I suffer from ‘bathophobia’, a fear of deep water. So of course I was the perfect person to take on and preview Subnautica! Still in early access this underwater survival sim is not only beautiful but offers a solid challenge.
Subnautica starts in an escape pod on an alien planet with a single goal…Survival. Inside your pod you have a builder that will craft the key tools and allow you to explore the deepest depths of the sea. Once you’re equipped with a handy knife and a new oxygen tank the world opens up considerably. However, the true depths of the world aren’t fully realised until you develop your first submersible. The speed at which you can traverse the underwater landscape and collect resources makes the game a lot more accessible and being able to escape gorgeous yet deadly sea monsters at a pace is most welcome!
Subnautica has recently seen a major update adding a habitat building section. This allows the production of an underwater base that works as a hub for all your activities. You build a piece at a time and tailor it to your needs, all the while managing hull integrity as you contest with pressures of the deep. You will use your habitat to store supplies and park your vehicles while restocking oxygen supplies. This update allows you to live completely free from surface life. The most wonderful sight I saw was during an expansion project at night when glowing fish swam overhead slowly, illuminating the entire landscape. Stunning.
Subnautica is largely a survival game with the same tropes you’ve seen from all other survival games. You’re foraging for food and managing different meters all at once, which on the surface (no pun intended) can seem frustratingly arbitrary at times. The unique way in which they utilise them make it feel fresh and new. When you’re in an extremely small survival pod with no more space and you’re gathering resources to build a habitat, you can dig a cave in the sand and ensure your valuable materials are safe for the future. I effectively lived from my first cave for a long time as I scoured the shallowest of ocean beds for precious metals and other collectibles. The dynamic underwater terrain can allow you to burrow where no-one has gone before creating your own underwater cave system if you choose.
Most of the creatures you meet in the first few hours are reasonably harmless and it has to be said, rather fantastical. However, the deeper you go and the darker the caves you explore the more horrifying the creatures you’ll find lurking around the corner. Although the game doesn’t always feel the most tense that soon changes when entering a pitch black hole 200 metres below the surface.
Subnautica also does something a lot of other survival games doesn’t and offers a “Freedom” version. This version negates the need to fight for food or drink and allows you to simply swim around and see the world while focusing on the building mechanics. You can also play the creative version which also removes story elements and lets you go in and build freely with no constraints.
I’d like to see more depth to the story from Subnautica, to experience the ship going down and some communications from your home that will eventually culminate in you working out a way to get rescued and finally seeing that friendly ship descend to pick you up and take you home. This is obviously something perhaps only I’m craving and is also a rarity in the survival genre which is unfortunate. I’d like to explore your existing ship once it sinks into the depths of the sea and find all sorts of hidden treasures.
Subanutica is a beautiful and challenging experience. I found the constant need to return to the surface frustrating at first, but once I worked out what was going on I enjoyed the challenge of scouring the ground for wreckage and alien fish for food while timing my surface return a great experience. Building a habitat and a submarine widened the experience considerably and allowed me to dive to the depths of the ocean with greater ease and bravado. Subnautica is turning into an amazing game and it’s going to be fascinating to watch as new modules get released and I really am hyped to see where the developers take this underwater adventure. The pop up that asks whether you simply want to play Subnautica or launch into Oculus mode has me the most excited. The idea of playing in this underwater paradise while wearing an Oculus Rift intrigues me as much as it terrifies me!