Subnautica

Over the decades, I’ve enjoyed a lot of good video games.  It really started with a game called Starflight wherein I explored the universe, Star Trek style.  Seldom does a game come along that gives us the sense of exploration like that game did, but even Starflight was vexed by a time limit.  Once stars started to go out, you had to try to figure out how to win the game pretty quickly.  These days, most games are so story driven that no matter how “open world” they are, you’re always pushed towards a certain set of goals.  The Tomb Raider series, a series about a woman explorer, always pushes the player in a direction.  Maps are linear, even when they have nooks and crannies to explore.  We go with the flow and enjoy them, but there’s little under the surface to make them feel truly adventurous.  But now and then a game comes along that really can make waves…

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I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’ garden, in the shade…

I first learned about Subnautica when it was in pre-release.  It looked interesting but not the catch of the day.  I only picked it up because a Steam sale dropped the price to $9.99.  I played it for a bit but, still in early access, you couldn’t actually complete the game, so I put it to the side.  Recently, I was between games.  I had finished one semi-aquatic adventure, Call of Cthulhu, and knew Assassin’s Creed would likely be going on sale around Thanksgiving, so I didn’t want to buy a new game.  So, I reinstalled Subnautica.

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Night and a reactor about to go critical… could it get any worse?

Well!!  I could not stop playing!  The story opens with the destruction of your starship and subsequent plummet to the watery planet below.  You wake up alone in a small life pod that’s on fire.  Step one: contain the fire and assess the damage.  Once that’s under control, you can start exploring.  Upon occasion, your radio will pick up distress calls from fellow passengers but I never found anyone alive.  In fact, the first time I played, I could barely get myself to leave the pod, so terrified was I that something in the water would get me.  The sense of “what lurks below” is palpable.  It took me forever to branch out and look around for anything I could build with.  You’re given a nanotech device that can build nearly anything provided you can find the natural resources required to build each item.  Titanium can be found everywhere because of your destroyed ship, which lies 1000 meters away with a nuclear reactor that’s going critical.  So yes, you have to construct a radiation suit too…

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We all live in a yellow submarine…

The sense of wonder I found exploring these waters was undeniably exciting.  It seems the entire planet is at your disposal.  Finding a cave could lead to a few resources, food, or an entire undersea biome, filled with luminous life unlike anything in the shallow waters.  Most of the sea creatures are edible, but only a couple offer drinkable water.  Danger is everywhere.  When I found an island, a rare thing indeed, I was delighted.  When I found evidence of alien life on that island, the mysteries of this planet became something I had to learn about!  This was the mind candy that got me hooked on gaming all those years ago.  In the process, I learned that my ship was shot down by some alien weapon and it’s up to me to figure out what happened, and if there’s a way off this planet.  Unfortunately I also discovered that I was carrying a lethal disease.  Unlike Starflight, this never seems to advance where you have to solve the game in a hurry; you can continue to explore as long as your resources hold out!

The game is truly as vast as the ocean.  And like reality, the deeper you go, the darker it gets and the more the water pressure builds.  As you construct your submersible, you’ll need to find ways to enhance it to go deeper and deeper.  (I found myself over 1200 meter below the sea at one point!)   I was able to escape the island in just under 90 in-game days.  No Wilson, but I did find a toy monster that I built a shelf for just to have a “friend” in this undersea world.  Oh, yeah, I did build an undersea base so I had somewhere to sleep!  The game itself took me about 30 hours to play through.  At $10, this was an astoundingly good investment.

The game offers multiple play modes: Survival is the full experience.  You will need food, water, and oxygen.  There are other ways to play which might be better for the younger player; not having to worry about food and water would be nice!   Frequently, I found myself in some ultra-deep cave and starving.  Once you upgrade your knife to be a laser knife, it cooks while it cuts, so that helps enormously, but needing water was another matter, and being 900 meters down without a water filtration plant was often very unnerving.  Equally unnerving was seeing the shadow of a leviathan pass overhead.  These monstrous creatures have claws on the side of their face, so when they grip your seamoth, a small submersible vessel, you get to look right into the eyes of the killer when it’s crushing your ship.  Seeing the shadow pass overhead means scrambling to avoid detection!

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Michele, my (diving) belle!

The game also features a VR mode, which looks amazing but does not yet work with the HTC Vive controllers.  This made playing in VR a bit awkward, because I had to know where my keyboard was while wearing a bulky headset.  But this isn’t the negative it sounds like: I suspect if I could have played the ending with the VR helmet on, my wife would have found me dead in the computer room, having drowned.  I was so utterly immersed in the endgame, I can’t guarantee I would have known to breath.  But the end game is magnificent and the final scenes will stay with me for a long, long time.  I can still hear those final words…

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Beauty, 900 meters below the surface.

If I have any complaint about the game, it focuses on the save feature.  This is a big game with big items that could take hours to accumulate all the natural resources needed for, say, a submarine.  If you want to try something, and lose that ship, you want to reload to a saved position.  That is not possible.  There is a single save per game that updates as you play.   This also means you can’t go back to a saved position when your underwater-loving-nephew comes over who desperately wants to see the creatures you’ve encountered.

I might play Subnautica again in the creative mode, just to be able to get down to those depths and show my nephew what’s lurking deep…. deep underwater… in the darkness… until then, this amazing experience will go down as one of my favorite games.  If you’re in need of a truly immersive experience, you cannot go wrong with Subnautica!

Dive in!  ML

This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, Games, Random Chatter, Science Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Subnautica

  1. Your sister says:

    You’ll need to play it again in a casual fashion for Lukey.

    Liked by 1 person

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