The best survival games on PC

The best games for surviving against the odds.

Feb 28, 2024 - 08:50
 0  4
The best survival games on PC
Best of the best

Baldur's Gate 3 - Jaheira with a glowing green sword looks ready for battle

(Image credit: Larian Studios)

2024 games: Upcoming releases
Best PC games: All-time favorites
Free PC games: Freebie fest
Best FPS games: Finest gunplay
Best MMOs: Massive worlds
Best RPGs: Grand adventures

The lasting appeal of survival games is simple to understand. Fighting to stay alive is hard-coded into our DNA, so it's easy to see why we'd become engrossed in experiencing it in games. The best survival games on PC push players to their limits, presenting them with tough problems and challenging them to find creative solutions.

Beyond just a simple health bar, in survival games players need to manage their well being when it comes to elements like hunger, thirst, extreme temperatures, disease, and other threats. Exploring, gathering resources, crafting tools and gear, building shelters, and hunting, fishing, cooking, and farming are other common features in survival games. And some survival games aren't just about taking care of yourself but guiding a colony or settlement safely through extreme circumstances by managing resources, passing laws, and solving societal problems.

In such a popular genre, which games provide the best survival experiences? Below you'll find our favorite examples of simulated survival on PC, whether it's among the stars, deep underground, and in other dangerous environments packed with monsters, mutants, zombies, dinosaurs, or the deadliest enemy of all: other players. Here are the best survival games on PC. 

Palworld

(Image credit: Pocketpair)

In a sentence: Kinda like Ark: Survival Evolved, but with Pokémon-like critters instead of dinosaurs
Status: In early access since January 18, 2024
Link: Steam

We knew this Pokémon-with-guns game would draw a crowd, but we didn't expect it to become the mega-hit of 2024. The mixture of survival and collectible creatures drew millions of players overnight, and you know what? It's fun. Build a base, add to your creature collection by battling monsters, make them work for you... cook and eat them... there's lots of stuff you can do, not all of it savory. 

Further reading: Palworld is the Pokémon this sinful world deserves

Sons of the Forest

(Image credit: Endnight Games)

In a sentence: Plane crash survivor angers cannibal tribe. Again!
Status: Released February 23, 2024
Link: Steam Store

After picking through the wreckage of the plane crash that stranded you here, you'll quickly discover you're not alone. You share a mysterious island with a tribe of terrifying cannibals, and while you struggle to stay fed and hydrated, build structures from simple tents to log homes, and construct traps to snare animals, you'll have to defend against the hungry and determined locals. Best of all, you've got an AI-controlled pal, Kelvin, to help you out.

Further reading: Sons of the Forest review is the funniest game on the internet

Valheim

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

In a sentence: Exploration and base-building in the Viking afterlife.
Status: Released in Early Access on February 2, 2021
Link: Official site

It didn't take long for Early Access co-op Viking survival game to draw a crowd, and it's easy to see why. A massive procedurally generated world, fearsome boss fights, and excellent base-building systems mesh wonderfully with survival elements like cooking and crafting. Solo play is great, but it really shines in co-op, and players can busy themselves with base construction or set out on perilous journeys across the sea to find dangerous new continents.

Further reading: Valheim is making me love survival games again

Subnautica

Subnautica

In a sentence: Survival, crafting, and building—underwater.
Status: Released January 23, 2018
Link: Offical site

Explore an alien, underwater world while piloting your hand-crafted submarine through mysterious submerged landscapes. From beautiful coral reefs to deep-sea caves and trenches, you'll gather resources and sustenance, build habitats and a fleet of subs, and craft new tech to help you survive the depths. It's hard not to compare it to Minecraft, yet developer Unknown Worlds has put their own unique stamp on the survival genre.

Further reading: Subnautica: Early impressions of Minecraft under the sea

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid - A character holding a kitchen knife walks backwards behind two crashed cars while several zombies chase them.

(Image credit: The Indie Stone)

In a sentence: The deepest and most complex zombie survival game, period.
Status: Released Nov 8, 2013
Link: Steam

If you're looking deep and complex survival systems in a massive sandbox sim, there's only one game that truly fits the bill. There's a big learning curve in this zombie survival game but once you've got a handle on how the various systems work you'll find an unending and engrossing challenge in the harsh post-apocalyptic world. Loot buildings, craft gear, farm and fish, fight zombies (or better yet, avoid them) and struggle with everything from injuries to disease to boredom to how much noise you make while moving around. This is a brilliant zombie survival simulation like nothing else out there.

Grounded

(Image credit: Obsidian Entertainment)

In a sentence: You're tiny and trying to survive in someone's back yard.
Status: In Early Access since July 28, 2020
Link: Offical site

Obsidian shrunk you down and dropped you in a normal backyard, but due to your size it might as well be a jungle. Surrounded by killer spiders, hungry birds, and annoying ants, you can build a base by chopping down blades of grass and forage for food and drink by roasting aphids and collecting drops of dew. It's a beautiful and somewhat wonderous environment from the perspective of a someone the size of a bug.

Further reading: Obsidian's Grounded has extreme spider horror and a few fun survival twists

Frostpunk

(Image credit: 11 bit studios)

In a sentence: Survival, city-building, and crisis management in a frozen world.
Status: Released April 24, 2018
Link: Official site 

Frostpunk is a blend of city-building, society simulation, and survival in a grim and frozen world. With a handful of cold, hungry, unhappy people, you'll need to construct a working city inside a snow-filled crater heated only by a massive coal furnace. Gather resources, hunt for food, and manage your citizens by giving them hope for the future. It's a harsh and beautiful survival game that confronts you with difficult choices at every turn.

Further reading:  Frostpunk review: an incredibly stylish and addictive survival management game.

Pacific Drive

(Image credit: Ironwood Studios)

In a sentence: Your car is your only companion in this driving survival game
Status: Released Feb 21, 2024
Link: Steam

A novel survival game where nearly all the survival systems are contained within a station wagon from the 1980s. Drive through a world filled with horrible anomalies, gather resources and use them to soup up your car with sci-fi gadgets, and drive even further the next time. It's different than just about any other survival game out there, though it's pretty darn punishing, too.

Further reading: Pacific Drive review

Escape from Tarkov

Escape from Tarkov

(Image credit: Battlestate Games)

In a sentence: A brutal and hyper-realistic shooter all about hoarding and managing loot.
Status: In beta
Link: Official site

Escape from Tarkov is a savage evolution of survival games with just a pinch of battle royale thrown in for flavor. Instead of playing in a persistent world, you spawn on a map with a few other players and several dozen enemy NPCs. To survive, you have to reach an exfiltration zone on the other end of the map, but you also get to keep anything you loot to sell on a player-driven marketplace or use in subsequent rounds. It's a lot like poker only way scarier. What really sells Tarkov, though, is it's hyper-realistic gunplay and ridiculously deep gun customization.

Further reading: How I became an arms dealer in Escape from Tarkov

RimWorld

In a sentence: Sci-fi colony management simulation inspired by Dwarf Fortress
Status: Released October 17, 2018
Link: Steam

It's been five years of Early Access, but RimWorld has finally reached version 1.0. In this management and survival sim you oversee a colony of randomly generated people stranded on a procedural alien planet. Expand the base, keep your colonists healthy and sane, and deal with disasters thrown your way by RimWorld's AI director, which can include anything from disease outbreaks to alien attacks to weather events. The toughest challenge may be just making your colonists simply get along with each other: each one has a distinct personality, desires, and moods.

Further reading: Making a clan of cannibals with RimWorld's scenario editor

Raft

In a sentence: Survive on a raft while building it into a floating fortress
Status: In Early Access
Link: Steam

It sounds almost idyllic, floating through the world serenely on a raft, building and expanding upon it as you fish flotsam from the ocean with a grappling hook. There are sharks, though. Hungry ones, and if they can't eat you they'll settle for eating your floating home. You'll need to somehow find food and fresh water while keeping your raft afloat and growing. Luckily, you can play co-op with a pal and double your chances for survival.

Further reading: How Raft conquered the seas of Steam

The Long Dark

The Long Dark

In a sentence: Atmospheric survival in a Canadian post-apocalypse.
Status: Released August 1, 2017
Link: Official site

With a focus on atmosphere and environmental survival, The Long Dark stands out in an increasingly crowded genre. You play as a bush pilot stranded in the frozen wilderness after a mysterious global calamity. There are no zombies, no mutants, and no other players: it's just you fighting against the elements, the wildlife, and your own human fragility.

Further reading: Survival gets serious in The Long Dark

Don't Starve

Don't Starve

In a sentence: Survive a cartoon wilderness filled with beasts and monsters.
Status: Released April 13, 2013
Link: Offical Site

With charming artwork yet punishing gameplay, Don't Starve is an addictive challenge and one of the best survival experiences out there (and in a rare turn of events, one of the few games here to graduate from Early Access). The crafting is complex and satisfying as you attempt to survive busy days and deadly nights. Fight (and eat) animals, practice both science and magic, and keep an eye on your mental health so you don't go insane. The standalone expansion Don't Starve Together even lets you play with pals.

Further reading: Don't Starve: Shipwrecked is a breath of fresh... Nope, that's a hurricane.

DayZ

DayZ

In a sentence: Online zombie survival in the Eastern European countryside.
Status: Released December 13, 2018
Link: Steam Store

Yes, it was a long road out of Early Access, DayZ's technically still isn't done. But the survival elements of DayZ are strong, with complex nutrition, hydration, and health systems that go beyond merely eating, drinking, and bandaging wounds. Scavenge a sprawling and decaying persistent open world, engage in tense interactions with other players, customize weapons and craft gear, and try not to die: if you do, you start again with nothing.

Further reading: DayZ Diaries: the one where Ben force-feeds Andy a rotten banana

Rust

(Image credit: Facepunch Studios)

In a sentence: Naked men running around hitting each other with rocks.
Status: Released February 8, 2018
Link: Official site

Join or battle other players—or attempt to go it alone—starting with primitive tools and weapons and advancing to firearms and massive bases. You'll have to contend with wild animals, hunger, and thirst, but this is a very PVP-intensive survival experience and your main threat will come from the dozens of other players on the servers. Rust left Early Access in Early 2018, but continues to add new features.

Further reading: Trick-or-treating in Rust went about as well as you might expect

Minecraft

Minecraft

In a sentence: Build things, destroy things, fight monsters.
Status: Released October 7, 2011
Link: Official site

You may have heard of it. There are many different ways to play Minecraft: alone, in creative mode, with friends and strangers, as an explorer, or with custom game modes on specialty servers. As a survival game, it's still excellent, with well-implemented hunger and thirst systems and incredibly robust crafting and building. Dive into its blocky and beautiful world and you may never want to leave.

Further reading: The 40 best Minecraft custom maps

Terraria

Terraria's whip

(Image credit: Re-Logic)

In a sentence: Side-scrolling Minecraft.
Status: Released May 16, 2011
Link: Offical site 

A wonderful, expansive, addictive, and not to mention inexpensive survival crafting sandbox. Explore randomly generated worlds, gather resources, and enjoy a simple yet satisfying crafting system. Tunnel through vast caverns, battle monsters, befriend NPCs, build yourself a palace, and play alone or with friends in co-op. Terraria has been around for years, but it's stood the test of time.

Further reading: Terraria review

This War of Mine

This War of Mine

In a sentence: Struggle to survive in a war-torn city.
Status: Released November 14, 2014
Link: Offical site

Depicting war not from the perspective of an elite soldier but from that of a group of civilians simply trying to stay alive amidst the chaos, This War of Mine is a different and more desperate kind of survival game. You'll face tough choices as you manage your survivors' health, both physical and mental. Scrounging for food and supplies during the night is tense and harrowing, and no matter what you find it never seems to be enough. It's not just a survival game but a harsh and unblinking look at the reality of war.

Further reading: This War of Mine review

Unturned

Unturned

In a sentence: A free-to-play multiplayer survival sandbox.
Status: Released July 7, 2017
Link: Steam store

It costs you nothing to play Unturned, but this isn't some slapped together free-to-play title. Its creator (a teenager) has released scores of updates to the zombie-based survival sandbox since 2014, which makes it easy to see why it's been downloaded by millions of players since its initial release. Despite Unturned's blocky visuals it contains deep and satisfying crafting, skill, and survival systems, plus there's a massive and exuberant community surrounding it.

Further reading: How a survival game made by a 16-year-old racked up 24 million downloads

What's Your Reaction?

like

dislike

love

funny

angry

sad

wow