When I first plunged into the depths of Subnautica’s vast sea, I was filled with awe. This underwater world is both familiar and otherworldly, with giant coral tunnels, uncharted caves, and alien-looking fish. Everywhere I turned, I discovered something exciting and grandiose, making this gripping survival game a joy to play.
Right from the start, Subnautica offers an engaging premise. After your crew’s starship crashes on a watery planet, you take refuge aboard a tiny lifepod near the wreck. The planet you’re stranded on is filled with both danger and intrigue, and you survive by gathering supplies, building sea bases, and managing your character’s basic needs. Luckily, you begin in a relatively safe region filled with edible fish and enough materials to provide drinkable water. These systems aren’t too complicated or overwhelming, making it a pleasant start that becomes more intense as you progress to increasingly dangerous territory with scarcer resources and predatory enemies.
Subnautica offers different options for those who want to tune the difficulty of their experience. Freedom mode removes health and thirst gauges, hardcore mode limits players to a single life, and the creative mode is more of a sandbox with all buildable items unlocked. Each brings something unique, but I enjoyed survival mode the most. Here, you have to manage your basic needs like health, thirst, and hunger. It makes you both curious and frightful of what awaits you in the dark waters, while also offering a rewarding balance of challenge and progression as you unlock new crafting formulas.
Crafting is one of the most enjoyable parts of Subnautica. Your lifepod is equipped with cutting-edge tech, including a wall-mounted fabricator that allows you to construct items from raw materials. As you venture into the unknown, you stumble upon wreckage you can scan for blueprints and discover necessary items to create new equipment. I was always excited to see what I could build next as I discovered new recipes. One of my favorite creations is a large submarine that lets you plunge deeper without worrying about air pressure or oxygen supplies, since it allows you to reach fantastical biomes and ancient alien structures that were once inaccessible.
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Exploration is both rewarding and thrilling, as you progressively upgrade your gear to journey out further. Whether you’re entering a cave filled with glowing plants or freezing in fear as a colossal beast approaches, Subnautica always offers something new and compelling. To make these treks easier, you can build sea bases. These give you safe zones where you can stock up, build items, and decorate the interiors to your liking. I enjoyed personalizing these spaces with different décor and discovering the functions of different rooms. For example, the scanner room deploys camera drones into the water, helping me pinpoint locations of resources.
Long journeys, however, come with a cost. You have to be cautious, as they require you to stock up on food and water. Massive sea monsters also lurk in the shadows, and while you can build a knife or use decoys, they can still take you out quickly. This introduces a vulnerability akin to horror games, especially when traveling at night when visibility is reduced. Positional audio gives you cues on when a predator is near, and while these are helpful, it’s still downright terrifying.
Subnautica’s narrative is deeply rooted in exploration, and it’s a well-crafted story despite diving into some science-fiction clichés. You can follow the story at your own pace, and this freedom brings an enjoyable variety to the gameplay. I often jumped between building my sea base, upgrading my equipment, and engaging in story missions.
Narrative missions are received through radio transmissions, where you listen to distress calls from other stranded crewmembers. These transmissions provide superb voice acting, which invested me in the plight of the characters. Upon listening to these messages, it’s up to you to find these missing people or discover what happened to them. Sometimes this includes following coordinates to abandoned lifepods or investigating the crashed starship. These events all tie into a larger, captivating story about the daunting secrets this sea-like planet holds.
While I enjoyed following the story, I encountered a few bugs that required me to exit the game completely, such as getting stuck between walls. At one point, this caused me to lose 20 minutes of progress, because Subnautica allows only one save per world. This was mildly aggravating, but these isolated incidents didn’t happen too often; the rest of the game performed without problems.
Subnautica is gorgeous and enthralling, offering rewarding progression and a fascinating world. The story is well told, and it offers a crafting system that is easily accessible even for players who aren’t familiar with survival games. With fantastical sea beasts, fun gadgets to build, and a sci-fi story that gets its hooks into you, Subnautica is as deep as its sprawling ocean.