Abzu showed us beautiful, majestic, mesmerizing, and relaxing aspects of the ocean. But it lasted for only a couple of hours. Do you know why? Because it’s a lie! The ocean is freaking scary, unnerving, dangerous, and maddeningly terrifying. I’ve played Subnautica for dozens of hours and came to the only conclusion someone in the right mind can reach: we should boil it! Boil the hell of this wet abyss, burn the remains, bury the ashes, and then nuke the burial place several times! This is the only way.
It all begins with a shipwreck—a spaceship wreck. Aurora, a big exploration vessel, crashes on planet 4546B, a water world, and you are the sole survivor—congrats! There is a plotline you’ll eventually follow. It consists of several scripted events that involve radiation, a rescue attempt, alien bases, and some sort of a disease, but I won’t speak about it in detail. The story is pretty okay when it resurfaces here and there, but its most precious aspect is its unobtrusiveness. You don’t need to bother with it too much.
You have all the time in the world to immerse yourself in such pleasurable activities as exploring beautiful surroundings, crafting useful instruments, constructing a comfortable habitat, building more powerful vehicles, and going deeper, deeper, and deeper. Subnautica goes easy with you at the start—you land in shallow waters that look like an ad for some luxurious tropical diving resort: colorful fishes, bright corals, and a whole sea of sunlight. Algae forests nearby pretty soon will get you accustomed to the game’s first predator, and it’ll go downhill from here—you can’t even imagine the horrors that dwell in the depths of the planet 4546B. But by the moment you’ll meet your first Leviathan—don’t worry, this one won’t bite—you’ll be hooked tight. Like a seasoned fisherman, Subnautica lures you with a pretty spinner, hooks you, guts you, and devours you to the last bone. You can scream, you can shiver in fear, but if you don’t have a severe enough case of thalassophobia, you won’t be able to stop playing.
Subnautica is one of the best survival games ever made explicitly because it understands that leaving players to their own devices doesn’t mean abandoning the importance of the surrounding environment. The game’s world is divided into various biomes—each with its own specific flora, fauna, resources, and distinctive look. While the actual playable area is only roughly two thousand in-game kilometers in diameter, the sheer saturation of geographical and biological variability is mind-blowing. Depth serves as an approximate game progress indicator—the deeper you go, the more challenging an environment and the more precious the resources are.
But no matter how creative and mesmerizing the sub-aquatic vistas of Subnatica are, they would never be able to entrap your attention for so long if not for the artful sound design. The white noise of the sea, the aqualung breathing tempo, crescendos of underwater geysers, peculiar voices of aquatic creatures—the ocean brims with life until you go deeper and get engulfed by gradually intensifying silence. Tasteful and suiting musical passages correct the atmosphere constantly, keeping your mind from wandering to the real-life everyday boring activities that will never let you get drunk on the sheer feeling of discovery. And suddenly, the peak—a deafening song of Leviathan—this time perhaps a carnivore—sends shivers up your spine. Progress doesn’t matter much—the process itself is intoxicating.
Another thing that Subnatica understands well is that when players are hooked, you mustn’t get in the way with obnoxious mechanics. How many survival games—and not just survival games—fell because of annoying hunger and thirst parameters? Lots. Subnautica offers several modes that provide enough variability to customize your experience however it fits you. Survival mode is a full-fledged, well, survival—with hunger and thirst, while these parameters’ depletion pace is pitched well enough not to bury your routine in busywork. Hardcore mode is roughly the same as Survival but with perma-death—for challenge addicts. In Freedom mode, you won’t need to bother yourself with food and hydration; and Creative mode is like playing Doom with IDDQD and IDKFA toggled on—a pure anxiety-free experience.
It may seem that Subnatica is quite a perfect game. Well, perhaps not, but it totally enamored me with itself, so I am hopelessly cursed by absolute subjectivity while talking about this game. I wished I had never played it—I still would think that no survival game could possibly devour so much of my spare time. I would rather be living in blissful ignorance. Alas, the depths are calling once again. And I shall follow the call—what other choice do I have?