Subnautica: Stranded on an alien water-world

Your starship has crashed on a distant planet, stranding you in the middle of a vast alien ocean. All you have is a life pod with a machine that creates objects from raw materials. Yes, this is another Early Access survival game. It’s from Unknown Worlds, developer of the Natural Selection series, and it’s an interesting underwater twist on the crowded open-world survival genre.

Dive off your pod into the water below and you find yourself in a beautiful undersea landscape similar to our own ocean floor, but with bizarre alien life. Shoals of fluorescent fish, blobby jelly things, and deadly space-manatees are just a few of the creatures you’ll see bobbing around in the depths on your first plunge. It’s a pretty, colourful world, and I immediately wanted to spend time here.


The sea floor is littered with things to harvest, from metal debris from your crashed starship to minerals and alien plants. Once gathered, these can be taken back to your pod and transformed into useful items with a machine called a fabricator. It’s a pretty standard Minecraft -style crafting system. You make food and drink to keep yourself alive, tools like the flashlight for nighttime exploration, and, eventually, elaborate constructions such as a submersibles and underwater bases.

You build these bases using a handheld tool, plugging together corridors and modules to create simple, blocky buildings. Or if you don’t want to be tethered to one place, the Cyclops submarine doubles as a mobile base.

Water Difference
It’s a familiar setup, used by a dozen other survival games, but the underwater setting does make a difference. You have limited oxygen, making every dive into an underwater cave for a precious bit of scrap metal a risk. I’ve died many, many times by getting too cocky, and running out of air just inches from the surface.

But then you find the materials to build oxygen tanks, enabling you to delve deeper. Then an underwater glider to let you move faster. Your limitations are steadily reduced as you develop better tech, increasing your freedom.

Yet as peaceful as swimming around gathering materials and looking at colourful fish sounds, this is also a world filled with danger. You share this alien ocean with other creatures, some of which are peaceful and will ignore you, and others that are several tiers above you on the food chain. The wonder of seeing a beautiful, huge new beast looming towards you often turns to terror as it tries to eat you.

I like how the game makes you feel like an invader. You don’t belong in this ecology, and it feels like it. You’re constantly at odds with the environment and its weird aquatic inhabitants, which is the perfect setup for a survival game. My only major gripe at this early stage is the lack of any long-term goal besides just surviving. Having something distant to work towards would make the game feel less aimless. But it is only an alpha.

I thought I’d had enough of survival games, but I found Subnautica surprisingly enjoyable. It pits you against a beautiful, dangerous environment and there’s a lot to do down in its murky depths. All it needs now is an objective for us to set our sights on.

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