The best survival games push your will to stay alive to the absolute limit. Food, water, shelter, warmth - it's primal stuff, and it's all in short supply. The games on this list are here to seriously test you, asking you to fend for yourself across all manner of unforgiving circumstances. Working with limited resources, environmental constraints (like a zombie apocalypse, for example), and sometimes even a time limit, the best survival games allow you and your base to evolve and become stronger over time.
There are so many fantastic survival games it's been difficult to narrow it down to just the very best of them. These differ from our choice of the best survival horror games, mind you, though we've featured a few brain-eating beasts in the titles below. From post-apocalyptic wastelands to being marooned on desert islands, here's 10 of the best survival games out there today.
This collection of the 10 best survival games was updated on October 5, 2023. We had nothing more to add, but all the games you'll find below are still our top suggestions for high-stakes survival experiences.
The best survival games are...
10. State of Decay 2
Developer: Undead Labs
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC
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.
Check out our State of Decay 2 review here
9. Don’t Starve
Developer: Tencent Games, Klei Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS, and Android
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 specialty – 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.
Read our Don't Starve review here for more
8. The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, PC, iOS, and Android
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.
7. The Forest
Developer: Endnight Games
Platforms: PS4, PS5, and PC
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. Its sequel, Sons of the Forest, is out now - but it couldn't exist without the original, which has more than earned its place on this list.
Read our Sons of the Forest review-in-progress to see how the sequel is faring
Developer: Facepunch Studios, Double Eleven
Platforms: PS4, PS5, and PC
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.
Developer: Iron Gate Studios
Currently in Early Access on Steam (it'll drop on Xbox One and Xbox Series X sometime in 2023), 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.
Developer: Mojang Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, PC, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch
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.
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, iOS, Android, PC
Part survival game, part city-builder, Frostpunk is far from a walk in the park - as you'd hope for one of the best survival games. You are the leader of an 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 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.
Developer: 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.
1. ARK: Survival Evolved
Developer: Studio Wildcard
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, Android, PC
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.
Here's everything we know about Ark 2 so far
Some of the best city building games involve complex survival systems, too.