I find myself in the murky depths of a strange and deep blue sea, rummaging through the wreckage of some unknown part of my crashed ship, the Aurora. My oxygen is low, alarms blaring in my ear, and terrible noises resonate against the metal walls. It’s with a horrible uncertainty that I realise I don’t know the way out, and as I swim for the exit my oxygen gets lower, and lower until I suddenly realise – there’s none left.
The fear, anxiety and wonder that Subnautica delivers in its finely crafted world is as majestic as fear, anxiety and wonder can be. Though this isn’t my first foray into Unknown Worlds nautical masterpiece, each time I play the game I feel the same renewed sense of wonder – a feeling that Subnautica’s early access development stages really help to perpetuate.
This month’s update, The Dangerous Creatures Update brought a host of new features, including what’s toted on the game’s homepage as a “massive fire spewing inhabitant of the Lava Zone”. The update went a long way to deliver a more vibrant (and downright fishy) ocean and, though it seems that many of the new creatures are out to get the player, it doesn’t derive from the fact that each one is more unique and interesting to look at than the last. It certainly makes exploring the further depths of Subnautica a far more interesting experience.
Before The Dangerous Creature Update, was the PRAWN Update, which significantly expanded on Subnautica’s story elements, with new PDAs, new locations for blueprints and much more. Combined, these updates have given the game a new lease on life and outlined a clear future for the games development in the aspects of its story.
Despite multiple large changes from the first time I played the game, what hasn’t been lost throughout Subnautica’s development cycle is its unique survival formula that encourages exploration over constant resource and inventory management. If anything, Subnautica’s exploration mechanics have been further extended with new areas constantly being added to the game’s hand crafted world. Where Subnautica differs from procedurally generated survival games like Minecraft, is that every location is deliberate, each meter of the ocean’s depth is designed to drag you further in, to enthrall you into the dark blue abyss. Coupled with the blueprint system, which forces you to explore coves, wreckage and tall underwater trees to advance, the game creates a real feeling of accomplishment, lined with the deep fear that survival games should have.
Many games in this genre suffer greatly from getting bogged down in inventory management, or a boring environment, but Subnautica proves and continues to prove the excitement of survival, from the gorgeous look of its underwater environments and the relative simplicity of its crafting mechanics.
Of course, Subnautica is not without its faults – no game is – but, when a game looks and feels this good in early access it is no wonder that I, like many others, am expecting it to be the definitive survival game of the decade.