In the far future, the Alterra corporation sent out the starship Aurora to construct a new phasegate in the Adrienne Arm of our galaxy. This would enable further exploration and colonization of the galaxy, as phasegates are what this universe uses for FTL travel. However, during a routine slingshot maneuver around planet 4546B, the Aurora suffers a catastrophic failure and crashes.
Counting yourself, only ten of the one hundred and fifty seven personnel managed to make it to lifepods in time to escape. Left with marginal supplies and a damaged lifepod, it's up to you to explore 4546B and find a way to return to civilization.
Now, there are a lot of survival games out there these days, and for good reason. Learning to conquer an untamed world scratches some primal itch, and since every game has their way of doing things, there are countless worlds to explore. Subnautica enters this genre with its own unique twist: the majority of the game takes place underwater.
In this world, the air itself is now a resource that you need to monitor. You'll still need to locate food and drinkable water of course, but breathing tends to take priority. Fortunately, all of the futuristic tech you have available to you does most of work; you just need to supply it with power, materials, and then point it at the problem you want fixed.
At first, your lifepod's fabricator is only able to create a few basic objects and devices. You'll be able to increase its functionality by using your portable scanner to analyze objects found throughout the world. The Aurora's crash has left pieces and parts of many useful technologies scattered all over the ocean floor, so you should be able to find what you need with a little luck. Also, as a general rule, if you can't find what you need, always go deeper.
There are some frightening elements to this game, though I don't believe that this is intended to be a horror game. Being small and vulnerable can make you scared on its own, and for the most part, this is what makes things scary. As you get more familiar with the planet's lifeforms and equip yourself with better gear (and submersibles), fear turns into healthy respect. That said, some people are simply terrified of being surrounded by nothing but endless ocean. There isn't much that you can do about that problem other than place a lot of beacons to keep yourself oriented.
This is a beautiful game, and I'd strongly recommend giving it a go if you're willing to brave the underwater world.
A different kind of horror
Unlike a lot of survival-themed games, Subnautica's frightening elements come from the feeling of being small, helpless, and out of control of the situation. Once you start learning how the many different species behave and have access to better oxygen supplies, these fears largely go away. That said, nobody is going to forget their first encounter with a reaper leviathan. Known for their immense size and extremely aggressive nature, they can easily inspire fear in an unprepared diver.
A thriving ecosystem
It's also important to know that none of your submersibles are invulnerable. Even if you're in a vehicle, you're not truly safe. This is especially important with the larger submarine, as hull breaches and fires can spell disaster.
This ocean planet is teeming with life. Every species has their own behaviors and territories, though you can sometimes find them wandering away from their homes into other parts of the world. Many of them can be interacted with, though it's safe to say that most leviathans are best left alone. One of the more notable examples are the Stalkers. These are a predator species that hunt in the shallow creepvine forests. While they are primarily hunting for food, it's not uncommon to see them playing with scrap metal or other shiny objects, like your scanning room's camera drones.
Multiple game modes
You can also find eggs of most species and raise them in a special section of your undersea base. These hand reared fish are generally docile and can be treated as fancy, alien pets.
All sorts of things to find
When you start a new game, you're given a choice of how to play. These four modes determine how difficult the game is, along with a few other changes to the game's mechanics. "Survival" is the default mode, and has you worry about everything from how much oxygen your air tanks have to how often you need to eat or drink. Should you die, you'll respawn*
in your original lifepod, but you'll need to return to where your death occurred to get some of your inventory back. "Freedom" mode plays much the same way, but omits the need to eat or drink. "Hardcore" mode works the same as Survival, with the exception that your game ends if you ever die.
Lastly, "Creative" mode removes all restrictions and allows you to explore, build, and generally do whatever you want without a care in the world.
Time capsules add a personal touch
Games like this thrive on exploration. But, since the game's world is not procedurally generated, you'll be able to memorize the environment to some degree. To remedy this, there are a lot of things hidden around the world for you to find. For example, before you can fabricate most things, you'll need to have located and scanned parts of that device. The trick is that you'll need to find those fragments, and since you can't predict their locations, you'll need to explore the world even if you know what to expect around the next corner.
Additionally, there are many other things to find, including logs from a failed research expedition and a number of seemingly useless pieces of furniture, like a vending machine or trash can. Despite appearances, almost all furniture is actually functional, so you might find a use for these appliances.
If you're brave, your personal database contains a detailed record of creatures, minerals, and plants that you've analyzed using your portable scanner. These records are pretty detailed, and collecting them all will require you to be fearless and daring. Oddly, there isn't an achievement*
for completing the database, which is a bit disappointing considering the danger involved.
As you explore the ocean floor, you'll find small tubes called time capsules. These capsules contain a few items as well as a message, but they aren't just any ordinary treasure. These are created by other players!
Steam community features
At the very end of the game, you'll build a giant rocket to send you home. One of the pre-launch steps is to assemble a time capsule of your own, and when you launch the rocket, the time capsule you created is uploaded to the game's server. When someone starts their next game, there's a chance that the time capsule you made will become a part of their adventure.
This also shows how generous people can be: many players place rare or hard to craft items in their time capsules, which will be a great help to whoever finds it.
Building sometimes doesn't work as expected
There are seventeen achievements*
to earn while playing through Subnautica, though I'm afraid that they aren't worth getting too excited about. The majority of them are going to be earned simply by playing through the game's storyline, which makes them little more than glorified milestone markers. There is also a set of Steam trading cards*
, but not everyone is interested in those.
This is a fairly minor complaint, but building a base can sometimes be more difficult than it should be. The system used is essentially modular, with corridors and doors appearing as needed. However, it's not entirely foolproof, and sometimes things don't connect the way you'd expect. Ladders were the biggest annoyance, as they often prefer to be built so that they're blocking the hallway.
Some immersion-breaking oddities
Unfortunately, a game this good does end up with the occasional problem that can break your immersion. One of the most common examples is that the game doesn't use collision detection when moving schools of fish around. From a technical standpoint, this is a good idea, as it means the computer has more time to focus on more important tasks. But, it also means that these groups of fish can swim straight through the walls of your undersea base or submarine as if they were ghosts of some sort.
Minor violence and blood
Nearly all of the violence depicted in Subnautica involves predation. There are several predator species living in this alien world, and they are just as happy to nibble on the player as they are to eat other marine life. You need to eat too, so you'll be spending some of your time hunting for edible fish. It may be possible to play through the game eating only plants, but those are harder to find and usually aren't available until midgame.
High death toll
Also, it's worth pointing out that these alien fish have yellow blood instead of the red blood we're used to. Apparently changing the color made it more palatable to censors.
The planet you've crash landed on is deadly. Your life pod is the only one that wasn't ripped open or abandoned, and the only traces of other people you'll come across are radio signals and abandoned PDAs. Despite this, you'll never actually find a body or another human being during the game.
Civilization of the future is... not so nice.
You'll find a good number of discarded PDAs throughout the world. Many of these provide some background into the people who were on the Aurora, and this in turn paints a picture of what their culture is like. Honestly, it's a bit concerning, as the culture it describes treats everything, including things like love and marriage, like a business contract. Charity is explicitly stated to be an "archaic concept", leaving your girlfriend is "changing the terms of your relationship", and if you need something, then you must be able to provide something (such as a service) in exchange. Makes you wonder why you'd bother leaving the planet at all, doesn't it?