“Subnautica” explores the dangerous beauty of survival in the deep seas



At 120 meters below the surface, the frigid waters appear pitch black as you slowly follow the thin beam of illumination released by your dive light. Cave walls full of limestone deposits briefly reflect your light, allowing you to catch a glimpse of your surroundings. Your sight goes black again as you turn down another long, dark corridor of the cave system.


You notice your oxygen gauge slipping from yellow to red as you start counting down the seconds left until your oxygen tanks are depleted. Just as you begin to lose hope of ever seeing the surface world again, the cave walls pinch in to a tiny opening barely large enough for you to fit through. You place your dive light back on your belt and squeeze through the opening.


As you emerge from the opening, the black twisting cave system lets out into a bioluminescent sky of colorful glowing creatures and flora. This is the danger and beauty of the upcoming game “Subnautica.”


Being an avid gamer of survival, open-world games, I bought “Subnautica” without a second thought. The game arrived on Steam, a digital video game distributor, in December 2014 as a pre-release game. This means that the game is incomplete and players are asked to aid in the development process by notifying the developers about issues and recommendations for future updates. The game currently remains in pre-release with story elements, creatures, resources, and gameplay mechanics being updated constantly.


The developers of “Subnautica,” Unknown Worlds Entertainment, are going above and beyond other current games by implementing Virtual Reality. On Steam, this game is currently compatible with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and OSVR to make the horrors of the deep even more petrifying. For gamers without a PC or VR, “Subnautica” is in the process of being optimized for consoles. According to the Unknown Worlds Twitter account, the Xbox One “Subnautica” preview resulted in many save/load issues, showing that the game still needs more work before a full release.


Typically, survival games require you to fend off hunger, thirst, and sleep while fighting environmental factors. “Subnautica” includes all these features with the added suspense of a dwindling oxygen supply on an ocean planet. As the game progresses, you also have to pay attention to the charge of tools, vehicles, and buildings to make sure you don’t get stranded.


“Subnautica” begins with the mysterious wreck of the Aurora, a massive deep space research ship. You awaken in first-person, stranded on an ocean planet with nothing but the contents of your escape pod. Within the first few seconds of playing, you realize that this game doesn’t hold your hand. There are no quests, no guides, no objectives or checkpoints, just survival.


Upon leaving the escape pod, you’ll experience the beauty of this game. The ocean water is filled with golden sunrays shifting through the bright blue waves. You enter The Shallows, where the largest variety of flora exists. Huge schools of tiny, colorful fish swim around you and rush off as soon as you make a slight move toward them.


“Subnautica” features a biome system, which places specific plants, animals, and resources in their respective environment. The Shallows mainly contains red, purple, or tan corals, iridescent pink-purple Acid Mushrooms, and edible fish like the Peeper. Another biome found early in the game is the Creepvine Forest. Creepvines closely resemble kelp, except for the large clusters of yellow-glowing Creepvine seeds hanging off the plant, which can be used for crafting plastic. A unique feature of this biome is the Stalker, which looks and acts similar to a prehistoric crocodile. A variety of other biomes, such as the Jellyfish Caverns, The Grand Reef, and The Floating Islands are teeming with life waiting to be discovered.


The creatures in “Subnautica” range from small, edible fish in the shallows to enormous monsters of the deep. Unknown Worlds put an extraordinary amount of effort into bestowing each type of creature with its own individual characteristics, attitude, and habits. For example, the Bladderfish is a small, orange-headed, snake-like fish with expandable, translucent swim bladders on the top and bottom of its body. Its lack of fins causes the Bladderfish to be slow-moving and easy to catch. This fish is unique within “Subnautica” because it is the only fish you can choose to extract fresh water from the fish’s bladders, cook or cure the meat, or use the bladders to craft an Air Bladder for personal buoyancy. Each species has special attributes that can be useful, or harmful.


The beauty seen at the beginning of the game dies out as you dive into the ocean trenches and canyons. Sunlight fades to a dull glow and plant life dwindles as you descend farther toward the ocean floor. This is when “Subnautica” becomes a true survival game.


In the depths of the ocean, a leisurely fishing run can become a suspenseful flee back to safety. While scaling an underwater cliff in the Creepvine Forests, a search for mineral deposits can be quickly interrupted by a Stalker darting out from a nearby trench. The true horrors of “Subnautica” are the Leviathans, massive creatures which dwarf even the largest player vehicle.


To remain safe from the hostile environment of “Subnautica,” you can craft custom buildings using the Habitat Builder, a small handheld fabricator. Scattered across the sea floor are multiple abandoned structures and useful pieces of debris, which you can scan, unlocking them in the build menu, and then craft using this tool. The Habitat Builder also allows you to build planters and containment tanks, which lets you grow flora and breed creatures.


Unknown Worlds is an indie developer, having only released two previous games, Natural Selection and its sequel. With such a small team, compared to developers like Bethesda or Activision, Unknown Worlds has made great strides on “Subnautica”. According to their Twitter account, they still have a lot of technical issues to fix and they may add new groundbreaking features such as multiplayer and frozen biomes. Even with the incomplete nature of this game, Steam reviews rate this game “Very Positive,” the highest rating available.


In just the past few weeks of playing, I have seen multiple game-changing updates adding new creatures, new biomes, and the removal of tools that didn’t fit the game. Playing through the development of this game can be troubling at times, but the constant updates keep the game interesting and new around every corner. Whether you enjoy suspenseful deep-sea battles, the thrill of survival, or the beauty of undersea landscapes, “Subnautica” holds excitement for any kind of player.