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Subnautica Series Review | Survival as a Learning Tool

Updated: May 27, 2022


 


Development Studio: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Genre: Open World, Single-Player, Adventure, Survival Horror, Sci-Fi, Indie, Sandbox Crafting.

Rating: Amazing Indie Quality: One-of-a-kind game experience.


Not many people think that their fear of the unknown would be manipulated to teach them, but being placed in an underwater survival adventure game like Subnautica will quickly change your mind.


I actually used to follow the development cycle of the original Subnautica game by Unknown Worlds development studio. It was very unique, containing elements that were rarely found in other Indie survival games. I have spent around 90 hours playing both Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero, and I plan on going back through and playing a few more times.


Summary

For starters, the survival aspect of the game is more about exploration than bulk material gathering. Instead of having a set amount of things to craft that expand based on the resources you have, your character has very limited knowledge and has to find the wreckages of your crash-landed ship to discover new buildable equipment. This method of crafting incentivizes the player to keep reaching out further and wider into the surrounding landscape to continue their progression. However, this can be a daunting task for new players, as Subnautica’s underwater world is sure to both amaze and frighten. This is an alien world, some things may seem calm in the starting coral reef zones, but the sounds of mysterious creatures paired with ever-increasing depths of water make exploration an intense experience at the start. The game developer’s methods really shine with how they introduce the player to dangerous creatures. The first damage dealing animals you will see will always make themselves known by screeching and roaring, letting the player know that something is out to get them. The usual response is to have your heart drop, whip around to see what's happening, and try to run(swim) as quickly as possible from the source. The thrill only lasts for a short while, as the two starting creatures are the crashfish and the stalker, which will hit you once and then either die or leave, dealing a chunk of damage but nothing lethal.

This is how Subnautica’s learning curve works, not with insta-death jump scares, but with a pattern of cat and mouse chases. Very few of the animals in Subnautica can kill you in one hit, and can rarely out run you, but they always make sure you know they are right behind you. Through the use of a scanner, which gives you details about animals and plants of the world, the player can learn how to avoid, distract, or gather resources from different creatures that were previously unknown. There is something incredible about learning that stalkers will bite metal on the ground, leaving a tooth that can be used for making more advanced materials. This method of learning how to use a previously frightening and unknown world to your advantage, despite the horror that it first instills in you, is what makes Subnautica such a unique gaming experience in my mind.


Story

Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero have wonderfully crafted stories, with the first title in the series having more of an open world narrative design but both requiring specific abandoned sites to be found to progress the plot. The PDA system, similar to lore notes in other survival games, is a great addition to open world survival story-telling.

It allows for the handheld scanner tool to be a story driving device, making each object in the world capable of being explained if the player really wants to know more about it. Both storylines are based on discovering more about a mysterious alien race found deep underneath the ocean, but I won’t spoil any more than that. Overall, each plot had great mystery and intrigue, which is sure to keep the player’s interest throughout the whole play through.


Gameplay

Diving into an alien ocean means that the standard survival tactics are switched up from other famous open world games. In Subnautica, you have the standard food and water bar to maintain, but you also have an oxygen meter that is affected by the depth of water you are in. Food and water sources are relatively easy to come by in the starting zones, but will eventually need to be farmed in underwater grow beds or water filtrations machines. The starting amount of oxygen is 30 seconds, which makes diving limited unless you can upgrade your oxygen tank or find the scannables to make an underwater submersible. However, vehicles can also be crushed under pressure, so they will also need to be upgraded.

All of these upgrades are locked behind exploration, if you want to dive deeper, you have to get the courage to go into the wreckage of a ship or a deep dark cave. Most of the grind in the game is prep work and upgrading through material gathering. Both of which are enjoyable as they use the wonderful environments to teach the player how to find materials. For example, the scanner will tell you that certain materials can only be found at certain depths, biomes, or near certain animals. Subnautica: Below Zero also introduces a temperature aspect, which increases the amount of difficulty slightly.

I wouldn’t say that the Subnautica games are hard, but they are intense, and if you aren’t paying attention you will end up drowning or eaten by a leviathan. So long as you are willing to learn what the game is trying to teach, survival should come easily and be very enjoyable as well.


Graphics

Subnautica’s underwater world is beautiful, filled with flora and fauna that glow, mesmerize, and spook. Many of the plants and animals have bioluminescence at night time, with the underwater light effects being spectacular. The graphics are not hyper-realistic, but stylized to a degree that it feels like you are looking at something mysterious and alien. All the handcrafted biomes pair with their respective soundtracks to provide the player with a new thrill of exploration of the unknown, whether that be amazement or horror.

Both games can also run on relatively light gaming setups, which is always great. If you have any doubts on Subnautica as an exploration game, just taking one look at some of the biomes should prove its quality.


Is It Fun?

This game is a blast to play through, and it has multiple ways to be played. You could play for hours without starting the main storyline, and I have seen some people sink a lot of time into making huge underwater bases. The exploration is phenomenal, the story is entertaining, and the monsters are thrilling. All the necessary ingredients for a good single player experience.


Should You Buy It?

For those seeking a quality single player game, this is a must have for the collection. It sets the standard for multiple types of genres in Indie game development, and pretty much anyone can enjoy this game, so long as you can overcome your fear of deep water.


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