Technically speaking, almost all video games are survival games. If you can die, your goal is, with very rare exceptions, to avoid doing that. However, the survival genre takes that to an extreme level. Rather than just needing to worry about getting shot, stabbed, or falling off a pit, survival games up the realism by incorporating many other systems that other genres ignore for the sake of convenience. While it would be incredibly annoying and intrusive to need to worry about getting hungry and thirsty while fighting a dragon or collecting coins, in a survival game these things become satisfying challenges to overcome.
The PS5 has plenty of high-profile games, with plenty more on the way from their major studios and third parties, but survival games don’t always get the same level of exposure as they deserve. Some come from much smaller teams, while others only come to consoles long after being released, or in early access, on other platforms. Thanks to backward compatibility, though, the amount of high-quality titles in this genre available on PS5 is at an all-time high. Between all the different settings, systems, perspectives, and more, survival games can vary greatly within their own genre. To help you uncover the one you’ll like most, we rounded up all the best survival games for the
Subnautica: Below Zero
If there’s one thing survival games should do, it’s to make you actually afraid. Yeah, hunger, thirst, and other meters ticking down can stress you out, but ultimately it’s the environment you’re trying to survive in, or the things trying to kill you, that make it an actually frightening experience. That’s part of what makes Subnautica: Below Zero such a fantastic survival game. Not only is the setting of a planet that is effectively one giant ocean unique to … well … just about any game, but also perfectly tickles that uncomfortable part of our brains that is afraid of what might be lurking below the surface of the water. Because this is an alien world, we can’t even try to rationalize with ourselves, either, because there very well could be a giant monster down there for all we know.
The power curve in this game is really quite refreshing. As you get more powerful, which really just means more capable and able to explore further, you are also forced to start exploring areas you may not want to. It’s great to be able to stay underwater longer, but that means you’ll need to dive down into that underwater cave with who knows what inside, or if you’ll be able to get back to the surface before you eventually do run out of air. That makes the bases you build all the more meaningful. These are the few places you can really feel safe and relaxed, and they’re completely your own creation.
The Forest takes the basic premise of a show like Lost, where you’re a survivor of a plane crash on a mysterious island with way more going on than meets the eye, but somehow makes it even more harsh. We won’t spoil the details of the plot, which plenty of survival games don’t even bother with, but it is a refreshing change of pace to have a goal in mind when attempting to survive against both the elements and hostile forces out to get you. It is a great way to push you outside your comfort zone, literally and figuratively, and experience the tension of exploration and combat. A forested island setting isn’t terribly unique, but that’s just how the game begins. A large amount of the game involves diving into a deep network of caves that require different items and tools to progress further and further into.
Survival mechanics are your standard fare. You need to eat and drink, plus manage any injuries, and craft all kinds of weapons and armor. You’ll be beset by tribes of cannibals that are quite dynamic and intelligent. They will approach cautiously, sometimes not even attacking unless you show aggression. Their designs are genuinely unsettling, especially when you only get faint glimpses of them standing just on the edge of your light source among the shadows of the trees. Even ignoring the main story, there are tons of materials to collect, structures and objects to build, and places to explore in The Forest. The only rough edge is in the inventory system, which is presented as all your items dumped out of your bag onto a tarp. This can make locating things, especially when you need ingredients for crafting, much more cumbersome and time-consuming than if it were a traditional grid or list system.
7 Days to Die
It wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, but 7 Days to Die is certainly among the best survival games set in the zombie apocalypse. Technically this game is still in early access but has been in development since 2013. While it is still getting plenty of content and technical updates, that much development time has made a game more than worth putting on this list. The core idea is as simple as they come: you spawn into a world overrun by zombies and need to find a way to survive as long as possible. The generated worlds are brimming with places to explore, from neighborhoods, lone cabins in the woods, to cities and factories. Adventuring with friends is especially fun and exciting.
On the other end of things, you also have a ton of RPG mechanics to help curve the survival mechanics. You earn XP for just about everything, though killing zombies is worth more than most low risk actions, and you can even take on quests for rewards. This is one of the more brutal games, with things like disease and sickness, temperature, and of course hunger and thirst all being quite lethal if left unattended. Then there are the zombies, which are manageable during the day but can, and will, overwhelm you when night falls. Oh, and make sure you’ve built up your base and character for a giant swarm that attacks every seventh day.
Not all survival games need to be brutal. In fact, the casual nature of Minecraft’s survival mechanics, should you even choose to play with them, are part of what makes the game so endearing. By now this juggernaut of a title is among the most recognizable games ever made, specifically for it being an open sandbox you can do just about anything in. That includes playing it as a survival experience, which is essentially the “main” game. There are optional goals and things you can do to make this more difficult, but you can also just play it as a more relaxed experience, though you will likely become so strong early on that most, if not all, the normal threats in the game will become negligible and mundane.
So why is Minecraft still one of the best survival games? Because of how malleable of an experience it is. If you want to build up an impenetrable fortress and set up defenses that not only kill any incoming threats but also automatically collect and distribute their loot, you can do it. If you want to challenge yourself to not stay in one base for more than one night and fight all the end game bosses without dying, that’s an option, too. So is everything in between, whether solo or with friends.
Rust has a lot in common with 7 Days to Die. Both entered early access in 2013 and have similar visual styles and hardcore survival mechanics, but Rust has actually seen an official release. Regardless, it is still getting just as many updates and patches as it was prior to launch. The biggest difference between these two survival games is the main threat. In 7 Days to Die you (and your friends if you decided to play online) had endless hoards of zombies to contend with while trying to survive. In Rust, it is primarily other players that will be your greatest obstacle. There’s no single-player mode in this game, so you’re never safe from another player, or gang of players, rolling up and stealing everything you have.
Starting out, you only have a rock and a torch, which are the bare minimum tools you need to start building yourself up. You need to secure sources of food, water, shelter, clothing, as well as avoid radioactive areas. Dangerous wildlife can be a big problem early on, and solo survivors don’t generally get very far. The key to a long life in Rust is to form alliances and band together to pool resources and make yourselves a tougher target for groups looking to raid weaker players. Or, you can do the raiding and steal all the supplies you need. It’s a harsh world out there, which sometimes calls for being a little ruthless yourself.
ARK: Survival Evolved
ARK: Survival Evolved mixes the ancient and futuristic into one survival package. Think the Turok franchise, only with survival elements, and you have a pretty good idea of what this game is. You can play either solo or online, as well as from either a first- or third-person perspective, and are set on a massive world called the Ark full of prehistoric creatures. You start off as somewhat of a primitive yourself, as you often do in these games, but can eventually work your way up to blasting lasers and constructing bases. Since its release there have been five paid DLC packs, with potentially more on the way, adding in new maps, technology, events, resources, and creatures. It also includes a very in-depth RPG system for leveling, end game bosses, and hundreds of things to do in between.
The main way ARK: Survival Evolved differentiates itself, the dinosaurs, are more than just a replacement for normal wildlife in other survival games. The over 170 creatures that inhabit the Ark are completely dynamic, with an entire ecosystem built on which are predators and which are prey. For the most part, you are prey, but a major component and draw to this game is the ability to tame most dinosaurs for your own use. This isn’t easy, and it will take hours before you can even try to tame the the dinosaurs which only appear at max level. This is another game you’ll want to party up with some friends in to ease the load of surviving, gathering resources, and fighting off dinosaurs and other players until you get a decent foothold in the world.
The common description of Terraria being “2D Minecraft” isn’t necessarily wrong, but Terraria did come out before the hit block-based building game just to give credit where it’s due. In fact, the differences between the two have only gotten smaller as Minecraft has evolved to follow more closely in Terraria’s footsteps. This is a game with timeless pixel art about building up a base, supplies, weapons, and all that but with more of a purpose than most survival games. Sure, you can completely ignore the main goals if you want and just deal with the threats that come during the night as need be while building your dream castle or whatever, but the bulk of the fun is challenging all the bosses this game has.
Bosses are big, dangerous, and even well-hidden behind cryptic puzzles. The combat is fairly basic, but the bosses all feel fair once you learn their unique mechanics and gimmicks, plus give you very powerful rewards to improve your character. Most survival games with crafting have a lot of items to find and craft, but Terraria may just have the most. The difference between your character in hour 1 and hours 15, 20, and beyond are almost indistinguishable. The game itself can last dozens of hours, but the amount of fan support this game has had over its long life means you can essentially add new mods to play it almost endlessly.
Is there a more fitting name for a survival game than Don’t Starve? This quirky little title has one of the most unique aesthetics of any game on this list. Rather than go for harsh realism or completely stylistic pixel art, Don’t Starve is almost papercraft in its art. You play from an isometric camera angle of a work that looks like cardboard cutouts of rough, sketched drawings. There’s something very Tim Burton about the feel this game gives you, where everything has that dark tint to it that feels a little gothic or horror-inspired, even when they’re not meant to be explicitly scary. Even the way characters “speak” through melodic tones feels uncanny in just the right way.
Don’t Starve is perhaps on the shorter side for a survival game. That’s not saying too much since most can be played almost endlessly as we’ve seen, and technically that is true for Don’t Starve as well. The game runs on both a day and night cycle, as well as a seasonal structure. Things changed based on day and night, but large implications on your survival happen as the seasons change. Food will be much harder to come by in winter unless you’ve prepared your own sources, and if you don’t have a light source at night you will start to lose sanity and take damage from monsters in the dark that may or may not be real. It’s a tough game, but with so much charm crafted into the world that you’ll want to go back and find a way to live in it just a little bit longer.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones
While most survival games are bleak, harsh, and daunting affairs, none are as grim and almost depressing as This War of Mine: The Little Ones. This isn’t something I say lightly, either. Playing this game can be genuinely depressing not just because of how dire of a world it puts you in, the choices it forces you to make, or events that can happen to your characters, but because they all could and most likely have happened to people in very similar situations. In that same vein, This War of Mine: The Little Ones doesn’t pull any punches. Nothing to accomplish will either be easy or without consequences. Every choice has weight, both in terms of resources and other game mechanics, but also morally.
You control a small group of survivors in a war-torn city in This War of Mine: The Little Ones. Each character has their own skills they can bring to the table, and you need to manage all of them to try and keep the group alive. You will need to build up your home, provide food, and, unlike most other survival games, keep morale up. Stress, tiredness, and things of that nature can all negatively impact your survivors. You will also need to go out to different locations to scavenge, or steal, supplies. Will you go to the spots held up by armed gangs to try and sneak in to grab some food, or go raid that old couple’s home knowing they can’t fight back? These decisions will come up often and never get any easier.
Survival games don’t have to be limited to either a single person, or even a small group, but can be an entire settlement. That’s what Frostpunk aimed to prove, at least, and did so wonderfully. Mixing survival game mechanics with RTS and city building mechanics, you need to manage a growing population of people in a harsh winter environment. That means the survival mechanics will be more on the macro side rather than micro, giving this game a wholly unique feel. Set in an alternate history of the late 19th century, the world is covered in a volcanic winter and is nearly inhospitable.
Taking on the role of simply “the Captain”, you are tasked with building up a civilization in the harsh wilderness. You will build structures, designate what resources your people will collect, but most importantly try and manage the citizens. As the weather changes you will need more supplies to power the sole generator that keeps your city warm and alive. However, forcing people to work too hard will cause disorder and lack of support. This can also occur based on how you distribute rations, which are always scarce. The game has three scenarios in the base game, with one extra added as DLC, that put you into different scenarios and conditions, plus an endless mode if you just want to see how long you can keep your people alive.
The Long Dark
While we’re talking about surviving in the harshest winter environments, we can’t forget The Long Dark. Playing another plane crash survivor, this time you’re stranded in the Canadian wilds. This is another survival experience with a long development history before reaching completion but is now finished and well worth the experience. It takes things back to the more personal survival mechanics, putting you in first person and giving you the usual survival mechanics of food, thirst, but with an obvious extra emphasis on warmth as well as fatigue, wind-chill, and more. It also breaks things up into three modes depending on what you’re looking for: story mode, survival mode, and challenge mode.
The story mode is much more guided and follows an episodic structure, but has all the mechanics of the other modes. The main difference is that you’re limited to specific zones until you complete the story objectives. Survival mode is where survival game fans can really sink their teeth into the game. All the zones from the story mode are included, but now as one large, interconnected map. While the map will be familiar, everything in it is randomized each time you play. Challenge mode is a cool little extra that gives you a specific, more bite-sized task, to complete such as gathering enough supplies to survive a storm coming in 30 days, or simply visiting all the graves marked on your map.
Heating up again, Stranded Deep is yet another example of a plane crash survivor struggling to survive, this time on an island in the Pacific Ocean. If The Forest was Lost as a survival game, then Stranded Deep would be Castaway. You can explore your randomized island, build structures, and craft plenty of tools. While temperature was a main focus of the last few survival games, Stranded Deep is all about hydration. Water, at least drinkable water, is going to be your biggest concern in this game. Becoming dehydrated is one of the easiest ways to die here, and even temporary water substitutes, such as coconut milk, can’t be abused. That’s not even mentioning the dangers that lurk under the water’s surface.
You begin the game with a dingy little life raft that you can use to travel between islands, but you’ll quickly want to construct a more durable one. You’ll need to island jump quite a bit to collect resources only found on other patches of dirt, and even dive under the water. As hinted at before, not all sea life is friendly. If you didn’t have a phobia of sharks before playing Stranded Deep, you might well develop one after this. There are even a few secret sea bosses you can encounter, one of which being a giant squid, that is sure to send you paddling for land. You can play this game endlessly, but there is a final objective you can go after if you want to “finish” it too.
This is one of the newest survival games to hit consoles and is a rare entry that had no early access period. You play as an anthropologist named Jake Higgins who becomes stranded in the Amazon rain forest during an expedition to try and find his wife Mia. Mia went into the forest to try and make contact with a native tribe but hasn’t been heard from since. Naturally, this is not the most hospitable environment, full of extremely deadly flora and fauna. You can also forego the narrative and simply play it as a survival sim experience by yourself or with a friend in co-op.
Green Hell makes surviving in the Amazon just as treacherous as it would be in real life, which is more subtle than you might expect. There are no zombies or monsters, obviously, but the real threat would come from all the plants and animals that are poisonous that you can’t identify while trying to scavenge something to eat to keep from starving. Getting sick isn’t a guaranteed death sentence like it probably would be in real life, but is certainly a huge hindrance that can snowball into you having to restart. If you ever really wanted to feel helpless in satisfying even the most basic human needs, Green Hell is a great lesson in how tough actual survival situations would be.
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