There are some video games that merely stand out from the crowd. Whether it be an innovative title that completely veers off from the beaten path or a stellar edition to a recurring series, these games are easily recognizable in the gaming community. Titles of this caliber often check a variety of boxes: Well written story, smooth gameplay, solid graphics, and replayability. However, maybe contrary to popular belief, a majority of top tier games simply refine their genre to a T instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Subnautica is a pristine example of this.
The survival/open world genre has been done time and time again with each game or series attempting to put their own spin on it. Games such as Dead by Daylight, Fallout 76, and ARK: Survival Evolved are good examples of titles that expanded into the survival arena with their own twist. Zombies, dinosaurs, pirates, etc. are all things that have been done in the past and they have sometimes been done very well, but there has perhaps never been a definitive survival game since the first edition of Minecraft. Until now.
Subnautica takes everything from the survival genre and flips it on its head. From the moment you take your first step out of your seapod and glance over the seemingly infinite horizon, the game sucks you into its gorgeous and dangerous world. In its core form, it is still an open world survival game; but unlike other games in the genre it lets you explore the game at your own pace and doesn’t shove anything down your throat. The story develops as you play more and visit more places, but allows you, the player, to find out additional information about what is happening whenever you feel like playing a message from the radio.
The hunger and thirst that are present in most survival titles is still a factor if you’re not playing creative mode, but it doesn’t completely hinder your experience to go out and search for food and water. Catching different fish and scanning various plants are key elements in making the game easier, enticing the player to actually want to go out and do these things. Base building is a key part of this development and, aside from some buggy mechanics, is a pleasant experience. It doesn’t go too crazy with the different structures but does allow for more and more creativity as you progress further in the game and unlock new blueprints.
Subnautica does of great job of having a clear progression system without having any XP or levels to grind for. The fragments and blueprints scattered in ample wrecks around the map give you reason to go out and test the waters. Seeing a Cyclops or the next part of the Neptune Rocket on your PDA motivates you to go and search more of the map, even though there are creatures that can eat your Seamoth whole. This is what separates Subnautica from its counterparts.
The game starts you off in a very safe, quiet environment. The Safe Shallows house nothing but friendly fish and the occasional stalker. The game takes you for a wild ride shortly after as you need to gather more resources and venture out further. For some, being deserted in the ocean surrounded by unknown noises is the worst nightmare imaginable. For others who aren’t as afraid of the ocean, it is still a terrifying experience. The vast and uncharted waters of this alien planet play home to tons of different species and not all of them are friendly.
From your first encounter, to the friendly Reefback giants, to hearing a hallowing roar near the back of the Aurora, the fear implemented into Subnautica is some of the best in all of gaming. Games like Amnesia or Outlast have you on your tiptoes the entire time, making them good horror experiences but you as the player know the scares are coming. With Subnautica, taking a leisurely day-time swim beyond the Grassy Plateaus could have you engulfed by a Reaper Leviathan before you even have time to react. The way the game spreads these deadly creatures out in the various biomes gives you enough hope that you might be safe and then hits you with a Leviathan roar.
Apart from everything else, what keeps the game going for most players is the story. Although it may not seem like it at first glance, there is a ton of lore behind what’s going on across Planet 4546B. Subnautica implements this story well by not throwing too much your way or cordoning off a part of the world due to story restrictions. There is a deep and intricate background surrounding the aliens on this planet, but it’s completely up to you whether to explore it or not.
There are rarely games that come along out of nowhere to completely engulf the gaming world. Being in early-access for many years allowed Subnautica to take its time developing a well-polished game for full release. It takes the nightmare of being stranded in the middle of the ocean and turns it into a casual, calming experience for the first couple of hours. Then, almost without warning, does a complete 180 and throws multiple terrifying experiences your way. There is a well-developed story, something other titles in the genre lack, but allows free range for the player to go anywhere without restrictions. This is the best survival game in years and should be played for many more months to come.
Subnautica is a difficult and elaborate survival game full of surprises around every corner. It rewards you for mastering its intricacies and aside from some dull story moments, takes you on a ride that no other game can offer.