What are the worst difficulty spikes you have experienced in a video game?

wvmgmidget

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In Europa Universalis IV after you win your first couple of wars. I tend to be greedy and the AI loves to dole out punishment after you get enough Aggressive Expansion. Early game it’s difficult to make money and your troops are usually terrible. You usually have to ruin your economy to fight off a large coalition and playing ironman (no reloading saves; only way to earn achievements) makes it extremely difficult.

In my Holland to Netherlands game, I took 3 provinces in the area and I got declared war on by most of the HRE and the Kalmar Union. Fortunately, daddy France (my only ally) was able to save me but it was a long climb back for both of us.
 

Grand Prix

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Those missions in Command and Conquer where you start off with a limited amount of units and need to search and destroy, or search and rescue. Those would take a few tries. The first Nod mission, although a similar deal, was easy enough.

Mission 6 for GDI could take a few tries as well, you had one commando ("Time to Rock'n'Roll") available to use, and needed to figure out what they wanted you to blow up. Plus you had to blow up some SAM sites, which could have a couple of infantrymen pop out during the explosion, trying to kill the commando. He had a quite random chance of surviving that, or so it seemed.

 

MaxAttack

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I agree with most of the ones posted already, especially NFS Underground, I never beat those last races as a kid and im pretty sure my brain has a special place full of supressed rage from back then.

I don't really consider the Dark Souls/Bloodborne games as having difficulty spikes, more like the occasional difficulty lull (looking at you, One Reborn).

I'd like to mention a game that I think uses difficulty spikes to great effect and that's Monster Hunter: World. The game hits you with a few along the way, first they hit you with the ultra aggressive Anjanath a few hunts in and he will really teach you to play the game. Then again as you get to Rathian/Rathalos/Diablos, usually one of those three will really test a new player (for me it was Diablos). Then when you reach High rank, some of the revamped monsters are going to push you once again, all becoming more aggressive and tougher.

Then the elder dragons roll along, and a lot of people have quit the game once they come face to face with Nergigante. He's ultra aggressive, quick as hell, will close range very quickly, and has a divebomb move that can one shot you very easily, but he too can be overcome; you learn to be brave and stand in his earhole, smashing at his giant horns with one ludicrously oversized weapon or other.

Now after Iceborne we're facing Savage Deviljhos, Zinogres, buffed versions of every monster (Thanks for poison AND paralysis, Viper Tobi-Kadachi) and of course, toughened, tempered elder dragons with extra moves.

The thing is, I think these spikes are perfectly executed. You get slapped around but you learn to play the game, you learn the way the monsters fight and hopefully think of some tactics and gear you can use to your advantage.

And always, in the end, you triumph if you stick with it, and you get to look back at the time Low Rank Anjanath slapped you around for a whole day and laugh.

Source: hunted Arch-Tempered Nergigante
 
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In Europa Universalis IV after you win your first couple of wars. I tend to be greedy and the AI loves to dole out punishment after you get enough Aggressive Expansion. Early game it’s difficult to make money and your troops are usually terrible. You usually have to ruin your economy to fight off a large coalition and playing ironman (no reloading saves; only way to earn achievements) makes it extremely difficult.

In my Holland to Netherlands game, I took 3 provinces in the area and I got declared war on by most of the HRE and the Kalmar Union. Fortunately, daddy France (my only ally) was able to save me but it was a long climb back for both of us.

Continuing on with the Paradox game theme, Crusader Kings 2 has a few:
  • first few years after an extremely early inheritance (like ~5 years old or less). Have fun watching your factions bubble up to the point where they could theoretically pop and cause untimely civil wars. Mitigated by the fact that you'll begin to accumilate the long reign opinion bonus by the time you come of age, which oddly enough makes it one of my prefered times to take the throne.
  • inheritance itself. E.X Run elective succession? Good luck getting enough votes to keep your top title in the family long enough to change out (unless playing as the ERE or HRE, fairly sure those are hardlocked into a form of elective in the final few patches.) There are, of course, ways to game the system.
  • Holy wars. Time them wrong and it's likely that everyone in the area following your targets religion will pile on, leading to unintended consequences and more wars from other sources.
  • Pressing weak non-inheritable* claims held by women when your target is a healthy man, mostly owing to the crapshoot of waiting for him to either die or be under a regency for whatever reason.
*-Most cases will be converted to inheritable if an attempt to press the claim is made.
 

MatskiMonk

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I think I've played through John Woo's Stranglehold a few times on the PS3, but I kept getting to the restaurant level and getting stuck.
Stuntman on the PS2 also, IIRC there was a sequence I just couldn't get past. (edit: 'Head On' in the 'Live Twice for Tomorrow' filming).

These two stick out because they're both games I really enjoyed, but just stopped playing part way through because I just couldn't get any further.

And not so much a difficulty spike, but a tedium one... doing the 100 photographs in San Andreas just about killed me.
 
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wvmgmidget

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Continuing on with the Paradox game theme, Crusader Kings 2 has a few:
  • first few years after an extremely early inheritance (like ~5 years old or less). Have fun watching your factions bubble up to the point where they could theoretically pop and cause untimely civil wars. Mitigated by the fact that you'll begin to accumilate the long reign opinion bonus by the time you come of age, which oddly enough makes it one of my prefered times to take the throne.
  • inheritance itself. E.X Run elective succession? Good luck getting enough votes to keep your top title in the family long enough to change out (unless playing as the ERE or HRE, fairly sure those are hardlocked into a form of elective in the final few patches.) There are, of course, ways to game the system.
  • Holy wars. Time them wrong and it's likely that everyone in the area following your targets religion will pile on, leading to unintended consequences and more wars from other sources.
  • Pressing weak non-inheritable* claims held by women when your target is a healthy man, mostly owing to the crapshoot of waiting for him to either die or be under a regency for whatever reason.
*-Most cases will be converted to inheritable if an attempt to press the claim is made.
Inheritance is the worst. Especially gavelkind and having ungrateful vassals. Like EU4 I tend to get too greedy, which leads to a slew of problems. Overall, I think CK2 is a bit easier (less coalitions and rebellions, plus there’s not really an economy to deal with), but more tedious (keeping track of everyone) to maintain your realm.
 

DK

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I picked up Pokemon Crystal through the 3DS virtual console, I think I had to grind for XP against the Elite Four about 6-8 times to finally beat them as my team averaged around Lv 40ish when I cleared Victory Road.
 

Sonygamer455

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The Death Star Mini-Game in Lego Star Wars The Force Awakens.
I think this is one of the most recent examples I have and one of the most infuriating I have had in a while too. While it doesn't look that bad, it's a lot harder when you actually play it. The controls are a bit too twitchy, the obstacles are large and hard to avoid, it goes too fast and it only gets harder and harder the longer it goes on. The mini-game is just ridiculously hard and annoying and it goes on a little too long for what it is. I have played through the entirety of Lego Star Wars The Force Awakens and it has a wide range of things you have to do to reach 100% and out all of them, this was easily the hardest thing in the entire game for me. Which is absolutely absurd because it's just a small mini-game on the 2nd level, yet it manages to be harder than anything else the game throws at you.
 

Liquid

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Honestly, the one driving mission in GT4 I just couldn't do was the Honda Odyssey one where it's all about slipstreaming. I don't think I have ever passed it. The Mercedes-Benz one at the Nordschleife is tough and I seem to recall having difficulty with a Skyline one too.
 
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Mission 6 in Ace Combat 5. It was extremely difficult for me as a kid, and I stopped playing the game for years because of it. It actually pretty much traumatised me, to this day I've completed it at most 9 times (assuming I had to replay it to get an S-rank), even though I've put hundreds of hours in AC5 and I got 100% twice. It's also the reason I haven't played the remastered version of the game in PS4 much as I'll have to beat it a couple more times to get 100% again. I refuse to play it again.
 
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evildave333
I can think of many 8bit and 16bit games from the 80's and 90's that were genuinely impossible, but in recent years the hardest hardcore difficult games are danmaku shoot em ups. Despite the high difficulty there is something so addiciting about these games I can often do 2 or 3 levels without dying and its a real buzz... Cave produces some of the finest like the dodonpachi games and raizing with battle garegga / batrider check the video bullet hell indeed!

 

Liquid

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Grand Prix Series

The Ace difficulty.

So it goes Novice, Rookie, Semi-Pro, Professional and Ace and the only real difference between each is the speed of the AI. The availability of other noob driving aids is also a thing but you'll only ever use/have/need auto gearbox and throttle control once you know how to play the game.

Each car has real-life based performance so a Minardi is like a Minardi and a Ferrari is like a Ferrari. In Grands Prix 2, 3 and 4 the professional difficulty is a really tough challenge no matter what car you're driving. The ace difficulty? It's just impossible. I've played these games for over 20 years now and whilst I've always had fun with them, setting myself various challenges and stipulations, I have never managed to win the championship on ace difficulty. The AI is just programmed to be too fast, particularly in the rain. You won't even come close unless you're driving the fastest car in each particular game; Benetton in GP2, McLaren in GP3 and Ferrari in GP4.

GP4 is probably the worst offender for this. No matter what your setup is, Michael Schumacher will win.
 
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Right out of the gate I can think of two, both of which I have yet to beat to this day:

Firstly, the Roadster boss race in the original Burnout; it just takes off immediately and is difficult to chase back; even if you can still keep track of it you also have traffic RNG to contend with which can be both a blessing or a curse. On the one hand if there's a big truck coming up and the AI crashes into it you effectively get a free pass into the lead. However, using a car with poor maneuverability (especially the legally-distinct not-Viper Muscle car) can equally screw you over, especially in the traffic-dense sections of the road.

And second, the Harrier battle in Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes. You're on the top of the bridge of a large ship, so you have very little cover, when the terrorists take a Harrier jet they hijacked to capture the ship into the air to kill you. There's very little in the way of cover and healing items on the bridge rooftop and what's worse is there's another terrorist that'll attempt to pester you with grenades until you kill him. As for the Harrier itself, CZDS is no Metal Gear Solid 2 so you don't get a homing rocket launcher; instead, your only viable method of dealing damage to the Harrier is with your two sniper rifles; the AWP that you get just before the start of the fight, and the Scout-sniper that you obtained earlier in the mission.
 
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MrCrynox
The last level of both Splinter Cell 1 & 2. First one you are trying to protect hostages who are split up in 2 different areas whilst being over run by enemy soldiers who have multiple ways to get to both you and the hostages, it's very challenging to say the least, all it takes is a couple of shots or for just one soldier to get to the hostages and it's game over. And then you have to take out the boss who is very fast and taking pot shots at you when you already have virtually no health left. A horrible end to a brilliant game.

And then the last level of the 2nd game, trying to take out 3 enemies who are above you and can easily spot you whilst racing against time to kill them and disarm a bomb, you have something like 1.5 mins to get all this done, whilst again just a couple of shots kill you. Another horrible end compared to all the other levels.

Thankfully SC3 doesn't have anywhere this type of difficulty at the end.
 
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cyan-yoshi5
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Anyone play Puzzle & Dragons Z?

Every boss in that game after the first one was a difficulty spike but if I would be specific it be the Light Skydragon boss fight.

It focused on Paralyzing half your team every 3 turns if it doesn't attack (when your party member is paralyzed, they won't contribute to any attacks regardless of the colour matches you do) . The kicker is that he moves every 2 turns so he can use the Paralyze move twice in a row or 3 times in a row and if he targets an already Paralyzed team member, the Paralyze stacks.

You can just not do anything for a lot of turns. I only beat this boss when he didn't use the Paralyze move twice in a row.

And he comes back with the same move unchanged for the final boss fight with the other Skydragons
 
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NotThePrez

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Ones that I would call annoying, but not impossible:
  • Unbeatable difficulty in Forza Horizon 3. It's pretty much obvious in the first few minutes of the game that the AI has different physics than you, but the AI takes it to a whole 'nother level on max difficulty. The lines and speed that the AI would carry through the corners were just insane. While it can be dealt with with the right cars and tunes, the fact that so much was required to do that was pretty silly.
  • This one has been mentioned a few times, but after recently doing a playthrough of NFSU1, the game really does take a dive in the last 3rd once you start to unlock Level 3 performance parts. It gets really sweaty real quick, and the AI ramps up its speed like you wouldn't believe. Of course the game is more than beatable, but the uptick in difficulty and rubberbanding is hard to ignore.
  • Mission 10 "Mayhem" in Ace Combat Zero, specifically on Mercenary Ace Style. For the boss battle, you fight a squadron of 8 MiG-31s (for reference, Solider style has 4 F-14s and an EA-6 Jammer, and Knight Style has 4 F-16Cs and an F-4) equipped with long-range missiles, as well as insane acceleration and increased turning ability. There's also several named Aces that'll give you a run for your money as well, even on repeated playthroughs. If it's your first playthrough and you're only partway through the game at this point, you likely don't have access to any high-end planes with good SP Weapons, and if you haven't bought the Su-37, Typhoon or F-15C, you're gonna have a tough time. I'd 100% call this the hardest mission and boss battle in the entire game.

Ones that I would call downright ridiculous:

  • IC-4 in GT2. I think this one is self-explanatory.
  • IB-7 in GT2. Getting gold here requires such perfect driving that it's imo impossible to get a consistent time. The game seems to want you to carry a drift through the first right-hander and then keep a fast-but-shallow drift through the long left-hander, which is just impossible to pull off consistently. I remember getting gold on this challenge and not really knowing how I got a good time, and I haven't been able to repeat that.
  • Mission 13 "Liberation of Gracemeria" in Ace Combat 6. The mission itself isn't impossible, but the boss fight at the end is a total PITA. Basically you're constantly getting swarmed by hyper-maneuverable UAVs that can out-turn your missiles at a moments notice, and will happily swarm you and pepper you to death with machine guns, while the CFA-44 that the boss pilot uses launches their own high-performance missiles at you, while also getting nerfed on occasion by the CFA-44's onboard jammer, which is also pretty much the only time that you can land good hits on the enemy. Allied support is pretty much useless, as your allies' missiles will miss the UAVs for the most part, and you have to shoot down 35 of the buggers if you want S-rank. The boss fight basically turns into a game of evading attacks and waiting for the game to jam your radar. Did I mention that the CFA-44 is a stealth aircraft, and it only appears on your radar either if you're looking right at it or when the jammer is being activated?
  • Mission 9 "Lit Fuse" in Ace Combat 5. The main aspect of this mission is that there are enemy bunkers that you have to attack so that your ground troops can move up, but if you don't attack them quickly enough the bunkers will pop back up later. From what I understand, it's possible to totally destroy each bunker on the first pass, but the window to destroy the bunker is super short, and the game basically gives you no indication of how long it'll be until the bunker comes back online, nor does it tell you how quickly they need to be destroyed. This imo is the most boring and un-fun mission in the game, and there's a mission where you just fly through a ravine and take photos.
  • CoD: World at War. The entire campaign on Veteran difficulty.
 

MaxAttack

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Does anyone recall the PlayStation 2 Futurama game? I was looking at it in my collection recently and my brain flooded with long buried trauma.

I won't look it up to confirm, but I remember the game had a serious, serious difficulty spike when you reached Leela's level on The Sun. It was certainly no hand holder of a game before that stage, I recall it's a tricky 3D platformer with some really headache inducing sequences.

But something about that Sun level is embedded in my mind as impossible. If I recall, there were long sections to clear between checkpoints with a bunch of really hard hitting enemies and difficult jumps to make too. I seem to remember some aspect of the level required not getting hit or getting hit as little as possible on your way through bit that this was next to impossible. I definitely never beat it.

Amazing that what seemed like an offhanded licensing tie in game was such a proto-Dark Souls in my memory.