Subnautica is a sci-fi survival and crafting game on an alien planet where you’re the hot item on the menu. You’ll need to master the environment, harvest its resources, dodge its denizens, scan new equipment, and craft an escape rocket if you want to complete this game. Worst of all: you have to do almost all of it underwater. It won’t be easy, and as Qui-Gon said, there’s always a bigger fish.
A Survival-Crafting Game with a Story?
One of Subnautica’s unique aspects is an actual story mode. In 7 Days to Die, Minecraft, and many other survival/crafting games, your goal is to have fun and survive. But in Subnautica these are secondary objectives to getting off the planet.
You were part of a spaceship crew sent on a mission to build a phase gate. While you were asleep, you hear the alarm, you rush to the nearest escape pod, and eject. A panel comes loose in your pod and knocks you out. You wake up some time later, with no idea what happened. But from the very first moment you leave your escape pod, you know it isn’t going to be easy.
I won’t say any more about the story because it gets into spoilers fast, and I’d rather not ruin what I believe to be a well-written and well-executed story.
Subnautica is Survival and Crafting in a New Setting
Subnautica takes place on Planet 4546B: a vast ocean planet. You are no longer the apex predator of your world. Sure, there are fish to eat, there’s water to (filter and then) drink, and there’s air to breathe. Sure, you can swim just fine. But about a fourth of the fish will take a bite out of you if they can, and a handful will just swallow you whole.
The creatures aren’t the only problems you will face, however. You need to manage your oxygen, health, food, and thirst. Fortunately, oxygen is easy to come by, as long as you’re inside your sub or base or you’re on the surface, you’ll be fine. For hunger, you can catch and cook fish. If you’re thirsty, you have to find a way to filter or purify water to drink. For health, you can use the first aid kits your escape pod produces over time.
While you’re fighting for your life in Subnautica, you need to hunt and gather resources. You’re probably familiar with this loop already. In addition to this, you need to find crafting blueprints. You won’t be escaping the planet easily, and your escape pod’s measly fabricator didn’t come pre-loaded with the schematics you need. Plus, it’s not like all the materials you need are right there on the surface.
The Ocean is Yours to Explore
At first, your ability to explore is limited, so you need to look for vehicle parts to scan, to build a full blueprint of the vehicle, to explore more, to find upgrade parts for your vehicle, and so on. But you’re constantly at risk because the items you really need are in deep areas, and the deeper it gets, the bigger the fish get, too.
Not only will you build vehicles, but you’ll also build a base (or multiple bases). While it’s possible to play the whole game without a base, you’re better off building one as a “hub” for your exploration. You’ll need a place to store your resources. One interesting aspect about the bases is that they respond to water pressure. The deeper you go, the more reinforcement you’ll need to give your base so that it doesn’t break open and flood.
Excellent Water Graphics
This is one of the places where Subnautica shines: the water looks really good. You can even see the sky’s reflection on the surface.
Flora and fauna all look a little rubbery sometimes, as all animated things do. Underwater also looks perpetually foggy. It gets annoying fast when you’re trying to locate landmarks. This adds to the scare factor, though. You never know what might be just beyond your vision.
You’ve Never Seen or Heard Subnautica’s Creatures Before
Another of Subnautica’s strengths is the variety of creatures. There are 49 unique creatures in the game, all of which look decidedly alien. (And most of them glow in the dark).
Subnautica features generic-looking fish (which are harmless), some larger, more interesting fish (which aren’t), and a handful of parasites (which are just annoying). And of course, there are the leviathans. A few are gentle giants, but most of them see you as delicious. There is also a “bird.” Good luck scanning it though.
The creatures all have their own unique sounds. Some of these sounds are harmless. Some are relaxing. Some will make you pee yourself a little. And then a little more when you can’t find where it came from.
The Abandon Ship Track is Amazing but You Never Want to Hear It
A link can be found here. You should listen to it now.
If You Don’t Have Thalassophobia, You Will
Subnautica has just the right amount of fear of impending death (and the ability to actually kill you) to make the game a challenge, but balanced perfectly with the drive to make it through and escape. Not only does it look really good, but it feels really good to master this alien environment and come out on top. I highly recommend this game to anyone who can stomach their fear and escape 4546B.
You can check out half an hour of my gameplay with no commentary (and no scary monsters) here:
Subnautica can be found on Steam here.
Subnautica can be found on Epic Games here.
Subnautica can be found on the Microsoft store here.
As a side note, Subnautica: Below Zero (a standalone sequel) is available in Early Access.