In the week since I’ve purchased Unknown World’s tremendous Subnautica, which leaves early access tomorrow after several years in development, I have played it a lot. It’s a survival game with a focus on crafting, base building and exploration. Please don’t let the buzzwords fool you though. Unlike the cacophony of games boasting the same sort of play, Subnautica is actually good. It’s also pretty much finished, which is more than most other early access survival games will ever get to boast about themselves.
Oh also did I mention that pretty much the entire game takes place underwater? You play as an unnamed survivor of the Aurora, a massive spaceship which has crashed into a world that’s at a conservative estimate at least 95% ocean. After putting out the fires in your escape pod, you’ll be free to explore the surrounding biome, the aptly named Safe Shallows. You’ll find however that you lack tools, and without an oxygen tank you’re woefully unable to stay submerged for more than thirty seconds or so.
Enter the fabricator. This handy-dandy device is built into your escape pod, and allows you to take objects from your surrounding area, break them down into their base components and construct futuristic tools to aid you in your survival. Among these tools is a laser cutter, a personal propulsion device known as a Seaglide and most importantly the scanner. By scanning the flora, fauna and remnants of the Aurora you’ll find throughout the sea, you’ll gather blueprints for greater and greater devices, most notably the three submersible vehicles you’ll need to command in order to reach greater depths.
As you venture further and further from your starting area you’ll find yourself participating in a wonderfully crafted and very mysterious story involving a rogue bacterium, ancient aliens and massive sea monsters the likes of which you’ve not seen in any game before.
Speaking of sea monsters.
The sea monsters…
Subnautica is not a horror game. However, it doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. This is the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. For some reason still unknown to me, I started the game in it’s hardcore mode. After getting my first glimpse of a Reaper Leviathan outside the wreck of the Aurora, I promptly ran back to the starting area, and there I remained for 10 hours of gameplay. Attempting to progress by gathering resources and blueprints in areas that were apparently safe, I found myself suddenly bored. I wanted to go deep. I wanted to go far. I was just scared. I couldn’t lose my progress, my hardcore save.
So I opened up the game files and switched hardcore off. Suddenly, as if by magic, Subnautica was no longer scary. It was fun. Too fun.
The first thing I did was save my game, swim over to the Aurora, and let myself be murdered by that same Reaper Leviathan from before. It was fucking cool.
I’m hooked and there’s no end in sight. I’ve spent the bulk of my free time in the last few days playing, and it’s only gotten worse since I unlocked the PRAWN suit, a submersible robot suit that has allowed me to travel further into the deep than I had previously thought possible. I stride along the bottom of the sea like a colossus, and no petty fish can hurt me. Well, I’m sure they can, but it feels like they can’t.
I’m looking forward to finishing the construction of my Cyclops, the largest submersible vessel in the game. Once that’s complete I will rule the seas like a cruel god.