We’ve all wondered how we would survive in a life or death situation with nothing but your bits 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.
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.
That said, there are just as many survival games that absolutely flourished in Early Access and continue to receive updates to this day.
Bear in mind that this collection of survival games features some Early Access titles, so some of them certainly have their rough edges. As well as that, we’ve also tried to mention whether they are single-player or multiplayer survival games. While plenty of people prefer the latter, the lack of PVP in the former makes it a far more isolating, absorbing experience for the former.
All of what you will find below have their pitfalls in one way or another, but make no mistake, they’re all about survival down to the dictionary definition. All of these survival games are on PC, but we’ve also denoted whether they’re on console. Bear in mind that any games listed for PS4 and Xbox One will also work on PS5 and Xbox Series X | S respectively.
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 may have a whale of a time — if you don’t get fatally dehydrated within minutes, that is. Maybe just stick to PC, though.
25. 7 Days To Die (Early Access)
Developer: The Fun Pimps Publisher: The Fun Pimps/Telltale (consoles) Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
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 penises than the House of Lords, Conan Exiles made a name for itself thanks to countless headlines that went in hard on its phallic nature. Right, we’ll stop with those puns now.
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.”
23. How To Survive
Developer: Eko Software Publisher: 505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, 360, Wii U Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
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.
22. SCUM (Early Access)
Developer: Gamepires, Croteam Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Similarly to many other games on this list, 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.
21. Death Road To Canada
Developer: Rocketcat Games Publisher: Rocketcat Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Another game with a style that belies its brutality, the aim of Death Road To Canada is one that sounds simple on paper but is incredibly challenging in reality.
Either alone or with a motley crew of survivors, you must survive for long enough on its many pixel plains to make the trek into Canada: the last bastion of hope for humanity after a zombie apocalypse.
Along the way, you’ll have to scavenge for supplies and fend off the undead with a risk and reward system firmly in place for almost any choice you make. You will make your way through many bands of misfits before you find one that sticks, though there are never any guarantees of success. Some might even leave you behind.
The hordes will keep on coming the closer you get to Canada, making Rocketcat Games’ Early Access success story one that will pull you in for hours.
20. State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs Publisher: Funcom Platform(s): PC, XB1 Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
The logical evolution on its wholly underrated predecessor, State of Decay adds a new lick of paint to the original and adds deeper community mechanics in the process.
It’s less a game about your survival and more a game about making sure your friends pull through instead. It’s a burden that weighs down on you throughout, an almost thankless and neverending task.
Whether it’s finding resources or cures, you’re never left without something to do in State of Decay 2. Sure, the busywork may become too much for some (your fellow survivors are certainly a demanding bunch), but once you arrive at a point where your community is as armed and ready as the army of a small country, all the hard work proves worth it.
It still has some issues, though you can expect Undead Labs will clean it up completely before long. Or fix them for the sequel, of course.
19. Breathedge (Early Access)
Developer: RedRuins Softworks Publisher: RedRuins Softworks Platform: PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
A lot of survival games take themselves very seriously, them favouring brutal realism and a punishing difficulty over a bit of a lark.
Breathedge seeks to rectify that by allowing you to just mess around in space with the company of a chicken. Yes.
Currently in Early Access, Breathedge updates have been somewhat on the slow side, yet everything RedRuins Softworks add is great.
If the grim nature of the likes of The Forest and Frostpunk is a little too much, try out this demented version of Wall-E in the survival genre instead.
18. Raft (Early Access)
Developer: Redbeet Interactive Publisher: Redbeet Interactive Platform(s): PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
An idea so simple that it’s a wonder nobody thought of it first, Raft is Subnautica meets Castaway in which you must take a very basic raft and build it up into your own little fortress on the sea.
Sharks are just one of the things you have to look out for here.
Raft features plenty of interesting twists on the genre, including a love/hate relationship with seagulls and floating debris being the difference between life and death. It’s not easy, but still accessible, especially if you grab some friends to scream out “Wilson” occasionally with as well.
Raft is still in Early Access, but development is coming along nicely.
Developer: Re-Logic Publisher: Re-Logic/505 Games Platform(s): literally everything Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
It’s been pretty difficult to separate Minecraft and Terraria over the years with the latter not being quite as popular but still a rousing success all the same. They aren’t a million miles apart in terms of their core mechanics, but Terraria’s 16-bit 2D world may be enough to win over retro gamers.
It looks every inch like the Nintendo classic.
Terraria emphasises combat more so than its closest cousin as well, helping it to feel even more like a doff of the cap of games gone by. There’s not quite so much a focus on food and water as other games on this list, either, so it’s less about the micro-management and more about the adventure with Terraria.
If you’ve yet to play it, you have no excuses — it’s on pretty much every platform going.
16. Grounded (Early Access)
Developer: Obsidian Publisher: Xbox Game Studios Platform(s): PC, Xbox One Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Obsidian have shown time and time again that they’re not only one of the best developers around, but also that they’re not afraid to try different things.
Grounded is the perfect example of that. While Obsidian have come to be known as the masters of the RPG, they went out on a limb when making Grounded, a family-friendly survival game where your biggest threats are spiders.
Directly inspired by the like of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!, Grounded is one of many projects Obsidian are juggling right now, but, despite that, it still has a Saturday morning cartoon vibe and that Obsidian touch of quality.
Grounded hasn’t been long into its Early Access journey at this time of writing, but you should expect good things as the months go by.
15. Project Zomboid (Early Access)
Developer: The Indie Stone Publisher: The Indie Stone Platform(s): PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
There sure are a lot of zombies in this list for the best survival games, a tradition which Project Zomboid continues.
Sadly, just like many of those we’ve already mentioned, Project Zomboid is still in Early Access limbo but it’s making all the right moves nevertheless.
Marketed as hardcore survival simulator, the billing certainly fits. You will constantly be up against the wall, never feeling especially safe or with much of chance. Project Zomboid isn’t just a game — it’s an obligation.
Project Zomboid has a few understandable blemishes here and there thanks to its small team and it may not be the best looking game either, but make no mistake: it’s the epitome of survival.
Developer: Numantian Games Publisher: Numantian Games Platform: PC, PS4, XB1 Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
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: 11 bit studios Publisher: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
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.”
12. No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games/505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 (soon) Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Yes, it wasn’t the game we thought it would be and yes, it’s crazy that it’s finally becoming that years since release, but No Man’s Sky’s first few wonderful hours are ones we wish we could bottle and keep forever.
When it’s at its most basic, i.e. just tasking you with surviving, it’s a simple thrill. The feeling of discovering a new planet for the first time is just one of those gaming experiences to cherish.
Once you finally manage to lift off again, it becomes more of an exploration game as you explore the grand expanses of space before circling back to task you with building your own home.
It’s not a perfect game or one that really justifies its hype, but with a huge content update beefing the game up with multiplayer and serious price markdowns, now may be the best time to dive into Hello Games’ polarising venture.
Ironically, No Man’s Sky may have just survived itself.
Developer: Mojang Publisher: Mojang Platform(s): literally everything Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Forget about the penis monuments for a second and you will find that, at its core, Minecraft is a survival game — a lot of its peers on this list owe a debt of gratitude to Mojang’s giant.
If you’ve been playing Minecraft for years, you no doubt remember how tough its early goings were with the creepers a-creeping and resources a relative rarity, though it’s not honestly much of a challenge it survive in these days.
Want to change that? There is a more hardcore version available with permadeath.
Minecraft has gone beyond being a simple survival game at this point to something different entirely, meaning it’s had more than its fair share of similarly blocky imitators. There can only be one, though, so if you’ve somehow never played Minecraft, you really ought to give it a go.
Developer: Creepy Jar Publisher: Creepy Jar Platform: PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
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.
9. ARK: Survival Evolved
Developer: Studio Wildcard Publisher: Studio Wildcard Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, Android, iOS Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
A game with a UI so hideously abrasive that we questioned leaving it off this list on principle alone, ARK: Survival Evolved follows a similar trend to the previous two survival games mentioned but with a more fantastical twist.
Any game where you can mount a frog into battle has to be at least worth trying out though, right?
You farm and you build in ARK; a similar story to plenty of its peers. However, it’s in its exotic array of animals and gear that ARK comes into its own — by its very nature, ARK is a deeply silly game and Studio Wildcard have done well to embrace that.
You can play it by yourself or with others, though expect the customary griefing if you decide to share a world with other players.
Developer: 11 bit studios Publisher: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Android, iOS Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
Whether it’s boots on the ground, rockets in the air, or horses in your face, we always see war games. What we don’t see, however, is what happens to the innocents caught in the fallout.
This War of Mine shines a light on that in a way that’s uncompromising and utterly haunting. Most of the other games on this list are meaningless by comparison to 11 bits studios’ widely beloved gem.
In the midst of a warzone, you must do everything you can to survive, including making plenty of tough decisions — you won’t forget the first time you encounter the old couple. Over time, more and more people join you at your safehouse, which can change the dynamics dramatically. Some are friendly, some are abrasive, but they’re all just trying to survive.
If you want to turn the stakes up to eleven, its The Little Ones DLC brings children into the mix and all the stresses that come with them.
Developer: Ludeon Studios Publisher: Ludeon Studios Platform(s): PC Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
One of the most pioneering games of the last decade, calling RimWorld “just” a survival game doesn’t really do it justice.
While there are definitely survival elements to it, this Dwarf Fortress inspired monolith offers much more, the hugely impressive depth allowing you to craft many stories of your own.
Things start off pretty straightforward: help three colonists to survive. With some patience (and plenty of harsh lessons learned), you will be able to cultivate a world in your own image.
Want to turn your civilisation into part-cyborg pirates in the slave trade? Knock yourself out.
With some of the most robust mod support of any game on Steam, expect RimWorld to stick around for years and years to come.
6. Don’t Starve
Developer: Klei Entertainment Publisher: Klei Entertainment Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch, iOS, Android, Switch, more Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
Compared to most of these other survival games, Don’t Starve is, well, it’s kind of adorable.
There are no penises, zero sad people teabagging your corpse, and a welcome lack of jank. It’s quite frankly refreshing, but it’s actually one of the oldest entries on this list as Klei have been steadily supporting it with tweaks and new DLC ever since it launched.
It’s also tough as nails.
You’re transported to an island full of things that want to make you dead — stop me if this is sounding familiar. However, Don’t Starve distinguishes itself thanks to a misleadingly wholesome aesthetic and a steep learning curve.
Whether alone or with friends in the Together spin-off, Don’t Starve is a simple joy and probably one of the best entry points if you want to find out what the genre is all about.
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio Publisher: Acid Wizard Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, NS Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
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.
Developer: Facepunch Studios Publisher: Facepunch Studios Platform: PC (PS4 and Xbox One in 2020) Single-player/Multiplayer: Multiplayer
If you’re at all sensitive, don’t play Rust. If you are easily frustrated, don’t play Rust. If you’re at all a good person, don’t play Rust.
Facepunch’s notoriously toxic post-apocalyptic survival game is built around griefing other players just as much as it is about surviving itself, though if you are able to find food and water pretty steadily, your main concern is the awfulness of other people. It’s about as unwelcoming to new players as these games can get.
However, if you’re lucky to find other players who don’t want to immediately kill you despite you only having a rock, Rust becomes a whole lot of fun. Clans are part of the long-term gameplay of Rust, so you’ll want to find some allies as soon as you can, though you can always hop into solo only servers.
Over time, it’s morphed into more of a PVP survival game than straight survival with you having to protect your hoards of loot from a server filled with very aggressive players. If your base gets wiped out, that’s you pretty much done.
“Even those who dislike survival games are bound to find something to like in Subnautica with its PS4 version doing more than enough to keep itself afloat.”
2. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio Publisher: Hinterland Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 Single-player/Multiplayer: Single-player
From one rock hard survival game to another, The Long Dark’s big bad isn’t a monster nor is other players. It’s the elements (and the occasional bear).
Compared to other fare, The Long Dark may be slightly on the slow side for some, though there’s nothing quite as thrilling as dragging your starving ass across the Canadian wilderness in search of pork and beans.
The Long Dark can be experienced in one of two ways: as an out and out survival simulator, or as a narrative-based adventure. The former is what it made its name upon, but don’t sleep on Wintermute. It carries all of the same punishing mechanics while also being wrapped up in a compelling story that’s still unfolding.
It’s a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but The Long Dark’s art style may also be a huge selling point. Many a night will go by with you simply staring up at the moon and finding an odd kind of peace.
“Beautiful, stressful, and utterly life-consuming, The Long Dark is a triumphant survival game that will make you hate wolves very much.”
1. The Forest
Developer: Endnight Games Publisher: Endnight Games Platform(s): PC, PS4 Single-player/Multiplayer: Both
No game has ever made the monotony of chopping down trees feel so compelling. The thud of your axe and the consequent falling of trees means that although you may be doing a lot of it to try to survive against freakish enemies after your plane crashes, you will never tire of it.
An Early Access graduate that fully released in a relatively short amount of time, The Forest has lots going for it that its contemporaries simply don’t.
You must survive, but you also have to find your captive son in a story that’s actually worth investing your time into.
The Forest also has a sheen to it that the likes of 7 Days To Die and DayZ could only dream of, as well as very limited opportunities for griefing as multiplayer is co-op, as well as there being the option for (terrifying) VR.
This is the game you want to check out if you want survival in its purest — and quite possibly best — form.
“Any issues I had with The Forest didn’t stop it from becoming the definitive survival experience on console in my eyes, however. If you’re yet to try the game on PC, its PS4 version is a surprisingly sleek and arguably just as rewarding time-sinker that won’t even make you feel bad for being a terrible parent. Sorry, Timmy, I am one with the trees now.”
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