Subnautica Review — Deep Sea Exploration That Leaves a Salty Taste
Subnautica by Unknown Worlds Entertainment is a survival adventure with bite, but even the beautiful and mysterious waters can't take away how much work there's still left to be done.
I’ve always really enjoyed survival games like 7 Days to Die and The Forest, to name a few. There’s something about that heart pumping atmosphere and the inner desire to see how far you can get by on your own wits and sheer luck without succumbing to hunger, exposure, or getting scoffed by some lurking creature. So when I saw the trailer for Subnautica, I knew I had to dive into it – so to speak.
Trying to survive life is hard enough, right? But here I am anyway trying to survive a crash landing in the middle of nowhere in a tiny escape pod bobbing around in the sea while trying to put out a fire that started from the impact. At this stage, I’m wondering what I’ve got myself into if I’m honest, but as I finally doused the flames, I opened the hatch on the roof of the pod to a vast, beautiful ocean that stretched out in front of me.
As the waves gently lapped at my sides I thought “Ok, this isn’t so bad at all. It’s actually quite relaxing” and then I saw my ship in the distance on fire – instantly my frame of mind switched. As I dove into the depths of this previously calm looking water, it became clear how hostile they really were and how looks can truly be deceiving. Subnautica doesn’t hold your hand and guide you to places of interest or even show you what to do next, you really are completely left to your own devices.
The first thing that became apparent is that as I tried to explore my surroundings, I realized I had the lung capacity of a flea where I had to constantly come to the surface for a huge gulp of air and then back down I went for another 20 seconds or so. This became a little tiresome and frustrating as I so wanted to explore that deep, dark cave I had just seen, but because of humans need for oxygen, I had to keep putting that venture off. This was only for a while though as resources to make a bigger oxygen tank are scattered all over the ocean bed, the only thing you have to do is find them using the fabricator that you are supplied with.
As I dove deeper into the unknown waters, I felt like I should have David Attenborough narrating my adventures like an episode from Blue Planet. The stunning aquatic flora and fauna and strange, yet captivating sea life swimming past me, both predatory and timid. For my own safety, I was only equipped with a knife. Now, that may threaten some of the smaller fish, but the bigger fish you can almost see them smirk at my inferior blade.
I adventured through every nook and cranny I could possibly squeeze myself into trying to scavenge anything and everything that lay around. As I did, I began to come across some nasty, mean fish. These little buggers would attack me to the point where I died quite a few times taking me back to my pod once again feeling frustrated. I lost everything that I had previously gathered, so off I plopped back into the ocean again for round 10.
This time I finally worked out I needed to make much more use of my stealthy ability, or at least try to. In Subnautica, there’s no point in diving in and touching or interacting with everything you see, as going by my previously poor attempts, you need to learn patience, observation, and note where you can go and what you come across – which really means that you get to live a lot longer, hence the word “survival.”
Talking about survival, to do that you need to eat, right? Thankfully, you have a device to catch and kill some fish. Going back to where I said about noting things down and observing, this skill will help you learn which fish you can easily take on now. This all-important device doesn’t just catch you your dinner, it’s completely multifunctional too that will become incredibly useful as you explore further.
It’s worth noting that if the thought of delving into a vast alien ocean that’s filled with threats around every coral sets your heart racing, there are a few different modes you can choose from. In creative mode, you can move around with ease and explore without watching your back constantly. There’s also survival and hardcore mode for those fearless players that aren’t afraid of anything. All I can say is good luck to those of you who try to play in either of these manners.
Your PDA assistant is an essential bit of kit that will keep you on the right track with tabs that has information on how to survive this hellish underwater maze. Blueprints on what to build and how and the materials you will need are nestled among its pages, so looking at this as much as possible will make life much easier. It also captures data signals from various elements but also from other survivors like you. If you follow the signal, you will be lead to many places of interest and some surprising events.
To make the most of Subnautica your main priority once you learn the game’s ins and outs is to craft bases, vehicles, and equipment so that you can head down into the mysterious waters and explore a vast array of opportunities without having to gasp for air as often. Also, don’t forget that there is an actual storyline here for you too that’s captivating to a point, if not a little obvious and tedious. This portion of the game could have been explored with more depth.
As beautiful and mesmerizing as Subnautica is, I found it at times a little frustrating and underwhelming mostly due to dying a lot for a good portion of the game due to a lack of oxygen. Additionally, the laborious grind of collecting materials can get tiresome due to its repetitive nature. Subnautica is well-packaged and visually attractive, but how it tends to perform is questionable at times, which could be from the porting over from PC to the PS4 version that I played. The areas I noticed performance issues the most took place in the ocean’s busier areas, making the frame rate drop quite significant. There was also a bothersome issue with load times, as these could be unnecessary long.
Although these issues weren’t constant by any means, it was enough to hinder my enjoyment of the game. I felt that Subnautica could do with a little more work to iron out these performance problems to make it even more fluid and seamless, which would then make it then a top contender in the survival genre. Until then, I’m left with a little salt in my mouth and it’s not from the ocean.