ReviewsReview: Subnautica: Below Zero

Review: Subnautica: Below Zero

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I find it quite disconcerting that we know more about other planets and the deep reaches of space than we do about Earth. Miles and miles of the ocean remain a mystery and many of our problems could be solved by what lies in the deep. This lack of knowledge allows our imaginations to run wild and developers have the creative licence to scare the living daylights out of us. Subnautica: Below Zero is a claustrophobic nightmare that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Developed by Shiny Shoe LLC and Unknown Worlds Entertainment and published by the latter. It’s a survival game set in a fantasy alien world and it’ll test the best players to find all its secrets. The stand alone expansion to the much-loved Subnautica, it’s a multi-terrain title that pushes you to your limits. It runs with many of the series well-trodden mechanics but adds new content to keep you entertained.

Knowledge is half the battle.

Subnautica: Below Zero is a stunning piece of art.

When I played the first title, it made me feel anxious, and I was uncomfortable at all times. The constant requirement to dive deeper and the fear of the unknown was ever-present. Subnautica: Below Zero has captured this essence, but it breaks up the fear factor with its stunning underwater environment. The vastness of this icy ocean and the eclectic blend of wildlife make exploring both dangerous and exciting.

If you ignore the emotional story, the game’s premise is quite simple. You are in control of your fate and you must manage your health, oxygen, food, and water. Supplies hide in emergency drop locations and are found on the seafloor. You must gather as many resources as possible, create new equipment, cook food, and dive further into the deep. Scanning life-forms, finding new resources, and exploring all add new blueprints for game-changing technology.

It’s all about embracing the world around you, foraging the local fauna and surviving at all costs. Your new tech will allow you to ride new vehicles, dive for longer, and battle the harsh climate when out of the water. Every element is brilliant throughout and is cleverly intertwined.

Naughty little sea monkeys.

It’s a heartfelt tale about loss and deception.

I won’t go into details about the story, but I will say it’s brilliantly written with some intelligent and well-delivered acting from the entire cast. The emotional ties from the protagonist and her reasons for exploring this alien world are heartbreaking. You quickly become attached to her and hope she finds the answers to all her questions.

You control a scientist called Robin Ayou. She smuggles herself onto planet 4546b to investigate her sister’s death. Her employer Alterra claims she was negligent, but Robin does not believe what she is told. The planet is full of research bases that are abandoned and you must explore this icy tundra and deep ocean to try to find out the truth behind your sister’s demise.

Beyond this, there are some fantastical twists and turns that force you to explore the surrounding environment. You will naturally have to improve your technology to progress and the requirement to gather supplies and enjoy the plot is finely balanced. You must remain focused, otherwise, you’ll easily lose yourself in the game’s beauty.

Subnautica: Below Zero sets the survival benchmark.

There are so many survival games available that we are swimming in choices. Every workable theme has been covered and some are great, whereas many are trash and a waste of time and money. Subnautica: Below Zero is brilliant and every mechanic it uses works in harmony with the others. This is, without doubt, the benchmark for what other survival games must strive to achieve.

The demands to replenish oxygen, food, water and health are constant but feel manageable. For every negative impact on your stats, there is a positive in the technology you use. You must choose how you wish to manage your stats. Failure to stay alert will cause death and loss of your items. It’s a tough survival game, but planning and knowing your limits will ensure a successful expedition and the continuation of the story.

Behold this alien structure.

Anyone for an underwater party pad?

Everyone loves to build a home of their own. Just because you are on an alien planet this desire doesn’t dissipate. You are free to build basic outposts to give you much-needed shelter, or an OTT party pad similar to a Bond villains hideaway. It was fantastic to let your creative juices flow and was a welcome break from the oppressive alien world.

What was equally great was the selection of land and sea vehicles at your disposal. Cutting through alien oceans, exploring caverns and zipping past fish was thrilling. Exploration no longer felt daunting and though it was still thwarted with danger, you felt safer with technology by your side.

If the constant pain of not being able to breathe gets you down, you can spend time out of water. O2 is no longer your primary concern, no, you simply have to watch out for hypothermia. Out of the frying pan and into the freezer. The small overworld section didn’t thrill me as much as I hoped, and I leapt like a salmon to return to the icy depths.

Subnautica: Below Zero is proof that science fiction is beautiful.

I’m rarely lost for words, but trying to describe how Subnautica: Below Zero looks is a tough ask. The art team has allowed their minds to run wild with strange but familiar fish, haunting landscapes, and beautiful weather fronts. Using neon colours, vivid tones and vast landscapes makes this a massive stunning alien environment to explore. Viewed from a first-person perspective, your limited window of view keeps you in suspense and you quickly learn to fear the unknown.

If you are not used to instructions being barked at you, you soon will be. Your HUD screams for oxygen, water and food. The orders come thick and fast and you’ll beg for them to stop. These robotic sounds are matched perfectly with moments of silence and haunting animal sounds. The audio captures the alien environment to a tee, and you are left in awe as you float weightlessly out in the deep. I’ve already mentioned it, but the quality of the acting will move the hardiest of individuals. You will fall for the story and each character from the various audio clips you hear. Piecing these together will help solve the mystery and may save your sister’s reputation.

Welcome to the winter wonderland.

Like this review, Subnautica: Below Zero keeps going on and on and on!

Floating around underwater can disorientate and losing your way is a worry. But, what you needn’t worry about is the controls. With so many complex mechanics this could have been a nightmare, instead, it’s an absolute joy to experience. With pinned recipes, beacons, a compass and more to help you navigate, getting lost is the last of your concerns. The layout is well thought out, and the UI is simple and clean-cut. Even towards the end game, it maintains its straightforward approach.

Like this review, Subnautica: Below Zero keeps going on and on and on. You can play for hours and be nowhere near the finish. This large almost objective free experience may be daunting for some. However, I loved the lack of shackles and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom bestowed upon me. A small achievement list is shrouded in mystery, so best of luck unlocking each one. With so much to do, this will keep you busy for ages and is great value for money. 

Subnautica: Below Zero is a stunning Sci-Fi survival game.

Subnautica: Below Zero is such a great experience from beginning to whenever you find the end. It proves that science fiction isn’t all about geeky ideas. No, sometimes it’s beautiful, emotional, and has a deep fulfilling story. With balanced mechanics, a purpose to explore, and a brilliant story, this is what all survival games should be like. Unsurprisingly, I recommend you buy it here! Sneak onto an alien planet, find clues to what happened, and clear your sister’s name. 

SUMMARY

Subnautica: Below Zero is a wonderfully stunning survival game. Land on planet 4546b, find clues and clear your sister's name. Explore the vast icy tundra and deep colourful ocean, encounter alien life-forms and survive at all costs.

+ Stunning vivid graphics.
+ Delightfully atmospheric audio.
+ Complex mechanics, but easy controls.
+ Hours of gameplay.
+ Excellent acting.
+ A touching story.
- The lack of objectives may put some gamers off.

(Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Also available on PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: [email protected]
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