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10 best survival games to prove your endurance skills

Best survival games
(Image credit: Unknown Worlds)

The best survival games help us craft life-supporting items from the most incongruous gathering of wares. Med-kit? Take this cloth and this herb, et voila. Nail bomb? Try this sheet of tin and these drawing pins. Molotov Cocktail? Have a glass bottle filled with gasoline and a rag. Actually, that last one seems pretty bang on (bang on, get it?), which means the following list of the best survival games has taught us something. Read on for the best survival games to test your mettle physically, mentally and emotionally.    

10. State of Decay 2

Best survival games

(Image credit: Undead Labs)

Some of the most tense moments I've had playing a survival game have come by way of State of Decay 2, Undead Labs follow-up to their 2013 zombie survival cult classic. Badly wounded, my stamina practically empty, limping between houses pursued by a horde of the dead, I was desperate to just make it to the relative safety of the truck I left parked on the road. Just a few feet more, and I could drive off, scavenged supplies intact, and know that I'd bought my little ragtag group of survivors a few more days. 

On the other hand, if I was run down by the ravening monstrosities swarming all around me, I'd love not only valuable supplies, but a character I'd poured time into, building up their skills and watching them develop from shell-shocked newbie to hardened veteran, would be gone forever. State of Decay 2 is great at creating these moments with its punishing permadeath mechanic and the speed at which you can go from feeling like a zombie-slaying cyclone to helpless victim. 

Available on: Xbox One and PC

9. Don’t Starve

Best survival games

(Image credit: Klei)

Don't Starve and don’t be fooled by those charming hand-drawn, Tim Burton-esque graphics. This is as dark, brutal and unforgiving as survival games get, with strong roguelike elements that make slaying weird monsters – evil spiders and creepy pig-men a speciality – as important as collecting the materials you’ll need to craft tools, traps and weapons, or simply stay warm and cook your food. Don’t Starve is a game where you need to manage your time and resources carefully, and regard permadeath as another step on a learning journey. The longer you survive, the more seems at stake, and isn’t that what survival’s all about?

With some cracking additions like the Reign of Giants expansion or the nautically themed Shipwrecked, Don't Starve is a game that just keeps expanding, adding features, and getting more engrossing as the months pass. And the Hamlet DLC coming later this year promises to continue the trend, with the addition of housing, new shops, and a load of new items to play with.

Available on: PS4, Switch, PC, iOS, and Android

See also: Don't Starve Together for the co-op version.

8. The Long Dark

Best survival games

(Image credit: Hinterland Studios)

Where other survival games involve elements of fantasy or horror, The Long Dark plays things straight; just you, a downed bush pilot, and miles of freezing, wolf-haunted Canadian wilderness in which to stay alive. Battling cold and starvation is tough enough, and you’ll need to eat, drink and rest in order to survive. 

Yet go hunting and exploring and you’ll find there’s so much to discover for yourself. The team has bolstered the core sandbox survival game with a two-chapter story mode, where you’re searching for a doctor stranded in the wild, and both are crammed with tense, even terrifying moments and scenes of strange beauty. The Long Dark has grown into a survival great.

Available on: PS4, Swtich, Xbox One, and PC

7. The Forest

Best survival games

(Image credit: The Forest)

The Forest is the place where survival and survival horror meet. It’s bad enough being the sole survivor of a plane crash, stranded deep in a sinister forest. Worse still, when that forest is haunted by flesh-eating cannibal mutants who want nothing more than to eat you alive. 

This is a game with a serious day/night cycle, where you spend your daylight hours repairing the camp, setting traps and scavenging for food, getting ready for the nightly onslaught from the creepy cannibal hordes. They’re ferocious and smart and they work together, but you can explore their settlements and take the battle back to them. The Forest is dark and genuinely scary solo, and not much easier on the nerves in co-op mode. 

Available on: PC and PS4

6. Rust

Best survival games

(Image credit: Rust)

It’s safe to say that Facepunch’s survival sandbox game isn’t for everyone. It’s legendarily challenging and hardcore in its nature, and the biggest question isn’t whether you’ll die, but whether it’s the wolves, the bears, the patrolling helicopters or the other players that will get you first. 

Everyone spawns naked in a random male or female avatar, and you’re stuck in a desolate landscape where nearly everything that moves wants you dead. Yet for some players, nothing beats Rust’s brutal, unforgiving nature and fraught combat, or the bonds it creates between players once they learn to trust one another. It’s always going to be divisive, but Rust keeps evolving in interesting ways.

Available on: PC

5. Valheim

Valheim

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

Currently in Early Access on Steam, Valheim is taking the world by storm. One of the best tree-punchers on the market right now, it adds a sense of overall purpose to your overall challenge of, you know, not dying. You're a battle-slain warrior whose soul has been ferried to Valheim, the 10th Norse world. You must slay Odin's ancient rivals and bring order to Valheim, but also try and reach the final world and find rest. It offers co-op for up to 10 people, ship-building and sailing, and tonnes of mythology among the usual best survival games affair too. 

Available on: PC

4. Minecraft

Best survival games

(Image credit: Microsoft)

These days we think of Minecraft as a kiddie-friendly creative wonderland, so we forget that at its core there’s a brilliant survival game. Mining for materials, crafting tools and building a shelter is still as tense as it ever was, with one eye watching for sundown and one ear cocked for the moans of zombies. 

Forging your first decent weapons feels a big achievement, and there’s plenty of excitement to be had in farming and foraging in an epic, unknown landscape, or fending off exploding creepers before they can breach your fortifications. We love Minecraft for its creativity, but there’s still a thrilling game underneath.

Available on: Everything

3. Frostpunk

Frostpunk

(Image credit: 11 Bit Studios)

Part survival game, part city-builder, Frostpunk is far from a walk in the part - as you'd hope for one of the best survival games. You are the leader of a alt-history late 19th century community, and you'll need to build and then maintain a city during a worldwide volcanic winter. Managing your resources and making choices about how to survive is key, and utterly utterly bleak at times, especially as not everyone will survive. Exploring will help, as you'll be able to find additional resources, other survivors, and other useful items, but it's a risk too. It's a beautifully balanced game that takes a while to master. 

Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Mac

2. Raft

Best survival games

(Image credit: Redbeet Interactive)

For a game to limit its play space to a few square feet seems like a bad idea. What are players going to do to fill the time? On the contrary, says Raft, if they want more room to explore, they're going to have to build it. 

Set almost entirely on the makeshift watercraft of the title, Redbeet Interactive's survival game is all about life at sea, tasking players to upgrade their vehicle, explore mysterious islands, fend off ocean-faring predators, and hopefully find their way back home before its too late. Think Fortnite meets Subnautica, and you get the idea, not to mention the reason for its inclusion on this list of best survival games. 

Available on: PC

1. ARK: Survival Evolved

Best survival games

(Image credit: ARK)

Take survival, add sci-fi and dinosaurs, and you have the bare bones of Ark: Survival Evolved. The game’s built a huge fanbase despite dated visuals and a harsh difficulty level, just because it makes the business of staying alive so exciting, no doubt helped by the fact that beyond the giant reptiles and other hostile beasties, it’s other players that pose the biggest threat. 

Build and upgrade your base and set traps and you’ll live a little longer. Join forces with a tribe and wage war on others, and you’ll live longer still. It’s not every game where you can tame a Sabre-tooth or ride a Megalodon, and no other game does survival on quite this T-Rex scale.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One (also on Game Pass), Nintendo Switch, PC, and Android

You can also read more on the game's newly announced sequel here in our Ark 2 guide.

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet! 

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