Developer: Facepunch Studios Publisher: Facepunch Studios Platform: PC
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 survival game is built around griefing other players just as much as it is about building itself. 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. Over time, it’s morphed into more of a PVP game than a survival one, so make of that what you will.
12. 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 Wilcard 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. Just absolutely do not play it on Switch.
13. The Forest
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 game 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 Conan and ARK could only dream of, as well as very limited opportunities for griefing. This is the game you want to check out if you just want to do everything that the subgenre is all about.
“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.”
14. 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.
15. 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 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. 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.
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 monolith. 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.
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. And then build a penis monument.
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.
The logicial 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: 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. It 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.
20. The Long Dark
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.
“Beautiful, stressful, and utterly life-consuming, The Long Dark is a triumphant survival game that will make you hate wolves very much.”
21. No Man’s Sky
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, NMS may have just survived itself.
22. This War of Mine
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. 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.