Plunge Into One Of The Best Survival Games
I suffer really badly from Thalassophobia. For those unaware of what that is, it’s a profound fear of open water and experiencing panic when surrounded by the vast expanse of ocean. What better game to play then than Subnautica. After crash landing on an alien world, this survival sandbox sees you scavenging resources from a vast alien sea, trying to piece together what’s happened while trying to survive and eventually escaping from this hostile world. With most of the story told through fragmented audio logs and wreckage, the onus is up to you to figure out what to do, resulting in a very rewarding but equally frustrating experience.
The story evolves as quickly or as slowly as you choose, depending on how fast you to take to the various mechanics at play here. You begin by crash landing on an alien planet, surrounded by the vast expanse of the ocean. It quickly becomes apparent help is a long way away and in order to survive until then, you’ll have to adapt quickly or die. After putting out a fire in your cramped pod and being given a very basic understanding of the controls, Subnautica leaves it up to you to figure out what to do. It’s at this point where you’re greeted by the UI which introduces you to four key components that are the lifeblood of the game. Hunger, thirst, O2 and health.
The water effects are really realistic and help sell the concept
Keeping each of these topped up proves to be vital to your survival as you explore the ocean. Water can be obtained through crafting bleach to sterilise bottles to keep in your inventory or by hunting and eating bladderfish. The hunger meter is relatively straight forward to understand but not initially clear. This sees you finding materials to craft a knife first before eventually hunting fish underwater. You then bring these back to your pod to cook to get the most amount of energy. O2 is the length of time you can spend underwater in one go and health is how much damage you can withstand from the more menacing creatures underwater. While these mechanics are the basic bread and butter of survival games, it does take a while to really get to grips with the way this one plays out.
There’s a steep learning curve to master and especially early on, the lack of clarity around exactly what you should be doing and how to go about doing it really hold the game back from being more accessible to mainstream audiences. Even a brief tutorial during these early “Shallow Sea” segments would have greatly benefited the game. Still, if you can stick it out (and possibly check a few wiki guides) Subnautica opens up in the best possible way and becomes one of the best survival games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Even if I do continue to feel paralyzing fear every time I dive in the water.
Some of the creatures underwater are incredibly frightening and will kill you if you aren’t prepared
As you progress through the game, more of the story opens up and what begins as a desolate fight for survival eventually blossoms into a fully fledged story hiding in the depths of the ocean. As you craft better equipment and begin exploring longer and deeper stretches underwater, the ability to build your own base opens up. This proves to be an absolute necessity in order to progress through the latter portions of the game too.
Water is one of the hardest elements of game design to get right. The unpredictable nature of the sea as well as all the notoriously difficult effects needed to replicate waves, currents and everything in between is something that many game companies have really struggled to get right. Even Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, which was an incredibly good-looking game, struggled to get this right. It’s staggering then that Indie studio Unknown Worlds have achieved this almost perfectly. The refracting sunlight, the slow darkening of the water as you descend deeper and the way the waves lap up and down against your sub really help sell this realism.
As you start to descend deeper, the lighting gets deeper and things get a lot more challenging
Despite the great water effects running throughout the game, Subnautica really struggles with its draw distance and succumbs to some pretty horrendous pop-in. Given the gravitas of this, it does detract quite a bit from the overall experience. Hearing a menacing roar in the water and suddenly seeing a giant mantis-like behemoth pop in metres away from you is something that’s a constant problem here. This goes for rock formations, outcroppings and other parts of the world too which suddenly pop in without warning. It’s even more bizarre too given the draw distance extends beyond this giving the illusion of less in the water than there actually is.
Subnautica is a game you’ll either really love or really hate. The steep learning curve and lack of handholding does make the game more frustrating to play than it should be. Even late on when you’re given further instructions on where to go and how you go about achieving these goals is something that’s never really explained in great detail. Aside from a few data logs here and there, there’s nothing in the inventory that helps explain to you how to build a base, how crafting knives are needed to hunt fish or anything else necessary for survival. This does feel like a bit of a misstep but thankfully there’s plenty of guides online that go some way of alleviating the issues.
If you can look past some of the more questionable design choices and don’t mind the chunks of pop-in that crop up here, Subnautica opens up in the best possible way and is unlike anything else out there. It’s a bumpy road to reach that point though, but the rewards are worth the perseverance. Whether you’ll sink some serious hours into this to make it that far is up for debate but if you can stick it out, Subnautica does reap some amazing rewards.
Verdict - 8/10