One of the bigger trends to have come out in the gaming industry over the past half-decade or so is open-world survival games. From initial titles such as DayZ and Rust, the genre has birthed a large variety and number of games, each with their own schtick to help them stand out against their competitors. One of the latest open-world survival games that has come out of early access is Subnautica.
If you’ve never heard of Subnautica before, it isn’t exactly a new game. Just like many of the titles in its genre, Subnautica was first available as an early access title on PC back in 2014. The early access was also made available on Mac OS X and Xbox One in the couple of years after that. It then came out of early access for the PC back in January of this year before also fully releasing on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this month.
Subnautica differentiates itself from the other games in the genre by not only setting the entire experience in water but also giving the game an actual plot for players to follow. New players start off the game in the middle evacuating a giant starship via one of its drop pods, both of which proceed to crash into an ocean planet. Players must then figure out how to survive this water world while also finding a way to get off it.
The giant starship the player originally started out in lies in ruins a few hundred meters away from the player’s drop pod, providing a clear goal for exploration. Subnautica does a great job at telling its main story without forcing the player to follow it exclusively. The game mostly leaves players to their own devices and allows them to play and progress at their own pace, striking a good balance between its story and its open-world.
"As for building habitats, players utilize the Habitat Builder, a sort of handheld version of the replicator but for building structures."
The game doesn’t make it easy for players to get started though as it provides very little guidance on what to do and how to do it, leaving you to discover most of it yourself. It might take awhile but once players get the hang of the game’s mechanics, the experience starts flowing more smoothly as players discover and realize their objectives and start moving towards achieving them.
Players will need to watch out for several things to survive their watery prison including thirst, hunger, health, and oxygen, among others. Emptying out on either hunger or thirst will start depleting health, which in turn will lead to death once it runs out. The most pressing of the four though is oxygen as players will be spending most of their time underwater and running out of oxygen far below the surface will instantly lead to death.
The core of Subnautica’s experience is in its exploration and crafting and how both of those mutually expand as the player progresses through the game. With oxygen dictating just how long a player can stay underwater to explore, being able to craft better oxygen sources such as bigger air tanks allows players to explore further into the ocean. And being able to explore further in turn allows players to obtain new resources for crafting better tools and/or equipment.
Apart from the main game mode called Survival, Subnautica also offers three others to give players a variety of experiences. Freedom removes both hunger and thirst, Hardcode is the same as Survival but players will only have one life, and a Creative mode that basically lets players play around with the game’s building and crafting system without hindrances by removing the game’s survival and story elements.
The crafting system in Subnautica is pretty par for the course for a game in its genre and consists of combining several resources to create tools, equipment, and more. While this type of crafting system usually requires a bit of suspension of disbelief as the end product is oftentimes far removed from the resources used to build it, Subnautica makes up for it by utilizing a Star Trek-inspired replicator, which helps to maintain the game’s immersion.
As for building habitats, players utilize the Habitat Builder, a sort of handheld version of the replicator but for building structures. There’s a whole multitude of ways players can build and customize their ocean homes, including building a variety of power generators to keep everything running, rooms for storing all your resources, or even your own aquarium. It provides a nice respite from exploring the depths of the ocean for resources.
Collecting resources for crafting in Subnautica involves a whole lot of discovery, or searching the Wiki, as the game gives very little to no clues as to exactly where you find specific resources. Oftentimes you’re simply swimming up to every thing that isn’t water or sand to see if it’s something you can either simply pick up with a press of a button or something you can harvest using your knife.
"Subnautica is probably one of the most visually stunning yet absolutely terrifying takes on the open-world survival genre."
The visuals of Subnautica range from bright and colorful to dark and ominous, giving its ocean world a whole lot of life. The ocean’s plants, creatures, and other living and non-living inhabitants are all striking in many different ways with both familiar and alien features, making them easier to spot and be weary off. The game is a visual treat for those who have always been fascinated by the diversity of aquatic life, even if this time it’s all alien.
Coupling the game’s visuals is the amazing sound design that makes the game truly terrifying. The horror of not knowing what and where sounds are coming from oftentimes makes drifting around in the deeper depths of the ocean a heart-racing experience. Even when you feel a bit safer in your submarine, not fully knowing what else is swimming in the ocean’s dark depths around you is unnerving.
Subnautica is probably one of the most visually stunning yet absolutely terrifying takes on the open-world survival genre. Its survival and exploration elements coupled with its robust crafting system as well as an actual plot makes for a refreshing and enjoyable experience that even those who have tried to stay away from the genre might actually enjoy. As long as they’re not too afraid of the water.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Robust crafting system, Great visuals, Immersive sound design, Relatively unique setting and story.
Occasional graphical pop-in.