Subnautica has been out on both PC and Xbox One for a while, and there were rumblings of a PS4 port eventually coming too. I was eagerly keeping my eye on news of a port because the game looked like something I would enjoy. In late 2018 the PS4 version of the game hit the shelves and I immediately sought out a copy.
Now full disclosure I haven't finished the game as of time of writing, however, I have been playing it A LOT and think I have got a good idea of the mechanics and so on. Therefore I have no problem reviewing it. Although, similarly to other reviews that I have done in the past once I have finished it, if there are other things I want to talk about I will include those in one of my Updates.
This is a game that on the surface seems to just be another survival simulator in which you live or last for as long as possible before you ultimately get bored and quit. Minecraft has long since been abandoned by both Abbie and I, as we have completely lost interest in playing it. Subnautica is a different kind of survival experience because it actually has a plot and its game world is fixed. So unlike other survival games in which the world is randomised when it initially begins, here your crashed spaceship and life-pod serve as your key references points. There are three different modes, the easiest means you don't need to eat or drink to survive, in the second you do need to eat and drink but if you die you return to your pod or sea base having lost some items, and the third is you need to eat and drink but if you die, then you are dead, no respawns. I opted to go for the Survival option so need to eat and drink but if I do die it is not a permanent state.
Like I said there is a plot and I'm going to give you a quick rundown on what it is...
You are nameless mute astronaut...whom I like to think is named Max Danger...and the seemingly sole survivor when your ship the Aurora crash lands on an ocean planet. I say "seemingly" because as of yet I haven't found any other survivors but as I haven't finished the game there may be other survivors out there. You awaken in a damaged escape pod and must set about the task of exploring the world you are now trapped on. You have a PDA but the majority of your blueprints have been erased in the crash so must scan pieces of wreckage to rebuild your schematics. You also have access to a Fabricator, a device that can break down various components to create something useful. An acid mushroom and a piece of copper ore can be used to make a battery for example. First off you want to repair your escape pod, so off you go into the world gathering enough raw materials to built a repair tool, scanner, and scanning any passing flora or fauna. You grab passing fish and cook them in the Fabricator to keep your calorie and fluid intake up.
Once the pod is repaired you'll be able to pick up incoming transmissions from other life-pods and you begin to uncover evidence that others have crashed on this planet before.
Dangerous wildlife isn't the only thing that you must deal with because as you explore strange alien technology is discovered, and it becomes obvious that if you are going to make it off the planet alive then you will have to build your own rocket as no one else is coming to save you...
This game gave me a certain nostalgic pang as I once survived for seventeen of your Earth years on a water world. I had an advantage over Max because my equipment was more robust than his and in short order I was able to build myself a base, radio and grow food necessary for my survival. Electromagnetic interference in the atmosphere made rescue impossible until the atmosphere stabilised and I was able to fix my ship and escape. Subnautica reminds me a lot of that experience.
Unlike other survival games it has a beginning, middle and end, and the wreckage of your ship serves as a key reference point when navigating being visible from just about anywhere on the surface. The endgame is naturally to build your own escape ship to get off the surface of the world but in order to do that you need different resources to craft the components you require.
Now I have no idea if I have done things different to the way the game wanted me to. Radiation is leaking from the wreckage of the Aurora after the crash, and after a message said that I had 24 hours to repair the damage before there was an ecological disaster I tried to get to it and fix it. However I was unable to gain entry to the ship and by the time I faffed about getting the necessary tools to get on board nothing had really happened so I didn't bother returning to it for a while. Instead I explored my surroundings; eventually I decided to fully explore the ship and did find my way on board. I repaired the damaged drive system which stopped the radiation leak and the radiation dissipated. Whilst on the ship I found parts of the Prawn suit (a deep sea diving mech) which was something that I'd been looking for on the sea floor and various other equipment that I'd already managed to locate. So, I don't know if I was supposed to go back to the ship much sooner than I did to gain access to this equipment.
When constructing bases and other items you have a Habitat tool which can be used to construct as well as deconstruct structures you have built. So if you build something then decide it was not essential or you just want the resources back then you can deconstruct it and the items used in its creation will reappear in your inventory.
The inventory itself is also pretty large and lockers can be made to house even more items that you find. I am a bit of a hoarder in games like this and don't like discarding items that may prove to be useful later on. As a result my main Sea base's lockers are crammed full of various items I have discovered on my travels. As of yet there doesn't seem to be a way of making your inventory bigger short of upgrading your prawn suit or Seamoth (submersible) so they can also carry some of the crap you pick up from the ocean floor.
The world around you is incredibly colourful and the creatures are all unique and varied with different sounds and behaviours. There are various herbivores and predators around that will attack if you venture too close. I have built a small submersible that I named Ursula and I use this to get around. However, you are still vulnerable as there are leviathan-class animals which are more than capable of turning your sub to scrap and having you for dinner. There is also a squid-like creature that is capable of teleporting you out of your seamoth or suit leaving you floundering in open water. On the couple of occasions this has happened I haven't been too far from Ursula or the surface so I didn't die but I imagine if this happened near a lava flow I may not be able to get back to the surface or my vehicle before being flame boiled.
The area you start in are called the Safe Shallows and here you are safe from bigger predators, plus there are plenty of minerals that you can salvage which enable you to make a base that can be expanded to include various rooms, a bio-reactor, and a place to dock your submersible or prawn suit.
I have been playing the game now for over 24 hours and have established a sea base, explored the Aurora and have set up scanning rooms at different locations around the map. My next task it to construct a Cyclops, which unlike Ursula is a large submarine that is effectively a mobile base and is capable of having a fabricator, grow beds for plants and everything else you need for a home away from home. I assume that it is using this sub that you are able to venture into the deeper parts of the world because you'd have a place to return to when you need to eat and drink.
When you are in the early hours of the game expanding your base including key structures is crucial because having a scanning room will allow you to scan the surrounding area for particular minerals that you may need. You can construct various tools like a compass and chip that feeds data from the scanner room to your Head Up Display (HUD) so if there is some crucial element you are missing necessary for a particular item you have the option of setting your scanner to locate one for you. The scanner room's range can be upgraded to 500 metres enabling you to get a good idea of the lay of the surrounding land.
Now, one of the issues I found with the scanning room was that whilst you can use them to highlight nearby wrecks (chunks of the Aurora) even if you've explored them they still show up on the scan. I would have found it so much more useful for the scanning room to pick these things up but once you have salvaged everything useful from them, remove them from your HUD display, that way you don't end up going back to the same wreaks over and over again. I discovered the same thing with the locations of Datapads, even if you have picked them up, your scanner will still lead you to the location of the container you found them in, even after you’ve picked them up. Plus I have currently built three scanning rooms around the map and only two of them are capable of finding useful items, presumably because nothing important is in range of the third. As a result I have begun dismantling it and will probably rebuild it at depth to give me the option of scanning the deeper passageways and tunnels. Unfortunately it requires a lot of resources to make a small base and scanning room so multiple trips will be necessary to rebuild it somewhere new. I have discovered though that even after you dismantle the scanning room, the two cameras that are built with it aren’t dismantled too. As a result I have started using them as marker points as they will show up on your HUD display rather than constructing beacons.
I also built a moon pool which allow the submersible and the prawn suit to be docked and recharged (although not at the same time) using your base's power supply. But a bug I've encountered with irritating frequency is the brief cut scene docking animation won't always activate. My submersible or suit is then unable to dock and will bounce off the surface of the water preventing me from recharging them. It is not a major problem but can be a little annoying as the power cells on your craft will run down and being unable to charge them back up again due to a bug is frustrating.
One of the key problems that I have encountered though is that there is no in-game map (but there are numerous maps online). Like I said the map is fixed and the different biomes are always in the same places, unfortunately because there is no map, you have to either remember which direction things are or leave beacons to guide you back to them. In games like Command & Conquer, maps would be covered by a black shroud, and the more you explored the more of the map would be visible. I have no idea why Subnautica doesn't have a map. It could easily be worked into game play and the scanning rooms or a specific tool could be used to mark key locations so when looking for that all important ore or mineral you aren't spending hours swimming around trying to track it down.
I have honestly lost track of the amount of times I've ventured into a cave or headed in the wrong direction by mistake only to discover a rich new biome that I'd love to explore but due to needing to eat or drink (and not bringing enough supplies with me because I didn't think I'd be going that far) had to turn back. I often find it hard to find my way back to where I'd been when my belly was full and my fluid intake was high. I left a beacon in one location but it was in a subterranean cave which I have been unable to find the entrance to again. Therefore leaving beacons can be helpful but are not a full proof way of navigation. Vehicles can be equipped with sonar and devices to map out cave systems to that is probably what I'll have to do fairly soon. But as I said above even if I do get those upgrades I still won't have an underwater or holographic display of the map on my HUD.
From what I understand the game was developed by a relatively small team and there are times when it really shows. I have had so many issues with objects popping-in out of nowhere. I have crashed my submersible into pieces of wreckage or rocks that only appeared after I hit them, occasionally the seafloor has disappeared and I've ended up under the world. None of these were too annoying they just ruin the immersion somewhat. Yet having said that, the first submersible I built ended up getting trapped underneath the floating island. I assume that I must have gone through a piece of the island without realising it, and when I hopped out to explore my new surroundings, the rock popped back into place thus forever trapping my submersible in an inaccessible location. This also happened when my first prawn suit sank through the seafloor and ended up in a black abyss beneath the map. Its boosters weren't powerful enough to get it back to sea level so I had to abandon it before it went too deep and I could safely return to the surface. As I had saved only a moment before it dropped through the floor I couldn't reload a previous save and rescue my prawn suit from its fate.
Now you may have been wondering how there could be islands if you've landed on an ocean planet, and when I first crashed down, stood atop my escape pod and looked around all I observed was water as far as the eye could see. However, as I followed radio messages I quickly stumbled across a floating island that had various edible plants as well as some non-functional alien equipment. When I stood on the island's beach I could clearly see the Aurora but the island itself only became visible when I was a couple of hundred metres away from it. I later found a mountain island which should also have been clearly visible from my base or escape pod. The in-game explanation is that these islands are shrouded in fog which prevents you from seeing them but I think it is simply that the draw distance is ridiculously short. I tend to zip about in Ursula often near the surface to avoid rocks and debris littering the seafloor, but since getting the prawn suit which walks around on the bottom I have stumbled across numerous thereto unexplored pieces of wreckage. I don't know if the shorter draw distance was a deliberate design choice, after all if you could see where everything was immediately then there wouldn't necessarily be much point building a sea base when nearby islands have food and water. Water is a murky medium so having a shorter distance when diving is fair enough but I do find it a bit annoying that I need to leave marker beacons or cameras everywhere just so I can find my way back to places I want to explore further. Yes I know that there is a compass which shows you North, South and so on, but I long for a map with a way-point marker so I can quickly find my way to biomes that warrant exploration.
There are also no weather patterns or storms. The day night cycle always has clear skies during the day and a moon filled sky at night. A weather system would have been nice because it would have added another mechanic to the survival elements of the game. Bases near the surface might be more prone to storm damage than ones built deeper or they need to be reinforced. It is not too big a problem it is just a feature that would have given the already lively world a bit more to it as it isn't only the flora and fauna you need to worry about, the weather could destroy a weak base in short order if you aren't prepared.
The playable area of Subnautica is very large and has the advantage of not just having a flat or above you playing field. Play GTA and most things are on your level or on buildings above your head. In Subnautica different cave networks will stretch deep into the sand beneath your feet, or mountains might go up a few hundred metres, and if you are going to find the all important rare minerals to allow you to build your escape rocket then you will need to venture into the depths.
You can just pick a direction and keep going but your computer's AI will report that you are in a Dead Zone if you go too far, and that there are numerous leviathan-class creatures in the area, so it advises you to turn back. If you don't one of these things will spawn and attack, if you still don't another does, and another...if you aren't dead by then you have probably raced back to the safe shallows as fast as you can inside a severely damaged submersible. The map doesn't have invisible walls but it puts blocks that do prevent you from just picking a direction and carrying on until you run out of food and water, or the power cell in the submersible dies.
My biggest issue though is that I think the game is crying out for a basic in-game tutorial. I was only able to locate Cave Sulphur because I’d watched a Zero Punctuation review of the game and Yahtzee specifically mentions where to find this all important component for the repair tool. When playing the game, Abbie will generally be sitting with me or will be nearby, and I'll regularly ask her to check the Wiki so I can find key minerals needed for important tools or upgrades. Minecraft had a basic how-to guide which made playing the game so much easier (I did also have Abbie helping me then) in the early few hours and Subnautica could really do with one too.
In a first (as far as I'm aware) the game has a Give Feedback option in the pause menu so the developers seem to be continuing to improve the game where possible. I might send this review to them as it does contain all my thoughts, good and bad, plus things that I think could be improved upon.
I am 24 hours into the game and don't see myself abandoning it because I have set goals to achieve and like dangling the carrot I will happily spend hours searching for items if it means I can get that next tool which grants progress.
There are some bugs and the negatives that I've mentioned above are annoying to be sure but none of them are a deal breaker. The game hasn't crashed so it is a lot more stable than the GTA Online servers are at the moment and the world you are in is so deep that I want to explore every nook and cranny to find everything the game has to offer. Anything less than a Thumbs Up would be a grave injustice and if you are a fan of survival games but have gotten tired of the likes of Minecraft or Lego Worlds which don't really have an endgame, then Subnautica might be the game for you.
8/10 - The short draw distance, lack of a map of some kind, issues with the scanning mechanics and the pop in do hurt the game and sometimes makes it feel a little incomplete. However, all of my issues with the game are just niggles as I am eager to dive back into the world of Subnautica, build my Cyclops, remake my prawn suit and venture into the dark depths to see what is lurking down there...
So things were going relatively smoothly with Subnautica, hours were slipping past virtually unnoticed as I explored the world and made new discoveries. But then the game updated and since then I have had numerous problems...
Apparently the Update was designed to fix some issues such as the animation for the moon pool not activating, which I had mentioned above, but for me after the patch the game started crashing constantly. Within the space of a couple of hours it had crashed at least six times, whereas before it had not crashed once. I kept loosing progress and started saving every few minutes just so I wouldn’t have wasted my time finding something or scanning an item. It made me wonder why the game doesn’t have an auto-save function. I hadn’t noticed it before but the first time the game crashed I had lost half an hour’s worth of progress because I hadn’t saved it. After that I became paranoid about saving and as the game would crash if I walked across a room I was almost quick saving.
A second glitch I encountered was that my prawn suit would fall through the floor of an alien building but the seafloor would be solid so I ended up trapped in a no man’s land area under the building but unable to go anywhere. I wasn’t even able to go back through the floor that had glitched out so had to quit and reload. It happened again. So again quit and reload. The last time I didn’t even try to use the prawn suit (that I have named Sebastian) and simply swam out because I didn’t want to get trapped again.
I did report my feedback after the crashes and hopefully another patch will come through to fix it because the game became un-playable for a while. It did settle down a bit later one but it was incredibly frustrating to watch the game crash over and over.
One thing I did forget to mention was a top tip for getting the most out of the resources in Subnautica...get the prawn suit. The scans for it are onboard the Aurora and seek out the drill arms scans. Check a walkthrough or guide if necessary because the chunks of minerals that litter the game will give you massive amounts of resources and save you having to find items one at a time. By the end of the game I had lockers filled with gold, copper, quarts, all of which are extremely useful in creating necessary items and upgrades.
To summarise, those were the bugs I encountered but hopefully they will be ironed out soon. I have now finished the game and must admit I felt something of a pang as I jumped on board my escape rocket leaving the planet behind. My various bases, some of which would continue to function as they were linked to thermal plants that would keep them powered indefinitely, whilst others would shut down as their bioreactors ran out of fuel. I even considered releasing the animals in my aquarium to live out their lives in the wild which just goes to show how absorbed in the game world I became.