What is a survival game, and why would you want to play one? A survival game is part of that vast range of games thought of as action games. These games expect you to do something, usually with a substantial risk of death for your character. Survival games are in a particular class of their own, and they are fun to play. And a little bit challenging.
Imagine you wake up and find yourself in a strange place. You look down, and you are naked, no phone and no money. What do you do? Survival games allow you to meet yourself when facing the most difficult challenge – to survive a disaster.
What is Special About a Survival Game?
All games are about your character surviving, so aren’t all games survival games? That seems like a valid point, but survival games are different, and they deserve to be in a class of their own. A survival game strips the experience down to the basics of what it would take for you to survive a disaster. You have to save yourself when you have nothing but your wits to sustain you.
There are some fundamental elements to a survival game:
Meet Your Basic Needs
There are many psychological theories about meeting a human’s basic needs for survival. But it’s common sense – you need food and water. Otherwise, you die. When playing a survival game, you need to ensure that you keep your character fed and watered, not just now this minute, but over the long term. You will want to stockpile or grow food if you can. To obtain food and water, you will need to explore and make tools.
You must find or make a shelter. Without shelter, you are at the mercy of the elements. Rain can chill you to the bone, and you die. It is what would happen in real-life survival situations, and it is the same in the game. To build your shelter, you will need materials and tools. You will need to explore and craft to obtain these. Of course, in real life, you probably don’t have to worry about zombies, and that leads us to the next point.
Protection is necessary. The environment is hostile (Player vs. Environment), and the NPCs (non-player characters) are out to kill you, probably. That is not even taking into consideration other people playing alongside you. You can run and hide, or you can stay and fight. Both strategies have their plus points, and at different times you will use one of them. The point is you are going to need weapons and maybe armor. You can craft them or steal them. There are options.
Look After Yourself
If you are to look after yourself and meet your basic needs and continue to survive, you need to care for your character’s health. In some games, it can feel exhausting to be constantly replenishing your character’s strength, but a survival game is all about keeping yourself alive. That is the only real objective. Don’t die.
You will need to develop strategies and plans for the mid to long term. If you eat all the food in your area, you will have to move to a different neighborhood that might be more dangerous. If you break a leg and can’t move about quickly, then you risk being eaten by wild animals or freezing to death. Your actions will have consequences; survival games require thinking and planning.
Understand Your World
To thrive, you need to learn what is available in your world. What resources are there, and more importantly, how are they replenished? If you eat all the chickens, does that mean there will be no more chickens? Perhaps you should farm some or leave them to make more chickens? In a survival game, the resources are likely to be limited and difficult to obtain. To get the most out of your surroundings, you must understand the game world.
Improve Your Situation
You work to improve what you have so that it becomes easier to survive. You need to look for the best place to build your shelter and storehouse. Over time that simple dwelling may become a fort or a castle. To thrive and stay alive, you will need to be continually crafting better tools and weapons, exploring new areas, and fighting off your enemies.
The people you meet will either be other players trying to survive or NPCs who are the natives of the game world. It is in your actions with other people you will meet yourself. What is it acceptable to do to others for you to survive? Are you happy to steal their stuff? Are you glad to kill them to take their food? Is that other player going to kill you to loot your weapons?
Some game rules, like Worlds Adrift, are set up to ensure that players who co-operate and share resources are the ones that survive. Others, like Rust, promote an environment where you stab your friend in the back and pinch his stuff before he does the same to you.
Survival, like life, brings out the best and the worst in people. Their motives and yours are uncertain, and betrayal is just another tool.
How to Choose the Best Survival Game
There are some distinct features to look out for when choosing your first or hundredth survival game.
Can you play it?
The format of the game is as essential as food to your character. The game is of no use to you if it will not play on your devices. Most games will play on consoles and PCs, but there are some with more restricted use.
If you have a VR set up with Move controllers, then you may want a game that will be playable that way and not just on a PC. Or, you may be comfortable with a PC set up and not want a game that’s best features will need a VR headset.
Do you want to play it?
Survival games tend to be open-ended in terms of narrative. The primary objective is to survive for as long as possible. But everyone has their personal preferences about where they like to spend their leisure hours. A fantasy landscape or deep space? Are you trapped in a cavern deep underground, having to dig your way to the surface? The type of world offered by the game will probably influence how you feel about playing it.
Can it be played with others?
Some people like to play alone, and some enjoy pitting their wits against other people. It’s only really winning when someone else has lost. In a survival game, winning is a bit of a fuzzy concept. The goal is to survive a long time. But when playing against another person and you survive longer then they do, you can count that as a win.
Then again, you might be a friendly player who likes to hang out with friends and family in virtual space. Yes, you may be fighting off monsters and at risk of starving to death, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a quick catch up after work.
Is the game good value?
A budget price game that is only worth spending half an hour on before you pass it on to someone else can be value for money. If the experience of playing the came and the cost are balanced.
Typically, if you are investing in a survival game, you are interested in being able to play it for a reasonable length of time. You want to be challenged and entertained and not bored. An outline of the game process will give you an idea about how much you are likely to enjoy it.
Different Types of Survival Games
Survival games fall into a couple of different types:
Not only to do you have to survive, but you must be the last survivor. You have to get rid of all the other players.
A survival game can be horror-themed; it may contain supernatural elements – zombies and werewolves. A horror-themed survival game is different from a horror game. Resident Evil is a horror game – the storyline is that of a horror film. A survival game is about surviving in a landscape that has hostile horror features such as vampires that come out at night.
First-person or Community
In a first-person survival game, you play as a character in the game, and you invest in that character’s survival. In a community survival game, you have a different perspective – you are looking after a group, and it is the long term survival of the group that interests you.
Action and Role-Playing
Survival games can also include a strong narrative with an objective in addition to staying alive. Save the planet or defeat the bad guys.
Benefits of Playing Survival Games
There are some benefits to playing survival games that help in everyday life.
Leadership and Management Skills
To succeed in a survival game, you must develop a strategy based on limited resources and adverse conditions. You must plan for the mid to long term rather than reacting to events as they happen (firefighting). These are absolutely the skills sought in top-flight management roles.
One of the roleplaying scenarios often used in management recruitment is a variation on a survival game. The boat is going down, what do you take with you to the lifeboat? Anyone familiar with the mechanics of a survival game can quickly answer that. And, rank those objects in order of importance.
Playing a game where you have to help a community survive teaches you the skills of looking at the big picture. Strategic planning and making difficult decisions are skills that need to be practiced to be successful in the game and the workplace.
Survival games teach those valued real-life skills of focussing on what is essential and prioritizing. These are valuable skills in the workplace.
If you practice the skills needed to survive, then you will develop a survival mindset. This new way of thinking doesn’t mean that you are going to go out into the desert, build a house and start catching rats to eat. It does mean that if you are the unfortunate victim of something like a flood or other disaster that you have a basic understanding of what you need to be prioritizing.
A focus on survival through a survival game also makes you more aware of the need for real-life skills – such as basic first aid and maybe how to tie a knot or two.
You gain an understanding of how other people and yourself may behave in extreme circumstances. Yes, you are playing a game but what does the way you play say about you? Playing survival games can help you understand what it is that people need when disaster strikes. You’ve spent time learning about what it takes to survive in a hostile environment. It is not the same as suffering through an earthquake, but now you understand the basic needs of people. You can relate, and that is not a bad thing.
There are some games like This War of Mine that give an uncomfortable glimpse of what it might be like to live through an experience where it is a struggle to make it through the day. Not because of how you feel but because of the circumstances surrounding you.
History of Survival Games
Survival games, like many other games, started as board games. The board games were unsuccessful, and they failed to survive. There are traces of this early attempt to make survival a game in ‘the balloon debate.’ A simple role-playing scenario – a group of people are traveling by hot air balloon; it begins to sink, people need to be thrown off to allow the others to survive. Characters explain why they should not be thrown out, and the audience decides.
Video games are an ideal medium for survival games. The first survival game was UnReal World in 1992. Despite the primitive graphics, this game still has widespread appeal. The game receives regular updates, and you can play it today. You must survive in the bleak world of iron age Finland. The elements are against you, and it is a struggle to survive. The same principle of a harsh and unforgiving world carries into every survival game.
Future of Survival Games
We enjoy pitting ourselves against an unforgiving world. The technology to make the experience of trying to survive in a hostile land against monstrous enemies is continually evolving. Each advance in graphics and control systems makes the survival games more immersive and enjoyable. The game structure and open-ended objectives are profoundly appealing to players.
In the future, we are likely to be playing these games online with massive numbers of other people. Some of them will be helpful and co-operative, and others will seek to make their way in the world through violence and theft. The immersion in the game will be more in-depth as virtual reality continues to improve as an experience. Perhaps we will be able to learn real-world skills such as first aid while playing the game. But one thing is sure, we will keep playing.
Are you ready to find out if you have got what it takes to survive in a hostile world? We’ve assembled a collection of ten of the very best survival games for you. We haven’t included Fortnite and Minecraft because these blockbuster survival games are already well known. Our collection will introduce you to some excellent games that haven’t hit the headlines.
Ten Best Survival Games
Rust – Harsh and Brutal Multiplayer Game
Rust is available for Microsoft Windows and macOS. This survival game is not available for consoles yet, but the developers are indicating that this will happen. Rust is a multiplayer survival game played online.
Be warned – Players on Rust tend to consider murder and theft to be away of life. As a new player, you start naked and alone. There is no guidance on what to do. You must work it out for yourself. The greatest danger comes from the other players. There are co-operative bands known as clans that are groupings of players that work together – mainly to steal from and murder other clans.
This brutal survival game encourages players to thrive at the expense of weaker players. The game rules do not prevent or discourage co-operation. But neither do they punish lawlessness. Here in the Rust game world, the ruthless survive, and the nice guys end up waking up naked and alone, again.
Oxygen Not Included – Best Community Survival Game.
This game is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. This single-player game asks you to guide three colonists stranded on an asteroid. You give them instructions and depending on the success of your directions, they may survive.
Oxygen is a limited resource, and without oxygen, your colonists will die. Gases behave as they will in real life. Carbon dioxide is dense, and your colonists can’t breathe without oxygen. You must think about what your colonists need, and you will acquire scientific knowledge. It is hard to survive in space with limited resources – hungry, cold, no air and the risk of cave-ins and poisoning.
If you want to keep your colonists alive and maybe build a rocket to go somewhere else, you will need to flex those strategic thinking muscles.
Raft – Best Family Game
This game is available for Windows or Linux. The game can be played by yourself, co-operatively, or in multiplayer mode.
The idea is simple. You are on a raft in the middle of the ocean. You must survive by acquiring resources by fishing them out of the water. You need to build a better boat, eat and drink and avoid the shark.
It sounds simple, but it is fun and engaging to play. The game has appeal to a wide age range and has minimal violence – only the shark, and that is not graphic. Despite the family-friendly credentials, this is a challenging game to master. You will have to think and build and have a long-term plan.
The Long Dark – Best for Realistic Survival Adventure
This survival game plays on Windows, Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is a single-player game.
You are a pilot crash-landed in the Canadian wilderness. It is wintertime – as if you didn’t have enough problems. This game has permadeath and can be played in four different modes depending on how difficult you want it to be to survive.
Every time the game resets, the items and wildlife will renew randomly, and the game will be different. You can hunt the wildlife for food, or it can track and attack you. You will have to pay attention to your health and the weather. The world is determined to kill you – not intentionally but because the conditions are hostile.
This survival game’s focus is on what makes it hard to survive in a hostile environment. The need to stay warm and eat. The risk of injury and food poisoning resulting in death. There are no magic fixes and healing potions. You must pay attention and be smart or die.
This War of Mine – A War Game with a Twist
This game plays on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4. It is a single-player game.
You are responsible for the survival of a group of civilians in a war zone. You can affect the actions of 1-4 players. Your choices will determine if those characters survive. This game has morals. You can cause your people to steal and kill, but they will suffer remorse. If your character suffers too much, they may become depressed and die. So, think carefully about what you are prepared to do to survive.
It is a bleak and depressing narrative with a powerful social message. The side of war and combat that is glossed over in games. It is a game that was not built to be entertaining.
DayZ – Best for Playing with Others.
This survival game will play on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It is a multiplayer game.
You play as a survivor in a devastated land where you face attacks from the infected and other players. You must keep yourself healthy and survive. Permadeath means starting again with nothing. It is possible to play co-operatively, but generally, other players will be opportunistic and dangerous. You need to play with a microphone because other players are trigger happy, and even if they are not inclined to shoot immediately, they will if they don’t get a fast response.
The interest in this game comes from the other players. The way some will work together for a while, and some will shoot on sight. The aim is to survive, and to do that, you must accumulate possessions, and you can lose it all in a second.
Frostpunk – Rebuilding Civilization
This game will play on Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. It is a single-player game.
There are a couple of scenarios to play and one which is just about surviving (endless). The narrative element is that a massive volcanic eruption has plunged the world into a long winter. Small groups of people huddle around generators, as they attempt to preserve life on earth. You are developing civilization, and you are responsible for trying to shape it into a success.
This game is about is crisis and resource management. You pass laws and try and keep your people alive, but it is difficult, and they rebel. This game is involving and a real challenge. A great leader will emerge. Is it you?
Conan Exiles – Survival in a Mythical Land
This game will play on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game can be played as a single-player or as a multiplayer option.
The narrative is that Conan rescues you from certain death and then releases you to survive in this ancient land. This survival game has plenty of action thrown in. There are enemies and wildlife to fight, weapons and tools to craft. The landscape is vast and very open, and there are histories and lore to be discovered. There is very little guidance. You must work out how to survive and thrive in this primitive world.
The survival element is harsh, but the game is fun to play and entertaining. If you are a fan of Conan the Barbarian, you will love this game. An excellent place to hang out with friends or to explore by yourself.
Ark: Survival Evolved – Spend Time with Dinosaurs
You can play as a single-player or join a multiplayer game. You can operate in the third person or first person. This survival game will play on Linux, Windows, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch.
You will experience a vast open-world filled with prehistoric creatures (and some mythological ones) to tame and ride. It is a survival game, and you must look after your health, gather resources and build a base. Interactions with other players can be co-operative or hostile. As well as survival, there is a lot of exploration. If considering playing in the multiplayer option, be warned that when you are offline, the game continues. The next time you log in, you could have lost everything.
This game will take many hours to master. There are lots of levels to explore, and there is an end objective (save the Earth) than can be achieved. This survival game is for those that love dinosaurs and have plenty of time to invest in a game.
Don’t Starve – Good Advice for Survival Anywhere
This game summarises the main point of all survival games – don’t starve. The game can be played as a single-player or as part of a multiplayer game. The game will play on all gaming formats.
The graphics are cartoonish, but the game is compelling. Your character needs to eat, stay healthy, and above all sane. Yes, you must keep yourself happy in the middle of all the dangers the game will throw at you. The day has three cycles – day, dusk and night. The night is dangerous. The bad things come out at night so be sure to seek shelter. The seasons come and go, and you will need to be resourceful and determined to survive them.
This entertaining game is fun to play alone or with others. You can expect to die many times before you work out what it takes to survive in this challenging and surprising world.