Subnautica Review – You Want an Underwater Adventure? You Got it

Unknown Worlds

Back in 2016 I had the opportunity to play 505 Games’ little indie gem, ABZÛ. It was an underwater odyssey that evoked a sense of wonder, and sometimes terror. But for all it had going on it was just a little too short, clocking in at around an hour or so. ABZÛ left be scratching my head and wondering why there weren’t more underwater games out there, particularly underwater survival games.

Well, the good folks at Unknown Worlds (unbeknownst to me) have been developing an underwater-based survival game for the past three or so years, and it just recently left Steam’s Early Access. Subnautica, as it is known, is a game that has received so much praise that I figured it would be best to not know anything about it before playing. In that way, I could hope to get a purer survival experience out of it.

I’m glad that I did.

Going into my first game of Subnautica blind, I found myself suddenly thrust on board a starship called the Aurora. After a mysterious explosion, the ship began plummeting towards a nearby waterworld that it had evidently been orbiting. And when I say waterworld, we’re talking not one speck of land anywhere to be seen upon its glittering, azure surface.

I quickly dashed into an escape pod and was jettisoned downwards towards the planet. The only thing is, an object hit me in the face during the whole dire episode, which spared me the terror of crash-landing into the water.

Subnautica’s proper gameplay began after I woke up on board the tiny escape capsule, and extinguished a small fire that had broken out. After that, I took stock of my situation. I had a first aid station as well as a device that can materialize objects out of thin air, sort of like the contraptions that you see featured in Star Trek episodes. As I popped open the top hatch of the pod, the game’s brilliant music swelled as my eyes fell across the fiery hulk of what was left of the Aurora. It was one dramatic beginning, I’ll say that.

Thinking that there may be some sort of supplies in (or at least close to) the downed starship, I dove into the waters surrounding me and began swimming towards it. In-between spurts of diving underwater and rising to the surface for air (I wanted to see what kind of critters were in the water with me, naturally), I noticed a whole host of colorful little fishies that reminded me of ABZÛ’s environs. I also noticed that the closer that I got to the starship, the more barren the underwater landscape was.

Suddenly, I heard what could only be described as “something big” emitting a gargantuan underwater roar. I turned around just in time to see a very large and pissed off looking leviathan-type monster coming right at me. And so ended my first game of Subnautica.

I played my second game much more cautiously, and stayed closer to the escape pod. It was then that I learned how to scavenge the depths for debris from the Aurora, as well as natural resources from the ocean’s floor. Using different combinations of resources allows you to craft supplies, food, and building materials from the fabricator on board the escape pod.

This all may sound a little hum-drum to survival aficionados, but in Subnautica it is anything but. Every foray back into the depths elicited feelings of wonderment, terror, and pure adventure. This becomes more apparent when you craft your first expanded air tanks, because they allow you to travel deeper into the ocean’s depths.

I won’t go further into what you’ll find within Subnautica’s depths, for fear of revealing spoilers, but suffice it to say that the game does have a baked-in narrative that moves smoothly alongside your more practical survival tasks.

I must say that Subnautica’s visuals are spectacular. Just swimming around underwater and looking at the broad array of vibrant sea creatures, large and small, is a real treat. Combined with the equally colorful flora, such as immense coral tubes that you can swim through, and the game’s oceanic world truly seems alive. The sound design is equally, if not more impressive, and aural cues are abundant.

And base-building aspect of Subnautica is also unique, since you have to put things together in careful steps. In most survival games, you simply pick a spot and start slapping stuff together. But in a game which takes place underwater, you have to worry about such things as air supplies, durability of your building materials, and pressure.

Subnautica is a brilliant survival entry that is unlike anything else out there at the moment. It combines excellent crafting and building mechanics, a fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) sense of adventure, and a non-invasive storyline that will keep you guessing.

SCORE: 87%

Subnautica features outstanding graphics that make its survival gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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