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These are your 25 favourite survival games of all time

As voted for by the RPS readership

Hot (weeks) off the back of Sons Of The Forest and the Resident Evil 4 remake coming out, we're celebrating your bestest best, most favourite survival games this month. Your votes have been counted and tallied, and your accompanying words of praise and affection matched accordingly. But which game has survived to make it to the top of the pile? Come and find out as we count down your 25 favourite survival games of all time.

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Now you may be wondering, hang about, we did 50 games for your favourite strategy list, why only 25 here? Well, the survival genre is something of a more recent phenomenon than strategy games, and most of the votes were accordingly spread across a narrower selection of games. Plus, things started to get a bit flabby and not very survival-y past the 25 mark point, so we thought it best to cut it off there and stick with the real cream of the crop. Besides, we only have 30 games in our own best survival games list, so it seemed like a good place to call it.

Interestingly, there's quite a bit of crossover between our list and your list below, but the order of them all is very different, which is great! It's always fascinating to see which games resonate with you compared to our own Treehouse tastes, and I hope you all agree among yourselves on the ranking. And if not, there's always the comments to hash it out further.

25. V Rising

A vampire runs across a bridge in an autumnal V Rising forest.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Stunlock Studios

Jesse: Sure, you can get vampires in your Sims, but where else you gonna get Sims in your vampires?

Gunmetal: Theme wins it for this one, the dark gothic atmosphere is done extremely well.

24. Kenshi

Two men and an alien goat gather round a campfire as they look out across a red, desert landscape in Kenshi

Anon: I've put way too many hours into Kenshi for this to not be my #1. It's also single player, so that's a huge bonus.

TheAngriestHobo: Kenshi is a fever-dream of a survival game. It's jankier than your uncle's car, but it has ambition and scale in spades. Kenshi throws you into a brutal, uncaring post-apocalyptic alien world and says "survive". It's a world of cannibalism, sexism, racism, slavery and violence, where someone will beat you to within an inch of your life for a hunk of stale bread. But if you do survive, or even prosper? My god, then the game opens up for you. What was a solitary RPG morphs into a party-based RPG, and then a city builder, and then possibly an RTS. The gameplay itself doesn't change, mind you - just the scale of it. You start hiring people, building structures, and before you know it, you have a city. But your city is being attacked by cannibals, so you start building new forts in their territory and training warriors. Patrols around the forts locate cannibal camps, so you attack them, and so on, and so forth. It's an infinite story generator that just keeps scaling up.

Cut: (Alien) atmosphere

23. Raft

A shark chomps on boards in a Raft screenshot.

Pandiculator: What if, a survival game in which your base was the thing you needed to keep alive? Raft is a very smart iteration of the survival genre, which changes the objectives of survival by automating the exploration process to a significant degree. By limiting player choice about location, Raft creates an experience which draws attention to the idea of 'home' in a way that few other survival games approach. Coupled with its world, which is both familiar and alien, Raft succeeds because of the way it uses the player's expectations about what a survival game should be.

Eve Gwynedd: The crafting tree in this is great, love finding the islands and story islands, building is fun.

Bobtux: Original.

22. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl

An anomaly in a gas mask crawls toward the player in STALKER: Shadow Of Chernobyl

Nic: Really, it's the modded versions which bring all three games together, but nothing beats the harsh immersion of The Zone.

21. Far Cry 2

The player holds a sniper rifle as they look down onto rooftops in Far Cry 2

hightouch: I never loved how the gameplay ended up feeling all together, but you can't help but to admire it. This felt like the genesis of the genre in a lot of ways and showed everyone what a reactive world could really feel like.

Zachary C. Sneddon: Far Cry 2 remains my favorite entry in the series, precisely because of the immersive survival elements (like malaria symptoms necessitating medication) that later games in the series abandoned. It was also the first game I ever played in which a carelessly-aimed incendiary can accidentally start a massive brush fire.

Nic: 'Maleria is rubbish but fire is wonderful': The Game

20. Dwarf Fortress

The scene of a bloody battle in Dwarf Fortress, with many dwarfs and animals lying in a large pool of blood
Image credit: Kitfox Games

TheAngriestHobo: This is a survival game by Tarn and Zach Adams. All craftsdwarfship is of the highest quality. The game is encircled by fans of procedurally generated worlds and detailed simulations. The game menaces with spikes of difficulty that you just didn't prepare for well enough, you dolt. Maybe next time. Strike the Earth!

explosionforgov: Just the determination alone of the devs (despite health scares and financial issues) makes me want to cheer them on.

Caff: Is there anything more desperate in life than opening a pub, inviting in a bunch of lovely bunch of elven musicians, then realising they're all bloodsucking vampires who will invade your entire fortress and infect every dwarf alive? Just keeping drink that plump helmet ale! It'll be fine!

Iridium: Has there ever been a game in the history of computing that has led to so many stories? That has led so many of its players straight to some forums or other to tell the tale of whatever weird kingdom they'd created and the inevitably-bizarre fate that befell it? Every new start is a blank slate for near-endless ways to play, and infinite ways to lose everything you've fought to create.

Marsican: If I prefer the Dwarf Fortress mode, the adventurer mode is still such a cool and complete experience.

Stromko: Only reason it isn't my #1 is I don't really see it as a survival game (but apparently everything is a survival game now), and this is my favorite game of all time even though it will never be finished and always have broken parts hanging off the edges.

19. Oxygen Not Included

A cross section view of an underground facility in Oxygen Not Included

Corey: The wonderful stupidity of the dupes and their ability to subvert every carefully thought out plan creates great gaming moments.

dashbarron: Although not multiplayer, this survival game is great because while it has a cute graphical appearance, and is on the surface somewhat simple, there's a lot of unique solutions you can apply to get the same answer to survival. The game is DEEP, based on a lot of near-real science, and really lets you just skim by with simplicity or go as complex as you need to do. And you're always wanting to start to perfect your worlds. A lot of replay ability and a HUGE time sink.

Gunmetal: Colony survival with automation done very well.

Kalil: I spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning intricate contraptions. It tickles my engineer brain. I debate whether to class this as a survival game - it's certainly not in the same genre as Ark or Conan or Valheim or the like - but it actually feels more survivaly to me than those totals.

Mike5000: Hundreds of hours of interesting and enjoyable challenges.

sockmoxy: Aside from the adorable, expressive dupes and the overall brilliant design, this game tops my list because it's made me a better human. Weirdly, ONI has done more than just about anything else in my life to teach me about resilience, the value of small steps to big goals, and good enough vs perfect.

18. Subnautica: Below Zero

A screenshot of Subnautica: Below Zero showing its various biomes, flora and fauna.

dglenny: The first Subnautica game I played properly, and I love it despite its many, many flaws. But finally getting my Prawn Suit and punching my way through the snow-beasts made it all worthwhile.

Eve Gwynedd: Very beautiful and scary, nice story.

FancyPants: Not as good as the first but still an epic adventure!

Sledgehammer: A great follow up to Subnautica. Good replayability.

Lars Westergren: While not as satisfying as the first, it has a good enough story and explorarion.

17. Frostpunk

A snowy city scene in Frostpunk

bills6693: From the first paths ploughed through freshly driven snow by child workers dismantling twisted steel wreckage, to the frost creeping in around the screen, to the beating heart of a furnace blazing through your coal, and the race to find resources and workers before the storms, Frostpunk keeps the ever present feeling of desperation in the cold alongside the triumph felt emerging from the other side of a blizzard with minimal amputees. Best played on snowy days with the heating turned down...

Greglefox: Bear the consequences of your decisions in an tense storyline. I played the game with AC at full power for the sake of immersion.

Janis Petke: Lovely steampunk survival strategy on the frozen wasteland.

JERZYN: The best survival strategy out there. You genuinely care about your citizens. No decision is really straightforward. This game is closest in terms of showing the hardship of managing a city in dire circumstances.

Sentegraphs: Everything comes together so well in this city builder/survival game. When I finally beat the main story for the first time, I remember leaning forward in my chair, engrossed by the storm as it bore down on my city, completely immersed in the story and, especially, the soundtrack. I bought it because it looked cool. After I died an hour or so into my first playthrough, I planned to put it down for good. But I kept thinking about it, and kept returning. Frostpunk is incredibly engaging, and easy to lose yourself in.

16. Terraria

A bustling base in a Terraria screenshot.
Image credit: Re-Logic

John: This is one of the most important survival crafting games to ever come out, and the most important 2D one. It set the scene for other greats to come after it.

dglenny: I am terrible at this game. Well, I am terrible at the bosses, at least. But I still hold out hopes that one day I'll get good enough to see more than 5% of it.

Calmputer: I dug, too greedily and too deep. You know what I awoke in the darkness? Lava. Way too much lava.

An Tran: Easily accessible, with plenty of content.

Ethan: I wouldn't personally call Terraria a survival game so much as a sandbox/exploration game, but I know that many people would disagree with me. Terraria just has such a wealth of genuinely good content to discover within it, and even after ten years, the developers are still adding new stuff. For me, it combined the joy of discovering things in games from The Legend Of Zelda series with the freedom of creativity in Minecraft. Also, the game is great in both single-player and multiplayer, which, to me, seems pretty rare. It's a game I would be willing to recommend to just about anyone.

Jone991: I love its 2D graphics and the gameplay is simple and fun. This game has mechanics like bullet hell and stuff... that I like.

Krogerg: Love the pixel art.

LessThanNothing: It's the only survival/crafting game I have enjoyed. Easy to play in small sessions. Less fiddling around than other survival games and just more having fun.

15. Don't Starve Together

Three characters gather together in a treehouse in Don't Starve Together

explosionforgov: Love the Burtonesque art style and the perfect mix of creepy and cute. Also, seeing those meatballs in the crock pot always makes me hungry.

Eve Gwynedd: Fun, can play with friends, challenging, devs keep adding new content, like the base building and setting your own challenges.

Ethan: It's difficult for me to give an in-depth opinion about Don't Starve Together as I have never managed in any of the games I have played to make it past Winter. Regardless, it has still been a great game to play with other people and coordinate who should be doing what tasks to be efficient. I also love the art style. We need more games with that level of talent and dedication put into character and world design. Overall, it's a great game from a developer that, by my count, has not made a single bad game to this day.

Corey: A wonderful implementation of cooperative gameplay and balance of the various characters.

JERZYN: DST has an amazing depth, and it's the best survival game to play with friends. You can play for hours and keep discovering new elements of the world, new things to build and new adventures. The stress mechanic gives a good amount of pressure as well.

MyrddinE: This is one of my go-to games for multiplayer fun with friends. I don't like playing it alone because it's too punishing for a solo game; when I'm playing alone I want to be able to putz or fiddle, and Don't Starve doesn't let you get away with that crap. But when I'm actively playing with friends it's a more focused session where I'm not going have my attention wander and get me dead.

roguewithwhimsy: I loved hosting a game on my ancient laptop during a free Steam weekend. A great aesthetic!

rpsiscool: Don't Starve Together is a fantastic co-op game, the massive procedurally generated maps give each game a great sense of exploration. The different terrain areas and the changing seasons allow for interesting challenges and strategic decisions.

14. Conan Exiles

A large tentacled monster looms over a city in Conan Exiles

Jone991: Well I have always loved Conan, so the lore in this game is 10/10, this game is really fun in co-op with friends, there is so much to do in this.

matthew mumbrue: NPCs that do work for you? That's incredibly helpful. If you are going to make a persistent PVP game, you need a solid way to maintain all your hard work when you have a life and a job outside of the game. Conan helped with that a little, combined with the better combat system and coolness, it would definitely be my number one if it came out before Ark.

Xyvik: The most role-playing-friendly, thematic game on the list by quite a long shot. I have never had more fun building outposts and marking a "safe" path to them with road stones than in Conan Exiles. My creations have never been more needlessly elaborate.

Kalil: Two words: dick physics.

13. This War Of Mine

A cross section of a dilapidated building in This War Of Mine

ThoughtfulSquirrel: This is a game that fully succeeds at what it wants to do, which is to show how war affects everyday people, while also being a challenging survival sim that forces you to make difficult decisions. My only knock against this game is that there's not a lot of interesting mods I've found that would extend the replayability - I've completed all the scenarios at this point and feel I'm done. New modded levels and decisions would be a huge boost.

necurbanapauperem: Several games have attempted this sub-genre, and none have gotten it right apart from This War Of Mine making it the automatic winner. The ones which have taken inspiration from it have all gone with an overly-simplified version like Fallout Shelter, or one that leans more into the base than the exploration, like Oxygen Not Included. Frostpunk was also a step in the wrong direction. This War of Mine had an excellent world to explore full of little vignettes of story. My only criticism is it was too short.

Janis Petke: Thought-provoking survival in the rubble left by a war.

Loykymar: Steal from your elderly neighbour to survive or be decent and maybe starve to death. Tough choices to make.

JERZYN: This is a heart-wrenching game. Like Frostpunk shows hard decisions on a scale of colony, this one feels so much more personal and you get attached to the characters. This arguably makes the decisions so much more difficult to make.

Ethan: There are a lot of games that could go on this list. Honestly, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead probably deserves this spot more, as I think it is a better overall game. But damn, does This War Of Mine not have a sense of impact to it. It's a survival game in the true sense that your characters are not some overpowered demi-gods out to save humanity. They are flawed people in an incredibly difficult situation, and your choices will impact them and the people they encounter. I have never managed to make it to the end of the game. I haven't devoted a massive amount of time to the game either. As I said, it is not the best gameplay-wise. But as an experience, I can't think of a game quite like it.

12. Don't Starve

A spiky-haired boy runs away from spiders holding an axe in Don't Starve

sockmoxy: My first encounter with permadeath in games, and I unexpectedly loved it. Failing was fun and I learned something new each run and slowly, persistently got better and better. Except when I didn't, and then I starved.

Marsican: I love the atmosphere and the worldbuilding. The fact that each character has their own personality and own little comments to make about the things in the world is delightful. The gameplay is addictive.

eggsnbeans: Great art and the fear mechanic is good.

Bobtux: The ambiance and the mechanics.

dashbarron: With multiplayer options available, instead of your survival chances increasing I'd argue they decrease unless your team is on the ball. Always the threatening ticking of time working against you, this slow burn game can end quickly if you're not careful. This game perhaps has the biggest feeling of wanting to play again because I'll restart and not die to a stupid thing like I did last time - only for this cycle to repeat every few game plays as you master one thing but then succumb to something else. It needs mentioning that the Tim Burton-noir art style and comedy is also exceedingly charming.

11. 7 Days To Die

7 Days to Die image showing a player aiming an assault rifle towards a horde of zombies amidst ruined buildings.

dashbarron: It's been in development a number of years and they keep improving it, no doubt my best investment (and my highest number of hours played for a full time working adult (800+ hours). It's my #1 because it has compelling multiplayer (and singleplayer) and a lot of content. There's a lot of crafting, nearly unlimited objects and all relative shapes to make unique, real life structures, plus weapons and traps to make the ultimate base and give your friends the items they need to survive. And then a lot of fleshed out combat with their associated skill system to be engaging. And a persistent, unique world to explore.

Blackrook: Totally destructible/diggible terrian and blocks, allows freeform building and tunnelling. One of the best games to play with friends.

Detournemented: The build up to the "horde" showing up each 7 days is some of the best tension in gaming. There is so much content to explore (literally hundreds of set pieces) and each house/building feels like its own little adventure. The weapons feel satisfying and the combat feels weighty. There is a still a lot of "jank" for a game that has been in development for so long. Hope the game continues to get more polish.

FancyPants: A fun way to kill time (and zombies) with friends.

Joel MacDonald: The exploration in this game is astounding. The environmental storytelling in this game puts even the biggest AAA games to shame. You discover an abandoned house, and as you explore it, you discover the inhabitants grew and sold mutated corn out the back door, then when the zombies came, made their last stand on the top floor, without a single written journal or audio log. It is all done entirely with object and item placement.

Xyvik: Yes, it's STILL in alpha. And truth be told, I don't think it's ever going to leave alpha. But with 887 hours, 7 Days sits at my #2 all-time most-played games list. The building system is sublime and one of the best in all of the survival genre, with a great electrical system and TONS of personalization options. Sure, the AI can be pretty easy to cheese, but the goal of "just survive the next 7 days" is an amazing in-game goal that is urgent and appealing.

Marak: 2000 hours in, the modding support is awesome. Even wrote my own overhaul mod :-)

10. Project Zomboid

Group of zombies chasing a Project Zomboid character down a street as the sun sets

TheAngriestHobo: Project Zomboid is most frightening at the start, when you have no food, weapons, or safehouses and have to scrounge up what you can in a city full of zeds. With luck, you'll eventually overcome these obstacles - and that's when the game becomes really cruel, because you start to think you have a chance. You settle down, wire up a generator, grow some crops, build some skills, and life in the apocalypse starts to feel... normal. And just as you start to let your guard down, it happens. Maybe you take your eyes off the road for a second and slam into a crashed car. Maybe you forget to equip your weapon before opening that bathroom door. Maybe you carelessly fall off the roof you are building and tumble to the ground. However you bite it, it's inevitable, and it's your fault. This is how you died.

ThoughtfulSquirrel: The flexibility of this game, through game options and mods, are what makes me come back to it. You can easily turn the game into an action game or The Sims post-apocalypse or something in between. Between the dedication of the team (10 years of updates) and the immense modding scene, it's very easy to turn this into the game you want to play. The engine has been my biggest issue but even that is getting a major overhaul later this year. This is the game I have the most hours in by far now.

"The only game where misplacing my can opener has killed me."

skeletortoise: I've uninstalled this more than almost any other game on Steam, but I always end up reinstalling it. This is The Sims for me.

Janis Petke: An isometric zombie survival RPG that's hard as hell!

necurbanapauperem: Some of the earliest criticisms of Project Zomboid were mine. I was quite loud about the lack of NPCs ruining a game with incredible potential. But they just kept chipping away at it slowly and the years have added up. The car mechanics, the building, the sound and effects, and even the engine itself have improved many times over. And now we're almost on the cusp of NPCs and it's a game with an incredible foundation. This may finally be Project Zomboid's year, but more likely the start of several good years, as they show no sign of stopping.

John: This is such a surprise hit for me and many others. When you hear about where it came from and what it's about, it sounds like a recipe for failure. A zombie survival crafting game that began development 12 or so years ago, when the industry was overwhelmed by a miasma of zombie games. It still being in early access on Steam and one of the main developers (who shall go unnamed) constantly putting his foot in the mouth would seem to be clear indicators of this game failing. But boy oh boy is it an indie darling par excellence!

Corey: The depth of play on a simple concept and intricate interactions of the many mechanics provides a rewarding experience. A true sandbox with a modding community that will support any self imposed goal or desire.

Caff: This deserves to be on the list purely because of the length of time it's been out, the number of updates, the amount of development and modernisation that has gone into it, the passion of the community, the fact it is now a modern and very playable multiple game. A game that most other games aspire to be.

Drew: The only game where misplacing my can opener has killed me.

9. No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky frontiers update - A player on the surface of a yellow grassy planet runs towards a settlement full of buildings

Caff: Fair play to Hello Games for never giving up on this, and making something with at least a hundred hours of content. It's never truly satisfying, but it's perfectly fine and fun for a while - like a garibaldi biscuit.

Calmputer: No Man's Sky has come so far since its release. The new-ish difficulty settings lets you customize exactly how hard you want your experience to be. Explore several trillion planets across hundreds of galaxies.

Gunmetal: Expeditions constantly draw me back to pour more time into the game.

Hawkinson: Low key survival at its finest. Just you, the surprisingly hostile weather, and the odd rogue drone or space pirate. Not a ton of threats, but you need to be ready when they do surface.

Marsican: The version of No Man's Sky that was first released was in my opinion way more interesting that what it has become now. I loved this idea of exploring unknown worlds with unique fauna, flora, landscapes, quietly, on my own. I wished it had dug deeper on this core concept and mainly improved the procedural generation instead of adding features like freighter fleets and base building. There is definitely a repetition of the same base monsters and plants and so on, and you couldn't ignore the game limitations after a while, but for the first dozens of hours, it was such a unique and glorious experience.

Sledgehammer: Great game, well supported, fantastic array of things to do.

Wytefang: An incredible achievement in gaming. Tons to do and see. Exploration has real meaning and value in No Man's Sky and the game systems are also fun and easy to use.

eggsnbeans: Finally becoming good.

Chucklebags: An evergreen game that will always be installed on my PC.

Kalil: What I love about it: There's so much of it... What I hate about it: There's so much of it...

8. The Forest

The player spots three mutants in a grassy plain in The Forest

DuncUK: A close second to Subnautica for me, this switched deep undersea caverns for pitch dark cave networks full of insane cannibals and freakish monsters. The forest itself was incredibly immersive, it is a slight shame that the real horror lurked underground and not within the titular forest, but that's nitpicking. I can't wait to try the sequel when it's out of early access. The one main flaw was that the most powerful equipment in the game was found and not crafted, which slightly took the shine off the crafting system itself. Also the endlessly respawning crash victim luggage was a crutch I ended up leaning on too often. The ending is divisive but I loved it, a proper B-movie oddity that was tonally miles away from the actual game.

Ljotur: Beautiful and manageable. It's pure, tense and fun. I love it.

necurbanapauperem: We built our house on an island near the yacht, far from the cannibals. Forays to the main island were rare and tense affairs. Our boats bristled with resource holders, and even the caves were gentrified. There was a small pub in the modern axe cave, which stalled progression simply because of how satisfying it was to chop with. One of the few survival games we've ever finished on a dedicated server.

roguewithwhimsy: This was one of my best multiplayer experiences with friends. The horror element does add a nice touch. The marketing talks up how the cannibals feel like real people. They do not. But still, the way that they scope out your camp before attacking is a great touch.

7. Minecraft

In-game screenshot of Minecraft showing a character riding a horse.
Image credit: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios

Evolve: Minecraft? Do I really need to describe it? It's a sandbox survival building simulator in a pixelated world. Get some survival mods and enjoy dying against dragons! :)

Ljotur: This is the best. Freedom incarnate, brimming with possibility and beauty. Survival mode is exciting and fascinating

justsomeguy: Spent many many hours with my son exploring and building, and hope to spend many more.

pandiculator: In many ways, Minecraft is the standard of genre against which other survival games are still measured. Less so now, perhaps, but it's hard to talk about great survival games and not mention Minecraft. Satisfyingly creative, Minecraft encourages exploration and building alongside its survival mechanics, and as the game has evolved over its decade of existence, this facet of the game remains unchanged. Different game modes and ways to play mean that different people can enjoy Minecraft for different reasons, but the survival game mode at its core is a creative and interesting experience. One area where this is especially true is solo play: many survival games are miserable solo experiences and great multiplayer ones, but Minecraft is fun in a very different way when played solo.

Detournemented: Hiding in a cave, waiting for daylight to escape mobs, has to be a highlight of my gaming life. I know we take MC for granted now days but when this game out it was an absolute game changer. I spent 100s of hours building bases and discovering new lands.

Caff: The ultimate survive-the-night simulator.

skeletortoise: It's Minecraft.

6. RimWorld

A bloody battle in a RimWorld screenshot.
Image credit: Ludeon Studios

hightouch: Last year Rimworld took the spot of my most played game of all time. The game is a far more approachable but still complex version of Dwarf Fortress more focused on surviving harsh odds than logistics. It's the mods. Go deep, go wild, and never look back.

Intrepid132: There is literally infinite capacity for different stories to emerge. If you somehow get bored of the base game, the incredible modding community has made all of your cannibalistic murder dreams a reality.

JERZYN: Colony simulation at its best. Crazy sophisticated, but the stories it creates can be really amusing and funny. This time when two of my colonists fell in love in the same lama and killed each other out of jealousy. Priceless!

Caff: Absorbing and accessible. Much more personal than Dwarf Fortress, but without the depth.

dashbarron: A beautiful, engaging overworld, player characters, and a lot of fun survival mechanisms to make this fun, plus enough options to offer a lot of unique reply ability. While this is a #1 buy for all survival fans, I feel the end-game content falls off a bit, but if you like to really deep-dive into RPG elements of your characters this one is winner.

Everyone has a story about how their colonist had a mental breakdown and beat another colonist to death with their bare hands then went to lie out on the grass during a toxic rain storm.

explosionforgov: AKA "mad scientist soap opera plot simulator IN SPACE".

Gunmetal: Colony Survival refined to perfection.

John: Everyone has a story about how their colonist had a mental breakdown and beat another colonist to death with their bare hands then went to lie out on the grass during a toxic rain storm.

DoctorDaddy: This feels a little iffy for this genre, but I absolutely adore the way you can forget to close a door and have pack of manhunting elephants over for dinner.

Mike5000: Hundreds of hours of interesting and enjoyable challenges.

MyrddinE: This game took Dwarf Fortress and made it accessible. The deliberate choice to make events NOT random but deliberate pacing nudges was inspired, as well as the decision to limit the size of settlements so that you knew every character in the game and they were not faceless minions.

Smingleigh: A lovely anecdote generator, like the time my three lesbians built a squirrel ranch that kept them fed for a while, until one of the lesbians turned out to be a pyromaniac and the entire place was built out of wood.

sockmoxy: The stories that I can create in my head with little bowling pin people, and the delightful mod-ability, and the kind of weird-west-space vibe is delightful. Also now every time I'm a bit stiff I think, "Ah, yes, muscle parasites."

Zachary C. Sneddon: RimWorld is an endlessly entertaining procedural drama generator.

ThoughtfulSquirrel: This game has never fully clicked with me but I view it as a decent compromise between Dwarf Fortress and accessibility. Another game that has a strong modding scene that improves the game quite a bit.

5. ARK: Survival Evolved

The player aims a bow at a T-Rex, as three others close in with spears and bows.

Dapearl: It is a game that is fun on so many levels. There is if course the survival aspect. Craft, explore, and build on this mysterious island. Uncover the mystery and hunt and tame dinos to assist you!

Blackrook: You get to tame and ride dinos, and then you can paint them!

FancyPants: It is janky. Instead of continuing to add additional dinos, they needed to fix the building to be better. With that said, it’s also gorgeous and I will always have memories of playing it with friends and fearing to go into the forest at night and face off with velociraptors. No other survival game has clicked for me the way this one did.

Kalil: A lot of stuff in this game is utter rubbish - most notably the sociopathic user base/fandom on Steam and the way the game designers cater to them. I'd never, ever, ever consider logging onto a public multiplayer server in this game. But playing out my childhood dinotopia fantasies in a gorgeous single-player or co-op sandbox? That's gold.

matthew mumbrue: Building grand structures and taming dinosaurs? Yes please. The core game was riddled with too many problems to make it super enjoyable, but with custom server settings you were able to make this game entertaining enough to enjoy for many many hours. I with there was a better PVE aspect like Conan Exiles, and a more craft focus like Valheim, but I spent the most hours playing ARK out of all three of these.

: While there's a lot about ARK that is poorly designed or frustrating to understand, it gains an honorable mention for the unmitigated thrill of dinosaurs. Their presence in ARK is awesome, in the truer sense of the word. If a player is able to persist through the aggravation, taming and riding that huge T-Rex for the first time is a thrill not easily replicated, and taps into the fantasies dreamt up by many of us as little children. Too bad so much of the other stuff of the game is based in design choices that seem to run contrary to making the game fun.

roguewithwhimsy: I haven't beat this. I feel like it is too easy to die and lose some work. Still, it is a nice sandbox and the RPG-style level gaining does help with the progress.

Xyvik: Granted, I have only ever played ARK in two-person co-op on a private server with my wife. As such, we have never 'truly' experienced ARK and all it has to offer in island-wide warfare. But that's okay. We play it as a dinosaur-based version of Pokemon: Gotta catch 'em all! Our stints in ARK never last for very long, but we always have a blast survive the initial Dilophosaurus attacks and working our way up to taming a T-Rex, with all the cuties in-between. The lystrosaurus "getting petted" animations are, quite frankly, the most adorable thing in any game ever made.

An Tran: Animal taming is the best!

Sean: It has dinos.

4. Grounded

Grounded character stares over the garden and up towards the oak tree, beneath a blue sky.

DuncUK: A wonderfully inventive Honey I Shrunk the Kids survival game, let down by brutal single player difficulty and tediously basic combat. Don't let the cartoon visuals fool you, this game is HARD on even its easiest difficulty level... and I completed The Forest solo.

Lars Westergren: The environments, the playful mood, and the way it rewards exploration.

Kalil: Pretty and with a good dose of humour - doesn't take itself as seriously as the other entries in the genre.

DocMarten: I loved the whole package, the upgrades, the building was great and the story was cool too.

Bryan Moser: Microscale concept is very fun. Building process is very well done and create many opportunities which are unique to this game. Although it seems more orientated to team play, it's still good in solo.

An Tran: A lovely world, detailed and with many things to do.

Ljotur: Wonderful premise, awesome world, good survival mechanics. Thank God for Arachnophobia mode.

DoctorDaddy: It reminds me that Rick Moranis exists.

3. The Long Dark

A survivor walks through a snowy mountain scene in The Long Dark

Ethan: The Long Dark is easily the best game I have played that creates a reasonably authentic survival experience (from my knowledge, which I grant is not extensive). Someone might look at this game and just see a walking simulator, but the game is so much more than that. Every expenditure from your resources and every long trek you take is a strategic decision. And sometimes those decisions can be really difficult, like deciding whether or not to brave a blizzard to try and find food because you were ill-prepared. I could say so much more about this game, but the genuine survival experience is my highlight.

eggsnbeans: I love that you will always inevitable die, just a matter of when. More games should be like that,.

Corey: The cold beauty of the game coupled with the unforgiving nature of the environment has provided thousands of hours of entertainment.

Cameron B.: Evocative. Challenging. Meditative. Beautiful with a unique art style. Environmental storytelling. It keeps me coming back time and again. A gem.

Fenix: It is the game that I think about the most when I am not playing it. In fact, I haven't played The Long Dark for more than two years now, but I still think of it regularly. The world is just so well made...

Janis Petke: Beautiful and atmospheric survival in the frozen remains of civilization and wilderness.

Bryan Moser: First game where I am more likely to end a run because of a lack of food/water/warmth. Loved sandbox over the story mode, but both were exceptional. The Long Dark continued support with the upcoming season pass it has given it a good lifespan too. Also, no zombies or modern combat is a plus. Really feels believable.

O healey: It's un-forgiving brutal nature, a true hard-core survival sim.

Bobtux: Canadian simulator.

Cut: Atmosphere! (but those wolves can just fuck right off)

2. Valheim

Valheim - A player in armor standing next to a maypole covered in greenery inside a small village.

cpt_freakout: Survival is a myth. It’s a fantasy of eternal return, every reincarnation a promise of mastery over life. Valheim turns that fantasy into a series of trials, but quickly undercuts the need to prove oneself a hero: what if I use this reincarnation to make a farm and raise hogs? What if I use the peak of this mountain to build a castle? What if I just set sail into adventure and forget about the past? This game, in the end, is about the childish wonder of (re)discovering what your imagination can do with its rules – your survival just a bunch of mad, beautiful stories, an entire mythology of its own.

Bobtux: Nailed the survival genre without boring bars.

DoctorDaddy: There's a certain, difficult-to-quantify charm to the lo-fi aesthetic, a pervasive sense of mystery to the world that makes each first venture into a new biome exciting and terrifying, and a slight jank to the build system that makes each construction project its own adventure.

Blackrook: Beautiful but low res graphics, nice progression of bosses and difficulty.

Evolve: It's Minecraft in a modern old Viking vibe. You have the freedom to do anything in the world. The world is big and very interesting, the combat is absolute fun with the sounds and as example the backstab mechanic. The skill system with learning by doing is very good and you can really feel how your character improves over time with damage speed or jump height / distance... And the best thing is to get three to five people and play some Valheim, you'd be try-harding and having fun for one to two weeks and then let go off the game for half a year and repeat it, but now more intensive because you know how the game works! 10/10 Experience. The worst thing you can have are friends who say this is boring, because they only play griefer games like Rust or heavy PvP games... THEY CAN'T really enjoy a good Viking game.

Being out on a raft in the ocean gives me genuine fear.

Fenix: It is just so peaceful, but also brutal at times. Loved my time building bases in it.

Cut: Atmosphere (I've never felt wetter or more lonely).

Dapearl: Survival in the mystical land of Norse mythology. Dunno what else to say.

Gunmetal: One of my favorite games of all time was EverQuest because when you died there was a fear you might not get your items back, it made every decision feel like it mattered. Valheim is the only other game to give me that same feeling. I like the progression loop, but being out on a raft in the ocean gives me genuine fear.

Players encounter the Dvergr for the first time in Valheim Mistlands.
A group of Vikings in Valheim battle against a Stone Golem.

Joel MacDonald: Unlike most survival games, Valheim respects your time. Your gear never disappears when you die, the crafting bars are minimal, mining and chopping take less than five swings, and there are no failed attempts at anything. No invisible rolls behind the scenes deciding if what you are crafting actually turns out. It is fast and fun. This is the only survuval game where I HAVEN'T fallen asleep at my keyboard waiting to light a fire. Not to mention how fast and seamless the building is in the game. I love building my compound and checking out community builds online.

matthew mumbrue: Yes please, the extra focus in progression through PvE is kinda neat, I enjoyed the more casual aspects of this game and PvE focus.

JonnyCigarettes: Total freedom of agenda in the most beautifully lit world in gaming. It's simple enough that I can play it with both my son and my father (who have built a crap wooden shack and an entire medieval village respectively), but it's not afraid to offer genuine challenge throughout. Troll with a stone axe, anyone?

MyrddinE: This game is an amazing debut by an indie team, and its atmosphere and balance is so spot on. Their progression is similar to many other games (such as Terraria), but they did a better job of it than I've ever seen before. The graphics, despite being deliberately low res, are so atmospheric and artistic that they can be breathtaking.

Jone991: Well, this game is like Terraria but in 3D, so it's fun to play, and building in this game is almost as good as in Minecraft.

Valheim - New foods for the Hearth & Home update such as cooked boar meat are displayed on two tables beside a viking player.
A long and arduous quest across a huge world doesn't have to interrupt my personal quest to build the largest, most spectacular mead hall ever seen across the ten worlds.

pandiculator: Beautiful, and crafted with very smart design, Valheim learned many lessons from preceding survival games. Perhaps no lesson more important than 'make the mundane fun,' chopping down trees and gathering berries is not a tiresome chore but a charming part of playing the game. Valheim's trim but efficient progression, tied to food and cooking as much as finding the next metal, also keeps things interesting through some not-so-straightforward paths. Plus, excellent multiplayer, great ships and water, and joyful discovery make Valheim a supreme survival game.

Paul L: It's the perfect balance of realistic and fantasy. It's tough but not so harsh that you have to spend every second grubbing for resources so you can just enjoy the world sometimes. Its private servers also mean you can play privately with your mates AND its building systems let you build some amazing stuff. It's magic basically.

Sentegraphs: I'll always remember when I decided to chart a path to the second boss in Valheim. I played with a group of six people, including myself. While they worked at our base, I trekked north, carrying with me the tools for a portal and raft. It was absolutely mystifying. I had no idea if I would survive or not, and no idea what was in store for me. I made it, and upon building the portal back to base, felt incredible relief at having completed my self-appointed task. There were other moments of discovery (my first encounter with a Leviathan is one) that will make this game always stick with me.

A friendly named lox in a Valheim: Hearth & Home update screenshot.

Smingleigh: A long and arduous quest across a huge world doesn't have to interrupt my personal quest to build the largest, most spectacular mead hall ever seen across the ten worlds.

rpsiscool: Valheim makes survival less of a chore than most survival games and instead uses it as an incentive to explore its breathtaking world.

Xyvik: Fun fact: people don't have to eat and drink every 4.57 seconds in order to survive. Valheim took the most annoying parts of survival games and reworked them into a brilliant system that encourages exploration and experimentation. Another point in its favor: the weather system is amazingly thematic and actually impacts gameplay. Never before has being on a boat during a storm been so awe-inspiring and terrifying to me. So many little things about the game combine to make it an amazing leap forward for the survival genre.

Stromko: It most perfectly captures the sense of going from danger to coziness and back again, which for me is the heart of what makes survival games fun. Even though I hardly ever get to the Marshes because the Black Forest is scary enough as it is, I had so much fun just starting over and making a cabin and a rain-proof chimney all over again.

necurbanapauperem: 1905.8 hours played over three dedicated server worlds. Some 8000 Valheim days. The oldest we recently sent an archaeological team back to for artefacts to display in the most recent, which is an in-game action unique to Valheim. I have raged at update delays, bargained on Steam reviews, and come to accept the slow release. Even now I have done everything, it is still the top subject of conversion on our discord, and we're planning our gaming year around when it will next release.

1. Subnautica

Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Zachary C. Sneddon: Subnautica scratches my burning itch to be Jacques Cousteau. The art design, the sound design, the storytelling, the pacing, the lack of weaponry forcing creative solutions to the game's challenges, the simulation of aquatic alien ecosystems; I absolutely adore everything about this game. Playing it in VR was a sublime, transcendent experience. For my money, Subnautica is game design perfection; it's not just my favorite survival game, it's tied for the title of my favorite game ever.

Smingleigh: A game filled with danger and death that nevertheless makes me feel incredibly free.

Vacuity729: About the only survival game that's ever clicked for me, and boy, how it clicked! I went into the game expecting to dislike it as much as any other survival game, but it was warm, welcoming, wet, of course, and awash with mystery and lurking danger. It entices you to swim a little further, a little deeper. And so, deeper you go to find your fate.

It was warm, welcoming, wet, of course, and awash with mystery and lurking danger. It entices you to swim a little further, a little deeper. And so, deeper you go to find your fate.

Sledgehammer: Atmospheric, original and deliberately constrictive by not relying on big weapons. A great and original setting.

MyrddinE: This game is so beautiful. It has such a unique vibe, and I played it from early EA to live, and it was fascinating to watch the change in focus from the dev team as they responded to player feedback. It's a wonderful mix of relaxing and stressful that really resonates with me.

Xyvik: No other game in my 30+ years of gaming has made me want to "experience for the first time again" as much as Subnautica. Scuba-diving is an activity I have wanted to partake in my entire life, but sinus and lung diseases prevent me from dipping below the surface into my favorite biome on the planet. Subnautica lets me stay beneath the waves. It lets me watch the plant and animal life as they co-exist. Watching the rays of sunlight splinter through the caustic wave patterns and mellow into the green of the kelp forests is among the most relaxing, soul-healing things I have ever done in life, game or not.

Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

hightouch: I never bothered to get back around to playing the story once it was done. This game nails the feeling of trying to survive after a shipwreck on a foreign world, mixed with a bit of dread, and the atmosphere is incredible. RIP all the bubblefish that kept me alive.

TheAngriestHobo: Few games manage the ebb and flow of tension quite so masterfully as Subnautica. I think it works largely because the player sets the tempo that works for them: the depths will always be dark and frightening, but you choose how often you return to your comfortable, brightly lit submarine. You choose where to build little sanctuaries in the gloom. The game is also filled with all these little moments of beauty that don't get talked about a lot. There's this one rare and random natural phenomenon that will take your breath away when it happens - I don't want to spoil it, so all I'll say is that even though it's something we've all experienced in real life, it initially terrified me until I realized what was going on. It's not at all something you'd expect in a game like this and it adds nothing but ambience, but to this day it's still one of my most vivid memories of Subnautica. For those painfully curious: it's a solar eclipse.

Nic: Nothing gives you the feeling of initial terror followed by familiarity. Then followed by, "Oh hell what was that thing? SWIM AWAY!"

A fully realized world with an incredible, albeit slow-burning story, and sleek, fun gameplay mechanics that puts every other survival game to shame.

Lars Westergren: The environments. From the shallow coral-reef likes, the pelagic openness, the terrifying abyssal depths. Tbe satisfying base building and crafting.

Tex G: Just enough story to give you direction while giving you space to explore at your own pace. Lots of “Oh wow!” moments when finding new sights followed by “Oh ****!” as you bump into dangerous creatures.

Greglefox: Beautiful environments within a well built adventure, I cannot hold my breath long enough.

Wytefang: A fully realized world with an incredible, albeit slow-burning story, and sleek, fun gameplay mechanics that puts every other survival game to shame, except perhaps No Man's Sky.

Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Littlejuankenobi: I've always loved the ocean, so being able to explore a beautiful, detailed alien ocean has been a gaming dream come true. The world, the music, the gradual progression, and the story breadcrumbs make thisna must play in my opinion. The only aggravation was the texture pop-in.

FancyPants: Pinnacle of success. One of the few games that I put off completing the final mission to just enjoy the amazing oceans they had built.

John: A genre-defining, masterpiece of sci-fi media set on one of the most interesting fictional planets I have ever encountered. The gameplay is so rich and the lore so fascinating that it seems a shame to ever leave Planet 4546b.

Nothing gives you the feeling of initial terror followed by familiarity. Then followed by, "Oh hell what was that thing? SWIM AWAY!"

Godwhacker: Subnautica doesn't just do survival, it also manages to fit in a story and a good dose of actual horror, all in a setting that hadn't really been attempted before. I usually find survival games a bit aimless, but Subnautica gives you something to do and lets you work out how to do it.

Ethan: I think Subnautica has one of the best atmospheres I have seen in a game. The audio in particular sells the sense of being in an underwater alien environment and, when combined with the distinct music tracks for each environment, swings almost perfectly between being relaxing in the safe areas and then creating a sense of dread in the dangerous ones. The other thing I love about Subnautica is how the story and exploration blend together. So often in open-world games exploration feels like a side activity to the main quest, whereas in Subnautica, exploration is the main quest.

Don Reba: Despite, or maybe thanks to, its pacifism, Subnautica has incredible psychological depth, channelling wonder and dread. It really created a sense of being on a beautiful and dangerous alien planet for me.

pandiculator: The best horror game on PC, Subnautica, works because of its sense of being finite. The small map, clearly marked story with a defined end, and single-player focus give a sense of boundary that benefits its design. The map, being human-made rather than generated, allows for a greater sense of detail and care, from claustrophobic caverns to the increasing terror as the player moves from the safety of the shallows. What Subnautica also gets right, though, is the story, which gives just enough information as to act as a motivating force against the fear of exploring and draws the player out of the beautiful shallows into the progress of the game.

dglenny: Once I finally got over (mostly) my thalassophobia and put in the yards to learn this game, I was hooked. Such depth (ho ho), such world-building. I do seem to be the only person who prefers the Sea-Truck to the honking big submarine, though.

Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

DuncUK: This is a game that balances survival, exploration, horror and tech progression perfectly into a compelling package. By being a primarily weaponless game it avoided the inevitable combat tedium and jank that plagues most survival games, you never stop feeling vulnerable and it neatly exposes the fear of the sea you didn't know you had. It had beautiful tranquil locations, terrifying exotic depths and exciting alien structures to find and explore. It cleverly mixed the thrill of exploration with the excitement of what new things you will find to take back to your base for analysis, as well as wondering what weird new creatures you might encounter. I was genuinely sad to be taking off from the planet at the end of the story, saying goodbye to the virtual home I knew I'd probably never return to. I just wish the VR mode worked better, my short time playing that was incredibly immersive yet frustratingly unplayable.

Detournemented: Gorgeous and unique setting. The story elements hold the game together without being too intrusive. The wildlife is amazing and so are the vehicles you use to interact with the environment. Absolutely polished game play that elicits genuine terror on your first play through. Replay value is suspect after you have seen everything the games has to offer.

It lures me in with the beautiful and relatively safe shallows, then it entices me to going deeper, little by little... Then I get eaten whole by a sea monster. 10/10 game, would have a panic attack again.

JERZYN: It gives an amazing sense of exploration and has a good dose of mystery. First part also has great pacing where the game gives you goals and direct what to do.

Corey: The original was so novel in the type of environment you were fighting and the fear of the deep dark depths and what they may hold provided many memorable moments.

Calmputer: I have a phobia of deep dark waters, but this game is just so pretty. It lures me in with the beautiful and relatively safe shallows, then it entices me to going deeper, little by little... Then I get eaten whole by a sea monster. 10/10 game, would have a panic attack again.

Rincechicken: There's a real sense of progress, with everything being terrifying initially, but becoming homely in time. It's not just survival, but tells a great story in a truely beautiful setting. It does this with the lightest of touches; a message from here, a base over there, with freedom to explore anywhere yourself. Plus it all ends with a banging tune.

c0mc0: I've played games for 30+ years and few games have ever instilled me with a sense of awe and wonder but simultaneously fear and terror the way Subnautica does. And it does it not with manufactured jump scares or horror, but with a living, breathing world filled with creatures going about their lives and responding to threats and prey around them.

A screenshot from Subnautica showing a crabsquid looming over a submarine
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

bills6693: I spent the first 2-3 minutes of the game too scared to jump off my lifepod into the water! From that to rapidly backpaddling as some beast lumbers towards me, from decking out my base to exploring some facinating new biome, and from watching my oxygen as I explore a wreck to watching an underwater waterfall, Subnautica is the most fun I've had underwater (and I've spent amount of time under the waves as it is!).

Bryan Moser: Amazing sounds and visuals. Shows that almost anyone can have some amount of thalassophobia. Constant fear of running out of oxygen is the greatest psychological element of this game. Base building is very well done and gives purpose as opposed to being mostly cosmetic in other games.

Anon: It is perfect in every way. The survival aspect is present, without being crippling. The environment is the best I've seen in a survival game, and in many normal games. The pace is expertly done, tied to the depth you can reach at any given time. There is a story, but you have to discover it for yourself, and an actual and surprisingly satisfying ending. The atmosphere is PERFECT. The music is great. The base crafting is wonderful, particularly when paired with the amazing views. It is by far the best survival game I have played, and one of the best games I have played, period. I think I have played through the entire game at least five times, which is something that is unheard of since my days on 8 bit and 16 bit consoles. A triumph of gaming.

Chucklebags: I've never been so happily terrified in such a chill game.

thetime: Seeing the rescue space shuttle go down was traumatic in real life. 10/10, will swim again.

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