What are the best survival games to play?
Survival Games are often harsh, tense, and anxiety-inducing but satisfying, where the player suffers from more ‘real world’ adversaries. Instead of fantastic boss fights, the player is often more concerned with thirst, hunger, health and illness.
Despite this unifying theme of having to manage your health and resources, the fan of Survival games is presented with a wide range of experiences and themes.
Want to survive in the middle of a Zombie outbreak? Check.
Want to stave off hunger and sickness while figuring out the cure to a deadly plague? Check.
With that said, we have pulled together a thirst-quenching list of 8 of the best, though many more could arguably have vied for a top spot.
The Best Survival Games
As a note as to the scope of the article, we have excluded multiplayer-only from the list to keep it tight and not have to base the scores on multiplayer considerations.
Here is our list of the best survival games:
What Makes a Good Survival Game?
- Rich setting
- Good resource economy
- Interesting external obstacles
- Well-implemented survival parameters
Initial Release Date: June 2, 2015
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Studio Wildcard, Xbox One, Android, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Studio Wildcard
Despite being a polarizing game, Ark has managed to grow into a deep and complex open-world survival game where you are constantly surrounded by dangers. Ark asks a lot from the player and will not handhold, as you will need to put some serious time into the grind.
However, the effort involved in crafting, harvesting, and hunting will all be worth it when you can finally afford a fort or even better, tame a dinosaur. Being able to soar through the skies on a monstrous dino is incredible and very satisfying after a long grind.
In a lot of ways, the sandbox approach to the game will feel similar to Subnautica or Minecraft, where you are only limited by the time that you put into it.
Ark will sink a lot of your time and frankly, the onerous grind is both a strength and a weakness, as you will need to commit to the game to get those incredible late-game payoffs.
However, some of that grind will not be fun for some and will often just feel like a chore.
7. State of Decay 2
Initial Release Date: May 22, 2018
Platforms: Xbox One and Microsoft Windows
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
State of Decay 2 is a game for those who want the ultimate experience of how it might feel to fight to survive in a Zombie Apocalypse.
The perma-death of the first game is present here also and so it behooves you to take your time and asses the risks carefully. If not, you will find your roster of heroes sorely lacking. Every death is impactful and violent – watching your doctor being pulled apart is gutting.
The ‘normal’ mode in SoD is almost too easy and you could quite easily go through it without losing anyone, which removes some of the impact that the game can have. However, with the introduction of Dread Zone and Nightmare, the game becomes survival as intended.
Resources become far scarcer, and every Zombie needs to be treated with respect. In these higher difficulties, you do need to plan out appropriately, run from Zombies and establish forward bases in order to produce resources.
The area in which this game really shines is the combat, which is fun and responsive, and on the higher difficulties, some battles will truly feel like life or death.
Initial Release Date: January 23, 2018
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
An open-world survival game with a truly unique feel, Subnautica is set in an Alien Aquatic world where you have crash-landed, and you need to dive deep to scavenge the ocean floor.
The base requirements of a survival game are augmented by a fantastical world that is packed with hideous monsters and surprisingly terrifying moments.
It’s obvious to anyone who has played Subnautica that the main strength of the game is its aesthetic and presentation. Some of the Biomes will light up with alien life, whilst others are pitch black and filled with deep-sea predators.
The world-building and story in Subnautica are also better than some other open-world games and searching out the loose strands of the story is extremely rewarding.
Progression and base building are familiar but with a new appealing skin, as you will trawl the depths of the world for new materials to upgrade and improve your Submarines and diving capabilities. Go on, see what lies at the bottom of the ocean.
5. This War of Mine
Initial Release Date: November 14, 2014
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Android, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
This War of Mine is a harrowing and emotionally wracking experience, a side-scroller survival set in a cold, war-torn fictional country.
11 Bit Studios are the masters of creating bleak and broken societies and the world of TWoM is no exception. You are a civilian caught in a brutal conflict and some of the cruelty and loss you witness will make you pause to reflect.
The game is ultimately a side-scroller game where you need to scavenge for supplies, stealth through dangerous areas, and keep your band of survivors alive. Your survivors can easily die and armed enemies are no joke.
All the while, you need to manage, hunger thirst, and other survival staples.
The core gameplay loop of base building during the day and scavenging at night is a potent combination and you will quickly become addicted. Do you know what to target at night to keep your base safe and functioning?
Will you navigate a dangerous building for it? Or will you pay an arm and a leg for it?
Initial Release Date: August 17, 2017 [Full release]
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, Xbox One, SteamOS
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
Publisher: Acid Wizard Studio
Darkwood is a top-down survival horror that drip-feeds horror in a splendidly designed and atmospheric world.
As a plague befalls the land, the woods around your little boarded cabin twist come alive, and come after you. As the player, you need to take a deep breath and throw yourself into the darkness and face down the abominations that lie within.
The game encourages replayability through the fact that the world is randomized every time you start up a new playthrough.
As you explore the world you must find resources to reinforce your central hut and to be able to craft items that will help you navigate the unforgiving woods. The woods themselves ooze atmosphere and the obscure and mysterious story is enough to keep any lore nut entertained.
You aren’t alone in these dark woods, there are plenty of creepy NPCs to keep you company, and monsters to make you flee for the safety of your shelter.
3. Don’t Starve
Initial Release Date: April 23, 2013
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Much like Darkwood, Don’t Starve is a survival game that owes its replayability to the procedural generation of the environment. Yet Don’t Starve goes further and deeper with the in-game economy to achieve that titular objective: Do Not Starve.
The Game is aesthetically stunning, with charming hand-drawn characters and environments that make it almost feel like a living pop-up storybook.
You come into the world with absolutely nothing and you immediately are forced to bounce around a sprawling landscape, to break down resources to build tools. Once you have your basics you can begin to trap rabbits, swat butterflies, and even farm.
Really the game is about snowballing your tools so you can begin to harvest resources in far greater numbers. You are not alone in this landscape and your resources are never truly safe; animals will always be close by to take your crops and pillage your supplies.
You must contend with these challenges whilst continuing to maintain and expand your ever-growing economy. As the more days pass, the more dangers you will face but this is all of the complex charm of this surprisingly deep survival experience.
Initial Release Date: November 18, 2011
Platforms: Most platforms
Publisher: Mojang, Microsoft Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment
Well, what is there to say about Minecraft, the Titan? Despite being initially released 8 years ago, Minecraft has managed to maintain a massive player base, even being the most-played video game on Youtube in 2019.
Its popularity is maintained by the freedom it offers the player and the endless possibilities of the worlds that you can build.
Survival mode is one of the most popular game modes and for good reason, as it takes the open-ended aspect of Minecraft and combines it with challenging survival mechanics. In survival mode, the player must hunt high and low for resources in order to build shelter and craft tools and weapons. You can build up your economy by constructing specialized buildings that can extract and transform different materials.
The player can be lucky enough to come across a cache of gems that can be bartered to NPCs in the game world. As darkness falls, monsters begin to roam and the player must either kill or take shelter in order to survive.
Death means complete loss of inventory and in Hardcore mode, death means death; survival mode can be no joke in Minecraft.
With the replayability and the scope of the game, it is hard to argue that Minecraft doesn’t remain one of the best survival experiences out there.
1. Pathologic 2
Initial Release Date: 2019
Platforms: PC and Xbox One
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
The underrated and cult classic Pathologic 2 will be a surprising first-place entry for some.
You may not have heard of it, but this gamer has never had a more memorable and immersive experience in playing a game.
Set in a mystical and dreamy town, you are a doctor returning at the call of your father, only to find the society on the edge of the precipice and a deadly plague shatters what little resolve is left. While your overarching mission is to survive 12 days and save the town from the plague, in truth, most of your time will be spent managing the town’s economy effectively in order to obtain food, medicine, and materials to stave off death and survive a world that is trying to kill you with every minute that passes.
The game progresses as ‘time’ flickers by from one hour to the next. You are dropped into a living breathing town and each day last 2 hours of real time. What you do with that time is up to you.
This world is deadly but stunning, the town is stylized after a pre-revolution Russian industrial town, with a blend of Steppe mythology and folklore, as the new and the old attempt to co-mingle. As you make your way through the days, you will barter, dumpster dive (for new items to trade), autopsy, conduct surgery, and brew medicines in order to keep people from death.
The world is filled with colorful static NPCs, all of whom can die and so it is up to you who you vaccinate and heal. I won’t lie to you, the game is challenging to understand at first, frustrating even, as you are thrown into a hostile world that doesn’t help you at all.
It relies on you failing to save someone and struggling to combat your hunger but when the economy clicks (bin diving for items and trading with literally everyone), you will become addicted to the ebb and flow of this incredible piece of art.
It’s hypnotic, horrifying, extremely addictive all at the same time and so I recommend jumping into this life-changing and immersive experience. But remember; “You can’t save everyone”.
There are so many incredible games in the genre that it was hard to exclude the following, which all equally could have made the list:
- Day Z – multiplayer-only zombie survival nightmare
- Frostpunk – City Builder with a survival twist
- Rust – Iconic multiplayer-only survival experience
- The Forest – Survive the forest surrounded by cannibal tribes
- The Long Dark – Survive in the hostile environment of the Canadian wilderness
So, there you have it, some of the most unforgiving digital environments known to man. Pack your kits, oil your rifle, and head out to a world of adventure and likely death.
Here’s a quick recap of the best survival games:
- Pathlogic 2
- Don’t Starve
- This War of Mine
- State of Decay
Are there any other survival games you would add to this list? Leave a comment below.
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