficulty structure (though named "Light-heartedly", "Boldly", "Fervently", and "Gracefully" Cheer, from easiest), as EBA was a localized port of Ouendan. Ouendan is more difficult overall though, as you cannot review a level when you fail to see how to improve, and you can't skip the cutscenes - groan. Oh, and you know how much the spinners are a pain in EBA? They were specifically made easier than they were in Ouendan. On top of that, while all of EBA's Hard ROCK! charts are the same as Sweatin's, only turned 180 degrees, some of Ouendan's Very Hard charts not only do that, but also make alterations to some of the charts; notes that are normally stacked will now be spread out, and the fourth part of "Shanghai Honey" now has notes at eighth-note intervals instead of quarter-note intervals, all while being spread out like quarter notes.
Quicker pace means the buttons appear more suddenly, the actual speed of the song and notes to hit is not changed. This means you have to react more quickly to new markers appearing, with the slight benefit that less markers appear on-screen at a time, and possibly the timing is a little easier to see visually. Essentially like speed modifiers or hyperspeed in other rhythm games.
Guitar Hero: Metallica and Guitar Hero: Smash Hits added Expert+, a new difficulty exclusive for drums that adds a second bass pedal for songs whose part requires it. Thought YYZ and Beast and the Harlot were tough on Expert? Try to keep up with Neil Peart and The Rev at full speed.
Spiritual SuccessorRock Band keeps the Easy, Medium, Hard, Expert difficulties. Rock Band 2 also lists difficulties for all the instrument on each song from 0 to 5 dots ... or 5 demon heads for the truly brutal songs.
Dance Dance Revolution has Oni/Challenge mode, which is harder than even the dreaded Heavy/Another/Maniac/Hard mode (depending on which version) - because it puts you through anywhere from 4 to 13 songs on Heavy mode, with the smallest break between songs the system can handle. Oh, and did I mention that you are allowed only four mistakes for the entire time? The game also had, for some songs, a more traditional Expert/Challenge chart - with the subversion that the Expert charts were sometimes easier than the hard ones, explicitly being made for the Oni/Challenge mode.
If you could do ALL of that, then try one of the hardest-level songs on Challenge. And Speed set to 4X. And a dance pad. (Starts beating head into a wall from repeatedly getting "Failed")
To say nothing of all 3 forms of Pluto (Pluto, Pluto Relinquished, and Pluto the First). I hope you didn't pick a speed mod.
There is also the EVOLVED songs. Tokyo, Osaka, Roppongi, and New York, all followed by EVOLVED. There are 3 versions of each song, and you'll never know which one you get until you start. Hottest Party 3 and DDR Wii 2010 gave you a subtle way of telling you which one you're about to face, but either way, you're in for a difficult challenge. But the recent New York EVOLVED takes the cake. Used a speed mod on New York EVOLVED and got Version A? I hope you hit all those notes after the first half!
Cancelled DDR-like game Neon FM took this a notch further by (programmatically) mixing the songs together so there was no pause. (The game was otherwise, by design, much much easier.)
And then there was sued-out-of-existence DDR clone In The Groove, which gave you the mercy of a standard life meter - but made it far worse, not only with positively ludicrous Expert charts, but with liberal use of the Interface Screw, often in highly creative combinations far beyond what any sane player would devise.
In DDR song difficulty ranges from 1 to 10 feet. In ITG I have seen songs with difficulty rated at up to 16 feet. These extra levels of difficulty are necessary though, I have seen people who can easily beat 12 and 13 footers (harder than any DDR song).
In The Groove officially goes up to 13, but allows you to bring your own stepcharts (or anyone else's), and even bring your own songs. So there's no limit to how much harder than hard it gets. The game's sequel had a survival mode which usually relaxed with the step-chart difficulty, but had a constantly draining timer that only went up (a tiny bit) when you hit an arrow with the best timing possible. Anything "Great" or below took time off the clock.
Similarly, Pump It Up has Normal mode and Hard mode. And then there's Crazy mode, which has charts that will make even the hardest of DDR charts look like walks in the park with relentless streams of notes as well as notes that make you hit three or even FOUR arrows at once (which require you to use your hands to hit unless you have Xbox-huge feet). What, not good enough for you? For those who like to use two pads at once, there's the Freestyle mode, which is the easier doubles difficulty, and the aptly-named Nightmare mode.
And yes, there is at least one song requiring all five buttons, albeit at the end of a song after a short break in steps so that it won't mess you up unduly. Most dancers drop to hands and feet, using their posterior to hit the center button. Songs with 3-4 arrows are fairly common at high difficulties.
Doing fine with the normal mutli-arrow madness? Try any song difficulty marked "Another" for a harder version with stranger steps. Some of these, like Bee, actually have stepcharts on Another meant to be impossible.
Popn Music has 5- and 9-button charts for songs. Then there's the "Hyper" difficulty, which is a harder 9-button difficulty. And then there's "EX," which pushes the challenge yet another notch.
Beginning with the 12th installment, beatmania IIDX's difficulties were renamed from "Light 7," "7 Keys," and "Another" to "Normal," "Hyper," and "Another." The idea is that Normal/Light 7 is for casual players, Hyper is for more experienced players, and Another is for even better players.
Most Bemani rookies shouldn't have a problem with Pop 'n Music's 5-key, but I've seen numerous casual IIDX players get absolutely clobbered by Light 7. Many of them literally could not clear anything other than 5.1.1. The fact that all three levels have gone up (considerably) over time, and Konami still needed to make yet another level (Black Another), really tells you the kind of incredible dedication the IIDX fanbase has. Speaking of which...
IIDX DJ TROOPERS also added unlockable BLACK ANOTHER charts. you had to clear the song on ANOTHER to get its BLACK ANOTHER chart (if it had one), and you can expect them to be in a field of their own, with one of them having 2626 notes total in just 2 short minutes, equal to 21 notes per second for the whole two minutes.
Most songs in O2Jam have Easy, Normal, and Hard charts. You can pay to unlock "Super Hard" versions of songs, which are existing songs with new, harder-than-Hard charts. For example, the song "Eleventh Hour" is a manageable level 10 song on Hard, and a nightmarish level 32 song on Super Hard. One particular song, "Electro Fantasy," has an "HD" (no, not high-definition) remix with its own set of notecharts, and it is extremely difficult, even on Easy difficulty.
DJMAX Online offers Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulties for its songs. Okay. Then there's "MX," which is made hard not only by more difficult charts, but also penalizes you for excess button presses (referred to as FAULTs) and charges you 150 MAX (in-game currency) just to play it; for reference, you get about 10-20 MAX every time you finish a song, so to break even you should only play MX mode once every approximately 7-15 songs. Finally, there's "SC," which stands for "Super Crazy," and its charts live up to the name.
DJMAX Technika has Lite, Popular, and Technical charts. If you're playing on a machine with Platinum Crew enabled, you can also gain access to Special charts, which, most of the time, are even more difficult. Fortunately, Special chart courses in Platinum Crew mode have the normal lifebar, rather than the stricter Beatmania IIDX-style lifebar of Technical mode. Technika 2 goes back to DJMAX's traditional naming conventions (Normal, Hard, and Maximum).
Of course this isn't exactly lovely; the Platinum Crew lifebar drains twice as fast as the Pop one per hit, making unlocking the extra Technical courses (Challenger, Conqueror, Specialists 1 and 2) not as easy as looks. An example is unlocking the Specialist set, whose mission involves clearing the FINAL SONG on the set in question.
Phase starts with easy, medium and hard levels. By completing marathon mode at higher difficulty levels, you can unlock "expert" and "insane".
Sound Voltex Booth has Novice and Advanced, followed by Exhaust. The sequel adds the Infinite difficulty level, available only on select songs.
Role Playing Game
Recent Tales of... games feature an unlockable difficulty for a New Game+ file usually called Mania or Unknown. This difficulty level is unrelentingly brutal. Some monsters with multi-hit attacks can drop you from 100% HP to 0% in the blink of an eye. Some bosses, especially the ones that use Mystic Artes become absolute nightmares. Tales of Vesperia bosses such as Duke's true final form, Schwann, Alexei, and Kratos possess the potential to instantly kill your entire party with their Mystic Arte.
Unknown in Tales of the Abyss is a little ridiculous: the very first battle against a common enemy in Unknown will take 1 damage from all of your attacks!
Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix + has four modes of difficulties, one called "Critical" which is even harder than the hard mode of Kingdom Hearts II Normal Version, and halves Sora's maximum HP. Furthermore, an optional skill in "Critical" makes Sora being stuck at Level 1, though this is between a "legitimate" difficulty mode and a Self-Imposed Challenge.
Critical Mode returns and makes its first trans-Pacific appearance in Birth by Sleep. Your heroes deal half damage, and take double damage. The HP halving is gone, but don't think that makes too much of a difference, given the ...different way Birth By Sleep handles HP gains.
Legend of Mana only allows Normal difficulty the first time through, but on accessing New Game+, lets players also pick Nightmare and No Future modes. At the last option, even with a level-capped character and some of the ultimate reward weapons, players might be overwhelmed by a single rabite.
Specifically, No Future mode results in every enemy being level 99, along with boosted offense and defense. Playing this mode without a level 99 character and some of the best armor in the game means you're dead in one hit. With those two things? ...two hits.
Mass Effect 1 has the unlockable "Hardcore" (after finishing the game once) and "Insanity" (after finishing a playthrough on Hardcore) difficulties, the latter of which proves to be, well, insane. It's not impossible to beat but you'll have to get up to level 50 just to reach a point where every battle isn't a brutal, intense life-or-death struggle. Insanity doesn't just make the enemies have more health and do more damage - all enemies scale up as your level does. And all Bosses, Sub-bosses, non-Mooks constantly use powers and have immunities to everything you can throw at them.
Mass Effect 2 gives us the difficulty levels named the same (which are available from the start), but unlike the first game, Shepard has no immediate access to immunities and such (besides a few bonus skills that temporarily increase shields for up to 100%), has to rely solely on his/her trusty health, shield and cover, and most importantly, has to do so with limited ammo. As the difficulty ramps up, enemies become smarter, faster, more accurate and ALL OF THEM gain damage resistances such as shields (making them perfectly on par with Shepard and the squaddies) and/or an armor layer. Add to this a bonus damage percentage of about 9000%, which means that if out of cover, 3 shots from an assault rifle will drop all of Shepard's shields, and about five shots will outright kill him/her. Given the number of enemies and the frequency with which they choose to pummel Shepard specifically, this makes Insanity quite the walk in the park. That is, if said park was situated on a Death World where all of the flora and fauna are sentient and sports big flipping guns and where even the air wants to kill you.
Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of Hardcore and Insanity and the nature of the squad AI (which works, but isn't the best out there), your teammates often get themselves killed over trivialities such as not going into cover until they've blown their entire ammo clip, even if they are under fire. Which leaves you a 1-man squad against the legions of insanity.
And krogans are still a pain in the ass. They are one of the few enemy types who ALWAYS, no matter the difficulty level, have the armor resistance. But wait, it gets worse. They also charge forward on the battlefield, mostly ignoring gunfire just so they can get close enough to blast you with their shotguns. But wait, people, that's not all. They also have a fairly potent Healing Factor, with roughly 40-50 hitpoints per second. Fortunately, there are many player and squad powers that can negate this Healing Factor, but it still doesn't detract much from their pain in the ass-status. And then it gets worse. In one place on Korlus they continuously rush you in a cover-poor environment with two open approach ways. You're supposed to fight through them on your way. They may rank as little more than Mooks, but that one is a definite BFG time.
Don't forget Harbinger's "knock you out of cover" attack. Already a pain on lower difficulty levels, it's extremely lethal to be suddenly exposed to about a dozen Collectors' worth of firepower. Plus a follow-up attack from Harbinger himself. KO.
But quite possibly the worst area is the Collector ship when the Collectors spring their ambush. You're on a single platform that has barely ANY room to move and because of this your squadmembers are going to drop dead a lot. You've got Harbinger constantly moving towards you, VERY few ammo drops (and if they're there, then they're next to the Collectors), Collectors firing at you from multiple angles, and the goddamn Scions who are going to F*&K you and your party up. It is hair-pullingly frustrating even for someone who has beaten the game on Insanity MANY times.
But both times you fight a Praetorian are the absolute worst. First of all, it ignores your squadmates and focuses fire on you with a beam that can knock down your shields in less than a second, it constantly floats towards you, and if it ever gets to melee range, it can stun you and then kill you instantly with its follow up attack. It has very high health, and a barrier that it can bring up repeatedly, and it's immune to all status effects. It's practically impossible to kill it without heavy weapons. And the second time you fight one, it has husks and collectors to back it up.
Haestrom is a fairly challenging level no matter the difficulty, but on insanity it will drive you to tears. And then you get to the Geth Armature at the end. Have fun sprinting through a hail of bullets from cover to cover while trying to stay in the shade (the sunlight drains shields and then health). You're presented with three possible paths to fight through, and all of them have their own difficulties. One has less enemies and less cover, one has more cover, the most enemies, and your flanks are exposed, while the third has less enemies, decent cover, better firing lines, but almost no shade. The only easy way to win this fight is to Take a Third Option and bring the Cain.
Mass Effect 3 takes it further with its co-op multiplayer mode. Originally, there were three difficulty modes, Bronze, Silver and Gold, which were roughly equal to Normal, Hardcore and Insanity in the singleplayer mode, in addition to spawning harder enemies earlier and more the higher the difficulty. And then the Earth expansion pack added the Platinum difficulty, which ramps up the health and damage of enemies even more as well as adding enemies from other factions. Normally, even on Gold, you wouldn't face the toughest enemies until at least Wave 3, but Platinum spawns these as early as Wave 1. Not just that, but later waves add in enemies from other factions, which means that you will now fight all the game's Demonic Spidersat the same time.
However, the higher difficulty levels should probably come recommended if the player wants the combat to be engaging and not just something you rush through to get to the story, especially in the third game. On Normal the game becomes pretty much a shooting gallery with no real incentive to carefully use your arsenal of abilities and you could be forgiven for not noticing that enemies actually have competent AI, as they would easily die before this becomes apparent.
Jupiter's The World Ends with You starts off on Normal, gives you Easy, then gives you Hard, then lets you unlock Ultimate yourself.
Naturally, to get the real ending you have to go back and beat all the bosses on Hard or Ultimate, though it ends up being a Bragging Rights Reward due to the extreme briefness of the extra scene.
Persona 3 originally featured two difficulty levels, Easy and Normal. The expansion Person 3 FES added Hard mode, which took the already difficult Normal Mode and cranked it up to 11. (In addition, the bonus chapter has all the difficulty of Hard Mode, with the added bonuses of denying Social Link and Persona Compendium use.) Persona 3 Portable takes it even further by adding Maniac mode, in which enemies hit twice as hard as normal (as opposed to 1.5 times as hard in Hard mode), certain Weapon Fusions are unavailable, and the game's New Game+ feature is disabled for that cycle, forcing you to start all over again. No summoning Lucifer at level 5 for you!
This has carried over to Persona 4 The Golden (where it's listed as "Very Hard") and the title screen literally states◊ that this difficulty is for people who hate themselves.
Valkyria Chronicles has EX Hard Mode available as DLC content. Basically, you cannot take Edelweiss; your troops, even maxed out at level 20 with all upgrades, will fall over to a slight breeze; and everything headshots you, including enemy tanks.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time has Normal, Hard, and Very Hard selectable when you go to do a New Game+ after beating the previous difficulty level. What they don't tell you is that each subsequent play-through of Very Hard is actually harder than the last, all the way up to the 10th time you do so. At Very Hard 10, a level 99 character who was leveled with stat growth items so as to max all their stats at 999 will still take hundreds of damage from attacks in the first area of the game.
Valkyrie Profile 2 features an interesting form of New Game+ mechanics. When you complete the game and the bonus dungeon, your next playthrough is somewhat more difficult. If you beat the game enough times to max out the difficulty spike, every enemy in the game has been ramped up by 250%.
Covenant Of the Plume fully expects you to not go for path A until a New Game+. Trying to complete the A path stages on your first playthrough is...unadvisable.
Star Ocean: Til the End of Time has 4D Mode, where it is most easily summed up by saying if you select this difficulty, Tri-Ace hates you and wants you to fail.
Parasite Eve 2 has a long list of regular difficulty-levels, including 'Extreme', which rendered the already-tough Armored Golems nearly indestructible, capable of taking several grenade-hits head on. And then there's 'Nightmare', which basically has you start out with less than half your normal health, and removes most of the weapons from the game. Yep, that's right - the arsenal that you'd normally accumulate, from stores and pickups, just isn't THERE anymore. Neither is most of those nice boxes of 'Infinite Common Ammo'. And you can't refill non-ammo weapons, such as the Taser, Laser, and Flamethrower attachments until right before the final boss. There's a few places where you can fill up on the basic 9mm ammo, but other than that, every bullet counts. You'll end up fighting your way through the first half of the game (including a boss-fight against a three-story mutant giant with a face-mounted flame-thrower) armed with an LP-08 Luger - and the second half of the game will be fought mostly with a bayonet-equipped assault-rifle, since you have to save all your good ammo for the bosses. And did I mention that the enemies are nearly as tough as they are in Extreme?
The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings has the Insane difficulty. You take even more damage and it makes death permanent. You die, the saves of that playthrough are deleted and you have to start the game from the beginning.
The 2.0 patch also adds Dark Mode. It's even harder than Insane but without permanent death and it adds some new item sets which have to be completed or you will take damage over time when they are equipped. It also slightly changes the lighting of the game to be darker.
Project director J.E. Sawyer released a Game Mod for the PC version that makes it even more hardcore. Base carrying weight is reduced by 100, the XP increase rate is halved, dehydration, hunger, and sleep deprivation rates are doubled, Stimpaks have weight and most are "expired", making them less effective, among other changes.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit has "Insane" and "Seriously?!" (this one available only with the DLC) difficulties. How bad is "Seriously?!" There are still no on-record clears of the game on it.
Shoot Em Up
The shoot-em-up Space Megaforce (also known as Super Aleste) has five difficulty settings: Normal, Hard, Hyper, Tricky, and Wild. The latter two cause enemies to fire bullets at you when they die.
Each Touhou game has Easy, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. But don't let the names fool you. Easy is Hard, Normal is Nintendo Hard, Hard is Harder Than Hard, and Lunatic... is quite fitting (being that the game states it's 'not suited for anyone')
And then there are of course people who give the games CAVE-like Ultra Modes, which sometimes only seem possible because the maximum number of bullets on the screen is limited by the game.
Touhou 13: Ten Desires has some spellcards, which, when played and captured on all the other difficulties in spell practice mode, can then be played in a fifth difficulty: Overdrive.
Tyrian has three difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Hard) and three more hidden difficulty levels, called Impossible, Suicide, and Lord of Game. Impossible doesn't live up to its name, only being a little tougher than Hard. Suicide comes close to living up to its name, given how fast the enemy shots fly. Lord of Game is so hard you won't be accusing any difficulty below Suicide of being too hard. Pray to Zinglon if you end up having to play a level with lots of automated turrets on it on this difficulty.
Type "ENGAGE" at the main menu and you get access to a hidden gameplay mode (which unlike the other hidden gameplay modes does allow you to save your game). The catch is that you end up on Lord of Game difficulty (though there is a trick you can use to lower the difficulty ... to Suicide), your ship's weapon is pretty wimpy, and you have to figure out the game's special moves to really have a chance of making any progress.
The famously difficult Crystal Quest was designed for first and second generation Macs, with the option to play at uninhibited speed on the latter's faster CPU. High scores obtained in this mode appeared in italics.
Mushihime Sama has three difficulty settings: an "Original" mode with fast, though minimal bullets; a "Maniac" mode with denser, Bullet Hell-style bullets and a more complex scoring system; then there's "Ultra" mode, which is Maniac mode on horse steroids; in fact, if you try to select Ultra, you get a warning screen that asks if you really want to try it—it's THAT bad. Good luck on beating it without getting a seizure.
The Black Label Expansion Pack of Mushihime-sama Futari (which in the arcade version was an Updated Re-release) replaces Ultra mode with God mode. However, God Mode is actually easier than Ultra; suicide bullets, for instance, are far less common, and there's much more (deliberately-implemented) slowdown.
Darius Gaiden, in addition to the four main modes (Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard) has two unlockable modes: Very Easy and Abnormal. Choosing the latter difficulty is almost the equivalent of playing a danmaku shooter without the ridiculously small hitbox.
Raiden IV, in addition to two Easier Than Easy difficulties, one of which disables bullets, and the Very Hard setting, has the harder than harder than hard Ultimate difficulty.
Deathsmiles normally allows you to select a difficulty level for each stage (Level 1, 2, or 3). Mega Black Label mode has an extra setting - Level 999 - where the bullets fly fast and furiously at you, and enemies leave behind large amounts of suicide bullets when they die.
Alltynex Second has the ludicrous Suicide Bullet difficulty only unlockable by beating the game on hard.
Phalanx on the SNES has "Funny" as the hardest difficulty.
"Cruel" in Robo Aleste. (In the Japanese version, where difficulty levels are named after ninja ranks, the highest difficulty is "Nukenin," meaning Fugitive Ninja.)
U.N. Squadron on SNES has a hidden "Gamer" difficulty setting, selected by highlighting Hard in the Options menu, holding X and A on controller 2, and pressing Right on the D-Pad.
Super R-Type has a "Pro" setting, which is not selectable from the Options menu. You have to beat the game on Hard, and then you will play the second loop on Pro mode for the Golden Ending.
Gate of Thunder has three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, and Devil.
Stellavanity has six difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Arcade, Hard, Nightmare, Pandemonium. Hard is already extremely challenging. Nightmare is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Pandemonium? The less it's discussed, the better.
Jamestown starts with four difficulties: Normal, Difficult, Legendary, and Divine. Beat all of those, and you earn the right to purchase an even harder difficulty level called Judgement.
Silent Hunter 4 has "Realistic", which many players will actually consider the standard difficulty: any (warfare) simulation game which comes with anything less than an almost completely realistic mode tends to get scolded for it by the hardcore fans of the genre. Unrealistic modes are for people looking for a game instead of a simulation.
The Ace Combat series (as of Ace Combat 04, at least) features difficulty modes Expert and Ace, wherein the 'missile warning' sound (which usually means 'oh crap, evade!') is on so often that it basically becomes white noise. However, Ace mode has its upside too. It's much easier to get an S ranking on all missions on Ace than any other difficulty. Mind you, it's because you have to fly well to even survive.
Also, in Ace Combat 5, the Ace difficulty tripled the speed with which your plane's kill gauge filled up, allowing for much faster upgrading.
Ace Combat 6 has an Extreme and Aces difficulty mode. Extreme is hard enough, where just one missile can kill you. In Aces mode, you can be killed with just 3-4 machine gun rounds and any damage you take cannot be repaired by resupply. Oh yeah, and in everything after hard, the hundreds of missiles being fired at you will basically hunt you down.
The Trauma Center games allow you to choose between Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulty settings for most stages. The post-story X operations, on the other hand, are locked to "Extreme"... and they most definitely live up to the title. Trauma Team goes one further by making "Specialist" mode, stated by Word Of God to be equivalent in difficulty to Extreme, available on all missions.
In the Wii Punch-Out!!, surviving long enough in the (hard by itself) Mac's Last Stand mode gives you Champion mode. Every opponent can floor Little Mac with a single punch.
Most EA sports games feature one such mode like this. The Madden NFL franchise in particular features the "All Madden" difficulty setting. Not only will the opposing AI suddenly become dangerous competent, but your own players will suddenly become much more incompetent. Try not to Rage Quit when your franchise QB is intercepted by a defender making a borderline physically impossible grab or when your elite tackling-machine linebacker gets trucked by a 3rd string running back.
Stealth Based Game
The original Metal Gear Solid has "Easy", "Normal" and "Hard" plus an unlockable "Extreme" setting after clearing any of the default modes once. In Extreme mode, the Soliton Radar is turned off (just like in Hard), enemy soldiers have better hearing and vision and are more aggressive, items don't respawn once they're picked up, Snake has a lower carrying capacity and his health is no longer restored after defeating a boss (with only a few exceptions).
In Metal Gear Solid 2, the European version added a "European Extreme" setting, which was even harder than the standard Extreme setting (achieving this by changing a guard's field of vision so that they can spot the player from any distance away, not just if he's 15-20ft in front of them). There's also an option called "Game Over if Discovered" that ends the game if an enemy guard discovers the player's presence.
Some consider this a mercy option however, as in most situations if you get found on such difficulty levels you will die, without question.
The 30 or so continues per area is a mere distraction to the real challenge of European Extreme mode: the bosses. A double-shot instant-kill Fortune; then a part where you have to defuse bombs before their timer even began; fighting all 25 of the mass-produced Metal Gear Rays, and finally, a Press X to Not Die sequence that at one point required medical attention to fix a locked thumb.
Metal Gear Solid 4 upped the ante with five Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels, the hardest being "The Boss Extreme", which ups the ante more than hard by adding the following: being spotted below 45% camo is almost always an alert; camo levels below 70% attracts attention even over huge distances; attracting attention means guards immediately charge straight towards you; potential allies (e.g. freed militia hostages) are now a massive pushover; and it only takes a few hits to be killed.
The Big Boss emblem takes this even further. Beat the game on The Boss Extreme, with zero alerts, zero kills, zero health/recovery items, no cheat items, and without dying. In under 5 hours. Thankfully, Save Scumming is an option in the fourth game.
Thief 1 and 2 have three difficulty levels: Normal, Hard, and Expert, with Thief 3 adding Easy. Among fans, Expert is usually the most popular, as it raises the amount of loot to collect and unlocks additional objectives, thus ensuring a more thorough level exploration experience.
While the Hitman series is notorious for totally misusing the word "Easy", Absolution includes the new "Purist" difficulty. To summarize; the game gives you zero help, no HUD, no instinct visionnote Lets you see through walls, enemy paths and objects of interest; the game is very hard without it., nigh-omnipotent enemies, low health, high suspicion, no checkpoints, and extra enemies. The difficulty description even warns you that even learning the game by heart will not stop you dying.
This is a challenge for a true perfectionist. You know every rule, every detail, and all environments by heart. Even then you will die trying.
The promised Perfectionist difficulty in Splinter Cell Blacklist seems to be this as it is a return to classic stealth play, removing melees from the front and Mark & Execute.
So you beat Silent Hill 3 on Hard Mode? Congratulations. Now beat the ten Extreme mode settings.
This game is notable for having two difficulty mode selections to make. "Action" set how hard the combat was, and "puzzle" set the difficulty of the puzzles. On the highest puzzle difficulty, the FIRST real puzzle in the game requires advanced knowledge of Shakespeare to complete. It is one of the easier puzzles.
The GameCube version of Resident Evil starts you off with Hiking and Mountain Climb difficulties, which are renamed Easy and Normal after completion and Hard is added. Beat it again for Real Survivor, where the storage boxes no longer allow the player to deposit items in one location and withdraw them at another. Make it through that and the player will get to enjoy Invisible Enemy, which does exactly what you'd expect.
Resident Evil 5 also has a Harder Than Hard mode where enemies do 10x damage (meaning anything that actually does damage instead of being damage over time is probably going to put you into Dying state) and drops the resuscitation timer to three seconds, from about 15.
The shortened resuscitation timer actually makes it easier to survive WITHOUT healing items, since any healing spray takes over a second for your character to pull out and use, whereas without any healing items you snap your partner out of it with a good, instantaneous thump on the chest.
Resident Evil Outbreak File #2 has Nightmare mode, which doubles enemy damage and reduces healing items to three quarters of their usual potency.
Metro 2033 features the Ranger difficulties in the Ranger Pack DLC. Ranger Mode Easy certainly makes the game more difficult by removing your crosshair, increasing enemy damage and reducing the amount of ammo you find, but also massively reduces the damage resistance of enemies for more realism. Ranger Mode Hardcore, on the other hand, does everything mentioned above, but further increases enemy damage and removes your entire HUD, so the only way to check the amount of ammo you have is to either equip your journal (which is highly impractical in combat areas) or look at your weapon.
To clarify on the increased enemy damage, ONE - count it - ONE shotgun blast at close range is fatal. Two or three hits from a Nosalis or Howler will kill you or at least shatter your gas mask. A single burst of AK fire is fatal at long range. Ameoba explosions are one-hit kills. Lurkers will swarm you on 'Defence' and 'Child', killing you in just a few hits. Demons will dive-bomb and kill you instantly if you don't take shelter. This mode isn't even remotely fair, and you'll be tearing your hair out on 'Biomass'. Of course, Biomass does have an Easy Level Trick...
Fatal Frame 2 had "Nightmare" difficulty, one step above "Hard". Beating it got you to face the True Final Boss and a different ending. The Xbox remake added another difficulty: "Fatal", which requires beating Nightmare to unlock and gives yet another ending.
Third Person Shooter
Max Payne 2 starts you out on the already difficult Detective setting, which unlocks Hardboiled, Dead Man Walking, and New York Minute modes. Beat Hardboiled, and you get access to Dead on Arrival. How hard is Dead on Arrival? The cheat code to unlock it is "hell", if you need a hint. Dead On Arrival is exactly the same as Hardboiled with one exception: you can only save four times per level. Because most players are used to saving after every gun fight in a level, it takes a significant change of gameplay to get through.
The first Max Payne had New York Minute Mode, where you had a clock counting down that was never more than one minute long and had to be refilled by reaching certain parts of the level within that time. If the minute ran out, you died. You could get a few extra seconds from killing bad guys, but there were too few bad guys to make a safe run even remotely possible.
New York Minute is far from impossible, and some levels start you out with much more than one minute of time (both Nightmare Sequences, for example). The key is to go as fast as possible and kill everything in your way, and don't bother with side-areas that are too far off the main path. You will die many, many times due to some enemies shooting you with 100% accuracy even over long distances, so quicksaving and loading often is absolutely essential to reset the Random Number God and proceed. Poorly-timed quicksaves can cause an Unwinnable situation though, especially if you are too low on time or save just as a grenade is about to go off.
Max Payne 3 goes to town with this trope.
First off there's Hardcore, which lowers your health to the point that a second of sustained fire will kill you, and is quite stingy with Bullet Time meter boosts gained from killing enemies.
Then there's Old School, which is just like Hardcore, except that Last Man Standing-the ability to come back from death by killing the enemy that killed you-is disabled. And if you're playing on Arcade mode, the cover system is disabled-making survival impossible without either finding something to crouch behind or abusing shoot-dodge.
New York Minute returns-in both normal and Hardcore variations. The normal New York Minute is pretty much identical to previous games. Hardcore New York Minute is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, New York Minute with the handicaps of Hardcore Mode. Oh, and if you die in this mode, you have to start over from the first chapter.
Gears of War and its sequel have the Insane difficulty level, and Hardcore wasn't anything to laugh at either.
Insane is no pushover. If you even think about taking damage you'll die. This is not helped by the fact that all enemies turn into bullet sponges and they all gain dead eye accuracy. Even Wretches are a two-shot kill. Some sections of the game that you flew through on lower difficulty levels now become controller-hurlingly difficult. And in the sequel it gets worse. All the same difficultes from the original remain, but now you have one-shot ticker swarms, bloodmounts and reavers, the Kantus priests can revive any locust not irreparably damaged, and good luck surviving the set pieces and vehicle sections. Some fights as this difficulty can take more than an hour to just make it part a few enemies.
To make it even worse AI teammates bleed out on Insane resulting in a game over if you don't revive them in time; combined with the Artificial Stupidity of your allies this can be very frustrating as they get downed in exposed places forcing you to break cover and in all likelihood die trying to save them.
Insane mode got evenworse in the third game. The past two games put you in a 'down but not out' state if you lost too much health, even on Insane difficulty. The third installment removes this feature altogether, immediately killing you if you lost too much health. And yes, the aforementioned pitiful damage resistance from the last two is retained. At the very least they added Arcade mode, which allowed you to continue on if one of your human teammates bit the dust. Solo gamers are SOL, though.
Insane makes the final boss of the third game beyond the impossible in difficulty. Avoiding the instant death attacks and the theron guards trying to flank you simultaneously is easy compared to dealing enough damage to knock the boss off the tower before she kills Adam which is an instant game over; the fact that the tower has a set amount of health essentially makes this a timed escort mission.
It turns out that Insane mode actually does three things. First, it makes it so that the enemies do more damage. Second, it makes it so that the enemies have more health. Thirdly, it cuts your health in half!
The ammunition you receive from fallen enemies and crates does not increase. Quite literally, if you don't make the majority of all the rounds you fire hit the enemies in the head, then you will run out of ammo.
Red Faction has "Impossible" mode, which would almost be literally impossible if it weren't for the Save Anywhere ability, especially in the Playstation 2 version with its clunky dual analog controls. Enemies are very fast and good at dodging and hiding, almost never miss, and can kill you in just a few shots.
Several enemies in the later game can see and kill you through solid walls.
Originally, the highest difficulty in Postal 2 was Hestonworld, in which enemies did twice as much damage and every character in the game world was armed with a weapon. However, since they remained non-hostile towards you until you provoked them, if you used a semi-stealthy playstyle it could actually make the game easier, as the now-armed civilians would end up killing many of your enemies for you. The patch to the game added the They Hate Me difficulty, which was truly Harder Than Hard as it caused every character with a gun (including cops, neutrals, and allies) to automatically try to kill you on sight.
Completing P.N.03 on a New Game+ with a Professional ranking on all 50 Trials and the overall game unlocks the stripperific Papillon Suit, which makes Vanessa a One-Hit-Point Wonder. Combined with Hard Mode, this makes the game an exercise in masochism.
Alien Swarm has Easy, Medium, Hard, and the aptly-named Insane difficulty. Not only are the aliens significantly tougher and more numerous on Insane, the game will also spawn the most difficult-to-manage aliens straight away in the first campaign. To drive the point home, the game already starts out with Parasites in the beginning of the Insane campaign - whereas in Hard they didn't appear until past the halfway mark.
Recently Valve updated Alien Swarm with, among other things, an even harder difficulty, "Brutal". How hard is it? At the time of its release, no one on the Alien Swarm development team had successfully completed a level on Brutal.
The difficulty in Brutal lies in its incorporation of the A.I. Director seen in Left 4 Dead. Imagine Insane's already tough enemies with all the damage resistance and attacks, and now imagine that they no longer appear from their usual set locations, but wherever the Director feels like and you've got a good gist of why Brutal is so nasty.
Freedom Fighters has the Revolutionary difficulty, in which you have the exact same amount of health as the Soviet soldier enemy Mooks you're fighting (i.e. it only takes 10 assault rifle hits to kill you). The difference is there's only one of you, and hundreds of them. Attempting to Rambo your way through the game is outright suicide, and unless you know how to use cover effectively and make good use of your allied squad, you're not going to get very far at all.
Shadows of the Empire mildly subverts this: The fourth difficulty level, Jedi, makes all attacks much stronger. Both yours and enemies'.
Dead Space 2 features the unlockable Hardcore difficulty, in which resources are even more scarce than zealot mode, enemies are stronger, and when you die you must restart from your last save point instead of checkpoints and you can only save 3 times.
Dead Space 3 makes it even worse. While you can save whenever you want, dying forces you to start the whole game over.
The Uncharted series has its "Crushing" difficulty, in which enemies can take more hits (four or five, usually, but some can take even more), and Drake can take one or two.
Vanquish has God Hard mode, where there are no weapon upgrades, and sticking your head out for more than a second will get you one hit killed.
Turn Based Strategy
"Maniac" in the Japanese version of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. The really interesting part is that unlocking Maniac removes easy mode from the menu, leaving "Medium" as the easiest difficulty setting!
The Fire Emblem 1 remake, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon now has six difficulties, the easiest of which is 'normal'. The five different hard modes are, in order: Hard, Brutal, Savage, Fiendish, and Merciless. Merciless is so ruthless that almost every enemy in the game can 1-hit KO about half of the members of your party and 2-hit most of the others. Even the first three bosses are so strong that breaking their weapons (a grueling 30 turn activity involving much prayer to the RNG goddess) is the easiest way to defeat them.
The Fire Emblem 3 remake, Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, goes up to "Lunatic" mode, which is even worse thanShadow Dragon's Merciless. Beat Lunatic? Welcome to "Lunatic-Reverse", in which enemies always attack before you do, even on your own turn.
Continuing the series' trend of Serial Escalation, Fire Emblem Awakening introduces Lunatic+. Stat-wise enemes are identical to regular Lunatic (which is just as insane as the New Mystery version), but they're given unique Secret A.I. Moves such as Vantage+ (same effect as the Lunatic Reverse mode mentioned above), Luna+ (all attacks halve your defence) and Pavise+ (all your attacks do half damage). Oh, and these skills are given to basic Mooks. Bosses are even worse. Good luck, you'll need it.
Total War difficulty has the standard easy to hard system, and then also has expert. Here, all enemies get a combat and morale bonus, which in Expert in Rome is so great that you get ridiculous situations where cavalry beat phalanxes and such. That said, its still far from impossible to win... except with some factions. If you really want harder than hard, in the XL mod for the original Medieval pick the Volga-Bulgars on expert in the high period. One province, with all the other factions in the area starting stronger than you, and the Mongols rampage in against you around ten turns in, making it a race against the clock to fight your way as far west as possible before 13000 Mongol soldiers come rampaging in off the eastern edge of the map. Shogun II, however, really sets up a challenge. You no longer get to pause the game and give orders at the same time, the save function is removed, preventing Save Scumming in a manner not unlike Diablo 2's Hardcore mode, you lack your minimap and the enemies are vicious and uncomprimising. On top of this, the AI is hugely improved from previous titles.
Turn Based Tactics
X-COM has Superhuman for its Harder Than Hard setting... unfortunately, the first game had a bug that locked difficulty to Beginner. This resulted to complaints that Superhuman was too easy, so the people making the Mission Pack Sequel (who didn't know about the bug) jacked up the difficulty of the game to what Superhuman was supposed to be. End result? The Nintendo Hard game known as Terror from the Deep.
You can also toggle on Ironman Mode, which disables all but one constantly-updated autosave. This makes it impossible to undo mistakes; every move is for keeps. Ironman Impossible was said to be possible only in theory. Naturally, people did it.
As if in retribution, the developers released 'Second Wave' difficulty options. Some of these are relatively benign; others make the game a nightmare. It is probably literally impossible to complete an 'Ironman Impossible, Diminishing Returns, Results Driven, True Loss, Marathon'.
The almost-official Jagged Alliance 2 patch 1.13 adds an "INSANE" difficulty level. Due to the nature of this patch, however, this simply makes the game more engagine, and not necessarily that difficult. Expect lots of enemies and a little bit of The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.
If this isn't hard enough for you, there's a configuration option you can set to use the "new aggressive AI". What this does is has the enemy constantly hammer your towns with attacks rather than the normal behaviour of giving you some time to recover. Couple this with the Queen having unlimited forces on insane difficulty, and it's very unlikely you'll ever capture more than the first town.
Wide Open Sandbox
Way of the Samurai has Instant Kill difficulty, where everything is a One-Hit-Point Wonder. Fun when you can kill the final boss in one hit, not so fun when one miscued attack or failed block means you're dead. This actually makes some ways of completing the game almost impossible - have fun attempting any of the Escort Missions or fights alongside allies.
Minecraft has several difficulty settings that mostly just affect how much damage the monsters deal and how serious starvation is. It also has "hardcore" mode, which locks your world onto the hardest difficulty and forces you to delete your world if you die.