Subnautica was in development for a long time (since it was made by the small game developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment), and quickly approached fame, becoming one of the top series on Jacksepticeye’s YouTube channel. It was because of his videos on the game that got me super interested in it a year before I actually bought it.
There is, of course, a good reason it was such a hit on one of the biggest YouTube channels out there. Subnautica is a sci-fi survival action-adventure game that stimulates both your curiosity and your fear of the unknown, while providing an intriguing story and impressive universe-building. One of the most unique things about this game is that around 90 percent of it takes place underwater, which can be both exciting and terrifying as you explore the beautiful scenery… and delve into the black depths.
The game takes place in the far future, where humanity is exploring and colonizing entire new arms of the galaxy. You play as Ryley Robinson, one of the many passengers aboard the Aurora spacecraft, which is on its way to lay the foundations of a new mining operation for the Alterra corporation. However, while passing an unexplored ocean-world named 4546B, the Aurora crashes onto the watery world, and you escape via a life pod. Now, stranded on this alien world, you must explore and survive. However, you will slowly discover that there is more to this world than meets the eye…
This game has an intriguing and mysterious story, you’re gonna want to keep playing to find answers! It progresses as you travel to and explore certain areas. You receive radio messages from other Aurora escape pods scattered about the ocean, and they are strategically placed to encourage you to explore other areas, some of them being crucial to the game’s progression. You can pick up PDAs around the map (a tablet-device), that contain audio files you can listen to. Through these audio files, you receive more important bits of story tips on where to go next alongside details about the game’s universe. In addition, scanning objects, plants, and animals will provide you with information about 4546B’s wildlife, geology, history and more.
There are four different game-modes in Subnautica: Hardcore, survival, freedom and creative. ‘Hardcore’ is where if you die, that is the end of the game and you can’t respawn. ‘Survival’ is where you can die but you can respawn afterwards and continue from there. ‘Creative’ is where you can’t die and can build whatever you want and go wherever you want because you do not need materials or energy. ‘Freedom’ is like ‘survival’ but you don’t have to manage your water and food bars (which will be explained later).
Most of the gameplay revolves around exploring and collecting resources. You need to collect them around the map to make the things you need to survive, which are done with “fabricator” machines (think of it like when you collect resources to craft items at a table in Minecraft). The farther into the game you get, the more complex the recipes become and the harder the ingredients are to obtain and make (once again like Minecraft). To build special objects such as vehicles, you have to obtain the blueprints first, which you make by scanning pieces of wreckage found around the map.
As mentioned earlier, you must venture out into the strange alien ocean so as to collect new materials and advance the story. You start off in the area where your escape pod landed (called the Safe Shallows), with the crashed Aurora ship you escaped from looming in the distance, rising high above the water. The Safe Shallows is in the centre of the game’s map, which as the name suggests is both pretty safe and shallow. However, the further out you go from the centre, the less it feels like a fun snorkeling adventure. I didn’t think that I would be scared by this game, but boy was I wrong!
You can find and explore sunken sections of the Aurora that broke off as it was falling towards the planet’s surface, which is where those vehicle pieces for scanning that I mentioned earlier can be found, as well as PDAs, other valuable items, and scannable objects for blueprints (however, you have to make a special tool to cut through the doors of the wreckage, called a ‘laser cutter’, so you might want to make one as soon as you can). And of course, be prepared to meet the scary, big, and hostile sea creatures found throughout the game (which get bigger, scarier, and more hostile as you progress). Some can’t really be killed (they technically can, but it’s incredibly difficult), encouraging you to instead go around them, distract them using ‘creature decoys’, blast them away with a ‘repulsion cannon’, etc. However, you can easily kill smaller fish with your knife or just pick them up (which are used for food or water).
There are four circular bars at the bottom left corner of the screen that you need to keep an eye on. One of them is for food, others for thirst, health, and oxygen (only when you are swimming underwater). If any of these run out, you will start to lose health. If you die, you will respawn at the bed where you last slept or in your ‘Cyclops’ (a vehicle we’ll talk about later). You can get food from killing or picking up small fish (which are eaten raw or cooked), as well as munching on various fruits and vegetables that you discover and can grow yourself. You may quench your thirst by drinking water bottles, which are crafted using a small fish called a Bladder Fish (they have pink sacs on the top and bottom of their bodies), or made using a Water Filtration System (which is much easier than collecting a million Bladder Fish). Keep in mind that many food items will expire in your inventory if you hang onto them for too long. Fortunately you can ‘cure’ fish so that they do not expire, but you will get less hydration points than if you cooked them. I suggest you grow plants and use them for food since they are a very easy and consistent nutrition and hydration source (especially the ‘lantern melons’).
One of the main objects you carry around is your own PDA, that tablet-esque device I mentioned earlier. Of course, since this is yours and this is a video game we are talking about, it happens to do many things the others don’t. It primarily acts as a way to view your inventory along with recipes and blueprints, but will also talk to you occasionally in an automated voice to: give you tidbits of information about the planet you are on, information to point you in the right direction to progress the story, to let you know if any of your food, oxygen, etc bars are low, all while spitting out various comical remarks to keep you entertained. In short: it’s a futuristic iPad with a funnier and more intelligent Siri.
In the game you can build bases (called ‘habitats’) piece by piece, and these can be made anywhere on the map in any way you want. It might include special rooms for your plants, a bedroom to sleep and store materials, or a workshop with fabricators scattered about and various vehicles waiting for you outside. As of the time of writing this review, I have built 4 habitats in various places across the map. However, you need to take care to watch the hull strength of your home and supply it with sufficient power, otherwise things are going to go south real quickly.
You can make multiple vehicles in this game to traverse the sea, such as a big submarine (basically a mini base) called a “Cyclops” (pro-gamer move: grow ‘lantern fruit’ in your Cyclops so you can get food and hydration from them while travelling) and an exosuit called a “Prawn Suit,” among other vehicles. Each vehicle has a headlight which can be turned on and off, and can be upgraded, given different colours, and named. However, be wary that your vehicles can explode if they are damaged enough (from external damage such as creature attacks and hitting things in the environment, as well as the damage you continuously sustain from going beyond the vehicle’s ‘crush depth,’ which is the furthest depth in metres the vehicle can go until you upgrade the crush depth more).
Another big thing to keep an eye on throughout the game is batteries. Each electronic tool you can hold and all your vehicles require batteries. Tools require a regular battery and vehicles require “power cells. They both run out of power eventually and need to be charged again, so for that you will need to make charging stations. I suggest you keep batteries for yourself so that when they need to be charged, you can replace them in the meantime. I also suggest making battery chargers at your different habitats (I even have a power cell battery charger on my Cyclops) so that you can charge up wherever you are.
Graphics and Music
The game’s graphics are not superb (which makes sense considering that it is made by a smaller studio) but still pretty good. The planet itself is very beautiful, with many different biomes of colourful ocean vegetation and fish. There is even another planet that takes up most of the sky!
Subnautica’s musical score, made by Simon Chylinski, is quite impressive. As to quote my best friend, it sounds very nautical. The score is like an underwater adventure brought to your ears; it can be chill or upbeat at times, and downright terrifying at others, all of which greatly add to the gameplay experience.
As great as Subnautica is, I do have some negative comments.
You do a lot of slow travelling as you go from place to place which can be very time-consuming. Also, while exploring is definitely fun and adrenaline-pumping, trying to find what materials you need to bring on your trip to build certain things and then actually getting them is not.
*Side note: Catoons enjoyed searching for the minerals, especially the ones in dangerous places, so it might just be a me thing.
I played Subnautica on an Xbox One, so I don’t know if this would be different on other consoles and PCs, but the further I got into the game the more lag and the slower environment load-in times I experienced, so that is a complaint I suppose. To even start up the game takes over ten minutes these days.
*Once again, a side note that Catoons didn’t experience such issues (although he played on a pretty decent PC and wasn’t running maximum graphics).
When playing through the game, I already knew the story and where to go (thanks to watching YouTubers play through the game), but if you didn’t then you may have a hard time figuring out what to do and where to go next to progress the story.
As for spiritual messages, what can a Catholic take from a game where you’re exploring an alien ocean most of the time? The idea of perseverance. All the odds are against you at the start of the game, stranded on an uninhabited planet all alone with barely any resources, but you refuse to give up. You keep going despite the odds, even as the ocean becomes more and more deadly. The same can be applied in our spiritual lives: the world may at times be against us in our beliefs and living a faithful life is challenging, but we mustn’t give up despite all these obstacles -that’s what Satan wants. We persevere through the rain and shine, the pain and pleasure. The best part is, you have the greatest resource of all: God. He will bring you where you need to go as long as you trust and obey Him, always walking next to you and protecting you during the dangerous journey known as life.
Subnautica, while having some issues, is a great game with beautiful scenery, a mysterious and intriguing plot and world, and fun (while also terrifying) gameplay.
-The only blood in the game is the small, yellow bits that come out of sea creatures when you damage them (which disappear into the water very quickly).
-Instances of mild language.
-For one quick part a character is praying to some sci-fi gods in some sci-fi religion. Also, you may encounter some artifacts with subtle religious significance.
-Also, anyone with an intense fear of the ocean and sea creatures (which probably includes most young children) will likely not have a fun time. Things get scary – it is a horror game, after all!