Hundreds, if not thousands, of video games are published every year across a variety of platforms, from handheld and mobile to console and computer. Most of these are perfectly fine for almost everyone in the family to play, but let’s face it: It’s the mature games, the ones with lots of adult content — especially violence — that get the most attention. These games are OK for adults to play, and frequently, you’ll find that these titles get the large ad campaigns that run on TV and on websites, the most critical acclaim, and a majority of the press, both good and bad. It’s no wonder that teens and pre-teens want to play these titles the most. So what should parents do, especially if they don’t know anything about the games?
We’ve identified 10 of the most violent games from the past year. This isn’t an exhaustive list; rather, these are the standouts from our reviewers (who spend hundreds of hours playing and writing about the latest games on the market). Many of these titles are excellent, with star ratings of 4 and 5, with superior technical, visual, and plot design. However, all are games that should be kept solely for mature gamers.
Each violent title is listed with alternatives from the same genre, so you have solid, less violent options for your kids. If you want absolutely no violence, check out our list of nonviolent video games as well as our list of Engaging Alternatives to Ultraviolent Games. Also, make sure you check out our reviews for the latest recommendations on the newest games.
The 10 Most Violent Games of the Year and What to Play Instead
Alien: Isolation. Capturing the hopelessness and tension of the first Alien movie, Alien: Isolation overflows with violence. As Amanda Ripley, you use a variety of weapons from pistols to flamethrowers in the quest to find Ripley’s mother. You explore your space station, coming across gore, blood, and violent non-interactive death sequences as the creature impales, bites, and disposes of you. There’s also strong profanity and unexpected shocks that are terrifying even for adults. Still, mature horror and sci-fi fans will love to explore the darkened corridors of Alien: Isolation, which feels like a long-lost chapter in the well-known movie franchise.
Blue Estate. Blue Estate is one of the most controversial titles on our list, and that’s not due only to violence. This downloadable action shooter, based on a graphic novel, is loaded with sexual references, nudity, drug use, and racial commentary designed solely for shock value. Blood and gore frequently splatter across the screen (you get bonus points if you shoot limbs or genitals). This is one of the worst titles currently available for download (we gave it one star), and most gamers should stay away.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. In the sequel to Lords of Shadow, players take on the role of Dracula and fight against the Devil’s minions. You use everything from swords and chain whips to your fangs to destroy humans and their demonic allies. The violence is gratuitous and sensational; limbs are sliced off, enemies are impaled, and demons eat human flesh and cut faces off bodies.There’s also a moderate amount of profanity and some nudity. This is definitely a game for the mature player, especially the adult Castlevania fan.
Dark Souls II. Although Dark Souls II isn’t as violent or gory as the first title in the series, this notoriously skill-taxing adventure game still features extremely dark and violent material. Players cut a bloody and violent path through thousands of monsters, and the undead hero must devour the souls of his fallen opponents. Along with some dark and possibly disturbing imagery, such as a character composed of hundreds of human corpses, there’s some partial nudity and a moderate amount of profanity. However, teens and adults who enjoy fantasy combat, spooky environments, and a challenge will love this game.
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. The first expansion pack of Diablo III lets players face off against not only the demonic hordes the franchise is known for but eventually the Angel of Death. Although the top-down perspective limits the impact of in-game violence, enemies explode into pieces when defeated, blood splatters the ground, and screams or groans of pain are often heard. Players also will walk through environments littered with corpses. The constant battle and gore make this game unsuitable for kids, but mature action RPG fans will appreciate the challenges.
Grand Theft Auto V. Few games seem to inspire as much controversy or acclaim as Grand Theft Auto, and Grand Theft Auto V is no exception. Players take on the role of three criminals, each with his own personal issues, and violence is a mainstay of in-game missions. With a wide array of weaponry, players kill hundreds of characters, including civilians, police officers, and gang members. Profanity is strong and frequent, and sexual content is graphic and very mature, with some women depicted as strippers or prostitutes. Drinking and drug use is prolific as well. Although many kids may want to play GTA, the game is designed for an adult audience that can compartmentalize this open-world crime drama.
The Last of Us: Left Behind. An expansion to the critically acclaimed The Last of Us, Left Behind is a poignant, emotional, and violent prequel to the original title. It tells the story of Ellie, one of the game’s main characters, and her best friend, Riley, as they explore an abandoned mall in a postapocalyptic setting. Violence is rampant as players attempt to fend off plague-infected humans and other creatures, and blood flows frequently from wounds during graphic fight sequences. Death sequences for the player also can be disturbing, with enemies biting Ellie as she screams for help. The title packs a large amount of profanity and a mild amount of drinking. However, Left Behind also features one of the strongest stories of the year, with an emotional punch that will leave you floored and deeply attached to its characters. Mature gamers will enjoy this downloadable title.
The Walking Dead Season 2. This episodic adventure game may look like an animated comic version of the graphic novel, but it’s most certainly not for kids. Players frequently find themselves in dangerous or violent situations with dozens of zombies. Aside from the gruesome ways in which zombies are dispatched, a number of human characters are killed (either by fellow humans or the undead), and blood pours from their wounds, especially when zombies bite them. There’s a lot of profanity and a large number of moral dilemmas posed to the player at key moments. Although the second season stars a child, it’s for mature players only who will appreciate the pacing and the moral choices.
Wasteland 2. Wasteland 2 is a stark, unflinching look into a postapocalyptic world where virtually anything goes. Although the top-down view of this role-playing game keeps the violence at a distance, characters still die by explosion, decapitation, dismemberment, and other brutal methods, with blood spraying everywhere. It’s also a very mature game with profanity, sexual references, and drug dealing — all of which highlight the brutality of this lawless land. The many moral dilemmas are compelling for mature players who also will enjoy the story and classic turn-based gameplay.
Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs puts players into the vigilante shoes of Aiden Pearce, a hacker seeking revenge against the people who killed members of his family. In this open-world adventure, Aiden uses knives, firearms, and other weapons to kill hundreds of people, some of whom are police officers. He can even use his hacking skills to injure others with exploding steam pipes or destroy cars with strategically placed traffic barriers. The mature content includes drug use, alcohol consumption, and strong profanity, as well as quite a lot of nudity and sexual activity, making this a title that’s definitely not for kids. That being said, there’s an incredible amount of depth here, from the mini-games and the stealth missions to the multiplayer mode, and mature gamers will appreciate this dark tale on the streets of Chicago.
[This post originally ran on Common Sense Media, and was authored by Jeff Haynes.]