The best survival games on PC

The best survival games on PC challenge players constantly, push them to their limits, and let them creatively solve problems and find solutions. The popularity of survival games is easy to understand: trying to stay alive is hard-coded into our DNA, so it makes sense that we'd become so engrossed in experiencing it in games.

In such a crowded and growing genre, which games provide the best survival experiences and challenges? The following are 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.

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

Oxygen Not Included

In a sentence: Keep a handful of 3D-printed colonists alive in a dangerous and expanding underground colony
Status: Early Access
Link: Official site

The best games are those that are easy to learn and difficult to master. Oxygen Not Included fits that bill: jumping into it and learning the basics is a snap, but fully understanding it takes a lot of time and effort. While it's adorable, the colony-builder is also deep and complex as it simulates its harsh subterranean environment. You'll need to manage your colonists hunger, happiness, cleanliness, and naturally their clean and breathable oxygen as they dig out caverns, gather resources, build machinery, and try to turn a harsh environment into a comfortable underground home.

Further reading: Oxygen Not Included is a deep and complex sim that's also easy to jump into 

Ark: Survival Evolved

In a sentence: Survival, crafting, and building—with dinosaurs.
Status: Released August 29, 2017
Link: Official site

Dropped nearly nude on an expansive map filled with dinosaurs, you'll have to contend with extreme heat and cold, starvation and dehydration, and fellow humans (though you can play solo as well). Craft weapons and gear, build a base, tame and ride dinosaurs, and join with (or battle) other players. Ark's free Primitive Plus DLC adds tons more depth to crafting and farming.

Further reading: Why Ark's best mount is a damn frog

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.

Duskers

In a sentence: Real-time strategy roguelike in which you explore creepy abandoned spaceships using drones.
Status: Released May 18, 2016
Link: Steam Store

Duskers may not feel entirely like a survival game, given that it's a real-time strategy roguelike about steering a fleet of drones through spooky derelict spaceships. But the reason you're exploring is to scavenge parts, collect fuel, and repair and upgrade your drones so you can continue traveling through space in hopes of finding safety and an answer to the unexplained event that seems to have left the universe uninhabited (by humans, at least). Its a tense and nail-biting experience as you must keep moving through increasingly dangerous situations in hopes of gathering enough resources to survive.

Further reading: Duskers review

Survival (The Division expansion)

In a sentence: Battle a blizzard, roaming NPC gangs, and other players as you seek a cure for your illness in The Dark Zone of Manhattan.
Status: Released November, 2016
Link: Official Site

The Division's second expansion provided not just new content for players but a new way to play. Trapped in a deadly blizzard, players begin each round stricken with a disease, are armed with only a pistol and low-level gear, and must travel to The Dark Zone to locate a cure and an extraction point. Meanwhile, they must survive the terrible cold, roving gangs of NPC enemies, and a couple dozen other players who are in the same predicament. 

Further reading:  The Division's new Survival mod is surprisingly good

DayZ

In a sentence: Online zombie survival in the Eastern European countryside.
Status: Early Access
Link: Steam Store

Yes, many players have grown weary of waiting for the multiplayer zombie survival game to leave Early Access, and DayZ's roots in military sim ArmA make it a bit intimidating for newcomers. Still, 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

Subnautica

In a sentence: Survival, crafting, and building—underwater.
Status: Early Access
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

Miscreated

In a sentence: Tense and spooky multiplayer survival, with mutants.
Status: Early Access
Link: Steam Store

It's easy to relegate it to the crowd of DayZ-like games that have popped up over the past few years, but Miscreated has begun to stand out as a stable and enjoyable multiplayer game—and built in Cryengine, it looks amazing as well. Beginning with just a flashlight and a change of clothing, arm and equip yourself by exploring decaying neighborhoods and military bases. AI mutants and wildlife pose a threat, but the biggest threat will come from your fellow survivors.

Further reading: Early Access survival game Miscreated is shaping up nicely

Starbound

In a sentence: Terraria in space.
Status: Released July 22, 2016
Link: Steam Store

From visiting distant galaxies in your customized starship to building a home and farming crops, Starbound satisfies as both a sprawling survival adventure and a cozy pastime. The 2D pixelated sandbox is a joy to explore, and along the way you'll meet friendly alien NPCs and battle surprisingly tough bosses. There's a story-based campaign and side-quests, but no real feeling of pressure to complete them except at your leisure. You can also play with friends on dedicated servers or simply by inviting them into your game via Steam.

Further reading: Starbound review

Rust

In a sentence: Naked men running around hitting each other with rocks.
Status: Early Access
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 is still experimenting with its formula—having recently removed XP and leveling, and we're curious to see where it goes next.

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

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

The Forest

In a sentence: Plane crash survivor angers cannibal tribe.
Status: Early Access
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. The Forest is built in Unity 5, which provides stunning visuals and effects.

Further reading: The Forest review (Early Access)

Terraria

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

Hurtworld

In a sentence: Surivival in a harsh environment with a focus on skill-based PVP.
Status: Early Access
Link: Steam Store

Don't let its mildly cartoony look fool you: Hurtworld is no picnic. If you survive a few early hours of scrounging and combat with AI mutants and human players, you'll be able to claim land, build a base, and repair procedurally generated vehicles (if you can find the parts). There's an emphasis on the effects of weather, and not just on the player—for instance, the steak in your pack might freeze instead of rot when it gets cold enough. And, for a game that promises to punish you, it's surprisingly forgiving in a few instances, such as letting you keep your weapons when you die.

Further reading: Hurtworld: eight hours of chores and hypothermia

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

H1Z1: Just Survive

In a sentence: Zombie survival in a large open world.
Status: Early Access
Link: Official site

While it's had trials and tribulations in Early Access—once planned to be a free-to-play title, you'll now have to buy it—Just Survive is still plenty of fun. Similar in scope to DayZ, but far more accessible, you scrounge for supplies while dodging zeds and doing battle (or making friends) with potentially over a hundred players on the same server. Build bases, craft weapons and gear, fight over supply drops, and keep yourself healthy in this multiplayer sandbox.

Further reading: H1Z1 diary: Hell is other people

Unturned

In a sentence: A free-to-play multiplayer survival sandbox.
Status: Early Access
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 over 150 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