It’s all we can do these days. Whether it’s making it to work without dying or crossing the finish line at the end of the day without incident, we’re always unwittingly playing one big survival game. So, it only makes sense that after a day of keeping our health, hunger, thirst, and energy meters full, we’d want to do the same thing in a more fantastical setting.
Survival games have been around since the early 90s, but it wasn’t until recently that the concept stuck. As the genre became more popular, games started flying out of development, many hitting Early Access on Steam and fizzling out of existence. Then there were these 15 powerhouses. Available to play on your PC, they embody the concept of the genre. They provide hours of entertainment mingled with moments of triumph, excitement, thrills, and occasional frustration.
The Best PC Survival Games
Developer: Redbeet Interactive
Publisher: Axolot Games
Surviving on the vast cobalt waters of our planet is no easy feat. Supplies are in very limited supply, dangers approach from all angles, and there is no shelter from the elements. Redbeeter Interactive’s high-seas adventure, Raft, sees what you can do in such a scenario, with nothing but a plastic hook and your wits.
The rocky waters of the ocean are your only saving grace as they bring debris closer to you. It’s this refuse that players will use to expand their raft, build weapons, plant crops, and ultimately survive. Tackle the arduous task of surviving at sea alone or with friends, but don’t expect things to get easier with someone at your side. The sea is deadly to all, especially when you make the call to explore it further. There are a lot of teeth in the ocean, all patiently waiting to sink into your flesh.
14. State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
The stench of rot and death permeates the air and bodies are strewn about as far as you can see. Around you, a mangled world struggles to persevere through an impossible plague. State of Decay 2 isolates players in an infested land where zombies lurk around every corner.
To make it day to day, you’ll need to leave the safety of your shelter and scour for supplies. It’s all about survival as you try to keep fellow survivors from becoming a zombie’s feast, all-while retaining your place as a leader by working with those around you. They may not always like the things you do, but surviving in a world like this requires difficult decisions to be made — decisions like whether to spend resources on lodging or running water.
Thankfully, Undead Labs realized its biggest mistake in the original State of Decay, so you won’t have to do your surviving alone. State of Decay 2’s multiplayer component may not be the game’s saving grace, but tackling the undead world with a friend is certainly an improvement over its lonely predecessor.
13. Ark: Survival Evolved
Developer: Studio Wildcard
Publisher: Studio Wildcard
You wake up on a beach, your arm implanted with a mysterious, throbbing gem. Before you can even get your bearings, the ground rumbles beneath your feet. The rhythmic pounding grows stronger until you see it barreling toward you from over a nearby hill. Teeth. Nothing but large, gnashing teeth. You try to run, but your near-naked form is gobbled up, your world immediately turned dark. After a quick loading screen, you’re back on the beach.
Welcome to ARK: Survival Evolved.
If you can get past the first few minutes of exploration without being eaten, ARK offers an incredibly deep survival experience. Chop down trees, harvest stone, build primitive tech, and survive for as long as you can in a prehistoric world filled with oversized beasts and dinosaurs ripped right from our childhood. The more you accomplish, the more advanced your tech gets until you’re stampeding around on the back of a velociraptor, firing at your foe with an assault rifle.
Like we said – ripped right from our childhood.
Re-Logic wants to send you to the world of Terraria where you’ll have one objective – survive. In a randomly generated world, you’ll tinker with a variety of craftables and machinery to help journey into vast caverns, defeat pesky enemies, and claim the world as you’re own. Terraria may not be your classic survival game, but the elements sprinkled in help give the adventure more depth.
Engaging gameplay aside, Terraria is a visual treat that’s both simplistic and detailed. A host of different environments pit players against deadly hazards and foe that threaten the sanctity of your constructed city. There’s no worry of hunger or thirst, but your survival is a key component of the colorful world of Terraria.
Developer: Smartly Dressed Games
Publisher: Smartly Dressed Games
Unpolished, blocky, and free-to-play – it’s not what you’d expect to land on a list of the best PC survival games. Unturned is quite unconventional, however, and is much deeper than it appears. Developed by a tiny team of indie developers, Unturned has everything players need in a survival game – zombies included.
Work together with friends or go it alone to forage for food, plant crops, seek out shelter, and hunt for supplies. Zombies may be the main threat, but many dangers lie in wait, be it wild predators or other players. Not looking for a fight? Subdue rowdy players with a non-lethal strategy. Otherwise, you’re free to use any of Unturned’s craftable weapons and tools to come out on top.
Thanks to regular updates, there is plenty of content to enjoy in this expansive, free-to-play experience.
10. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio, Inc.
Publisher: Hinterland Studio, Inc.
Ah, Canada. Known for maple syrup, blueberry pancakes, dangerous wildlife, frostbite, dysentery, and, wait, that doesn’t sound like the Great White North that we know. The Long Dark gives us an unexpected glimpse into the darker side of Canada with a survival game developed by team members from Vale, Relic, Volition, Capcom, Ubisoft Montreal, and BioWare.
Get lost in the snowy wilds of Canada and take on all that Mother Nature can throw at you. Play through an episodic story mode as pilot Will Mackenzie, who’s lost in the wilderness after a plane crash leaves him stranded in the cold. Gather supplies, fend off the elements, and explore Northern Canada in search of fellow survivor, Dr. Astrid Greenwood.
A much more difficult survival mode provides a different experience. Amp up the difficulty with permadeath, more than 100 different types of gear, and a need for food and warmth. Then, tackle a host of short, objective-based standalone challenges.
From our The Long Dark review:
“Beautiful, stressful, and utterly life-consuming, The Long Dark is a triumphant survival game that will make you hate wolves very much.”
9. Oxygen Not Included
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
From the team responsible for the horrors of Don’t Starve comes Oxygen Not Included, a space-colony simulation with all the difficulties of a survival game. Take control of an underground facility, one that you can grow and turn into a productive industry – if you know what you’re doing. Oxygen Not Included isn’t just the name of the game. In the depths of alien rock, you’re without the oxygen and sustenance you need to survive, and it’s 100% up to you to give your people the crucial resources they need.
There are many elements to Oxygen Not Included, from excavating resources to developing working plumbing and a flowing power grid. Keep digging to expand your colony, improve your ability to survive, and, while you’re at it, develop new tech and interact with alien life. In Oxygen Not Included, you’ll find out how long you can survive in the deep, dark, cold of space.
Developer: 11 bit studios
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Often, we’re forced to survive alone. In some unfamiliar environment, we set out to gather resources and battle impossible odds. Frostpunk changes it up a little, putting players at the helm of a full society. Heat is a valuable resource when the world surrounding you is a grim, frozen wasteland. In Frostpunk, it’s up to you to manage resources, continue developing steam-powered technology, and keep your people warm.
Frostpunk is all about making the best choices for your society. Will you be a just leader and make fair laws? Will you provide healthcare and fair food provisions? Every decision you make will determine how your people will react to your leadership. To give them what they need, 11 bit studios sends you out into the frozen world surrounding New London to retrieve intel, supplies, and draw in more survivors. Help your people, and you may survive long enough to see your civilization thrive.
From our Frostpunk review:
“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.”
7. How to Survive
Developer: Eko Software
Publisher: 505 Games
Enter a world filled with undead terrors after being shipwrecked on an island in the middle of nowhere. With nothing but your intuition, the supplies scattered around you, and the advice of Russian master survivor Kovac, players have to survive as hordes of rotting carcasses barrel down upon them. Hindered by the shortcomings of being human, you can only do so much before hunger, thirst, and exhaustion sets in. As danger lurks around every corner and your body can only handle so much, every decision you make could be your last.
Craft makeshift weapons, forage for food, and clear infested safe houses to keep yourself going from day-to-day. Zombies aren’t the only hazard as storms roll in and create a host of new dangers to avoid. Get caught in a lightning storm and you’ll find the experience… electrifying. How to Survive takes everything we know about survival games and puts it into a fast-paced, top-down action-adventure. The result is a refreshing – and horrifying – entry among the best survival games.
Listen to Kovac, and you may just get out of this horrorshow alive.
6. This War of Mine
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
The signs of war are all around you. Trapped within your shelter, you have to decide if you have enough supplies to tide you over. This War of Mine doesn’t have you aiming down gun barrels, instead putting you in the worn shoes of a civilian. Inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, it’s a difficult package to unravel as the game’s many key components revolve around the death of innocent lives during conflict.
This War of Mine is a clever take on the war genre. Under cover of night, you’re forced to leave your shelter to recover supplies that will further your ability to survive. Living in the wartorn city isn’t easy as the streets are filled with hazards, from desperate survivors to trigger-happy soldiers. This War of Mine is unique in its execution but has everything you’d expect from one of the best PC survival games.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
A fitting name for the developer for Subnautica, a survival game that forces you to explore, you guessed it, an unknown world. As if having to survive in our own oceans wouldn’t be terrifying enough, Subnautica sends you to the depths of a watery planet. After your life pod crash lands in an unfamiliar world, there’s only one thing for you to do – survive long enough to escape.
While avoiding the deadly wildlife that patrols the waters, players will collect resources to build an underwater habitat. Enhance tech to construct vehicles to efficiently explore the depths and craft weapons to fend off aquatic foe, all the while keeping a close eye on your limited oxygen.
Subnautica delivers on tension as you face the vast expanse of a submerged alien world. It’s a survival game sure to destroy the nerves of players who have severe thalassaphobia.
From our Subnautica review:
“Despite some quibbles, Subnautica was one survival game that I didn’t just want to survive in — I flourished and revelled in creating my own life under the sea. It feels unlike anything else in its (rather crowded) genre with its own identity shining through.”
Developer: Facepunch Studios
Publisher: Facepunch Studios
What would be your first instinct if you woke up on an isolated beach, naked and without a clue of where you are? Panic, surely, but in Rust, there’s no time to feel fear and worry. Somewhere out there, armed men and women once in the same situation as you are looking for their next prey. Rust is a relentless survival title that strips you of all creature comforts and sets you out on a grand adventure in a most dangerous world.
It’s a formula we’ve seen – and will see – time and time again, but Facepunch Studios still delivers a delightfully unique and surprisingly simple survival game. There’s no narrative to drive your actions, only hunger, thirst, and a need for warmth. Once you’ve mastered those and learned to craft weapons of war, you’ll be in control and it’ll be you hunting down the naked and afraid.
3. Don’t Starve
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Imagine a game pulled straight from the mind of Tim Burton. An experience ripe with unusual terrors, deadly shadows, and an art style that’s quirky and memorable. Of course, Burton had no involvement in Don’t Starve’s development process, but Klei so perfectly captured the look and feel of a true “Burtonesque” game. Setting all that aside, Don’t Starve offers surprisingly deep gameplay that will surely frustrate many while delighting those that enjoy a real challenge.
There is plenty that can kill you in the strange world, and you’re given the bare minimum needed to stave off hunger, thirst, exhaustion, insanity, and physical dangers. As Wilson, players will gather supplies from the wilderness surrounding them, which is home to haunting creatures and towering beasts all looking to turn the scientist into a snack. Don’t Starve will test your resolve as you try to survive against impossible odds in randomly generated worlds.
Want to tackle Don’t Starve with a friend? Don’t Starve Together is the standalone multiplayer experience that’s just as difficult.
2. The Forest
Developer: Endnight Games Ltd
Publisher: Endnight Games Ltd
After an airplane crash leaves you stranded amid a dense forest, you quickly realize there are things worse than freefalling out of the sky — things like the insane humanoid cannibals stalking you in the shadows. The Forest is your typical survival game, though its mechanics are a bit more polished. Where Endnight Games separates its game from others is by introducing an enemy that’s horrifying, persistent, and innumerable.
The cannibals are the stars of The Forest. Sure, thirst, hunger, and the elements can kill you, but it’s the cannibal tribes that will demolish everything you’ve spent hours constructing. While you’ll focus much of your time on surviving, your main goal is to locate your missing son. This will take you to the depths of hidden caves, the beachy outskirts of the titular forest, and to a mysterious location that completed changes the game.
The Forest is one of the most innovative survival games since the survival genre grew in popularity after 2011.
Remember that time we spoke about when the “survival genre grew in popularity after 2011?” Well, we’ve come to the reason why.
When Minecraft released in 2011, there was little reason to believe such a simple concept would remain popular nearly a decade later. Markus Persson and Jens Bergensten created a world of crafting that was somehow both shallow and deep, accessible to seasoned and young players.
Though many players focus solely on the limitless Creative mode, Minecraft’s Survival mode sets players on a grand adventure to kill the Ender Dragon. Along with the mobs of blocky foe, players battle hunger and the limits of their own creativity on their quest to the Ender World.
The draw of Minecraft is harvesting the world’s resources and turning them into crafty creations. When you’re not doing everything you can to survive by crafting weapons, armor, and shelter, you can spend hours erecting grand structures. For a game that appears so simple, Minecraft really has it all.
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