Subnautica: A Review of Building and Exploring

Last Updated on September 21, 2019 by Michael Brockbank

For those who love to build, explore and are not afraid of the ocean, Subnautica is right for you. In fact, I found this game to be quite addicting even though there is no support for multiple players. It goes to show not everything needs to have a battle royale version.

This is a great addition to any gaming library for those who want more of a relaxed game with superb graphics. In reality, I found myself gasping as I have a slight fear of deep water and the game tickled that part of my mind.
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What is Subnautica?

Subnautica is a single player game pitting you as a survivor of a crashed space ship, the Aurora. You find yourself in the middle of an ocean filled with alien sea life, some of which are looking at you for their next meal.

Build your habitat and try to survive until rescue comes, if it ever does. Armed with the latest in technology for fabricating what you need, you’ll still have to scour the ocean floor for resources to keep yourself alive for one more day.

What Kind of a Game is Subnautica?

Subnautica is a first-person survival journey where you have to find resources to build what you need to accomplish various tasks. In that sense, it’s a bit like Minecraft or even Fallout 4. But since most of the game is based underwater, there is far more of a need for building a good habitat.

There is a story to follow as you explore and discover the original inhabitants of the planet and why your ship was brought down. The voice acting isn’t the best, but it’s still better than a lot of other games on the market.

Armed with a survival knife as your only real weapon, it’s all about being smarter than predators.

No, you don’t have access to superior firepower.

As you are by yourself in the world, you don’t have to worry about player-based threats. In that regard, it’s a nice vacation from toxic communities and player grieving.

Where Can You Get Subnautica?

Thanks to the Steam Summer Sale, I was able to buy Subnautica for 20% off making it just $19.99. Originally, it’s a $25 game that has a great deal of play for having half the price of a triple-A title.

As far as I can tell, Steam is the only place where you can buy Subnautica at the moment.
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What Are Some of the Most Notable Features?

It’s difficult to put my finger on just a few traits of Subnautica because there is so much that make this such a great game.

Graphics

At night, it’s easy to see how most of the life on the planet has bio-luminescence, which is an incredible scene to behold. It’s a mixture of stunning colors and artwork of various creatures and plant life. It’s perhaps one of the most beautifully rendered games I’ve played in a long time.

The water, in the off-chance you’re on the surface, has a magnificent layout…especially during a sunset or sunrise. All the game needs is a volleyball bobbing in the ocean and it would be complete.

And pay close attention to the sky. You may just see an incredible eclipse, even if it’s just brief.

Game Play

One thing that stands out about Subnautica is how you don’t need firepower to actually enjoy a game. Although there were times when I wish I had a shotgun to deal with cave crawlers, it’s nice to rely more on wits than brawn.

Because this is a single-player experience, you’re unable to team up with others to accomplish goals faster. I find this both good and bad, really.

  • It’s Good: Because sometimes you might just want to play by yourself without others messing things up. There is a reason why I play hardcore characters alone in games like Diablo. In most cases, friends are the ones who get me killed.
  • It’s Bad: Because sometimes it’s nice to team up with one or two people to accomplish goals. For example, playing Minecraft with my daughters involves each of us building and finding resources for the greater good.

I would like the days to last a little longer than they do, though. The time span is pretty quick as five hours of game play equals to about 25 days-ish.

I also appreciate the crafting aspect of Subnautica. As you learn more recipes and collect resources, you expand what you can do while crafting.

Exploration

Players have to discover pieces from the wreckage of the Aurora to build add-ons for the habitat as well as equipment suitable for underwater living. However, you can choose to create a home on land. Unfortunately, the land masses are exceptionally scarce and populated with some nasty creatures.

Personally, I like the exploration and discovery aspect of Subnautica. You have to put in effort to build your equipment while finding edible life and plants. Very little is simply handed over to you as the game relies on unlocking recipes and advancing your constructs.

Cave exploration is a bit on the realistic side. Many of them are dark and filled with creatures who would rather explode on you than let you take their stuff. Instead of a run-and-gun experience, you take your time to carefully plan out your moves. Otherwise, you can drown as oxygen levels keep dropping.

The life on the planet is quite diverse. Every time I explore I find something new whether it’s coral or some new fish I want to try and eat.

Upgrades and Discovery

One of the major points that draws me to Subnautica is the fact you have to discover and assemble your upgrades and equipment. You don’t simply start off knowing everything, which is one of the things I like about Minecraft.

You start off with the basics and then build your library of recipes by log entries, scanning parts or finding PDA data. I haven’t played with the torpedo systems yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

Another aspect of upgrade is customizing your ships. Using the Moonpool, you can change the colors and names of your Seamoth and Prawn Suit. Because I am a bit of a geek, I’ve started naming my Seamoths according to Runabouts from Deep Space 9.

And yes, I will build DS 9 under water at some point. Or at least as close to it as I can get.

A few Bugs Here and There

If you can’t upgrade your Prawn Suit in the Moonpool, it’s because of a current bug in the system. You can add upgrades in open water or in the Cyclops. Unfortunately, you can’t access the upgrade port on the Prawn in the Moonpool.

Hopefully this gets fixed in a future update.

Something else that will catch your attention is the school of fish which seem to swim through the hull of your underwater habitat. These are the schools you’re unable to interact with, and it’s only a visual glitch.

However, it’s a surprise when you turn the corner and walk into thirty or forty fish lining your hallway.

How’s the Repeat Playability?

Some people in the forums complain how Subnautica doesn’t have a random generated landscape. The sea bed, islands and caverns are all set – which means you can eventually memorize every nook and cranny in the game. But given the expanse of the world itself, I find it hard to believe you could memorize the landscape in less than a week.

Even though the map itself is fixed, the placement of resources and fish are randomly generated. In other words, you won’t find the same clump of gold in the same place every time.

Because you’re capable of building almost anywhere on the map, it’s easy to try something new each time. And this is aside from having a random starting location when play a new game.

I suppose many gamers today are spoiled when it comes to random generated elements. Back in the day, every game had the same landscape.

In fact, Pool of Radiance on the Commodore 64 is still my ultimate favorite game – and I had the first areas of that map memorized perfectly.

But, not everyone has the same appreciation for set maps…even though many of those same players will spend 100s of hours playing PUBG or League of Legends.

Is Subnautica Worth the Price?

There’s part of me that wishes the maps generated a new landscape each time. It would make every restart a new experience. However, the immersion of the game itself is still worth the money you spend to buy a first-person survival game.

Especially when you consider how expensive some games are and then being bombarded by micro-transactions.

What’s the Bottom Line?

In the end, Subnautica is a nice step away from multi-player shooters which have no real end goal than to be the last man standing. It has an elegant flow that can keep you playing even though the map itself doesn’t change.

For me, the game is worth the $25 price tag…even though I bought it on discount. It was something I was going to buy anyway.[template id=”543″]

Michael Brockbank
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Subnautica

8.9

Engagement

9.0/10

Play Quality

9.5/10

Easy to Learn

9.0/10

Repeat Play

7.5/10

Price Value

9.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful art and color work
  • Expansive world layout
  • Many recipes to discover
  • Great for builders
  • Excellent game for kids

Cons

  • Local LAN play would be nice
  • Days move a bit fast

Michael Brockbank

Michael developed ColoradoPlays to help various charities through his favorite pastime. Since then, the blog and Twitch channels have donated several hundred dollars to Extra Life, Geeks of Grandeur and Operation Supply Drop to name a few.

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