In this article, we are going to be covering the 10 most realistic survival games. It’s not every genre in which you can get frostbite on specific limbs; threatened by cold, thirst, hunger, or even a scratch.
In part, it is this level of realism and immersion that has seen the survival game genre steadily grow in popularity. Plus, the survival genre has included some of my favorite games in recent years.
These games are known by fans for their dangerous and open worlds that are both complex and mundane, where you have to use every resource at your disposal just to survive another day.
Here are my picks for the 10 most realistic survival games, what they offer, and why you might just want to try them out yourself.
10. The Forest
Developed and published by Endnight Games, The Forest mixes both survival and horror elements. What makes it realistic?
You will walk through a lush and vibrant world, exploring the landscape in the daytime and defending yourself against attacks from mutant tribes at night. You will be scavenging food, building a base, and chopping down trees to stay warm.
In this game, you’ll have to decide whether to use the game’s stealth mechanics to try and sneak past enemies or confront them head-on with weapons you cobbled together from stone and wood.
The Forest contains an in-depth storyline, and although the survival elements are not as complex as some of the other games on this list, it offers a level of immersion and atmosphere that not all survival games can achieve.
If you want a pure survival game experience, this game allows you to turn off attacks from the forest inhabitants so that you are left to pit yourself against the environment.
You’ll need to sleep, hunt rabbits, gather berries, and explore in order to find what is needed to make it through the night.
9. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey
Developed by Panache Digital Games, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is a unique and ambitious game. You play as apes whose goal is to learn and evolve as they move closer to a complex and human-like society.
It is a game that is meant to be explored and does not hold your hand when learning the new game systems. You will travel around a large world of prehistoric Africa, required to find your path through dense jungles past ferocious predators like jaguars, crocodiles, and other hungry beasts.
This game may ultimately require you to do some Googling if you need more support with its difficulty, but I suggest that you go in intending to discover what you can for yourself.
This type of play experience will likely be the most rewarding way to approach the game, as it is clearly something the developers had in mind during its creation.
This game makes the list because of the involved exploration of learning and evolution, which takes something people are likely to have encountered inside a textbook or classroom and puts it inside a game.
This is the sort of educational realism that isn’t seen elsewhere in the survival genre.
8. Project Zomboid
Project Zomboid is an early-access game that has already garnered a lot of loyal fans and very positive Steam reviews.
As you might expect, as the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, your survival outlook is not too bright.
This game features punishing but addictive gameplay that will have you dealing not only with the normal survival game standbys of hunger and thirst but will also make you deal with the emotional elements of the apocalypse, such as boredom and depression.
This game obviously didn’t make the list because of its undead hordes or relatively simplistic graphics, but rather its deep and complex gameplay systems.
It features status screens showing you everything you’ll need to know about your character’s current mental and physical well-being. In true survival form, your only goal is to survive—and this is no easy task.
Medical supplies are scarce, and even a scratch from a zombie encounter can lead to dire consequences. Hint: try not to lose your flashlight in a dark room or get tired and just fall down.
RimWorld is a cult classic sandbox survival game. As a crash-landed crew on the edge of the galaxy, it’s your goal to build a rocket to get off the planet on which you are marooned.
Your colonists can be directed but not controlled and will develop relationships, emotions, and addictions all their own. These are the elements that drive the emergent storytelling of RimWorld, which adds a huge amount of interest and replayability to the game.
All the systems in RimWorld interact to great and sometimes hilarious or grimly disastrous effects. There is a whole planet to explore, full of a variety of plants, animals, diseases, and temperature changes.
Although you are dealing with many colonists, the level of specificity the game has for each one is quite impressive and one of the reasons it can feel realistic.
Your colonists all have toes, brains, hearts, and kidneys that can all be injured, diseased, or missing, all with in-game consequences.
Complex personality traits and emergent storytelling combined with in-depth AI systems for complex interaction and nearly unavoidable disaster make RimWord well worth a try and deserving of its spot on this list.
6. 7 Days to Die
7 Days to Die is a first-person, open-world Survival RPG developed by The Fun Pimps. The game has been in early access since 2013 and continues to add new features and content.
You play as a survivor in a world overrun by zombies, so the game does have some horror elements as well. You’ll need to be careful where you are and build up defenses for the inevitable blood moon every 7th night when the undead hordes will come looking for you.
7 Days to Die does a good job of being creepy and atmospheric without being over-the-top scary. You will be able to team up with up to eight players total to watch each other’s backs and make those nerve-wracking scavenger missions a little less dangerous.
This is a game that found its way to our list of the most realistic survival games for the good amount of RPG-style systems paired with fun combat and good crafting.
You’ll be amazed how much your life changes once you get your first bicycle, and filling and boiling water containers will be something of a never-ending process when you start the game to make sure you stay hydrated.
Similar to the real world, things will go better if you have reliable transportation, keep good friends around, and learn to cook a decent meal.
Sationeers is a hardcore construction and management-style survival game by developer Rocketwerkz. It was launched into early access in 2017 and has received largely positive reviews from players.
The game puts you in charge of building and managing a space station and proudly proclaims that it is not for casual players.
Although your building designs may start based on your need to gather resources as your station expands, you’ll have to make increasingly complex decisions.
The game looks a bit cartoonish, but under the hood, it is an extremely complex and challenging game that requires you to think through everything you do.
From building electronic circuits and IT chips for automating your base or creating a greenhouse for growing food to dying suddenly because you cut the wrong wire… you will feel like you’re really there.
This game draws heavily on scientific concepts and logic puzzles, which is exactly why it landed on this list.
It is silent when walking around outside of your base in the game. Why? Because sound doesn’t exist in the vacuum of space. This is just one small example of the sort of well-thought-out realism that exists throughout Stationers.
4. UnReal World
UnReal World is a game by developers Sami Maaranen and Erkka Lehmus. It first came out in the early 90s and now holds a Guinness World Record for longest update support for a game, as well as the first open-world survival game.
It is a roguelike, RPG survival simulation game set in ancient times in the far north. The game’s survival elements go into precise detail to the point where you can get bruises, cuts, or frostbite on individual limbs.
As with many games on this list, UnReal World definitely has a learning curve, and its old-school interface will probably take a little getting used to.
Although this game isn’t as immersive as many modern survival games, it allows for a lot of player choice and focuses on realistic scenarios. You can navigate a landscape filled with plants and animals modeled after the real-world far north regions.
You also have a lot of choices and can, for instance, become a hunter with a trained hunting dog and use bows or spears. If you would prefer, you can become a trapper and learn to tan hides and smoke meat.
This game makes the list for its commitment to being an in-depth survival simulation and for using real-world scenarios, plants, and animals based on the region in which it takes place.
3. The War of Mine
Developed by Polish game company 11 Bit Studios, This War of Mine is a side-scrolling survival game set in a war-torn country. You play as a group of civilians who sneak through the city at night, scavenging supplies they need to stay alive.
The game is tense and atmospheric, and you never know who you will find entering a building looking for supplies.
Other survivors, soldiers, and militia populate the world—each with their own motives—and although they may sometimes be willing to trade with you or leave you alone altogether, they may also turn on you without notice.
Your party’s actions will not only affect what supplies you take home and what conflicts you get into but also may have emotional repercussions on individual members.
This is a game with tough and complex moral decisions that can affect your team’s chances of survival. It is a game that faces the ugly challenges and human costs of approaching war head-on.
This empathetic scope is something of a rarity in most games and has not only won The War of Mine many awards but also landed it a place high on this list.
2. Green Hell
Green Hell is a survival game by developer Creepy Jar that was released in 2019. You explore the wilds or the Amazon rainforest, and just like in the real world, everything around you can be dangerous.
You can get bug bites that cause rashes and leeches that grab onto you while you are moving through water. Speaking of water, if you don’t boil your drinking water, you could come down with a parasite, so be careful you have enough drinking water when you leave camp.
This is a game that will have you constantly fighting for survival and is suitable for hardcore gamers or anyone brave enough to give it a try.
It has both many physical status effects but also an insanity meter that you’ll have to balance to maintain in a challenging environment for as long as you can.
It’s a good-looking game that takes survival realism to heart. You’ll be crafting, building, and cropping through this game in a desperate attempt to survive another day.
For those looking for a challenging survival sim that requires you to think ahead and solve problems inherent in a challenging environment Green Hell is definitely worth a shot.
1. The Long Dark
The Long Dark is a highly realistic survival game made by developer Hinterland Studio. It’s a game that shows that it doesn’t take zombies or alien attacks to a survival game that is compelling and challenging.
You take the role of Will Mackenzie, a pilot who has crashed and must now survive the freezing Canadian wilderness. This isn’t the most complex survival game on this list, but it captures a feeling of being alone, fighting for survival in the wilderness like no other.
In The Long Dark, everything degrades and eventually breaks, which gives you a real feeling of constantly contending with time and the elements for your survival.
One of the most oppressive and ever-present dangers is cold, and you’ll need fire and clothing to stay alive long enough to go on your next mission for supplies. Each action takes calories which means your actions will have to be careful and considered.
When you die in this game, it’s permanent, and your save is deleted. This means you have a real sense of danger and consequence to your actions.
All of these realistic elements combined with the raw and bleak atmosphere make The Long Dark my top pick for the most realistic survival game you can play in 2023.
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