Survival games have grown reasonably popular in recent years, even if the genre will likely always be somewhat niche. These projects came in many shapes, sizes, and tones too, ranging from cartoonish grind-fest like Dysmantle to hellish open-world projects such as The Long Dark. Basically, there should be a survival game for just about anyone, and the genre’s mechanics even occasionally show up in non-representative titles like Breath of the Wild and Days Gone.
Indie releases, triple-A offerings, and some truly unique titles have made their way to the survival genre, offering players who want to challenge themselves against a harsh world a place to flex their muscles. When it comes to the best survival games, there are more than a few candidates.
Updated January 22, 2024 by Mark Sammut: Palworld is currently taking the world by storm, delivering an open-world with survival, crafting, shooter, and monster-collecting elements. While still too early to declare it among the greatest survival games of all time, Pocketpair’s project might get there in due time.
Steam User Rating: 93%
- June 20, 2022
- Redbeet Interactive
Those looking for something a little different should definitely consider loading up Raft. This survival release pits players against the islands, forcing them to begin their journey adrift at sea. When things start, players will find themselves fighting for survival with a Raft, which they can then use to help them navigate to nearby islands.
5 Games With Realistic Crafting Systems
There are some great games out there that feature some realistic-style crafting systems. Here’s a look at some of the best.
While an explorative release, Raft is still very much a survival game as players will need to outmaneuver man-eating sharks in their quest to survive. The best part is that Raft can be enjoyed solo or with a friend in an enthralling cooperative mode.
18 This War Of Mine
This War of Mine
- November 14, 2014
War games are a dime-a-dozen, but This War of Mine is one of a kind. Unlike so many entries in the genre, this project focuses on civilians caught in the middle of a conflict rather than soldiers on the front lines. Players are handed a few survivors to manage, all of whom come with unique traits that can be beneficial or detrimental in this highly stressful situation. During the day, the survivors spend their time in a base, fortifying everything to increase their odds of seeing another sunrise. At night, they head out in search of supplies, an endeavor that obviously comes with plenty of danger.
Replayable, exhausting, or realistic, This War of Mine regularly forces players to make choices with obviously steep consequences, and sacrificing one person to protect the group can become a viable option. The gameplay is not overly complex, but it has enough depth and freedom to remain interesting for multiple playthroughs. New players should pick up The Final Cut version (or the Complete Edition) as it includes the Little Ones DLC, which adds a new harrowing element by introducing a child.
- September 27, 2022
- Survival Horror , RPG
Grounded is one of the most unique survival titles of the last couple of years. This Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style adventure drops players into a suburban backyard. There’s nothing particularly scary about being in a backyard, unless, players find themselves shrunk down to microscopic size.
This twist has gamers trying to survive against massive ants, spiders, and other dangers as they attempt to build bases and survive in a landscape that isn’t threatening at all to someone who’s “normal size.” Grounded is a lot of fun solos, but one of its strongest selling points is that it can be enjoyed with other players online.
16 Green Hell
- September 5, 2019
- Creepy Jar
Green Hell tends to be compared to The Forest since they are both survival games set in similar locations, with the former opting for the Amazon Jungle. Out of the two titles, Green Hell arguably leans more into its survival mechanics over things like combat, which gives it a slight edge in this discussion. Set in a dense world, this 2019 release does a great job of immersing players in a beautiful but consistently dangerous area, and exploration is a central part of the campaign. Along with a survival mode, Green Hell comes with a fairly lengthy story that has some emotional weight to it.
In terms of survival elements, Green Hell has all the basics one might expect from the genre. Players have access to a watch that monitors their vitals, and they will need to go out hunting to find food and resources for crafting. The latter is one of the game’s highlights.
Metascore: 76 (Classic HD Version)
- June 9, 2005
- Ice-Pick Lodge
While certainly drenched in horror imagery, Pathologic is primarily a survival game, and it is among the genre’s hardest entries. Released in 2005 and available in the form of a Classic HD version, this Russian project sends players to an isolated village that becomes infested with a disease that quickly begins to ravage the population. As one of three characters, players have only 12 days to figure out the cause behind the illness, and survival is far from guaranteed.
11 Best Co-Op Survival Games
These fantastic survival games are not only great solo but can be enjoyed with friends, too. Here are the very best of co-op survival games.
Besides having a core story that is literally about survival, Pathologic also has plenty of mechanics that are synonymous with the genre, including stuff like hunger and exhaustion. However, earning the things needed to remain breathing is painfully difficult, especially since stuff like money and food are extremely hard to come by. Players will be constantly making decisions that, more often than not, require sacrifices in one area. Beyond the core mechanics, Pathologic also builds a tense and unforgiving atmosphere through its unsettling and unpredictable NPCs.
14 Dying Light
- January 27, 2015
Many survival games feature subtle side-tracked storylines that can be completed at the player’s leisure. Dying Light is very much the same, but it has a much wider and deeper story than most survival releases. Players are free to explore the open-world and collect supplies and weapons as they see fit, completing the array of side quests that can be found littered throughout the expansive cityscape.
Yet, when players want to engross themselves in the storyline, they will find a wonderfully executed tale of struggle and hardship during a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak.
13 State Of Decay
State of Decay
- June 5, 2013
- Action , Adventure , Survival Horror
Zombies seem to be the subject of a lot of survival games, which is fine since most people seem to enjoy the thrill of escaping ravenous hordes of the undead. There is something quite electric about being surrounded by so much danger, and State of Decay puts players in the driver’s seat when it comes to post-apocalyptic planning and survival.
The title is a mixture of traditional scavenging and world-building, where survivors will need to establish a base and keep as many survivors safe as they can. After all, there’s strength in numbers. State of Decay 2 builds on its predecessor well and is another fun survival option.
12 ARK: Survival Evolved
ARK: Survival Evolved
- August 29, 2017
In ARK: Survival Evolved, players start their adventure with absolutely nothing, and they will need to quite literally punch trees and craft the bare necessities just to make it through the night. Those who can quickly establish a base and craft weapons to defend themselves will find a world teeming with possibilities and dinosaurs.
That’s right, ARK lets players hunt and tame dinosaurs, which they can then turn into their own personal pack mules. ARK is also unique in the sense that players will go from a primitive tool to a full-blown armored gun-wielding T-rex-rider throughout their adventure.
Ark: Survival Ascended gives the base game an Unreal Engine 5 makeover, and it is currently in early access on Steam.
11 Project Zomboid
Steam User Rating: 94%
- November 8, 2013
- The Indie Stone
- Survival Horror
If a game spends years in early access, that is typically not a great sign since it could suggest a full release will never happen; however, Project Zomboid defies expectations. Not only has the game managed to remain popular since arriving on Steam in 2013, but The Indie Stone has also been relatively consistent in terms of updates. While not “complete,” the current version has a lot of content and a gameplay loop that can keep someone engaged indefinitely. Visually, the title shows off its indie roots, which is not a criticism but just a note that new players should not go in expecting a presentation that matches big-budget AAA or even AA projects. That said, the graphical style has charm while allowing huge hordes of zombies to flood the screen; more importantly, the survival game does not require a high-end PC to run well.
Project Zomboid brings to life a post-apocalyptic world set in the ’90s, and players are largely left to their own devices as they try to survive in a world that very much wants them dead. Realism is a big part of the package, and that extends to the survival mechanics as players also have to deal with stuff like boredom alongside typical meters such as hunger. The package also comes with a few different modes that tweak the experience to provide something that feels fresh if someone wants a change of pace from the traditional loop.
- April 24, 2018
- City Builder , Survival
Some survival games are much more “realistic” than others. Many of the genre’s titles feature mechanics that players must follow in order to “survive,” but a few of them are skewed or simply non-existent. The hunger meter is annoying for some in Minecraft, but it won’t outright kill the player. That’s what makes games like Frostpunk such an engrossing and difficult experience. The survival aspects in this top-down strategy survival game aren’t there as “side mechanics,” they actually matter.
8 Best Post-Apocalyptic Strategy Games
These games combine both the gritty survival elements of a post-apocalyptic landscape and strategy.
Those who can’t correctly allocate their food storage, fuel supplies, and other assorted materials will find themselves with a dying population bent on civil war. Frostpunk isn’t just about surviving, it’s about ensuring EVERYONE survives, and that can be an incredibly difficult task. Players won’t just need to collect supplies in this game, they’ll also have to answer tough questions and make hard decisions to make it out alive.
- PS4 , PS3 , PS Vita , Xbox One , Xbox 360 , Switch , 3DS , PC , Android , iOS , Wii U
- November 18, 2011
- Sandbox , Survival
Minecraft is perhaps the most influential open-world survival game to hit the market in the last decade. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that this multiplayer build-fest helped to shape and mold the current “survival” genre.
Sure, Minecraft’s survival mechanics are pretty simple (eat and don’t take too much damage) but it still offers a great (and highly accessible for all age groups) adventure. The game has players constructing a base, gathering materials, and letting their imagination run wild while they fight back hordes of monsters and sometimes other players.
Steam User Rating: 95%
- February 2, 2021
- Iron Gate AB
- Sandbox , Survival
Valheim was definitely one of the most enthralling Indie releases to come out in 2021. It gives players access to all the things they’ve come to know and love with releases like Terraria and Minecraft while simultaneously ramping up the difficulty to appease gamers who are craving more of a challenge. It’s pretty easy to be overwhelmed in Valheim, and the bosses can be downright punishing for those who are unprepared.
10 Best Survival Horror Heroes in Video Games
From Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem’s Alexandra Roivas to Resident Evil’s Leon S. Kennedy, these are the 10 greatest survival horror heroes in gaming history.
Players seeking a hardcore adventure that will challenge their survival skills by forcing them to contend with hordes of enemies, strong bosses, and even the elements, will love what Valheim has to offer.
- PC , PS3 , PS4 , PS5 , Xbox 360 , Xbox One , Xbox Series S , Xbox Series X , Switch , Vita , iOS , Android , macOS , Linux , 3DS , Stadia
- May 16, 2011
- Action , Adventure , Sandbox
Like Minecraft but prefer 2D side-scrolling games? If so, Terraria is the ideal pick. These two titles are so beloved and friendly with one another that they actually reference each other in their title screens (via randomized welcome messages).
Terraria actually has a lot more to offer than Minecraft, from a “gameplay perspective.” People craving a more structured adventure will enjoy all its bosses, dungeons, and other “quests.” It’s not to say that there isn’t an endgame present in Minecraft, but Terraria packs much more into its 2D world.
6 Don’t Starve
- April 23, 2013
- Survival , Management
Like the Minecraft–Terraria connection, one can argue that The Forest and Don’t Starve share a similar relationship. One is a 3D adventure teeming with feralistic cannibals and the other is a 2D top-down survival game filled to the brim with all types of cartoonish horrors.
Survival Games: Genre Still Evolving From Early Mechanics
While elements of survival games have existed since games first hit the scene, modern survival games mix elements of different genres to create a new experience.
Although it may look silly and Tim Burton-esque (which is honestly a selling point in our eyes), Don’t Starve has a lot to offer in terms of survival mechanics and “village building.” Don’t Starve Together is also a great option for people looking to play with friends.
Klei’s Oxygen Not Included is also brilliant and a must-play for anyone who enjoyed Don’t Starve.
- December 13, 2018
Like The Forest, DayZ had its fair share of pre-release woes. Fast-forward a few years, and DayZ has been given a lot more polish and work to round out its jagged edges. The experience is still not perfect, but there is no denying that it offers one of the most captivating survival experiences on the market.
DayZ firmly believes that zombies are not the only threats in a post-apocalyptic world. Other players could be just as dangerous and sadistic, and this game gave users the option to play however they wanted to. In 2024, DayZ is arguably better than ever, and its PvP aspect is arguably still among the best in the survival genre.
- February 8, 2018
If DayZ helped to start the “hardcore survival” formula that took over years ago, players can point to Rust for refining it. Stripping away the zombie hordes, Rust focuses instead on straight survival, tossing players into the fray against other players in a bid for dominance over a particular area. Thanks to consistent server wipes, players are kept from getting “too strong” and must start all over at each interval, leveling the playing field for those who jump in during these crucial times.
Rust is just as much a game of deception and cutthroat decision-making, as it is a tale of survival. Only those who can avoid danger, keep a level head, and grow stronger will truly come out on top.
3 No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky
- August 9, 2016
- Adventure , Action , Survival
There was a time in which No Man’s Sky was the absolute laughingstock of the entire gaming world. It was the prime example of why players shouldn’t fall too deeply into the Kickstarter craze and there is absolutely no denying that the game failed big time to deliver all of its promises to a wide-eyed and hopeful fanbase.
But the developers stuck by their creation and took all the criticism and backlash in stride. A few years later, No Man’s Sky has blossomed into one of the best survival games on the market. It’s a much, much better release now and can be an absolute blast to play with friends. It’s definitely one of the more unique options out there and is absolutely beautiful to boot.
2 The Forest
- April 30, 2018
- Endnight Games
- Survival Horror
When The Forest first popped up on Steam, it suffered from a lot of the same issues that “pre-release” titles do. It offered a great shell and some unique gameplay elements but was very devoid of content. The story was in tatters and there were a lot of mechanics that simply didn’t work as intended. This is enough to cause strife for any game, but the developers behind The Forest stuck with their project and continued to polish their 3D first-person survival adventure.
The “finished product” is an absolute blast to play and one of the best cooperative horror-survival experiences of all time. Also, Sons of the Forest is a great survival game in its own right, although it is still in early access.
- January 23, 2018
- Survival Horror
The ocean is terrifying. Much like space, there are areas and channels within the deepest waters that are untouched by man, untamable, and even unexplorable. Fear of the unknown is a very real thing and the ocean presents it in spades.
Subnautica plays on these fears by forcing its players to survive in a vast aquatic world. On the outside, this seems like a happy-go-lucky diving adventure, but veterans of this world will attest that this release leans into survival-horror territory.
MORE: Easy Survival Games