Every once and a while a game comes along and it just fits you. Almost like it had been made specifically to your tastes and desires. Then continues to deliver further still your dreams via continuous updates.
This is ‘My’ Subnautica.
A little background here, Subnautica was first released on Steam for Windows and MacOS in December 2014 as part of the Early Access store, then for Xbox One Game Preview in May 2016. The full release, finally out of early access this January, with a version for the PS4 also planned for a later date.
Developed by Unknown Worlds Entertainment Based in San Francisco, California, the studio is best known for the ‘Natural Selection‘ mod and have garnered their fair share of awards within the mod scene for it. So much so, that for its sequel – Unknown Worlds – they had moved away from the Source engine and onto their own in-house developed engine.
The rest, as they say …is history in the making, because it’s paved the way to Subnautica.
Subnautica is a survival/adventure game, in which you’ve crash landed on planet where the surface is 99% water (imagine you are Tom Hanks in Cast Away but…). It’s an open world environment and played in first person. The sole survivor left it seems from the crashed space ship, the Aurora. Your main objective, to explore the world and survive the dangers underwater while at the same time following the story of the game. No Wilson though.
It starts light, putting out a quick fire in your escape pod, repairing the radio and craft station to become your early game floating base. From which you hunt for food and water as well as resources such as copper and silver to rubies and diamonds all used to craft what you need, tools, bases, and submersibles.
In the default “Survival” mode, you have to manage your hunger, thirst, and oxygen. After a few minutes you’ve got to grips with the movement and menus -it’s really that uncomplicated – as you venture forth to explore. You’re fairly safe, nothing really nasty about but you play it cautious to begin with because, well …alien planet…
Then the panic hits you, as the sun starts to hit the horizon. It begins getting darker, you have a mad scramble to get back to the pod before it gets too dark to see – last thing you want is to be blind while underwater – but it’s not the case. At night the reef comes to life, fluorescent coral, fish and algae help you see. And what a sight it is, I’ve not said yet how beautiful Subnautica is but it’s even more so at night, stunning, truly.
There’s a plot! Delivered via the radio, the computer picks up radio signals from other survivor’s escape pods which you set out to explore/rescue but alas …it becomes apparent quickly that you may actually be the only survivor. But hey! You get blueprints to craft new gear faster this way.
Submersibles! Exploring a few of the pods and some crash debris from the Aurora while using a tool called the scanner will help you unlock more blueprints. Some of which will be your transport, starting with a little handheld turbine to a small bubble-like sub called the Seamoth, then to a bipedal deep sea suit known as the P.R.A.W.N and finally to the Cyclops – a full blown submarine – your mobile base and long term transport of choice. In which you can build much the games placeable blueprints such as storage lockers and power cell chargers.
The submersibles are upgradable too, leading me on to Subnautica’s exploration capping, Depth. Depth is what holds you back here, when swimming you can only really get about 200 meters down before having to head back up for air even with a high quality air tank. So you need to have a means of oxygen replenishment at deeper areas and your submersibles become vital here. But even they have pressure limits so it’s a necessity that you upgrade to gain access to the true depths and even provide extras like sonar, fire extinguishing systems, drilling arms, silent running, solar battery charging, etc.
The plot is delivered over time, also triggered from exploration of specific biomes. It does something very few games of this genre fail at, it hooks you, the narrative is expertly delivered by the voice recordings of other crewmen, the slightly eccentric computer AI and the rescue ship on the way …you want to find a way off this planet yes but there’s a reason you’ve crashed and through the unfolding story you may find your escape.
There’s zero boredom here, from the genuinely cool equipment and unique exploration available to the beautifully crafted environment, engaging and immersive story … and the depths.
The deep, deep depths. I’ve played so many games over the years, so many of those have been horror games as they hold a solid place in my heart – Playing Resident Evil with my big bro as a kid will always be one of my fondest memories – that said I have never scared easy but here in Subnautica. I have never been so unnerved, the feeling of loneliness is amplified the deeper you go and in the dark …danger can lurk anywhere around you. It’s a mightily unsettling feeling that will remain even after 20+ hours of play.
It feels like another world again when you reach depths of 2000m, volcanic caverns, goliath-sized fossils and the big nasties. Toward the surface there’s not much that will mangle you apart from the Reaper leviathan which is about the size of your average humpback whale but back down in the deep, you’ve got even bigger and louder terrors.
You’re on edge all the time. Excited all the time. Curious all the time. This is the genuine article, faultless game, one of the few to utilise the Early Access program properly and one of even fewer to do it so well.
Included are three other modes: “Freedom mode” – no hunger or thirst, “Hardcore mode” – survival with perma-death and “Creative Mode“, in which the hunger, thirst, health, and oxygen features are all disabled, craft anything, no resources are needed and the submersibles do not need power and cannot be damaged.
All in all, Subnautica fits the bill on almost every single front, the gameplay is amazing, the visuals are outstanding, the audio is hauntingly perfect, the plot is greatly handled which is something few survival games get near let alone deliver on, a level of immersion so lofty it sets a standard for games of the genre to aspire for. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next for it, Coop? Crashing on another planet after a botched escape attempt? Mod support?
OVERALL: 9.1/10 – Excellence
Reviewed by Michael Jones.