We’ve all wondered how we would survive in a life or death situation with nothing but your nards to the wind for company. Scraping by with what little resources you can muster before eventually going on to become the hyper-violent equivalent of Robinson Crusoe. That’s exactly what the best survival games do, to make you feel like the ruler of your own cultivated kingdom.
While they were once in vogue in a big way, much like battle royale games are today, the demand for survival games isn’t quite what it used to be, but those who love them really love them.
There’s a belief that a lot of them follow a similar blueprint, faults and all. Many survival games launch in Early Access and refuse to leave for the longest time; a couple of entries on this list are certainly guilty of that.
Bear in mind that this collection of the best survival games isn’t in any particular order and that some of them certainly have their rough edges. They all have their pitfalls in one way or another, but make no mistake, they’re all about survival down to the dictionary definition.
The Best Survival Games
1. Green Hell
Developer: Creepy Jar Publisher: Creepy Jar Platform: PC
One of the newest games on this list at this time of writing, Green Hell has been compared considerably to The Forest. Though they both have a familiar mood and feel, it’s Green Hell that is the more hardcore experience and one that will teach you how to play it with some incredibly harsh lessons.
Stranded in the unwelcoming Amazon rainforest, you must scrape by however you can, though death is never far away. Whether it’s because of a rattlesnake bite or eating a goddman leaf, Green Hell makes no bones about how unforgiving it is. There’s a lot that will annoy you in Green Hell, but your perseverance will be rewarded.
After launching out of Early Access, Green Hell can certainly claim that it has one of the most compelling story modes of any survival game.
Green Hell wants to put you through hell and back in an uncompromising and original survival experience with one of the best narratives the genre has ever provided to boot.
Developer: Gamepires, Croteam Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: PC
Similarly to Green Hell, SCUM has also been compared pretty liberally to another survival game. However, comparisons to DayZ are just on a surface level and fairly lazy to boot: SCUM is a far deeper and more meticulous game that will punish even the slightest of misses in micro-management.
You have to keep track of vitamins, minerals, calorie intake, warmth and so much more in SCUM, as well as it boasting some realistic approaches to stamina and body shapes determining the kind of athlete you are. Your skills upgrade the more you play, which is just one of many reasons why it’s captivated so many players so early on in its development.
It’s more than just a pooping simulator, you know.
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio Publisher: Acid Wizard Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, NS
You want a more hardcore version of Don’t Starve, a deeply disturbing survival game that’s far more terrifying than its lo-fi visuals may suggest? Then you should absolutely check out Darkwood: one of the most unsettling and constantly tense games of its ilk thanks to some superb audio design. Ugh, the dog. The damn dog.
The goal is simple: survive. While that is the point of all the survival games we’ve compiled here, Darkwood doesn’t ask you to go up against teenagers with a penchant for teabagging. Instead, you must roam a forest by day and hunker down for the night and all the things that go bump in it.
Darkwood features a top-down perspective, which is somehow even more panic-inducing, and absolutely zero hand holding throughout. Best of luck: we also listed it as one of the best horror games ever made for a reason.
Developer: Eko Software Publisher: 505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, 360, Wii U
While its sequel may have failed to capture the same magic, How To Survive’s one of the most engrossing zombie games of recent times. Not because of the blood and guts, but because of how it takes you from a hapless idiot with a stick to the conqueror of the undead. You’re stranded on a desert island with nothing but hordes of the undead and some suspicious residents for company.
How To Survive’s big mechanic is that you can find new passages from a survival book and then apply them to your character, meaning that you’re always learning and growing with each passing day. If the top-down perspective doesn’t do it for you, you can buy How To Survive – Third Person Standalone to change things up.
The sequel is also worth checking out, though it lacks the same spark as the original.
5. They Are Billions
Developer: Numantian Games Publisher: Numantian Games Platform: PC, PS4, XB1
This Early Access success story is two things: 1) a zombie game that does plenty to refresh tired ideas and 2) a pre-release title that isn’t polarising. They Are Billions’ positive reception comes down to its name fitting the billing: there are endless streams of the undead to defend against. And if you die, that’s game over for you.
Just one zombie can be your undoing, which makes covering all of your bases an essential. There can be no gaps in your defenses, making They Are Billions a bit on the intensive side — it’s not a game, it’s an obligation.
If you think you have the game licked, Numantian waste no time in upping the ante with even bigger challenges to face head on. The story mode for 1.0 hasn’t been all that warmly received, but the core survival mechanics of the game are still horrendously fun.
Though sometimes clunky controls and missing features will have you reaching for the keyboard, They Are Billions on PS4 is still a descent into madness that will have you hooked if you let it.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Platform: PC, PS4, XB1
Compared to most of of the games on this list, Subnautica is positively vibrant. Gone are the muted colours and destitution, replaced by a life under the sea. If you want a break from the grime of the post-apocalypse, Subnautica is the perfect substitute.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t pose a challenge — it is a survival game after all. After your spaceship crash lands on an alien planet, you have to eke out an existence by balancing your basic human needs, the allure of exploration, and a need to make your way home.
The deeper you go down in the sea in Subnautica, the deeper the nightmares become — Lovecraft would be proud of the creations lurking beneath.
Developer: 11 bit studios Publisher: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Part city management game, part guilt simulator, Frostpunk is an almost oppressively challenging game that tasks you with carving out a living after a worldwide freeze kills off most of humanity. You are the leader of group at one of the last bastions of hope: a gigantic furnace that is your saviour just as much as it is a burden.
Allow the heat to drop, people die. Those who don’t become amputees thanks to frostbite, which can unsettle the majority of your population. Frostpunk is a survival game of constant risk and reward: do you send out your survivors to work in freezing conditions or do you set up shop and hope that your resources last?
It constantly asks the tough questions and shows that there is no right answer in life or death situations. Expect to be publicly executed once or twice or ninety times. Hey, if the children didn’t want to be put to work then they should have said something.
“Frostpunk is a beautiful game that doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of our species, nor does it pull any punches with its difficulty. It’s an uncompromising, completely captivating affair that shouldn’t be overlooked as one of April’s best new games.”
The first of the zombie games to enter our list, it’s important to stress here that DayZ isn’t going to be for everyone. In fact, whether it’s down to the long stretches of nothingness and a performance that still isn’t quite where it should be, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be completely underwhelmed by its first few hours.
Stick with it (and also grab a few friends) and DayZ begins to slowly flourish, however. DayZ as a whole is something of a slow game with human encounters being few and far between, as well as there being a likelihood that they may just kill you outright. It was in Early Access for an obscene and controversial length of time, though its 1.0 update wasn’t without its problems, either.
Just be prepared for some issues and don’t expect too much of it and you will have a whale of a time. Maybe just stick to PC, though.
9. 7 Days To Die
Developer: The Fun Pimps Publisher: The Fun Pimps/Telltale (consoles) Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Another zombie survival game that’s been in Early Access since a week after Nelson Mandela died, 7 Days To Die and DayZ aren’t a million miles away from each other but it’s 7 Days that arguably has the most interesting ideas. You survive for as long as you can against hordes of the undead by building fortifications and jankily bashing their heads in.
7 Days is not the prettiest or smoothest game on this list with some very rough textures and a general lack of sheen. If you can overlook that, it can be an engaging and very long ride. If you’re on PC, that is. The console version is, in a word, horrendous and supported pretty terribly.
Packed with more cocks than the House of Lords, Conan Exiles made a name for itself thanks to countless headlines that went in hard on its phallic nature. Really, that’s probably still its biggest selling point as it doesn’t do a great deal to distance itself from its peers while also borrowing pretty liberally from them.
Still, if you want to feel very loosely connected to the lore of Robert Ervin Howard and grief some people, Conan Exiles has what you need. It has the customary open world survival game jank and drawbacks, though if you just want to build bases and get to the top of the ladder from the bottom, Exiles has a steady but rewarding sense of progression.
As with many games of its ilk, it’s much better with friends.
“What is there now is still fun and with friends it can be a blast, but people should know that it simply isn’t finished yet. I see great potential in this world from an age undreamed of, and perhaps one day it can truly be a place of high adventure as well.”