What are the best PC survival games? From PUBG and DayZ to Ark, here are the genre's finest titles, featuring the biggest Steam and free games, plus a few surprises.
The survival game genre has exploded over the last few years, with the Steam charts filled with all kinds of varied examples. To help bewildered adventurers, we've gathered together the best survival games to help you pick and choose which emergent stories and unexpected adventures to undertake.
Outlasted these survival games and hungry for more? Check out the best upcoming PC games to find out more about 2018's most exciting titles.
There are a great many excellent survival titles out there, with a huge percentage being unfinished in Early Access, and others being cheap and nasty cash-ins. If you've got the grit to outlast the likes of the terrifying Alien: Isolation or the underwater wonder of Subnautica, our picks will help steer you towards the (not so) safe pastures of the best survival games on PC. Get ready to endure agony and plenty of pain in these scintillating survival adventures.
Here are the best survival games:
- PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
- Ark: Survival Evolved
- Conan Exiles
- Don't Starve
- The Long Dark
- This War of Mine
- Alien: Isolation
- Resident Evil 4 HD
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is one of the best multiplayer survival games around. It may not be the first battle royale title, but with Fornite, it's by far the most popular. And with good reason. PUBG nails the tense encounters that a battle to be the last survivor standing is all about - check out our PUBG tips and tricks on how to win to improve your chances of nabbing some tasty virtual poultry.
100 players go into a PUBG match, and only one can come out victorious. There are plenty of valid ways to get the infamous ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ endgame screen; you could aggressively hunt down foes like the Predator, hide and wait it out as long as possible until everyone else has whittled down the competition, or create confusing crossfires to take advantage of.
It’s the survival game that makes a large amount of your Battle Royale and Hunger Games fantasies come true, minus the archery and gaudy fashion. Making up for that is a map based on the Arma lineage, so that means jeeps to cruise around in and houses to turn into makeshift sniper dens. Play a few matches, try the hardest-hitting PUBG weapons, and you’ll soon see why it’s the Twitch darling of survival games.
Ark isn't just the best dinosaur survival game you can buy, it's arguably the greatest dino game ever made. After all, prehistoric beasties make everything better. Like bacon and nutella, it’s a known fact that adding dinosaurs instantly improves everything by several hundred percent. This is exactly what Studio Wildcard did with Ark: Survival Evolved. At its core it’s a survival game that fills every edge of the template: punch trees to get wood, use wood to build shelter, kill animals to find food, inevitably die because you forgot to drink water. Yet Ark transcends the typical survival game pattern by including leathery leviathans that both want to hunt and eat you, but with some perseverance, you can also tame and ride.
Everything Ark does is rock-solid. The survival elements may be similar to what you’ve played before, but they’re the bedrock for the game’s more ambitious elements (and a strong Ark mods scene). Your character has RPG-like stats, and you can head into the world to hunt sci-fi secrets that offer a little more incentive to play rather than just ‘stay alive’.
It’s these various promises that make playing Ark worthwhile: other survival games rely on you being satisfied with making it through the night, whereas Studio Wildcard sets you long-term goals such as ‘tame and ride a T-Rex’. Having a true sense of progression and aims make your time in Ark feel valuable, and that’s something many other survival adventures struggle with.
The one that kicked it all off. This shuffling undead treat remains the king of zombie survival games. By today's standards, DayZ could even be considered one of the leanest virtual survivors, with barely any crafting to speak of, and no objectives beyond staying alive. Food and water are vitally important, and getting sick can quickly kill you should you fail to pay attention to your symptoms. Walking without shoes cuts and infects your feet, and blood transfusions of the wrong type will see you slip away for good.
If you’re content with fighting against disease, bodily functions, and zombies who occasionally phase through walls, you'll get to DayZ’s best feature: exploration. The world of Chernarus is a Soviet wasteland, and Bohemia has captured that Eastern Bloc atmosphere with the towns and villages around the map. DayZ's forests feel genuinely life-like rather than being man-made imitations, while there's a true sense of isolation out in the wilderness.
It’s best played with a friend or two; a camping trip where things could go horribly wrong. And by 'horribly wrong', we mean being captured by a gang of bandits who will force feed you bleach and make off with your can-opener. So yeah, proceed with extreme caution.
If you're after the best crafting survival game out there, look no further than Minecraft. At some point, it seems someone decided survival was all about gruelling punishment, sloth-like progression, and murdering anyone who isn’t you. But before the big survival blow-out on Steam we had Minecraft: a fun, colourful, creative survival sandbox. Sure, there are zombies that will eat your face, and spiders, skeletons and dragons, but with Minecraft skins, you at least always end up blocky and cute. No one minds a cartoon monster having you for breakfast.
More importantly, though, the way you survive in Minecraft is entirely up to you. You could build an elaborate fortress and play a defence-style game, fending off the creatures of the night. Or you could craft exciting weaponry and venture out into the most dangerous zones of the world, testing both your mettle and metal. The world is literally endless and filled with amazing natural wonders just begging to be explored. Just remember to eat something every now and again, and you’ll be fine.
We spend so much time focusing on the game's creative side and Minecraft mods, and all the amazing possibilities out there, we sometimes forget that the vanilla Survival Mode is just as exciting in its own way. And if you really want to make an automated mining production line in Survival Mode, don’t let us stop you. Just make sure the creepers don't put a spanner in your works.
With the huge success of games like DayZ, it was only a matter of time before a licensed IP decided to give the survival genre a try. Taking its cue from one of the best PC games you can play right now in Dark Souls 3, Conan Exiles shunts you into the Hyborian Age as everyone's favourite barbarian looks to duff people up and avoid death.
The set up is largely familiar - grow crops, build settlements, club enemies to death - but Conan has a back-of-the-box-bullet point that none of the competition can claim: human sacrifice. Should you be able to wrestle someone to an altar and butcher them, you can invoke the favour of the gods and shift the balance of power your way. That unique concept sets Conan Exiles apart from the pack.
This grim tale of endurance has become infamous for its naked men - but it’s not the size of a man’s particulars that is impressive about Facepunch’s survival game (and we all know that doesn’t matter anyway… right?). No, it’s the forts that players are able to, ahem, erect. Rust’s strong point is construction: as you gather materials from its wilderness, you can begin to lay down a variety of items in a Sims-like manner, creating your perfect rural retreat by slotting together floors, walls, staircases, and windows.
While there are many servers where the traditional shoot-on-sight mentality exists, Rust has plenty of havens for those looking for a more civilised lifestyle. You can find player-created towns, complete with attempts at government, trading, and even prisons. It’s one of the nicest reminders that if people pull together and share their resources, fantastic achievements can be made.
Rust underwent a massive overhaul that saw most of the original game scrapped in favour of a slightly new approach and completely new base code. The change ripped out quite a lot of the game’s core features, such as zombies and rad towns, but over time they’ve gradually been reapplied alongside new ideas. Rust remains one of the most played games on Steam, and understandably so.
The most horrifying idea of actual survival is having to do it on your lonesome. That’s exactly what Don’t Starve makes you do, as it's an entirely solo experience. The terror of having to fend for yourself in the wild is thankfully offset by the lovely Tim Burton-style 2D art, and the collection of utterly bizarre creatures that are lurking in this sepia-tone world. Werepigs, Beargers, Deerclopses, and many more absurd monsters roam the land looking to make things difficult for you.
Don’t Starve focuses heavily on crafting to make your way through life, and so much of your time is spent harvesting raw materials. But rather than crafting houses like in Rust and Minecraft, Don’t Starve is all about the tools and contraptions you can make. The Science Machine and Alchemy Engine will become your best friends, before making way for ancient wonders and the art of magic. Like Minecraft, Don’t Starve happily embraces the mad and the mystical, and is all the more enjoyable for it.
If all this sounds wonderful, but you don’t want to harvest twigs and dry grass on your own, Don’t Starve Together also lets you play with a friend, and it's actually one of the best co-op games on PC.
With its dreamy underwater setting and compelling gameplay loop, Subnautica is one of the best exploration survival games on PC. Subnautica is much more hopeful than many survival adventures. Sure, you’re a lonely man lost at sea on an alien planet, but it’s a game all about terraforming your new environment and making unfamiliar ground your home.
The art direction helps push the idea of hope home, with bright and shiny technologies, beautifully blue oceans, and schools of tropical fish filling your vision at every turn. You explore the ocean depths in your submarine, searching for new materials in marine trenches and among coral reefs. And when you’ve found everything you need, you can begin to construct bases on the ocean floor.
The game’s survival elements include the food and water requirements that most games in the genre do, but there’s obviously a more pressing issue in Subnautica: oxygen. You can’t breathe sea water, so your oxygen levels and consumption have to be on your mind at all times. Seeing as you're continually threatened with the prospect of drowning, you really should read our Subnautica guide to ensure you squeeze every last drop out of your diver's life. Every survival game has the ominous shadow following you around, but here it’s simply good old O2.
This chilly adventure is similar to most of the games mentioned above. Though unlike other titles on this list, The Long Dark has a fairly interesting story mode (called Wintermute) to sink your teeth into.
Set in the bitter cold of northern Canada, The Long Dark trades zombies for bears, and tropical islands for deadly snow drifts. Mother Nature is your true adversary here, and to combat her you’ll need to keep your calorie count up, your body hydrated, and a flame roaring whenever you curl up for the night.
The stylish aesthetic makes it quite an arty game, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is something that slows the pace and forces you to think long and hard about what you’ve done. The Long Dark is a true, challenging survival game with real bite.
For all the stress that some survival games can press on you, nothing compares to the harrowing 2D adventure. As you'll find out in our This War of Mine review, the game offers a very different breed of survival. It’s a depiction of a group of civilians’ struggling to stay alive in their war-ravaged country. Trapped in a besieged house, pinned down by snipers, and attacked by other survivors looking to take what you’ve found, it’s a game of traumatic decisions and life-or-death consequences.
Each of your randomly-generated survivors have backstories, providing them with abilities for survival. Ex-firemen are fitter and stronger, while those who used to cook professionally can now feed the starving. But heading out into the world to find the things you need - medicine, ingredients, scrap to make beds - could bring you face-to-face with those willing to kill. And turning a survivor into a murderer leads to misery, depression, and - if not treated well - suicide.
It’s a bleak existence, and making what seems to be the obvious right decision at one point in time can lead to disastrous conclusions. The end of the war constantly seems like a pipe-dream, and everyone will probably be dead before you get there. If you think you can live with yourself in such dire circumstances, though, this a must-play.
Meet the best survival horror game of the last five years. Like Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi masterpiece, Alien: Isolation is a master at brewing up suspense and tension; steadily building anxiety and fear in its cast of characters over its first half, before engaging in a terrifying game of hide-and-seek in its second. Remarkably, Creative Assembly managed to take this structure and apply it to a lengthy video game almost flawlessly. As you'll see in our Alien: Isolation review, it's one of the best film-to-game adaptations of all time.
‘Isolation’ is the key theme: you’re stuck on a massive space station with barely another human to help you out, and stalking you at all times is a single, powerful, seemingly unkillable xenomorph. Armed with little more than your wits, you need to escape and work out how to destroy the barb-tailed monstrosity without being pulled kicking-and-screaming into an air vent. The game’s AI provides an enemy that learns and adapts to your actions, making it seem truly alive and hell-bent on your destruction. And if you want to utterly shred your nerves, Isolation also proves to be one of the best VR games on PC.
Capcom's masterful survival horror really doesn't feel like it's over a decade old. And thanks to a sprinkle of HD magic, this high-resolution makeover makes Resident Evil 4 fresher than ever. Well, as fresh as a game about decomposing cultists can be. Perhaps it’s because the over-the-shoulder shooting influenced a generation of games we’re still playing. More likely, it’s because Resident Evil 4 is one of the creepiest, most atmospheric, and simply one of the best horror games on PC.
As floppy-haired Leon S. Kennedy, you’ll be escorting the President’s daughter through shadowy villages of pitchfork-wielding maniacs, exploring a gloomy mansion estate ruled by a bonkers Napoleon-wannabe, and assaulted by massive brutes with chainsaws. As the stakes rise, Leon’s inability to walk and shoot at the same time injects panic and tension into the game.
Since its release, subsequent Resident Evil games have spun increasingly absurd plots with more emphasis on Call of Duty-like action. Thankfully, Resident Evil 7 brought the series crashing back down to the slower pace and distinctly creepy tone of Resident Evil 4, which is still a high point for the series, and one of the best survival horrors you can terrify yourself with today.
Most survival games put you through pain, misery, and eventually death, but this upcoming adventure is looking to do something different. LIFE wants its players to experience freedom, joy, and happiness. The game celebrates the natural world, and the more you contribute to it - growing crops, being respectful of its creatures - the more vibrant it appears.
Should you play without respect, though, LIFE’s world will change to reflect your hostilities. The colours become desaturated, clouds block out the light, and music fades. The world gradually becomes an unpleasant and depressing place to be in.
LIFE is an incredibly interesting take on a concept that’s traditionally emphasised survival as being a brutal affair, rather than the beauty of co-existing with the natural world.
That's it, you've survived! Whether battling a ruthless xeno aboard Alien: Isolation's Sevastopol or outlasting 99 other players with the help of our PUBG tips, the above titles aren't just deliciously tense; they're some of the best PC games available. As you wait for 2018's best upcoming PC games to hit Steam, why not get familiar with some of the survival sensations above. Just remember to keep a calm head and take regular deep breaths. Do that, and survival is assured.