7 Games With Devastating Permadeath


Forget the forgiving games that toss checkpoints every ten feet; these games don’t play around with death!

Most modern games cater to the player and eschew frustration by placing checkpoints and revival-focused NPCs everywhere; any time your character is killed, you can expect punishment to be negligible. In some ways, it takes a lot of suspense out of the gaming experience, but with so many games and so little time available these days, keeping the game experience streamlines is pretty important. That’s why it’s so shocking (and sometimes refreshing) to see a game that essentially asks you to start back at the beginning if you fuck up.

Then there are story-driven epics where certain choices doom characters, storylines, and endings based on your moral choices. It’s very daring in a completely different way to record hours of dialogue and program tons of animation that half of the player base will never hear or see, but like those punishing single-player experiences, it makes for great water-cooler discussion afterwards. No matter how the deaths are executed, they’ve stuck with us long after the credits rolled, and in these seven instances, they were truly devastating.

Suffice it to say, just about every entry deals with SPOILERS, so tread lightly and skip to the next entry if you want to avoid a particular game’s death discussion.

7. Until Dawn

You know, I almost had Heavy Rain on this list, but honestly, screw that cornball game. If we want stilted acting, ridiculous plot twists, and cheesy horror to go with permadeath, I’ll take Until Dawn instead. That game permanently offs lead characters during a playthrough, but it does it with the sleazy, campy panache of a Scream film, which is quite enduring to a child of the ’90s. And it made the replays matter all the more.

You got the unpredictability of seeing a sexy teens get impaled on a meat hook and then choke on their own blood, and then Until Dawn’s story just keeps trucking along to fit their absence. Then, you restart the game and see how a new campaign plays out differently with that person still living. Knowing any character could die (with the game immediately saving to prevent reloading) made every risky jump or split second decision matter exponentially more. In the end it even made for a much deeper experience than anything David Cage has made. -Hank

6. Steel Battalion

Out of the 40-plus doodads adorning the Steel Battalion original Xbox controller (shown above), one seemingly inconspicuous button has unforeseeable power that can cause certain doom if used improperly. I’m talking about the windshield wiper, of course… no, just kidding! There’s an eject button that’s key to keeping your game save intact in the case of your mech becoming inoperable.

Good luck figuring out which gauge measures how close you are to exploding...
Good luck figuring out which gauge measures how close you are to exploding…

In keeping with the harsh realism of Capcom’s expensive mech series, if your mech blows up while you’re still piloting it, all save progress in the campaign will be lost. It makes a lot of sense, since a dead character shouldn’t realistically be expected to continue his quest, but it’s a punishing move nonetheless.


The concept of permadeath was extended to the Kinect-enabled reboot Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, where certain situations could kill your crewmates. Once one of them died, they were gone for good. As the one person in the gaming media who didn’t hate Heavy Armor, I could go on about that mechanic, but I fear I’ve expressed too much admiration already, so let’s move on. -Dave

5. State of Decay

Many indie developers have taken to the concept of open-world permadeath, whether it be in a fantastical world like Don’t Starve or a player-populated apocalypse in Day Z. Seeing as how Day Z could still change before it hits final ultra mega release, State of Decay’s system stands as the most meaningful.

Don't be fooled by the sweater vest... this guy was a tank!
Don’t be fooled by the sweater vest… this guy was a tank!

Like Day Z, you’ll be taking a survivor out to scavenge, craft, explore, and survive zombie onslaughts, but you also have a community to contend with. Ideally, you’ll cycle out your explorers to keep many survivors flush with experience, because once they kick the bucket out in the wild, they’re gone for good (along with any valuables they were collecting at the time). Even though you can keep a high survival rate if you’re MLG, death is a likely occurance and will affect morale amongst those left to fend in the end of days. -Dave

BioWare and Telltale’s gut-wrenching death choices await you on the next page!

4 thoughts on “7 Games With Devastating Permadeath

  1. I’d like to give out an honorable mention to a game that just came out of early access in the past week which was The Darkest Dungeon. It uses permadeth in an x-com like way and the gameplay is just as stressful too. While you can easily just get new recruits you may not end up with the types you’ll need in your party, like a healer, mechanics like that will make exploring dungeons even harder. You guys would love it, so I’ll highly recommend it.

  2. Shout out to Minecraft! Very few games instill terror like that one, and not through creepy music or monsters popping out (though that happens too) but the fear of one misstep, and you could fall to your death, drown, or burn up in lava, losing everything you have with you, what could amount to hours of work, puts that one on the Permadeath list for me.

    1. thats more item based though and not with characters, maybe if you mentioned the option where you set the option to make the whole map being deleted after you die then i would say thats acceptable.

  3. If you played Final Fantasy VII without knowing (SPOILER from 1997) Aeris dies and had her as one of your main three teammates, that put a big dent in your power after her death. All the hours of grinding levels plus the gear and materia she had equipped went to waste.

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