Date Posted: 13/01/19
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...
Date Posted: 26/01/19
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.
Date Posted: 13/06/21
Like its predecessor this was a game that I have been waiting for ages to be released for the PS4, and finally it received the port on May 14th 2021. As I said a few weeks ago my survival game itch was decidedly not scratched by Stranded Deep so when I finished Mad Max, I turned my attention to Subnautica: Below Zero. The game sees you returning to 4546B (the planet from the first game) but you do not return to the same location of the planet that you were in before.
The last game featured a mute man surviving when his ship crashes on an alien planet. His goal was to find a cure for a mysterious disease that he’d been infected by, and then to escape the world. There were the remains of bases and other settlements but he was alone. In Below Zero the player controls a woman named Robin who has come to the same planet to search for the truth about her sister, Sam’s death. The Alterra Corporation, who seem to be right up there with Weyland-Yutani and Umbrella in terms of trustworthiness, have told Robin that Sam died in an accident something that Robin does not believe. Robin travels to an arctic area unlike the tropical region that Subnautica’s protagonist crashed into, and encounters other facilities but also a survivor that had been living in the area for quite some time. A woman that is not exactly too fond of strangers
The game opens up with Robin onboard a ship in orbit of 4546B and launching to the surface with a survival pod in tow. She uses a meteor shower as cover because I think the planet is quarantined or something, it’s honestly not important, but during her landing things go sideways and her shuttle crashes after disconnecting from the pod. Robin survives the landing, and heads to the location of her pod that has landed in the shallow sea nearby. Once on the surface she sets about finding out the truth about what really happened to her sister.
Now on the surface of it, find the truth about her sister is supposedly the point of the game, however as you begin to explore various unidentified signals you come across some of the same alien technology that the character from the first game encountered. One of these pieces of technology download an alien consciousnesses named Al-An into Robin’s head. At which point things become about finding more alien technology in order to build a new body for Al-An to inhabit with the stuff about Sam kind-of falling to the wayside. At time of writing I have not finished the game and need to find one more alien recipe to finish Al-An’s new body. However, I have finished the Sam story arc in which Robin finishes what Sam started by finding a cure for the disease that infected a frozen leviathan.
In terms of mechanics basically everything has just been copied and pasted from Subnautica, although you don’t have the Habitation tool by default here as (I’m pretty sure) you did in the last game. You need to craft yourself a scanner and as before scan different fragments or bits of broken equipment to unlock new blueprints. When I played Subnautica I spent most of my early time with the game just using my escape pod as my base, and eventually started building a small base, basically just so I would have somewhere to store all of the minerals and stuff I was finding all over the place. In Below Zero I wanted to start construction on a base as soon as possible, but it took me ages to find where the Habitation tool bit that I needed to scan was.
I made a point of adding the compass to my Heads Up Display as soon as I could as navigation was a big issue the last time around mainly because I had not bothered to construct a compass. I assumed it would be a tool that you’d have to keep looking at rather than something that you have access to all the time. Now I knew better I made one as soon as possible and thanks to YouTube walkthroughs I was able to find the Habitation tool to begin construction on my new base.
As before you need to scan every piece of flora and fauna that you come across. Some of the wildlife are harmless and others are hostile. There are also leviathan-class creatures that will ruin you in seconds if they catch you in open water. Before you have Al-An downloaded into your noggin the Sea Monkeys are pretty annoying creatures, as they will snatch any items you are carrying from your hands and swim off with them, forcing you to give chase to get your item back. Post Al-An they become friendlier and will actively bring you items. One good trick is to have an item you are looking for in your pinned inventory list and they may bring you the thing you are looking for.
Whilst this game could have basically been DLC rather than a new game because vast chunks of it play exactly the same as the first there are a few things that have been added.
You are now able to scan and construct a control room which allows you to manage your base operations, plus it puts your base on your map allowing you to find it without needing to put a beacon next to it. The multipurpose rooms are not the only rooms that you can build, having access to a large room, plus some new technologies like a water filtration machine that turns sea water into drinking water. It also produces salt but you don’t actually have to remove salt from the machine so you can just keep taking the water.
The Prawn suit returns but this time instead of the Cyclops submarine, you have the Sea Truck which starts as basically a nippy little cab that you can zip around in. Later on you are able to construct new compartments creating your very own custom home-away-from-home, the Prawn suit also has a constructible pod that means you can take it with you.
There were islands in the previous game but in Below Zero there are numerous above sea biomes. You have a new hovering bike that allows you get around much faster than plodding around in the Prawn suit or running around on foot. What you have to be aware of this time is your body temperature; you can get hypothermia and die if you get too cold. There are caves and steam vents which will keep your body temperature up but if you get caught out then you can and will get killed.
The above sea biomes also have their own wildlife, including penguin-like creatures, and the game’s equivalent of the Polar Bear, namely the Snow Stalker. These bipedal hunters will attack you if you get too close, but can be kept at bay with a flare. As you do venture further inland you discover massive worms that smash their way through the ice if they sense something moving above them. If you are on the bike when the worm smashes through then you get knocked off, you hop back on, race away so the worm can do it again a few seconds later. The worms are more annoying than anything else. The bike itself is not very durable and like the other vehicles can be upgraded but I hadn’t bothered as you really only use it to get through the worm bit then never need to use it again. Whilst it is slower, I’d rather stomp around in the Prawn suit that can defend itself against any animals with a diamond-tipped drilling arm.
There are a few more tools in your arsenal one of my favourites being the electrical flippers that charges the batteries in any tool you have in your hand as you swim. This is particularly good if you are using the swimming-aid motor thing (honestly I cannot remember its name) because when you use it the fins generate power faster than it is depleted meaning you can basically use it indefinitely without every needing to worry about changing/charging batteries.
Anything else I would say at this point would effectively just be repeating myself as it is the same as Subnautica. The scanning room still does not differ between where items should be and if they are actually there. You can be lead to empty places because you have already gathered the resource that you are trying to find. Things do eventually respawn so generally you won’t get into the Stranded Deep scenario of being unable to ever find more resources because you have collected them already.
There are two things that I think the game is crying out for: One: Auto-save and Two: a Map.
At present you simply save the game as and when you want, this is fine if you remember to do it, unfortunately the game can and will crash. I only had it happen to me a couple of times but when it did I lost 30-odd minutes of progress. If there was an auto-save and a manual save slot this would be perfect because if the game did then auto-save but it did it when you were about to die or something you don’t lose the whole game. I played this, and the previous game with the food, drink, and hypothermia options on, but not the permanent-death. The thing is that if I did die then when you reappear back at your base you basically have the items you constructed in your inventory and nothing you’d gathered before you died. As a result I never actually carried on playing if I died because I would just need to return to where I died to gather the resources I had been looking for in the first place.
The second and far more important thing in my opinion is a MAP. Yes this time around I made a point of crafting beacons to label important places or smaller bases that I had constructed but I got lost in different biomes a lot. The thing is that your little motor-swimmer thing can have a map on it, and the scanner rooms also create 3D maps which you can see within the room but you have no way to see these maps anywhere. If you could only see the areas where you have active scanner rooms then fine, I would happily build and power scanner rooms everywhere to make finding my way around easier. If you could only see places that you had explored like Command and Conquer then again fine, but to have no Map at all is a massive thorn in my side when playing. I have left certain markers in place because I can use them as reference tools to navigate but please, please, please developers if there is another Subnautica game then incorporate a map into the game because it would make playing it so much easier and honestly so much more fun.
The plot of the game is also a bit all over the place. In the first game, the goal was to escape the planet, to do that you needed to explore to craft the resources necessary. In Below Zero I’m assuming that once you have Al-An out of your head, he/she or it, will give you a lift back to your ship in orbit or just take you from the planet. For a game that is primarily about exploring the ocean it makes the experience feel shallower than the original. I built my base/s and explored the world but half of what I have done probably wasn’t necessary. My main base could have worked just as well being half the size or even a third because this game is not about surviving and escaping an alien world, it is about finding out what happened to yours sister, and then building an alien consciousness a new body. I doubt the game will continue much beyond that objective. If I am wrong I will do an Update.
Regardless of whether this game should have been DLC or warrants being a sequel is not really important to me. Basically I wanted to play more Subnautica and Below Zero is certainly more Subnautica but the sequel needed more story. Robin doesn’t seem overly concerned with learning her sister’s fate and at no point has she ever implied that she might be unable to leave the planet. She is therefore on 4546B because she wants to be which takes a lot from the whole survival element because she could have come to the ocean world better prepared and finding out what happened to her sister would have been much easier.
The game is not getting away without a Thumbs Up because it is more Subnautica, however, there could have been more to it. If it had been a slice of DLC then its shorter story length could have been forgiven but this is a sequel that simply waddled after the success of the first game without really having its own identify.
7/10 – This is the type of survival crafting game that I like. We use technology to turn minerals into useful things. I miss the direction from the first story because there were times in Below Zero when I wondered what I was supposed to be doing, whereas in Subnautica I knew which areas I had not explored and knew that my overall objective was building a rocket in order to escape.