Subnautica: More Than An Aquatic Minecraft

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Subnautica is an underwater exploration and crafting game by developer Unknown Worlds first released in early access on PC in 2015, and being released as a full game last year. With a recently-announced standalone expansion, Subnautica: Below Zero, coming out this year, I figured it was high time to play the original.

First off the bat: this game is beautiful… if you can get over missing textures and items and parts of the world sometimes not loading in on occasion. Screenshots do not do it justice. Breathtaking underwater vistas, endless seas above the surface, and even the most dangerous predators will have you appreciating their design as you swim away in abject terror.

You begin the game as a survivor of the capital ship Aurora, downed over a water planet known only as 4546B. Your only objective: survive. With the crashed ship in the distance, and your failing lifepod underneath your feet, there’s only one place to go: underneath the ocean. Once you descend, you’ll find yourself in a wonderous world of fish and other creatures, and from there, the grind begins, as your PDA system helps you determine which of the planets bountiful natural resources can be utilized to increase your odds of living another day in a truly addicting gameplay loop. Your oxygen, food, and water meters must be managed on top of finding and building new technology.

There is a story, but you do not have to pay attention to it to progress, as the gameplay portion essentially boils down to go there, fetch this item and bring it back. The rest is contained optional audio journals and data logs. It is interesting, but I personally was having too much fun upgrading and finding new vehicles to pay much attention to it.

One interesting tidbit I discovered is the reason behind the games weapons system, which is basically nonexistent, beyond a small survival knife which is not much help when facing off against a hungry sea monster ten times your size. However, there is a reason for this, as game director Charlie Cleveland stated:

“Subnautica was being birthed right around the time of the Sandy Hook shooting. This was a particularly nasty shooting, although many people don’t realize America has school shootings every day… I’ve never believed that video game violence creates more real-world violence. But I couldn’t just sit by and “add more guns” to the world either. So Subnautica is one vote towards a world with less guns. A reminder that there is another way forward. One where we use non-violent and more creative solutions to solve our problems. One where we are not at the top of the food chain.”

If you deal with occasional glitches and bugs, Subnautica has a beautiful world to explore, and an absolutely enthralling gameplay loop and design. I wholeheartedly recommend.