You’re in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by darkness. There’s an outline of a massive alien creature swimming in the distance. You might think to yourself “hell no”, then pull a one-eighty and start swimming. Subnautica turns that instinctual human fear of the unknown into a reality by introducing the player to a terrifying yet beautiful underwater setting.
Unknown Worlds Entertainment fully released Subnautica on January 3rd 2018, and thanks to it’s immersive gameplay, environmental storytelling and clever design, they created something truly special. Here’s why you should play Subnautica if you haven’t already.
Vast, Unexplored and Wicked
95% of our oceans remain unexplored by manned missions, and there is a good reason for that.
Most people are absolutely horrified by the deep sea.
Subnautica takes advantage of that by plunging divers into a marine world that is completely alien. Some of us are scared of sharks or squids, but once somebody comes across their first Reaper Leviathan, Earth’s measly sharks will pale in comparison.
The game has a huge map, including 15 biomes on the surface alone. If you’re creeped out by the massive spaces and limited visibility of the ocean, many of these will be a challenge to explore. When you enter a new biome, an audio cue from your guiding robotic voice, whom I call Karen, will play. In one of the surface biomes, called the Blood Kelp Zone, the voice will say “this ecological biome matches 7 of the 9 preconditions for stimulating terror in humans.” The thing is, players will need to explore it if they wish to get some important fragments.
It’s very likely that the first time new players encounter something dreadful like this biome they will throw out the disc and never lay eyes upon Subnautica again. However, this work of art has a way of reeling folks back in with its blood-curdling creatures and beautiful scenery by immersing the player into an underwater realm that begs to be explored.
Not only does the natural progression of the story force survivors to face an ocean filled with fascinating alien lifeforms, but it also forces you to do it alone.
As the sole survivor of a spaceship that mysteriously crash landed on planet 4546B, the player soon finds themselves talking to fish or personifying inanimate objects. Hints of humanity can be found throughout the game such as Degasi seabases and destroyed lifepods, but never the real thing.
Additionally, the game’s sound design is beautifully still and eerie. From escalating, upbeat music to dead silence, the biomes often all have their own sounds that will have you flinching and looking behind your back. The most dangerous biomes are often void of any sound besides the muffled roars of not-so-distant Leviathans, creating a horror-like atmosphere.
It’s very easy to see only the surface of Subnautica, an exploration-survival game where you catch fish with your bare hands and build submarines. Yet, when players dive deeper, they can find bits and pieces of the story scattered throughout the environment.
Now some people might ask: “Why the heck would I want to keep exploring this planet alone if it’s so uninviting?”. Well, Unknown Worlds has the answer to that question. The developer cleverly adds in an age-old question to the game world: is there other sentient life in the universe?
There is, or was, sentient alien life in this digital plane of existence. The aliens are the reason that the main character is on that planet, and there are two ways of finding the answers: You can either google it because Google knows everything or, you can dive down into the depths and find out for yourself. Just watch out for those Alien Robots.
No Fighting Back
Veteran horror game players know all too well the feeling of helplessness. The protagonist in Outlast only had a camera to hide behind while being chased by beefy prisoners, and Five Nights at Freddie’s had players watch their impending doom unfold on security cameras. Even though Subnautica isn’t technically a horror game, it implements a classic feature that many horror games use.
There’s almost no fighting back against the big baddies.
Although it’s possible to fabricate gear like the Stasis Rifle or the Repulsion Cannon to help ocean dwellers fend off hungry predators, it’s very difficult and frankly pointless to attempt to kill a Leviathan. It will take you around 120 stabs to kill one, but it will respawn when you leave the area. With no weapons to kill the Leviathans (at least without excessive amounts of effort), deeper exploration becomes a daunting and exciting adventure, and forces players to use other means to survive.
I often found myself sneaking by Leviathans with the Cyclops, given its useful Silent Running ability. When turned on the submarine will go dark, drive slower and become eerily silent, as if the vessel and the captain are holding their breath. There are also other ways of thwarting them, like freezing them with the stasis rifle or punching them with the PRAWN suit, but none of them make you feel safe.
The main attraction of Subnautica is exploration. Nevertheless, there will often be times where players will have to farm resources to build what they need to progress. It is a survival game, after all.
Be that as it may, the resource costs aren’t excessive and won’t be too much to handle for new and experienced players alike. It won’t be anything like farming for ancient sets on Diablo 3. The first seamoth you build will only take up a few minutes of your time, once you have the fragments. However, Subnautica does force you to go deeper to build higher-quality gear by placing the best materials in the darkest depths.
The costs can even be a little idealistic at times; don’t tell me that a “vast industrial-use submarine” only takes 3 metal ingots to build. Although that’s beside the point since realism doesn’t seem like a priority, given it’s possible to make water out of fish by using lasers.
An Icy New Chapter
Subnautica offers an experience that will immerse players in a vast underwater world filled with wacky creatures and compelling stories. It’s an extraordinary achievement of game design that will be remembered in the hearts and minds of millions of players worldwide.
If you’re hungry for more undersea adventure, you’re in luck. Unknown Worlds Entertainment is in the final stages of producing an icy new chapter, Subnautica: Below Zero. Though no final release date has been confirmed yet, it’s available to play in early access on PC right now.
Subnautica is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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