8.5/10 Excellent - Mike, Game Infinite Conquering your fears is widely regarded as one of most rewarding things you could do for yourself. It takes a lot of courage to do so, but ideally the end result is becoming a stronger, more refined version of yourself. Batman became his fear, and last I checked it’s working out pretty well for him.
For some, conquering their fears might involve jumping out of a plane, nailing a speech in a room full of people, or letting a family of tarantulas crawl all over their body like it’s a jungle gym. For myself and the overwhelming number of others with a touch of thalassophobia, a fear of the sea and open water, overcoming fear can be a little tough if there isn’t a large body of water nearby. Even if there was, I can’t fathom wanting to go anywhere near it though. You know there’s like sharks and demons in there, right?
That being said, I’ve got some good (bad?) news for the rest of you landlubbers out there, facing your fears head on is now only a click away thanks to Unknown Worlds’ latest title, Subnautica. After being in early access since late 2014, the complete and polished survival/adventure title made its way to the masses this past January, and the finished product really speaks for itself. The vast expanse of subterranean ecosystems that are yours to explore as the sole survivor of the Aurora (a giant spaceship that has crash landed on an alien planet) is truly mesmerizing.
You begin your journey in a small escape pod which has landed in the safe shallows, the first and least intimidating biome that you will encounter on your adventure through the depths. Initially your pod looks something like the aftermath of microwaving a giant ball of tinfoil, but with just a few minor repairs it can be converted into a temporary living space. Once your new 0 bedroom pad is safe and secure, the mysterious world beyond it lies in wait, ready to fascinate and terrify.
That first dip into the safe shallows is sure to have a lasting effect on most gamers, as the beautiful collection of flora and fauna that inhabit the area looks like something right out of that elementary school in Finding Nemo. Luckily we have Nemo’s mistakes to learn from, because whatever lurks the murky depths beyond this area is certainly bad news. There’s no time to worry about that though, because while you were distracted by the Peepers and Bladderfish swimming around you, your oxygen supply has been almost entirely depleted.
It is this moment that you should probably start to prioritize. You will soon find that Subnautica is a lot like real life in that oxygen is an extremely important resource to have around. Without it, breathing is not nearly as easy or as fun. The real life parallels don’t stop there depending on the game mode you’ve chosen, as survival mode tests your ability to stay fed and hydrated along the way as well. While keeping all of these things in check will be stressful at first, eventually you’ll work out a routine and gathering the necessary survival supplies will become second nature. The learning curve can be a bit steep for newcomers to the genre, or anyone poorly skilled at inventory management for that matter.
As you begin to tread the deeper and darker waters of this foreign planet, you will find yourself stumbling upon all sorts of creepy crawlies, fresh mysteries, and helpful resources that will allow you to craft an array of necessary gadgets and gizmos. The more you discover, the easier life in your new neighborhood gets, essentially. Before long you’ll be driving your flashy new Seamoth into a suspiciously deep cave, feeling a strange jolt, and failing to find your way out as you attempt to escape the jaws of whatever you just pissed off by trying to park in its garage. As spooky as that all sounds, it’s extremely riveting, and I haven’t had many gaming experiences quite like it.
While you lose yourself building and upgrading vehicles, bases, and tools; the story will begin to weave its way into your travels, adding a touch of purpose to all the rock punching you’ll be doing throughout. The captivating twists and turns that the storyline takes are really just the icing on the cake of an already gorgeous and thrilling game. Even when it feels tropey and familiar, you’ll find yourself anxiously awaiting the next curveball to be thrown at you.
Before you know it, you’ll have a fully powered base with a beautiful view, and this strange new place will start to feel like home. The sense of accomplishment you feel after building your first base, or your first Cyclops (a 177 foot submarine that acts as a fully functional mobile base) is enough to make you feel like rescue might never arrive, and hey, maybe that’s all right.
As a near lifelong gamer, there are few moments that filled me with as much joy as the one when I finally crafted my first Cyclops, wandered inside, and found my way to the captain’s seat. On the other hand, a good lifelong gamer probably wouldn’t have immediately taken their new craft to the darkest recesses of the map, only to find themselves completely surrounded by Ghost Leviathians who appeared to mean business. I can tell you from experience, it’s pretty hard to find your way back to the surface when you’re piloting a highly cumbersome vehicle for the first time, especially when you’re at the bottom of the ocean and 3 extraterrestrial demonspawn are looking to make a meal of you.
Moments like these are so fulfilling that you often find yourself brushing aside any gripes you have with the game, because by the time it disappoints you in the slightest, it’s already exceeded your expectations in more ways that you could possibly count. There are a few aspects of the game that never really stop being annoying, like the limited amount of inventory space that can make crafting among other things a hassle, keeping track of food and water intake, and the rate at which you burn through batteries, but none of these things have stopped me from recommending this game to everyone I know.
It’s not necessarily hard to find and keep the supplies for food, water, and power on hand, but sometimes I just want to ride my Seamoth into the sunset without worrying about how much juice I’ll need to get back to my base. As far as the food and water goes, I didn’t feel that the mechanic added that much to the game, though it does seem like an obvious and necessary challenge for a survival game to give you. After 12 or so hours I opted to start a new save in Freedom mode, after which I found myself having a much better time with not that much less of a challenge.
The final assessment of course, for me personally, came down to just one question. Has this experience allowed me to overcome my fear of the deep and scary world that exists below sea level? We’ll all be happy to find that, no, dear god no, please keep it all very far away from me, I pray that I will never have to be told again that I have about 30 seconds of oxygen left when I’m spraying a fire extinguisher at a bunch of unsuspecting Garryfish. So if that’s the only thing keeping you from playing this game, I implore you, turn on every light in your house, have someone hold your hand if you have to, this game is a must play. Every time you think you’ve run out of things to do, a new blueprint, a frantic radio transmission, or an undiscovered location will kickstart the excitement all over again. There’s nothing good waiting for you at the bottom of the ocean. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have a great time finding that out for yourself.