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There is something attractive about a game that tosses you into a hostile world and simply says, survive. The genre isn’t for everyone but I find the concept of attempting to survive against dangers that can have permanent consequences thrilling. Many games today are about compelling story’s, deep characters and intricate plotlines. I enjoy them as much as anyone. But these story’s are generally on a preset path, the player is just along for the ride.
In survival games, the story is one of your own personal making. Sure it takes a bit of imagination, but many of the greatest things in the world do. Imagination is a gift to humanity, almost all great works are spawned from it. Survival games allow for a freedom of storytelling you cant obtain from a programmed pathway and it is a type of storytelling pretty much exclusive to the medium.
When done right, a survival game can feel oppressive and overwhelming, but also makes each incremental success that much sweeter. It’s a sense of accomplishment you don’t get from simply unlocking a new weapon. But one you get from your own victory within the rules of the game. This is because unlike a linear game, there is no expectation that you will eventually succeed, you may never “win”. The game doesn’t care. Here are my top 5 survival games!
Number 5: Don’t Starve
Don’t Starve was my gateway game into the genre. I picked it up while it was still in early access and it has since launched a large expansion, several spin-offs, and a multiplayer version. If you are new to survival games, you can’t go wrong here.
The art style has a very Tim Burton aesthetic. You pick from a roster of characters and are dropped into a strange and alien world with weird creatures, like talking pigs and are given very little instruction on what to do.
In Don’t Starve you must survive deadly beasts, hazards, and four changing seasons each with their own challenges. You must maintain your sanity as certain actions may lower it, causing you to hallucinate. Go too far down that rabbit hole and your hallucinations become real and can attack you.
When the sun sets, you must stay in the light or be eaten by the grue. Most importantly, Don’t Starve. Each character has a couple of quirks but the game is largely about planning and management as you set out to solve the mystery of the land. It is up to you to figure out how to use the different resources. While Don’t Starve is by no means easy, it is a great deal simpler than most other games of the genre and is a very polished game.
Klei are very good at what they do and their roster of games is incredibly solid. You may have already played other games by them, such as Mark of The Ninja or Shank. If you want to dip your toes into Survival gaming, Don’t Starve is a good starting point.
Number 4: The Forest
Survival games tend to be at least a little disturbing. The Forest, however, is gruesome and intimately so. Chopping off body parts and burning away the flesh for bones is an activity you will be doing. Or, you might simply take one cannibals arm and beat his friend to death with it.
You quite literally are dropped into, you guessed it, a forest. Your son has been kidnapped and you need to survive. The problem, the whole place is infested by cannibals and far, far worse. The Forest has an interesting building system where you place a blueprint and return with the materials. You have limited inventory space and visibly haul stuff likes logs on your shoulder.
A big part of building in The Forest is trying to figure out the most efficient way to bring home resources, you can build zip lines and carts to haul big loads for example. The second aspect is the cannibals, they have a kind of neat AI where they won’t always attack right away but will run and tell the clan where your base is located.
After that they will periodically assault you, darting up trees and leaping from boulders. As more days pass by, the assaulting forces get bigger and eventually come with terrifying mutants. You can build traps to help deal with them and the game is playable in co-op. Eventually, you need to go spelunking in incredibly dark caves and the game does, in fact, have an end. But to me, The Forest is about the journey and struggle, not the destination.
The game is terrifying and very gruesome. Its unique building and inventory mechanics give it a feel that’s different from other survival games and the combat with the cannibals is quite satisfying. It is less random than other survival games though and has less longevity for it.
Number 3: 7 Days To Die
7 Days to Die has been in early access for a long time. However, it does still receive meaty updates and the game has enough content to be considered finished in its current state on PC. However, the console versions were billed as complete when they launched and are cut down versions of the game. They do get updated at times, but will sadly never match the PC version and thus I don’t recommend them.
7 Days to Die is an incredible voxel-based zombie survival game. It is a bit janky, especially the melee combat, but it makes up for it in its wide range of mechanics and content. You scavenge supplies to stay alive while surviving zombies and animals. Every 7 days a blood moon rises and hordes will come down on you like apocalyptic hellspawn. You can hole up in existing structures or build your own from scratch. The building is block-based, similar to Minecraft and you have the complete freedom to build anything you can think of, assuming you can get the supplies.
7 Days to Die is on the more complex end of survival games. It features deep crafting and leveling mechanics, sickness and injury system and freeform destruction and building. Zombies will attack and destroy blocks to get to you. Destroying the supporting elements can bring the roof caving in on top of you. The more days that pass, the more intense the hordes become.
While The Forest features a very grounded and realistic building system, 7 Days offers nearly limitless freedom in building your zombie sanctuary. If you have a creative itch, you will get a kick out of it. You can bring friends and survive together online as well.
Number 2: State of Decay 2
Available on: The Microsoft Store and Xbox One.
When State of Decay 2 first released, I was incredibly hard on it. I was a huge fan of the first game and the second one had all the right ingredients for the perfect zombie apocalypse survival game. However, the game was so easy, it invalidated every single mechanic it had. There was so much lost potential.
I was not the only person who held this opinion and a year later Undead Labs dropped a free update titled “Choose your own apocalypse” In it, they added two new difficulty settings and it completely turned the game around for me. These additions weren’t just a lazy tacked on change, but a subtle tweak of nearly every mechanic in the game that formed a complete package and made the game feel brand new. I ended up reviewing the game after the update and gave it a 9.5 out of 10.
You play as a community of survivors and you must scavenge supplies to build and upgrade your homestead and feed your people. Each survivor has randomly generated traits and you slowly expand until you can move to better digs and continue. You can end the game by completing a special legacy quest in which your community becomes immortalized and you can use the survivors in future runs.
Like most of the games on this list, State of Decay 2 can be played in online multiplayer. With the choose your own apocalypse update, I truly believe it is the ultimate game of zombie apocalypse survival. The great thing is, the added difficulties are optional, so it doesn’t change the game for anyone who didn’t share my view. Everybody wins. Undead Labs have continually updated the game since.
Number 1: RimWorld
RimWorld is the most unique game on this list because it plays from a top-down perspective and it is as much a colony simulation as a survival game, but almost all of its simulations are intertwined with survival elements. Don’t be fooled by its simple graphics, this is one of the greatest games available on PC today.
RimWorld is one of the first games I reviewed and is one of my favorite games of all time. With some imagination, it is the ultimate storytelling generator. You control a colony and every colonist has different skills and traits that affect what they are good at and what they like. You face not only starvation, disease, wild animals and pirate raids. But the mental stability of your colonists. Mental breaks can have severe chain reactions and your doctor breaking down when he needs to patch up the guy who just got his legs blown off is just one of many possibilities.
The colonists have simulated body damage to different body parts and organs, a small battle can have long-time consequences. RimWorld too is game you can win, but failure can be just as fun. Furthermore, it is one of the most mod-friendly games I have ever played and the modding community is incredible. Using the Steam workshop you can add experiences you cant recreate elsewhere.
Don’t believe me? What about fighting off an Astra Miltarium raid while trying to remove a face-hugger from a colonist as your fire mage flings a fireball at a dinosaur while your Jedi recovers his sanity from fighting a Lovecraftian eldritch horror? Yes, that is a possibility when combining mods from the wonderful RimWorld modding community.
RimWorld is a great game with so much possibility even without mods. But the game was built for modders to take advantage of it. In a way, you can consider them an expected part of the game. It is easily my favorite survival games to date.
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This is my list of my top five survival games. Let me know about your favorites in the comments below! Happy gaming!