The tutorial of 1999 open-world crime game Driver is infamous. It recreates a scene from 1978 movie The Driver, by making you performing a checklist of stunts and maneuvers in a cramped parking garage to prove your skills as a getaway expert. Burnout? Handbrake? Easy enough. Now imagine you are a young videogame-enjoyer sitting down to play your exciting new videogame, and then being instructed to perform a “slalom” with no explanation what the word even means. You have not been alpine skiing, because you are a literal child. By the way, there’s a time limit. Good luck!
That’s a classic unforgiving tutorial, but there are plenty of platformers with punishing first levels, RPGs out to kill you in the starter dungeon, and survival games that throw you in at the deep end.
Which game has the most brutal beginning?
Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum.
Andy Chalk: The Temple of Trials in Fallout 2. Basically you’re given a stick and thrown naked into a cave complex filled with giant ants and scorpions, and you have to fight your way through it in order to prove you’ve got the stones to actually play the damn game. The whole thing sucks, it’s a plodding, grinding, save-scumming pain in the ass, and it’s got nothing to do with the story—it’s an entirely separate tutorial-slash-torture chamber that has no connection to anything. But if you want to play Fallout 2 then you have to power through it. This is the main reason I have never successfully replayed Fallout 2.
Katie Wickens: Starting a new Survival mode game on The Long Dark on Interloper difficulty is one of the most brutal game starts I can think of. You’re dropped in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, usually at the height of a snowstorm with hardly a scrap of clothing on you. Sometimes shoeless, too. You never start with anything useful and have to traipse through a foot of snow cover for miles just to find some matches—which are super rare. Inevitably you’re lumped with a magnifying glass instead, like that’s going to do any good when you can’t even see the sun. And the rarity of tool spawns mean you’re going to have to make your way to a forge before you can even chop some damn firewood. What’s more, on this difficulty wolves will actively seek you out across the map, and they don’t care that you’ve only just spawned. If they smell you, you better have a weapon forged and at the ready.
Alan Dexter: The Long Dark. God that’s a brutal game. None of the usual get-used-to-the-game-mechanics nonsense can be found here. This is a survival game that is unflinching as it is rewarding. You against nature… and nature tends to win this one. Hungry, thirsty, and probably about to freeze to death. If you’re lucky there won’t be a blizzard swirling around you as you stumble between trees desperately looking for something, anything, that could sustain you. As the light dips and the sound of wolves intensifies, you know you’re probably not long for this world. Making it through the first night is an achievement.
Wes Fenlon: Final Fantasy 13 has one of the most agonizing intros of any game I’ve played. ANd by intro, I actually mean, like, the first 15 hours. I hear the rest is better, but after the pure agony that was listening to the Final Fantasy 13 characters speak for the first half, I ditched, so I never got to the “good” part. There’s a lot that I think is wrong with Final Fantasy 13—the story is a soupy mess of proper nouns masquerading as worldbuilding, the dialogue and voice acting are full-on anime bullshit, and the bulk of the game is running down bland corridors. But its greatest offense—what makes the intro so brutal—is that it continually refuses to let you really engage with its great battle system.
Combat in this game is really fun! It’s especially fun when you have a full party. So what does Final Fantasy 13 do for the first half of the game? Constantly divide up your party into smaller groups. It’s like giving someone a bite of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, then ripping it in half and forcing them to eat the peanut bread slice and the jelly bread slice separately. What a waste.
Jody Macgregor: I managed to survive the first dungeon in The Elder Scrolls: Arena by the skin of my teeth, but had no such luck in Daggerfall. I barely survived killing the rats and bats in the tutorial dungeon of Privateer’s Hold, then got blasted by an imp I couldn’t hurt because they only take damage from steel weapons. Then, when I tried to rest to get my health back, I was attacked by a grizzly bear.
I ran away, stumbling right into an archer, then ducked into a room and closed the door to escape his arrows. And that’s how I found out about the bug that lets arrows fly through doors.
Rich Stanton: I don’t know if you’d describe it as especially brutal, but the opening of Oblivion is so dull, so poorly paced, so brown, and so hemmed-in that the first time I played the game, I gave up before ever getting outside. I thought it stank. A few months later I gave it another bash, finally got outside, and went on to fall in love with one of my all-time favourite RPGs. But that long repetitive dungeon crawl of an opener was a more brutal turn-off than any overpowered enemy that gives new players a kicking.
Zloth: I don’t think I’ve ever played one that started out brutal (at least not without mods) but BattleTech was pretty tricky early on. You get your first tutorial mission starts out easy but quickly gets a lot more difficult. Once the proper game starts out, you’re pilots are so green they need some luck to hit the broad side of a dropship. They are mostly up against a bunch of dodgy, little mechs.
JCgames: Then you haven’t played “Dead in Vinland”
That’s not even on hard+ironman, the base game is hard enough.. If you make it 10 days on your first try i’d be impressed. BTW it’s an absolutely fantastic game. Turnbased survival 2 turns a day and Line combat, combined with a story each night. Dead in bermuda was decent, but this game fixed everything wrong with the first, added even more depth and added a very engaging combat system. I need more games like this, it’s really a whole genera of it’s own.
Little tip for BT, Punch um, they loose evasion then you can hit them easier.. But yea BT is a fairly steep learning curve. Not for the faint of heart.
badman: Older games in general could be very brutal from the start. For me, the most brutal (from the beginning) game I’ve played is Metal Mutant. Getting the past the first few screens was allready tricky, but the ‘fun’ really started 5 minutes in. Never finished it, not sure if anyone did.
Of course, a lot of other games nicked you from the start, but that’s because you were surprised or because you had to learn some basic control movements. I think everybody who played Prince Of Persia 2 knows what I’m talking about. That first guard killed every player.
Kaamos_Llama: Two that I’ve been playing a lot recently come to mind.
Battle Brothers, even on the easiest settings its very easy to get party wiped within minutes if you have no previous experience of the game. It can still happen on the harder difficulties when you do have a lot of experience, if you get ambushed and surrounded by accident.
Cultist Simulator, has no manual or tutorial and literally just puts a table in front of you on screen with cards with timers counting down on it with no other tips on what the hell you’re supposed to do to progress, or what any of it means exactly.
Both great games though!
Frindis: Rust, Escape From Tarkov or Dayz. Rust being the hardest because of the sheer amount of people wanting nothing more than to give you a hard day building anything. If you are a new guy in either of those games, you will get punished over and over again until you grasp the mechanisms or leave the game raging.
Sarafan: There are many demanding games, but there’s rarely a game that throws at you bad things in the beginning. One of them is Pathfinder: Kingmaker on the highest difficulty level. It’s really demanding. Your team can get wiped out easily even by low level mobs. If you combine that with the selection of an arcane caster class as your starting character, you’ll encounter one of the toughest experiences in history of RPGs and probably in gaming in overall. At the very beginning there’s literally no tank that you can add to your party and I don’t have to say what’s the potential of tanking by caster characters. So if you select an arcane caster as you starting character, you’ll end up with two arcane casters, a Bard (which is also a caster) and an Inquisitor (which… can cast spells!). And guess what! You won’t have an option to rest to replenish your spell list. Basically you’re stuck with the very few spells that you start the game with. And the mobs keep coming…
OsaX Nymloth: If we take difficulty settings into account: Icewind Dale on Heart of Fury. Especially solo.
A small group of goblins that used to be nothing but some glorified combat tutorial that people normally kill within first 3-5 minutes? Forget about them, you’ll get one shotted by just one of them – engaging whole group is something not even a veteran suicidal masochist would do.
How about ’em beetles in the basement of the local inn? They just stand around and wait for you to kill them, right? WRONG. On Heart of Fury if you move just one inch too close, you’re dead. More dead than Bhaal when Time of Troubles ended. More dead than a rock. It’s like you never existed.
And yet it’s possible to overcome all of that!
Without difficulty being maxed out….hm….well lots of older games were brutal. Take Blood for example – even on “normal” difficulty it can be damn hard – rooms full of cultist throwing dynamite the moment you open the door, lovely. In games such as Wizardry you take one wrong step and your whole party is gone.
Brian Boru: Civ4, playing a difficulty level that tests you, and you spawn on a 1-2 tile island—reroll!
Rensje: Frindis mentioned Escape From Tarkov, which I think is a pretty strong candidate for the title. The game tells you nothing about how it works, what you should be doing or where you should be going. If you manage to survive your first raid by some miracle, fending off players and AI scavs alike, you will still need to look up how to safely extract because the game sure isn’t going to tell you where you need to go.
For most people though, their first raid ends before it has even started. You’ll get destroyed by someone rushing your spawn for an easy kill before you have even gotten your bearings.
mainer: Your beginning character in the Gothic 1-3 games (especially 1-2), and the more recent Elex, could be pretty brutal if tried to fight everything that moves. Usually, you have to run from combat early as you slowly build and train your character. It’s a trademark of Piranha Bytes games, and I really love the way they create their worlds.