It’s been said that the point at which humanity reached a state of civilisation was the point when we stopped simply surviving and started living. Survival is, of course, still necessary; we still eat, sleep, drink and do all the things we need to in order to keep living. It’s fair to say, though, that for the vast majority of us survival is no longer a need that isn’t constantly catered for.
The same can’t be said for the protagonists of these games. In the best survival games going, your continued existence is constantly under threat not just by monsters but by the environment itself. You’ll struggle against hostile terrain, adverse weather conditions, starvation and many, many more obstacles as you attempt to carve a life for yourself in the diverse worlds of these titles. Here are the best survival games you can play right now.
There are, broadly speaking, two fronts yet to be explored: outer space and deep water. We have a pretty good idea of what awaits us below the ocean’s depths, but we can’t be absolutely sure because the water pressure down there is not conducive to human survival. Luckily, Subnautica helps us to get a little closer to understanding. Developer Unknown Worlds has created a living, breathing underwater sandbox which demands your respect; you’ll gather resources, sustain yourself and construct elaborate vehicles and fortresses as you discover the game’s surprisingly robust and extensive narrative. Subnautica is the thinking person’s survival game; it’s great for those who think most survival titles are a little thin on the ground.
Klei Entertainment is a household name in quality, well-made games, and Don’t Starve is no exception. The title is succinct and apt: you must struggle not to starve in a procedurally generated wilderness with nothing but twigs and rocks (initially) to keep you company. Over time, you’ll make yourself armour, weapons and increasingly elaborate machines, all the while fending off the creatures who wait for you each time the darkness of night descends. Don’t Starve’s cutesy isometric aesthetic underlies a brutally difficult roguelike experience; permadeath is a real threat, and the game pulls no punches when it comes to divulging information. There’s also a fantastic co-op version called – wait for it – Don’t Starve Together.
An odd one, this. Duskers doesn’t technically task you with “surviving”, per se, since you’re not actually controlling creatures which need to “survive”. Rather, you’re remotely piloting drones around derelict spaceships, looking for scrap, avoiding hostile “infestations” and slowly piecing together what happened to the erstwhile inhabitants of these ships. Duskers is as old-school as they come; it’s almost entirely played via a text-based interface, and although you can control your drones directly should you wish to, more complex strings of commands (which become essential later) need to be carried out via the text parser. This game is an exercise in minimalism, for what it lacks in visual clout it more than makes up for in strategic depth and complexity.
Friday the 13th
If you love a good horror game, then Friday the 13th is your option when it comes to a survival title within this genre. It isn’t a masterpiece, it falls below the bar and does contain bugs. However, it’s the gameplay that makes this title such a joy to experience. What’s more, the online play allows you to jump straight into games, where you’ll need to survive, that’s unless you play as Jason. As Jason hunts you through the dark environments, littered with cabins and hiding places, will you survive? Play to find out.
The original (debatably) and still the best zombie survival game. DayZ began life as a mod for po-faced military simulator ArmA, and if you’re new to the game you’ll immediately realise this; the game’s interface and general feel are not welcoming at all. Stick with it, though, and you’ll find a deeper survival experience than most games will ever offer. DayZ’s persistent open world is home to countless emergent experiences for each of its dedicated players, while its crafting systems and survival mechanics mesh together perfectly to create the ultimate multiplayer tension. If you die, you’ll start with nothing, which is a great way to encourage players to hole up somewhere and beg the zombie gods not to take them; if you like friendly player interaction, perhaps it’s best to look elsewhere. DayZ is tough and unforgiving, but it’s an unforgettable survival experience.
Mojang’s blocky, unassuming survival sandbox is still going strong, more than earning its place among the titans of the survival genre. Though many may know Minecraft more for its incredibly extensive creative tools and modding community than for its actual gameplay, the fact remains that the game’s main survival mode is the definitive way to play it. Searching through a procedurally generated LEGO-style world for resources with which to build better shelters against the Creepers is as thrilling as it ever was, and when it all gets too much you can simply retreat to the comfort and serenity of Minecraft’s creative mode, in which all hazards and potential threats can be removed. Come for the robust central gameplay loops, stay for the incredible modding community (seriously, some of the things people have come up with around Minecraft need to be seen to be believed). Minecraft’s aesthetic may not be for everyone, but it’s yet to be bettered in its field, and many have tried.