Developer: The Indie Stone Publisher: The Indie Stone Platform(s): PC
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
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
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.”
Developer: Hello Games Publisher: Hello Games/505 Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 (soon)
Yes, it wasn’t the game we thought it would be and yes, it’s crazy that it’s finally becoming that two 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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, 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
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.
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 game than a survival one, so make of that what you will.
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: Hinterland Studio Publisher: Hinterland Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
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.
Developer: Endnight Games Publisher: Endnight Games Platform(s): PC, PS4
No game has ever made the monotony of chopping down trees feel so compelling. The thud of your axe and the consequent falling of the tree 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.”