Subnautica is a first person exploration game from developer Unknown Worlds currently in early development on Steam. Crashed on an alien planet after your terraforming ship crashed when a mysterious energy pulse shot it down, you are the crew’s sole survivor. Your escape pod is your new home and you see only ocean as far as the eye can see, except for the Aurora, which is still burning in the distance.
The game can be played on three difficulty levels: survival, freedom and hardcore. Freedom removes any restrictions like hunger and thirst that are present in the other two. Hardcore features permadeath. Now, when the game starts you find yourself in your escape pod, which is handily equipped with a fabricator. This fabricator allows you to create a number of items, as long as you have the prerequisite crafting materials, which are found underwater.
From mere knives to a full blown terraforming handgun and even a “constructor” which allows you to build vehicles, there is a lot to figure out in Subnautica. The crafting system has enough depth that it remains interesting for a good while, especially on the survival or hardcore difficulties, as you can’t just focus on rushing items: you’ll need food and safety to keep yourself alive as well. So, crafting a Seamoth – a vehicle for navigating the sea much more quickly – will definitely not be easily accessible for most players. In this way Subnautica creates a certain depth that I can definitely imagine will keep players busy for ages.
Though, as of yet, the game lacks definite purpose beyond survival (and perhaps never will have one), it is an incredible sight to take in. Beautiful underwater vistas that you explore while trying to survive this strange world are a strange but brilliant attraction. In a time where space exploration seems to be the more likely way to go for videogames, Subnautica took a daring dive into an unknown world.
Familiar and unfamiliar fish and creatures will swarm you as you make your way through the ocean. From little glowing bulby kinds of fish to big angry looking monsters, beware of what you find down there. Some will try to eat you, or damage your ship, while others may explode in your face.
In some ways it shares similarities to Minecraft, also having a day and night cycle, and making every little corner of the sea a potential danger. Especially the new terraforming gun has a lot of potential to create parallels between the two, though Subnautica has a long way to go to achieve the sort of depth that other crafting systems provide.
Altogether Subnautica is a beautiful game and especially fun for those who enjoy the survival aspect. Eating and drinking, making sure the sea doesn’t kill you, you can spend hours diving and exploring while you try to stay alive. But if you aren’t a survival fan, and just wanted a nice game to explore, perhaps it’s time to wait a little longer. Unknown Worlds has promised a myriad of features on its public task board.
However, the interesting start the game makes with “an unknown energy pulse” that shot down your ship remains a promise unfulfilled. So far the game’s development is features only, staying true to the sandbox model. Though not to its detriment, those of you who hope to eventually discover something a little more substantial about the world of Subnautica might do well to wait until Unknown Worlds decides to announce developments in that direction.