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They Did What?: 

11 games where death matters

For videogamers, death comes with the territory. Used to extra lives and continues, the threat of death has kind of lost its meaning, especially with modern games offering constant checkpoints along the way.

Fortunately, there’s some games that fight back against this namby-pamby handholding and treat death with the respect it deserves.

Here are 11 games where death matters.

1. Spelunky

What's worse that encountering a yeti? Six yetis, that's what.

What’s worse that encountering a yeti? Six yetis, that’s what. It’s yeti conference season in Spelunky World 3.

Death lurks around every corner in Spelunky. Your humble author has played it (according to the stats) over 1,000 times and completed it less than 10. He’s been spiked, fallen, crushed, zapped, eaten and shot. Every time death comes by, it’s back to the start with you. Fortunately the whole game can be won in under eight minutes (there’s an achievement for it), but that involves the kind of recklessness that makes death all the more likely…

2. Day Z

Day Z

If you’ve led your life to date believing that people aren’t fundamentally jerks, then Day Z might be one to avoid.

Day Z is a MMO where you play one of a handful of survivors against zombies that have taken over the state. The other human players are your fellow survivors, and they’re such jerks that researchers are studying them to see if they feel any guilt. Why does death matter? Well, when a zombie or your fellow man finally kills you, you lose everything you’ve gathered over time laboriously spent scavanging and not dying. Back to square one, where you’re extra vulnerable to the same jerks who killed you last time.

3. Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem. Who said Nintendo games were forgiving?

Fire Emblem. Who said Nintendo games were forgiving?

Nintendo (unfairly) has a reputation for making kids’ games due to their bright colorful environments and memorable cartoon characters, but that overlooks the fact that their games get punishingly hard at times. The Fire Emblem series pushes this further than most, with ‘classic difficulty’ which means your characters can die, no matter how much time you’ve put into leveling them up and making them central to your battle strategy. What happens when they die? Best make new plans. And try not to get so attached this time.

4. Cannon Fodder

See all those recruits lining up? Gradually the five graves on the hill will become hundreds... and it's your fault.

See all those recruits lining up? Gradually the five graves on the hill will become hundreds… and it’s your fault.

In one respect, death doesn’t really matter in Cannon Fodder. Your little army men are, as the title suggests, ‘cannon fodder’. But then the game goes and gives them adorable names, and higher ranks for killing other soldiers, and every one that dies becomes another grave on the hill behind the army recruitment queue. Which for some reason doesn’t seem to put the wannabe soldiers off.

5. You Only Live Once

No, really. You get one shot, and one shot only. Unless you buy a new computer.

No, really. You get one shot, and one shot only. Unless you buy a new computer.

Flash games allow for a bit more experimentation, and You Only Live Once pushes experimentation to the limit by going out of its way to ensure you only play it once. Die and reload it, and you’ll find your grave has been left with additional flowers and tributes, but there’s no option to try again – short of formatting your computer or buying a new one. And that’s a bit much for a flash game, don’t you think?

6. State of Decay

Nothing like a nice jog.

Nothing like a nice jog.

As is fitting for a game where you control a selection of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, death is final, and can really put a crimp on your day. Although as the official Wiki cheerfully puts it, “Experienced players get their characters killed on purpose (to cut down Food and Ammo consumption, get rid of an annoying overbearing alcoholic survivor, etc).” Note to self: don’t drink when the zombies come.

7. Dark Souls

They did the Monster Mash. It was a graveyard smash.

They did the Monster Mash. It was a graveyard smash.

Death is an essential part of Dark Souls, and you will die a lot in your attempts to master the incredibly harsh game world. Why does it matter then? Well, souls are the currency of Dark Souls, and you collect them by killing enemies. Eventually you trade these in for upgrades, but you drop them when you die. You can pick them up, but only if you don’t die again on route. Oh, and did we mention that every baddy you killed along the way will set their ‘rising from the dead alarm clock’ for exactly the same time as you? Yeah. The grandaddy of games where death matters.

8. Rogue Legacy

Your offspring will carry on the fight for you. But they may not be free of disease.

Your offspring will carry on the fight for you. But they may not be free of disease.

Like Dark Souls, death is expected in Rogue Legacy, and your offspring will carry on the quest for you. Unfortunately, over generations, certain genetic deformities will emerge, some which will help and some which will definitely hinder. A super fast warrior = very handy! A warrior who can’t read in-game text = less so.

9. ZombiiU

Why you should always look before you leap.

Why you should always look before you leap.

ZombiiU, an exclusive launch title for the Wii U, follows in Dark Souls’ path: your rucksack with all your carefully collected stuff in it will vanish if you don’t collect it when you die and another survivor takes your place. Oh, and the last survivor? He or she is wandering around eating brains with your fashionable rucksack, so tread carefully. There’s also a mode where you literally only have one life for the whole 10-15 hour game. Good luck with that.

10. FTL

FTL: putting the 'i' in 'suicide mission'.

FTL: putting the ‘i’ in ‘suicide mission’.

FTL, a Kickstarted strategy game has eaten more of our free time then we’d like to admit, and we still haven’t had a successful run. Your randomly generated path across the galaxy sees you upgrading your ship, and trying to remember to leave the oxygen on so your humans don’t suffocate. If you die, it’s back to the start with you. Death is around every corner, no matter how well you think you’ve prepared. As we know all too well.

11. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

The one that kills you will be tougher when you come back to get revenge. Oh good.

The one that kills you will be tougher when you come back to get revenge. Oh good.

Shadow of Mordor is a Lord of the Rings themed open world ork slaying sim. Unlike the other games where death matters, dying doesn’t hurt you as such, but it does benefit your enemies. You see, the evil Sauron’s armies have an admirable commitment to incentive based management, and the ork that lops your head off gets himself a promotion, and levels up his skills. That means that when you go to take revenge, not only will the ork remember who you are and taunt you over your last meeting (they don’t seem hugely phased that you haven’t remained dead): they’ll be tougher this time around.

Got more games where death matters? Let us know in the comments.

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