Subnautica: A Deep Survival Revelation
Survival games generally follow the same formula, thrusting players into a world where they must scavenge, craft, and fight to progress. Despite our love for this video game experience, it can sometimes become tedious to play what feels like the same title repeatedly. What makes Subnautica instantly stand out from the crowd is its unfamiliar setting.
Plunging you deep into the expansive oceans of an alien world is a wildly creative, different premise for a survival game, but is it any good? After diving in (literally) into the underwater world of Subnautica for countless hours, we will explore that question in our extensive review of the game.
Story and concept
After a spaceship carrying several humans crashes on a watery alien world, you take on the role of a survivor who has nothing but your buoyant life pod floating on the surface of a seemingly endless ocean. Upon inspection, it is clear that your life pod’s equipment is damaged, and your first task is to repair it. By diving down into the shallow waters, you can scavenge different materials, craft new tools and catch alien fish to quell your increasing hunger or thirst.
Once you have repaired your life pod’s radio, you begin to receive incoming messages from a trading vessel that promises to help you escape the planet you find yourself abandoned on. With vague directions and objectives, you slowly progress through a story to unravel a mystery surrounding the company you worked for, the planet itself, and even an ancient alien civilization.
Since there are some very interesting reveals throughout the lengthy 30-hour experience, we won’t go into too many details, but there are some thought-provoking revelations as things come to a close.
Since Subnautica is an indie title, developer Unknown Worlds has opted for a cartoony art style in order to facilitate a massive underwater map that runs impressively well. This stylization isn’t necessarily bad since the creature’s design oozes personality with the bulging eyes of fish or rounded details of hulking monsters of the deep.
Structures and vehicles also appear incredibly polished, with textures that shine in the impressive lighting that Subnautica employs. This is particularly noticeable as you descend deeper into the ocean since the light filtering in from the surface slowly dims to a complete and terrifying darkness.
The colors of coral, the physics of the water, and the way the depths can become illuminated are a sight to behold, making Subnautica one of the most atmospheric games we have ever played.
Sound and atmosphere
As you encounter alien life beneath the waves in Subnautica, you are greeted by their distinct chirps, swooshes, and vocalizations unique to every species. With the more terrifying creatures in the game, their snarls and roars instill a genuine sense of fear that becomes increasingly more prevalent as you progress.
Even as you mine, pluck or acquire materials, charming sound effects add to the survival immersion. This level of detail from a smaller studio is genuinely impressive at every turn, and no audio elements haven’t been considered.
The musical accompaniments to the game are equally impressive, setting the scene depending on your location and the impressive main theme coming into play during key story moments to elevate the events. This, combined with the game’s unique locations, results in an exceptionally atmospheric experience. These locations include vast kelp forests, flashy crystalline caves, and rolling seabed dunes.
When you begin to craft new gear or upgrade your existing equipment, you can traverse deeper into the oceans around your life pod. This begins the core gameplay loop, where you reach new areas that contain different materials to help you upgrade further. These increased capabilities include things like bigger oxygen tanks, a variety of wetsuits, and even vehicles eventually.
This genuine sense of progress is quite satisfying, and it always seems like you are working towards some new crafting recipe or enhancement. Since the game features quite a minimal direction, players can sometimes feel lost as to how to progress, forcing them to explore uncharted underwater locations.
This can lead to frustration since your next discovery is seldom signposted to you, outside of a few distress signals you pick up on. This means that you will need to find your own way, setting down markers to remember which direction things are in the sprawling submerged world.
What starts out as a colorful, delightful dive into the beautiful shallows becomes extremely scary as you descend into the unknown darkness. This triggers a real sense of thalassophobia as you begin to understand the scale and depth of the waters below you.
After you finish Subnautica, you can dive back in for another playthrough with your increased knowledge of the depths. Despite making it to the end of the story, players will inevitably miss items, collectibles, and locations throughout the game world.
While there is only one ending to the game, many players become obsessed with the in-depth building mechanics to develop expansive, efficient underwater bases to store items, process materials, and even grow crops.
Whether you want to experience the engrossing story all over again, search for hidden items on the seabed or build an enormous submerged home, there is something for everyone in multiple playthroughs of Subnautica.
Final thoughts on Subnautica
In a sea of survival games, standing out and delivering something truly unique can be difficult. The developers here have done that with Subnautica, a masterful game in a beautiful (and sometimes terrifying) world. Despite feeling aimless at times and even frustrating, Subnautica delivers a mysterious narrative, excellent crafting, and an unrivaled atmosphere in one of the finest survival games ever made.
Before you take your first dive, read our guide Subnautica: 10 Tips for Getting Started.