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 survival games features some Early Access titles, so 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 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.
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.”
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.
Developer: Gamepires, Croteam Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: PC
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.
20. Death Road To Canada
Developer: Rocketcat Games Publisher: Rocketcat Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch
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.
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.
Developer: RedRuins Softworks Publisher: RedRuins Softworks Platform: PC
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.
Developer: Redbeet Interactive Publisher: Redbeet Interactive Platform(s): PC
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
Speaking of penises, 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.