You could be stuck in the middle of a wilderness and not travel anywhere in a survival game, but you usually have to do something if you want to stay alive as your resources will run out, or perhaps you come under attack. Here we stumble across two more features of a survival game: a hostile environment and resource conservation.
That’s about as defining as you can get when it comes to survival games, I think. I want to keep it broad for now, at least, because below I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be “survival games.” It’s not a random list, either; rather, it’s games that fit the bill that I think are worth checking out if you’re into the challenge this type of game design offers.
First up are the free survival games, then the commercial ones, and below that are upcoming survival games that have caught my eye. Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list. It’s merely a collection of survival games for those looking out for them to give a go.
Free Survival Games
While still in beta at the time of writing, Wayward offers a 16-bit top-down sandbox survival experience in the wilderness that should keep you occupied for a little while. Although the graphics suggest simplicity, Wayward has plenty of depth within its systems for you to discover. Others may describe it as being over-complicated, perhaps. I wouldn’t.
Rather than just clicking on a patch in the ground to create a campfire, you’ll have to head out into the forest, grab some resources and craft what you need out of them, prepare the ground, and then light your fire. As the game plays out on a grid and is turn-based, combat with the creatures on the island you’re stranded upon can be tough due to allowing you time to plan attacks.
There is actually some vague goal to aim for beyond staying alive in Wayward, too. There’s treasure to obtain somewhere, but you’ll have to really explore your surroundings to find it. What I appreciate the most about Wayward is its openness. You’re not forced to play in any particular way, and your character’s stats improve according to the tasks you perform with them, which makes sense.
Rogue Survivor has managed to survive (giggle) the test of time due to its small community that delved into the game’s modding support. It’s a sandbox survival game set around a town full of zombies. As Resident Evil taught us all those years ago, zombies come from evil corporations, and the one that rules the town in Rogue Survivor is called CHAR Corporation.
Now, what makes Rogue Survivor interesting than other zombie survival games is that you get the choice to play a human or one of the infected. Neat, huh? As a human, you’ll want to find others and scrounge for food and look for shelter to stay safe in. Just because the other humans aren’t infected, that doesn’t mean they’re always friendly, though. It’s possible to commit murder and be chased by what’s left of the police in Rogue Survivor, should you turn on your fellow survivors, but sometimes, that’s just what you have to do in order to stay alive.
The zombies grow stronger every day and try to track down survivors without being killed by them. If you do die, you can just be reincarnated as another zombie or try your hand at being a human instead.
If you’re going to play one of the Stranded games, I’d have to recommend that you go with Stranded 2, just because it’s the same as the first Stranded, but with more to do and discover. Both of the games have basic 3D graphics (great for low-end PCs) and have you playing the role of a lonely survivor on a colorful island.
You can do anything you want in Stranded, more or less. Take a trek into the jungle to see the treacherous wildlife and beautiful flora, find the natives and see how they’ve adapted to life on the island. Collect food and resources, construct buildings, and in Stranded 2, there’s even a story sequence to follow as frequently as you care to for all you treasure hunters. Best of all, you can tame wild animals and ride them, which beats building a jeep and riding around in that any day.
UnReal World is still undergoing development, and features are being added slowly. To be honest, you really don’t need them, so jumping into the game right now is very viable, and you’re sure to have a tough old time trying to survive the late Iron Age. What makes UnReal World feel different to other fantasy roguelikes is that it is inspired by Finnish folklore, which you’ll do well to learn as soon as you can as knowledge is survival in this world.
What I truly love about UnReal World is how it caters to so many different lifestyles. You can just play it like a survival game and worry about where you’ll get your next meal every day. However, if you start to figure a few things out and improve your skills enough, maybe even get in touch with the spirit world, you can become a fearless warrior.
But, heck, how many times have you been a warrior in a game? Be a hermit or a fisherman. Perhaps a simple tradesman is more your style. UnReal World offers a ton of paths to take among the nine different cultures available to become part of in the game, but it allows you to explore them as much as you like, with no pressure to do much at all, if you wish.
You probably know developer Instant Kingdom more for their recent RPG, Driftmoon, but a couple of years ago, they created a survival game set upon a mysterious alien planet called Notrium.
Notrium begins with you crash landing on to the alien planet and grabbing what provisions you can from your ship before the fire engulfs you. It’s not long before you’re seeking shelter from the cold rain with hordes of steely blue aliens charging at you; your first is your best friend. With no other choice but to explore the planet’s surface, you search for a means to fix your ship or another way off this hostile planet.
You want hard? Cataclysm will give you something tough to chew on. But it doesn’t forget how to make you laugh, either. Set in an ASCII-graphics post-apocalyptic world among zombies, triffids and drunk drivers, Cataclysm provides you with a whole dangerous world, with more things to find than you can shake a rotten foot at.
One day, you may be trudging through a forest, picking the ground for food. The next, you could be chucking molotovs at zombified gas station attendees, much to your own stupidity. Threats are everywhere in the world of Cataclysm, and many of them could end your life in an instant. You hear rumors of strange clans fitted with cybernetic body parts and mutated fish-people who spent far too long supping on the nutrients in the nearby toxic sludge.
An adventure in Cataclysm is full of surprise, and just about every time you die, you’ll probably be holding back the giggles in disbelief.
Schiffbruch, or Shipwrecked, is one of the purest survival games in this list. As the title divulges, you’ve been shipwrecked on a tropical island, and although the views are pleasant, it’s not really a place you can set up shop and live in comfortably.
Played from an isometric view, your goal in Schiffbruch is to last long enough on the island so that you’ll be rescued once you’ve created something elaborate enough that you’re spotted. As you’d expect, exploration and finding food is vital practice as the days pass on by. You’ll also need to construct some shelter, no matter how primitive, which requires some preliminary resources. Schiffbruch is quite a charming survival experience in comparison to other survival games.
You’re probably already familiar with this one. Gods Will Be Watching was originally created for Ludum Dare 26 and has since gained funds to be expanded on Indiegogo. The original jam version remains free, and there’s plenty of playing to get out of it.
Gods Will Be Watching, that title, suggests the idea of judgement. That’s exactly right. In this game, you’ll be responsible for the lives of a group of survivors on a hostile planet. With a point-and-click interface and some resource management, Gods Will Be Watching becomes a bleak practice of self-justified sacrifice in a true “survival of the fittest”-type scenario.
The games’s puzzles will have you facing morality and committing actions you may not want to, but the choices you have are all despairing. Such is the case when survival becomes the only purpose among of diverse group of quirky characters.
Here’s a slightly different take on the survival game genre. Harmfulgame is online competitive multiplayer, and if you can’t find players, then you can have bots fill shoes. The levels are quite small, and as there are wild dogs running around (that can be tamed), the game plays more like a quickfire survival game, rather than the typically much longer single-player bouts you get from the genre.
Your senses are limited to operate closer to how they would in real life, so you have coned vision in front of your character, and you can hear sounds and get a sense of their origin on the map. Exploring the map is essential but very dangerous. You’ll want to get your hands on a gun, or even just a blunt weapon, to have the best changes of winning an intense battle with another player. Sneakiness is always a good tactic too, so remaining quiet and letting the others kill each other as you try to avoid being sniffed out by a dog, which will either kill you or draw attention to your location.
Harmfulgame is currently in development, but you can play it now, and you should discover something that shortens your breath.
Commercial Survival Games
You’re slowly being killed off by a plague. Could there be a greater way to start a survival game? Miasmata has you playing a scientist who travels to an island to hopefully find a cure for himself. Played from the first-person perspective, Miasmata really makes the most of placing you inside a vast, unknown land with only a map and compass to find your way. Don’t expect a handy HUD in this game.
Your priority is tracking down different plants and performing experiments with them so that you may discover any healing properties that they may have. Unfortunately, the island is rife with planet life and fungi, but finding the specific plants you need requires planning and co-ordination. Hope you’ve brushed up on your map-reading skills.
You’re not alone on this island, either. There’s a deadly creature that will stalk you relentlessly for miles at a time, never letting you of its sight. It’s best if you don’t make eye contact with it, but always prepare for a sudden attack.
If you’re into survival games, you’ve probably already encountered the marvellously gothic stylings of Don’t Starve. You play as a gentleman scientist called Wilfred, who has been taken to the middle of a dangerous wilderness by a demon.
The great thing about Don’t Starve is how it starts off tough, but relatively tame. You’ll look around, kick a few things and probably craft some basic materials. As you start to get attacked by the weird creatures in the environment waiting their turn to pounce, you’ll gain confidence and start to wander a little further. Soon, you’ll find materials that allow for some really innovations in the wilderness survival business. Wilson is a scientist, after all.
As your constructions get more elaborate and creature-proof, as do your crafted items. The creatures start to become more magnificent and magical, but not always in a delightful way. Do try to keep things dapper, won’t you, as hellfires start to spread around the forests and you battle Guardians, huge spiders and slurpers.
Created by a single ex-Bioware chap, NEO Scavenger is another survival-RPG set within the wastelands of the post-apocalypse. Except it’s not just “another” one, because it happens to be among the best, in fact. Played on a hex-based grid, NEO Scavenger requires you to take every turn you make with deep consideration of your options and the potential outcomes of taking each of them.
Finding food and water and keeping warm in the wastelands is tough enough, but when wild and mutated animals start to introduce themselves to the equation, it’s a whole different ball game. Often, when you’re playing NEO Scavenger, you’ll feel like you really can’t take any more punishment, but then another mishap occurs, and you feel as if death is just seconds away. It probably is.
One of the most important rituals in NEO Scavenger is choosing your starting load out very carefully as it can completely change the outcome of the game, depending on what gets thrown at you. If you’re looking for a tough survival game that takes a while to warm to, and even then, it remains harsh, NEO Scavenger is a very good choice.
Yes, more zombies. But Project Zomboid does a lot of things that many other zombie games don’t even bother with, and the features it does repeat are done to a high standard. Infamous for its wife-killing tutorial, Project Zomboid is an exercise in the desperation of humanity in a world where one small cock-up can spell death within seconds.
Zombies are everywhere in Project Zomboid, and so you have no choice but to dodge the hordes when looking for supplies. Come nightfall, you’ll really want to be locked up inside, and by “locked up,” I mean nailing planks to the doors and windows and keeping an eye on all of the entry points. Later on, you’ll want to start building fortresses to defend from the zombie hordes, and finding survivors may be a good idea too, right?
As with the best zombie games, Project Zomboid isn’t just about getting excited when finding a shotgun and blowing heads off. Its focus steadily becomes loneliness, depression and the indomitable human spirit that faces up against adversity to survive against all odds. Survival in Project Zomboid is vital, but it’s not pleasant at all.
While Minecraft is notorious for its crafting systems, and what its huge community constructs with its voxel-based creation tools often hits the headlines, I think many of us initially played it for its survival element. When I first played Minecraft a few years ago, even in its primitive state, the terror of nightfall was present as zombies and creepers huddled up to the dirt blocks that I had fashioned together to create a makeshift shelter.
Arguably, Minecraft is best when you aren’t aware of the crafting recipes, and you have to discover how to create crafting benches, torches and swords by yourself. Killing pigs for their pork to cooked and eat in order to regain lost health from zombie fights and starvation and slaughtering cows for the leather to craft armor? This is what we did in order to survive.
In the fumblings of a beginner trying to survive their first couple of days and nights in Minecraft is one hell of a survival game. Of course, Minecraft does much more than that, but if you want survival, it does it well, and always has done.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted isn’t finished yet, but already, its characterful tweedpunk provides a quirky survival experience that is made terrifying by the intelligent and sportly gentleman robots that hunt you down.
Within a gloomy recreation of early-20th century British farmlands and industrial plots, you’ll run away and hide from these robots that want nothing more than to shoot you in the face. You may want to fight back against these robots, but their aim is swift and their top hats daunting, so sticking to stealth and remaining silent, even when you want to scream in terror, is often the best option.
Your greatest task is scavenging for food in order to keep healthy. Doing so often means wandering into open areas, making you vulnerable; it’s harrowing. Luckily, there will be moments when you’ll want to fight back against the robots after stealing their guns from them. You’ll want to plan your attack, rather than relying on luck, but getting vengeance can be darn exhilarating.
Despite the title, you’ll want to spend the majority of your time in Under The Ocean safe on land. The ocean hides sharks and other nasties of the sea, and the worst of it is probably the disease you can contract, should you go swimming with an open wound.
Across the islands of Under The Ocean, you’ll find all kinds of materials, some of which are useful as they are, like fire wood, while others will need some modification to turn into a tool. Catching fish and creating a shelter is usually your first task, and there are many ways to go about it. It’s a game that requires a bit of thought, such as using poisonous berries to smear your spear to kill fish with, rather than trying to eat the berries and hoping your stomach will handle the filtering process.
Under The Ocean isn’t finished, either, yet, but the flexibility in crafting and exploration has always been. It’s a very interesting game about survival and making the most out of nothing. It’s also fun to ride the vicious waves and out swim sharks, but you’d have to be a bit of a nutter for that.
Here’s a game that stands far apart from everything else in this list. Shelter isn’t so much about safeguarding your own survival as it is looking after your cute badger cubs. You need to make your way across a vast wilderness with predators lurking around every corner, and even in the sky!
Being babies, your cubs don’t have the knowledge or awareness that you do. All they do know is that you’ll look after them, so they try to stay close. You’ll need to find food for each of your cubs, as well as yourself, and when predators start stalking you, you’ll need to use every advantage you have in the environment to ensure your cubs don’t become another victim of the food chain.
Don’t worry; the name is a deliberate misstep on the classic Oregon Trail. Orgain Trail plays much in the same way as Oregon Trail and even has recognizably Apple 2 interfaces and graphics. The major difference is that, instead of migrating across America in a wagon, you’re travelling westward in a station wagon during the zombie apocalypse.
Your task is to make it your final destination with as many of the four survivors you start with still alive. The game mainly consists of making decisions from a menu, and then seeing what the results are, but there are some mini-games to discover as well. It’s important to scavenge for food and supplies and face off against the undead when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, fleeing may be the best option.
Often called a side-scrolling version Minecraft, at least in its primacy, Terraria is a sandbox crafter in which you’ll need to collect resources from fallen enemies, dig deep into the ground to find special items and construct buildings to maximize your effectiveness in the art of survival.
Terraria is more focused on the action-RPG side of things than Minecraft tends to be. It’s just as much as a community game, and your best chances of survival are, undoubtedly, hooking up with some experienced players and hanging out with them. However, that’s not the true survival experience, is it?
For that, you’ll want to head in fresh-faced and without a clue in the world. Kill some slimes, build a crappy house and start digging towards hell in order to find better armor, weapons and crafting materials.
Upcoming Survival Games
What I love about the prospect of Stranded Deep, and what makes it unique, is that it has infinite procedural generation on land AND underwater. I’ve never really thought about it before now, but there aren’t really any games that let us explore underwater to much of an extent. Swimming under the ocean is usually just a treat due to a sudden palette swap or that light feeling of floating. In Stranded Deep, you can dive deep down and discover huge biomes.
This survival game takes place around an island somewhere in Pacific. The test here isn’t monsters or starving; it’s taking on the extremities of nature. While basking in the sun is possible, you may want to brave the huge waves in the ocean or explore the underwater trenches and whatever lurks within them. Of course, collecting resources and crafting is a must, as with many survival games, but that’s all expected by now.
Winter is a harsh season. In Banished, you’ll rule over a group of exiled travellers and help them build a city from scratch. Hunting, scavenging and farming the lands will get you started, while basic buildings and growing the population will see them endure for a little longer.
These travellers aren’t alone in the world, and there are dangers from the outside, such as lone travellers carrying disease, but these people may also introduce new techniques that help the town grow. The greatest challenge is winter as when the snow falls, your city will have to rely on the stocks they have leftover and huddling together for warmth. Expect many to not make it.
While The Forest is actually more of a survival-horror game, it has made this list due to its open world nature and environment-based survival systems. After your plane crashes in the wilderness, you’re left with nothing but the clothes on your back and have to make do with whatever you can find in the surrounding areas.
Exploring the titular forest, cutting down trees and building a camp during the day will prepare you for the night. You will need to find food or risk starving to death, and even better, you can plant seeds for a nearby, and hopefully regular, source of nutrition.
At night, mostly, enemies will start to wander the forest, and if they stumble across your meagre camp, they won’t hesitate to rip you and it apart. As you explore, you get the choice to evade enemies, or you can craft crude weapons out of sticks and stones to fight against them. The horror in The Forest comes out of survival elements, and while there may be monsters, your biggest threat is, arguably, serving your basic needs.
From the creator of Garry’s Mod comes Rust, which started out life as a Day Z clone, apparently. It’s a completely open-world survival game full of other online players. There are no rules. The idea behind Rust it to give the players a Stalker-inspired world and set them free inside of it. If newcomers get attacked by a group of experienced and well-tooled players, bad luck.
Next time you start the game, you’ll know to be more wary of other players, and as you can create buildings a wide selection of tools, it’s up to you to build a fortress, or whatever you want, in order to maintain territory and survive in this completely open game world.
The historically impossible The Stomping Land involves hunting dinosaurs as a tribe, and that means setting traps, creating weapons and hatching a plan if you’re going to go for the bigger lizards. Unfortunately, in this world, just because you killed something edible, it doesn’t mean you always get to eat it. Smarter and deadlier creatures may move in on your kill and decide that it wants the meat for itself.
Another problem you and your tribesmen will have to deal with is being away from your camp. While you will need to go hunting for dinosaurs and bring back the raptor bacon, there’s no telling whether or not another tribe of players (yes, it’s online) would have been watching from afar, waiting for the hunters to leave camp, and then move in to snatch the supplies you had.
An open-world survival and hunting game made by one guy. Ambitious. No Return is another game that features a plane crash survivor, but this one is a talented hunter, and to survive, you’ll want to engage in this skill by stalking deer, boar, rabbits and ducks in the wilderness. Craft bows and spears and find hunting rifles to up your chances of a successful kill. Anything for the meat. Interestingly, the 350km squared at your feet is full of abandoned towns and buildings after a corrupt EU super-state run by the UN led to the economic collapse.
Apparently, your first task in No Return will be to crash land your aircraft somewhere in the game world. Then it’s time to scavenge for resources, build a base camp, and then learn to navigate by the stars in the sky. I love that kind of unusual detail – star navigation. It’s features like that I love about survival games. There’s no mini-map here. If you want to survive, you’ll have to live off the environment.
Like No Return, Frontiers is another survival game set in a huge world created by a single developer. The two games aren’t so dissimilar, either. As you might have come to expect from a survival game now, in Frontiers, you need to live off the land, which means hunting, foraging and cooking. You can even concoct something crazy using hallucinogens.
Unlike the frantic nature of many survival games, Frontiers is supposed to be more a relaxed experience. There are no restrictions to where you can go within the world, when and what you can do there. But you will have to cut your way through and create your own paths at times. You’re likely to come across some of the hundreds of types of structures that are open to explore. And with the materials you find, you’ll can craft new items to help you survive.
Like a couple of the other survival games in this list, Dyscourse focuses on group psychology, sacrifices and other stressful decision-making based on testing our moral leanings. It comes with a very eye-catching artstyle and a unique main character.
Rita is her name, and she’s an art student, recently graduated. Lo and behold, Rita ends up in a plane crash and getting stranded on a remote island with a handful of other survivors. The ultimate point of Dyscourse is to allow you the freedom to feel around your own morals. It’s up to you how to react to each decision, whether or not you want to help the group along or look out more for yourself. Can you so willingly sacrifice someone you’ve made a connection with, even if it’s for the best?
Another survival game that introduces horror elements, Raindrop allows for free exploration around huge and stunningly constructed levels. Death traps lie in wait, puzzles need to solved, and at all times, you’ll need to pick for the food that you can find around the farmlands and abandoned buildings. Find schematics and build some items that will help you along too.
One of the defining features of Raindrop is your decreasing sanity and how this is starting to affect what you perceive in the world, hence the horror aspect, presumably. There’s also mention of a “complex” and its “inhabitants.” Not much more has been revealed of Raindrop, but it’s definitely a survival game, and we’re definitely intrigued, right?
If it’s not zombies, it has to be aliens. Will To Survive gives me Project Zomboid vibes, but that may be because it’s an isometric survival game with crafting. The combat system is completely different; that’s for sure. It also doesn’t seem to be quite as complex as Zomboid, but it is only in alpha, so that may change over time.
The main feature that defines Will To Survive is that the game continues playing while you’re not there. So, if you leave the game for two days, before you do so, you’ll want to make sure that you leave Will in a safe place, and that he has enough rations on him to last that long. Don’t worry; there’s another mode that turns that feature off, so you can leave the game for as long as you want without having to worry about if Will has died like that Tamagotchi you had a decade ago.
Naturally, when you do venture out into the wild city streets, you’ll preferably want to be armed and to build barricades between you and the hostile aliens. Scavenging runs with become routine, and they’re bound to be fraught with danger, so prepare yourself to either fight or flee.