Subnautica is an indie title from the Unknown Worlds Entertainment team that also brought us Natural Selection 2. Its primary focus is that of underworld exploration, survival and crafting. Within this review I will endeavour to avoid any spoilers related to the story while also providing an insight to the mechanics and gameplay involved.
Upon starting your game you will first have to decide what difficulty setting you would like to play on. There are a total of four to choose from which cater to all: Creative, Freedom, Survival and Hardcore.
Creative is, as you would expect, a sandbox mode for players who want to freely explore and build without having to manage their health and oxygen. It also disables the story development and so I would advise against using Creative your first time playing.
Freedom mode is the easiest of the three remaining modes which are all valid choices for your first time depending on how you would like to experience Subnautica. In Freedom mode you must manage your health and oxygen levels in order to stay alive. Should you run out of either you will die and lose all of the items stored within your inventory. Similar to Minecraft however you can return to your death point and pick up any items you were carrying. There is also a way to “secure” your player inventory which essentially saves whatever you are currently carrying and therefore prevents you from losing those items should you die. This is done automatically upon entering a friendly building such as the Lifepod you spawn in. I recommend Freedom mode for players who find the constant management of thirst and hunger undesirable, or to those who prefer a more relaxed play through while also being able to experience the story.
Survival mode is a step up from Freedom mode and simply adds both food and water levels which must also be maintained. Similar to reality, thirst drains quicker than hunger and if either of these reach zero you will begin to slowly take damage and eventually die should you not act. This adds a further element of time management alongside that of your oxygen level while submersed. Before heading out from the safety of your Lifepod you should ensure your thirst and hunger levels are adequately filled or that you have enough supplies with you for an extended trip. I would recommend Survival mode to the majority of players who would like to experience Subnautica for the first time. It provides an adequate amount of challenge to your day to day life as your time cannot be squandered. This is also the primary game mode I experienced before writing this review.
Hardcore mode is the final and most difficult game mode available in Subnautica. It incorporates all elements of Survival mode while essentially being an “ironman” mode. This means you are restricted to one life and one life only in your play through. Should you die your game ends and you must start over completely with none of the items, story progress or research you gained. Alongside this you are also not given verbal warnings of your O2 levels and so must keep an eye on your oxygen level as you dive. For your first time playing I would not recommend the Hardcore mode unless you happen to enjoy masochistic games such as Dark Souls. The amount of progress that you can lose from one simple mistake in the alien world of Subnautica is not insignificant. Although, it can be argued that by playing Hardcore mode you add more value to your life and inherent survival, should this be of interest to you.
Upon entering the world of Subnautica you will quickly find yourself within a Lifepod which has been jettisoned from the ship “Aurora” before it crash landed on an alien planet. This planet consists almost entirely of water and so in order to survive you must dive for materials and supplies. Your first task will likely be to find water. In order to do so you first need to gain knowledge about your environment and the aquatic life which inhabits it; and in the world of Subnautica, knowledge is power. To better understand your surroundings you should build a scanner tool through your Lifepod’s on-board fabricator. The fabricator is essentially a crafting station, you put materials in and it combines them to create something else. Your scanner will be your best friend as you explore the underwater paradise you find yourself in, use it to scan anything and everything you see in order to gain access to potential uses, applications and further blueprints.
Once you have enough information to be able to create drinkable water you should go about repairing your Lifepod’s systems, such as your radio, in order to try to contact any other survivors. From here you are free to do whatever you would like and Subnautica is truly an open-world exploration game. As you explore you will be bewildered by the stunning environment and aquatic activity which surrounds you. This planet is a thriving basin of sea life, but as you explore further and further you will swiftly find that you are not the only predator who lives here. Threats are present everywhere and you will quickly learn through trial and error what aquatic animals should be avoided.
Story pacing and progression is entirely dependent on you as the player. Distress calls and emergency messages will be periodically received on your Lifepod radio; however it is up to you when or whether you investigate them. You are free to do whatever you want whether that is building an underwater base, exploring the deepest parts of the ocean or creating your very own submarine. There truly is something for everyone in the world of Subnautica and what I have mentioned above is only a small amount of what can be accomplished.
Replay value is entirely up to the player. The sheer amount of activities available to you and the number of environments for you to explore mean it is hard to give a simple answer. If you really wanted to you could progress through the story and “finish” the game without actually having experienced 90% of what Subnautica is offering. Doing things like creating your own alien ecosystem or building a farm to sustain yourself are two examples of activities which the player is free to do if they wish but is not required at all in terms of the story development.
The music and overall atmosphere of the game can range from the peaceful and euphoric to the downright terrifying. Each different biome you explore comes with its own visual identity and music which defines the environment you are in, and the types of creatures which live there. The sound design in general is excellent at portraying the muted, watery environments. The use of positional audio to bring out the echoes of the larger and sometimes more dangerous creatures adds depth to the otherwise serene ambience.
Overall, Subnautica is a top-notch open-world survival game which brings a greatly needed new look at the survival genre in an otherwise over saturated market. It brings with it beautifully stunning visuals and sound design and is filled with a variety of content to suit all ranges of interests. The story is compelling and although I did not go into detail in this area, you will not be disappointed. With over 20 hours invested I can without doubt say I have barely scratched the surface of what is possible in this unforgiving ocean paradise.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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