Subnautica is a single player survival game set on a strange alien ocean planet with miles and miles of oceans being the only landmarks for as far as the eye can see. Subnautica is free until 22 April with the Play at Home 2021 program and survival games are definitely one of my favorite game genres of all time because they’re extremely replay able as I like games where I have a long-term goal like building a base, finding out who took my son or just planning out meals to survive for as long as possible.
I have played most of the popular survival games like The Long Dark, Stranded Deep, Rust, The Forest etc. but I haven’t played Subnautica yet. After an hour or so of initially slow game play I fell in love with this epic underwater exploration game and it moved up on my list as another one of my favorite survival games. It’s a truly amazing and unique experience and it’s one that I recommend to anybody giving survival games a shot.
After an intense crash landing of your ship the Aurora, you barely get away with your life and end up in a lone escape pod in the middle of nowhere. Your goal from this point on is to investigate the planet, discover the strange alien species and their lore and survive for as long as possible all while staying under water and making do with what you have. It’s an interesting concept and it’s one of the only games that I’m familiar with that allows you to play and survive without stepping foot on land.
There’s underwater base building, exploration, a fairly complex crafting system, a story, a surprisingly large amount of lore and lots of interesting things to do. Just like any survival game you’re bound to be intrigued with what’s going on and you’re going to try your hardest to make the best out of a dire situation. Subnautica is much different than many other survival games and it’s not one that you can compare to anything else. The excitement and fear that comes with exploring an underwater environment can’t be matched and it is a great experience.
Many games don’t know how to pull off an underwater world and in fact I can’t even think of one that does it well except for Subnautica and this brings me to my first thing that makes this game so awesome, the world itself. Within the ocean that you have to survive in there are over 30 different biomes. Ranging from the shallow, safe and sandy starting region and going all the way to underwater luminescent caves and sketchy depths.
There are countless different environments to explore and each environment has different lifeforms, resources and experiences and exploring them is always interesting and bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. For example, in the Jellyshroom cave you’ll find a beautiful array of cool looking plants and animals and absolutely terrifying giant worms and other noises that will make you want to turn around instantly. In the kelp forest you can find pieces of the Aurora’s wreckage, creatures known as stalkers and lots of other plant life that you can use in crafting recipes.
In the crash zone you can find the absolutely terrifying Reaper Leviathan which we will get back to. Each of these regions are part of a big open world and there are no loading screens when you’re exploring them and that’s a good thing because you’re going to be in and out of each of these regions quite often. As you progress through Subnautica you’re going to unlock new recipes for bass parts, vehicles, equipment and more.
You find these recipes by scanning pieces of the wrecked Aurora and different regions will have different recipes that you need to unlock. They do get harder to find as more rare recipes are in deeper and more dangerous regions. You can travel between these regions by swimming using a Seaglide which is like a little motorized thingy, a Seamoth which is a small submarine and a Cyclops which is a big submarine that you could also use as a base.
The further you get away from the starting sandy area the more dangerous it becomes and then you begin to find out how scary Subnautica actually is. When I say that Subnautica is scary it is an understatement. Subnautica is terrifying and after playing through the game I don’t know if I’m ever going to go back into the sea again. The developers of Subnautica really did a good job at making the deep blue ocean as intimidating as possible.
As you venture further away and begin to go deeper and deeper into the abyss, the creatures that you find start to intensify. You will inevitably come across the Reaper Leviathan but not right away. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll first be teased with a few long-distance sightings of them and when you see them you don’t want to go any closer to begin with. The absolute terror of Subnautica is another thing that is done perfectly. Throughout your time on the planet, you’ll hear lots of roars and sounds that are extremely intimidating.
You constantly feel like you’re being watched and the presence of these sounds will make you question what else is truly out there. As you venture into the more dangerous regions the music often intensifies and becomes creepy, the sounds increase and your visibility goes down to nothing. These things combined make you stay on edge throughout the experience and it makes it much more tense and exciting to adventure into the unknown. Subnautica makes it even scarier by adding automated messages that come up saying things like there are Leviathan class enemies around.
On top of the Reaper Leviathan there actually some other monsters that are even scarier but these ones are rare and honesty super exciting to experience for the first time. Any other survival game that I can think of off the top of my head will give you an incentive to fight the bad guys like you want to kill them to get some resource or to create peace of mind but Subnautica does exactly the opposite and it makes it where you don’t want to fight the things that you come across.
Killing a monster gives you nothing and there will be plenty more of them to take their place and this shifts the focus of the game to staying alive and staying smart instead of just strengthening yourself to become invincible. The survival experience in this game is top notch and the developers did a good job of balancing the different mechanics to change up the game play constantly. The main gameplay loop consists of scavenging the Aurora, building a base, upgrading things, finding new parts and then continuing your adventure further and further into the depths once you increase your capabilities.
The base building is some of my favorite in any survival game that I’ve ever played. First of all, your base is always modular. Everything can connect to every other thing and you can design your base to your liking all while keeping a very satisfying aesthetic. It does start out pretty simple but once you explore and find new recipes for new modules you can build things like vehicle bays and nuclear reactors and your base can develop into a full-blown underwater science station. On top of the base building the gathering mechanics are also fairly simple but complex enough to be exciting.
Different regions have different resources and harvesting them isn’t that complicated. There are only a few different nodes that can give you minerals and the difficulty of the region that you’re in changes which nodes can be found. You don’t have to mine tons of rocks just to find what you’re looking for like other games. When it comes to food and water you do all of that by fishing and fabricating the fish into what you need or later on you can build a farm.
The food and water do run out fairly quickly which does get annoying in the early game but it doesn’t ever prove to be a problem. The crafting is not overly complicated and you can do it all in one place on your fabricator. Every recipe shows what’s needed and the layout is extremely simple and easy to use. These simple mechanics mixed with the epic underwater environment and extremely atmospheric and immersive experience helps make this game such a masterpiece.
The story of Subnautica starts with the crash landing on the planet and progressing until you can find a way off of it. I’m not going to spoil it for you because it’s actually extremely interesting but it is satisfying and the dream of making it off the ocean planet alive to see what else is out there is truly amazing and it keeps you wanting to do all the things mentioned above in order to get to that point.
It mixes perfectly with the stunning world and amazing mechanics to create a great one-of-a-kind survival experience. Subnautica is an outstanding game and it is definitely worth playing through as you can easily get 50 plus hours out of it. If you ever feel like trying out a new survival game, I would recommend downloading Subnautica and giving it a shot.
Available to download and play for free until 22 April 2021
Subnautica's huge world, decent story, incredible atmosphere full of terrifying moments and beautifully rendered underwater setting make it one of the most fascinating survival games around.