Over the last ten years, the survival genre has grown hugely, and now many of its best games are among the best-selling and most highly regarded. Be it hacking down the undead hordes with an axe, hiding in a locker and holding your breath, or trying to persuade the gun-toting maniac you just ran into that you are friendly… It’s about staying alive.
It’s one of our most basic needs, and the adrenaline rush of beating the odds and keeping on going in the face of adversity is what makes survival games so compelling. Here are our top six games.
Alien: Isolation is set in the universe of Alien, the landmark sci-fi film franchise. This single-player game is the closest you can get to stepping into the shoes of Ellen Ripley herself, which is fitting as you play Ripley’s daughter Amanda as she searches for the truth about what happened to her mother.
Incredible visuals, the horrifyingly accurate sounds of the Xenomorph, and the overall attention to detail when it comes to the world building combine to make a hugely atmospheric, and truly scary Survival Horror game.
Clutching your Motion Detector and seeing that little dot that represents impending wall-crawling death, or firing guns that never quite seem to kill the monster hunting you, will be the kind of memories you’ll take away from this cinematic experience.
The Long Dark
The Long Dark is another dark, and atmospheric single-player game, but this time your worst enemy is nature herself. Sure, wolves are a pain, especially when there’s a pack, and finding enough food to get you through the night can be tough. But the freezing cold of the Canadian wilderness that you crash-land in at the start of the game is your truest foe.
You’ll spend a lot of your time scrounging for meager supplies, picking the pockets of frozen corpses, or sheltering in whatever cabin you chose to base yourself from. Weather varies significantly, so you may have to shack up for many hours at a time. Just make sure you’ve got enough wood to keep the fire lit, and the cold out… The wolves are hungry.
The visuals are simple but lovely, the sounds are chilling, and the gameplay cycle is rewarding.
Losing is fun! That’s one of the lessons learned from Dwarf Fortress by Tynan Sylvester, the man behind space-western base-building colony Survival game RimWorld. You guide the lives and misfortunes of a growing band of misfits, drug addicts and captured tribal warriors to survival and inevitable death, on a world at the edge of colonized space.
There are plenty of different biomes to change the experience, from arctic tundra and ice sheets to deserts, swampy jungles, and more. You’ll designate where and when your colonists should build, hunt, grow crops, and research new technology to help make life on the Rim a little more bearable.
But really, the beauty of the game is in the stories that come from it. That time that Min, the spoiled former child Popstar, was attacked by a homicidal tortoise, or when the entire colony was roasted to death because you forgot that fires in a base dug into a mountain produce LOTS of heat, and that heat needs to be able to vent somehow.
7 Days to Die
Somewhat basic graphics belie the depth of 7 Days to Die, a brilliant open-world multiplayer survival game. You’ll spend the titular seven days hunting for guns and food, fortifying your home base, and preparing for the inevitable horde of zombies that will assault you at the end of the week.
The game is fun and challenging in single-player mode, but it really shines when you’ve got a few friends with you that you can co-ordinate your scavenging and building with. There are RPG elements too, as you improve your skills and crafting knowledge as you progress through the game.
That progression is a satisfying process. You start out with scavenged melee weapons, then you’ll craft yourself a bow, and eventually, you’ll be driving a moped around the varied biomes with a home-made assault rifle slung on your back. It’s a different experience playing on public servers, as you’ll also have to deal with other players who may or may not want to kill you and take all that you’ve found.
A far cry from the brown and gray post-apocalyptic palette of 7 Days, in Subnautica you find yourself marooned on a water world following the crash of your spaceship. Glowing neon colors and occasionally cartoonish sea creatures mask what can be an unforgiving world, where there is ALWAYS a bigger fish.
You’ll be making regular trips out of the airlock to gather the resources necessary to build vessels from a humble handheld propeller, up to your very own submarine. You’ll need to build them to get ever deeper, where the rarer and more useful resources lie.
In many ways, DayZ is one of the fathers of the Survival genre’s popularity. It started life as a mod for Arma 2, a heavy-weight and complex military simulator game. This heritage is noticeable in the somewhat clunky interface and occasionally frustrating controls, but once you get the hang of them you can move with surprising ease.
Hell is other people, in the multiplayer post-Soviet zombie apocalypse setting of DayZ. The zombies are really the least of your worries. Most of the other people you’ll run into will shoot you on sight just to take that can of baked beans you found in the boot of a rusty car.
A lot of attention has been paid to the survival roots of the game. Nutrition, disease, weather, and more, all play a part in ensuring the continuance of the single life you are allotted with is a difficult proposition at the best of times.
These are just six of our favorite Survival games, and we’d love to hear if you have any experiences from them that stand out for you. Also if you’ve got any other games you think should have been on this list, let us know below!