I Come From A Land Down Under
The day has finally come! Subnautica officially released five days ago, and many who purchased the game either since then, or when it was in early access, have been playing ever since. It’s certainly come a long way in all that time, too. In the days when I first picked this title up, a story hadn’t been implemented, nor had most of the monsters that now currently reside within those dark ocean depths. Yet even after a year and a half of updates, the game has maintained the aesthetic and mechanics that I myself, and others loved, while also growing to promise a fuller, richer experience right up until the end. And, unlike many games of this genre, there is an end, should you find yourself brave enough to reach it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Clearly, I’m a fan of Subnautica. In total, I’ve spent almost three straight days playing it (currently at 77 clocked hours) and I still don’t plan on stopping – especially since most of those hours were spent replaying the first ten hours after constant updates in the beginning.The story is captivating, and it’s clear that our protagonist’s tale isn’t the only one being told fairly early on. You are, it turns out, one of many survivors that were fated to crash land on this uncharted planet. But unlike them, you may just have the wherewithal to make your escape – if you can cure yourself of the disease that the lifeforms of this world seem to be falling prey to.
Do all of this while navigating an alien world, literally scrounging to survive while solving a mystery and doing everything in your power to make it home. Will you have what it takes?
Here There Be Monsters
On its surface – no pun intended – Subnautica is a standard open world exploration game. Couple that with survival, mystery, and some horror to spice things up and you have a game that’s as rich as it is terrifying.
Exploration is a must in this game if you want to progress because doing so leads you to blueprints that open up new areas of the map. You’ll start out with the basics, like a sea-glider that speeds up your swim rate, an oxygen tank, a flashlight, and handiest of all: a knife. The more you explore, and the more resources you discover, you’ll be able to create things like submersibles, liveable habitats complete with power sources, exo-suits, and so on and so forth. Also, the more you explore means the more biomes you will discover, which continues the cycle of exploration and creation. Be careful though. Much like our own oceans, these territories aren’t friendly, and the deeper you go, the less hospitable the environments become. You’ll want to make sure you’re effectively equipped to ward off predators as well as capable of taking on the murkier depths. Pressure is a factor here, so if you dive too deep without the proper equipment your submersible will be destroyed and you’ll be left without any way to get back to the surface for oxygen.
Subnautica is going to require you to be intelligent while you play. Your full attention will be required as well. Keep your eyes and ears peeled at all times for sights and sounds of anything big and nasty, or just nasty, because death doesn’t always come in the shape of a Leviathan class Reaper. Combat will be ill-advised until you’re a bit more suped up, so running – or swimming – away will be advisable for the majority of your gaming experience.
If You Build It, The Reaper Will Come
The game does suffer from the same pitfalls as most in its genre though. Slow progress perforated by moments of fun and terror linger throughout a solid chunk of the middle of your game. Limited inventory slots also rear their ugly heads, and even though your vehicle upgrades will ease this issue later on, it can be irksome that so much back and forth can become required. This is made worse given that items don’t stack in their respective slots. Meaning, if you pick up five titanium baubles, you’ve rid yourself of five slots in your inventory. It makes you prioritize rather quickly what you’re bringing home and what you’re leaving behind, which again, can be frustrating given the resource requirements for some of the bigger construction projects in the game.
You’ll just have to deal with this, however, because building is intrinsic to success in Subnautica. Whether you’re constructing a home, a sub, or just a lead-lined diving suit to survive the radiation leaking from your crashed spaceship, this mechanic is what will make or break your experience as you explore the ocean of this alien planet.
Finding the resources to do this will not always be a walk in the park though – or in this case a swim. Things like titanium, quartz, salt, and rubber will be easy enough to make, but other resources will require some clever scrounging and a lot of patience. For example, precious jewels like rubies and diamonds will have more technical applications here, but finding them will be a test of both patience and courage as you flail about in the bio-illuminated depths.
Lost in Space
The story is also slow to develop, but given how much the player has to do this isn’t such a bad thing. It allows you to go at a pace more designated to your own preferences, though you can accelerate it as fast as you like by checking the radio messages as soon as possible when they come in.
Things start by getting alerts from other life pods ejected from the Aurora (your ship) but it all accelerates when you realize that you’re not the first ship to crash land here. Furthermore, there’s something infecting the life on this planet, and it’s not too long before you come down with the disease yourself.
Effectively it becomes a race against time as you struggle to save the rescue ship that’s approaching, cure yourself of the disease, solve the mystery of this waterlogged planet, and escape to see home once more. Will you make it? How far will you get before the monsters of the deep scare you into submission? These are questions you’ll have to answer in your own time. Make sure you have plenty set aside for playing Subnautica as well, because it will demand it of you. This isn’t a bad thing of course. In fact, if you’re already familiar with this genre of game you understand that this is practically a given.
If you’re new to this kind of game, Subnautica isn’t a bad place to start. Despite it almost entirely taking place underwater, the life forms and biomes are varied enough to offer a wide range of experiences and environments, meaning things will stay fresh for hours to come.
Of course, you must remember, with every new environment comes a new way to die as the lifeforms become more dangerous too.
Dive Right In! The Water is Warm (And Full Of Terrors)!
This game has been a long time coming in its release, and fans everywhere are excited to finally experience the finished product. If you’re not already among them I heavily implore you to join in on the fun. Subnautica is very much a diamond in the rough for the survival exploration genre. It took something overused and contrived and found a way to make it fresh. Unknown Worlds Entertainment truly did a phenomenal job and has gone further than most by creating a rapport with their fans by interacting with them over the course of years to ensure they released the best product available when it came time. Fans of this genre will be thrilled (and terrified) as they undergo the adventures that await them, and newcomers will be spoiled rotten by the experiences that Subnautica promises.
Although the game isn’t perfect, I’d wager it’s as damn close as any of this genre can currently claim to be. Literally, everything Subnautica offers players is bold and new, with a wonderful art style coupled alongside a soundtrack almost as alien as the world you’re on. If you need something to sink some time into, this game is it. And the best part of all is the remarkably humble asking price of $24.99.
Space may be the final frontier, but this oceanic adventure will keep you entertained for months on end. If you haven’t already, jump on board and find out if you’re worth your sea salt!
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One; Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment ; Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment; Players: 1 ; Released: January 23, 2018 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Subnautica.