One week ago, I wrote down my feelings for a different survival game in my early access preview of Valheim. I was more than open in the fact that survival games, in general, leave me feeling quite tepid, or specifically, I stated, “survival games became the next realistic shooters and are now being supplanted by open-world as the go-to thing for the terminally uninspired”. I stand by that statement, though there are always games that stand out as worth playing, despite my general apathy to the subgenre. Subnautica was one such game, and now I’m playing Subnautica: Below Zero.
Francesco reviewed it back in the day, but I generally stand by what was said. Subnautica offered a different setting, one oozing with atmosphere, offering a new terrifying or beautiful, sometimes both, discovery around almost every corner. This was a setting hand-crafted by the developers and not procedurally generated. It also helps that Subnautica had a genuinely interesting story. So how does Subnautica: Below Zero let itself stand apart?
Honestly, it doesn’t. Not in any massive way. It really doesn’t need to either. Returning to 4546B, you pretty much know what you’re getting into. This is a different part of 4546B, a freezing part (below zero degrees celsius. Freezing point. Get it?) that’s covered in ice. You’ll find yourself on land far more than you did in the original Subnautica, though this doesn’t mean you’re on land – or ice – for a long period of time. Still, this change really helps stand this apart from the original.
More than the addition of ice, the scenery, in general, feels different. Even the flora and fauna you’re familiar with from the original game will have that air of “the same, but different”. They’re not different, but it’s the outstanding new art direction that makes everything stand out. Everything looks so lush. The colours are vibrant and the way light brings everything to life, particularly closer to the surface, is fantastic. This is particularly true on the surface too, where the use of the Aurora Borealis, or Aurora Australis, is fantastic.
In addition to making everything look new – while making everything significantly chillier – you’ll be encountering all new flora and fauna, with an even larger number of alien-related structures.
Before I continue with this preview, I’ll cover just one aspect of the currently-unfinished storyline. In the very earliest part, you head into an alien structure whereupon you offer your PDA as a holding device to the computer-based alien entity, the last of it’s kind. At least you think it’s going to go into your PDA, but the alien-computer-thing – the ones you’ve seen the structures of in the first Subnautica – has only detected one suitable storage device; your brain. Also, the alien is called Alan.
Anyway, back to the new things. There’s a new story, but that’s for you to find out when you play this. It’s also not finished, so I can’t tell you if it’s good, but I’m going to say it seems up there with the original Subnautica. You’ll also find new creatures like a giant ice worm that’s more than happy to wreck your day. In the water, there are several new aquatic beasts. Some will try to eat you, others you can frolic around with. Then there are the sea monkeys. They are annoying little gits that steal from you. It’s not that they take something you’ve dropped; they’ll come up to you and literally take the knife out of your hand. I needed that knife for gathering.
There is a way to get them to work with you, of sorts. Once Alan has taken up residence in your noggin, they’ll bring some items to you. That’s when you can be a cruel git and not even acknowledge them. Don’t take the item, and they’ll drop it and look really damn sad while doing it. That’s when you start to feel guilty because Subnautica: Below Zero feels more alive than the first outing. You seem to see more interactions between the inhabitants of this region of 4546B.
So yes, I’m very much a fan of the new creatures, with returning gits like the exploding sulphur hoarder keeping you on your toes. I like the design of the alien penguins. I like the design of the map and biomes within. I like the design of Subnautica: Below Zero, as it is so far.
However, I do have a few negatives. The first is that this game hates me. Not in creatures are trying to kill me, I’ve raged-quitted, hates me. It has crashed on me eight times in three days. One time I lost three hours of gameplay. That’s when I started to set a timer to remind me to save. Other bugs like getting stuck on scenery and falling through floors rear their heads a little too often.
I’m also wondering about the price, costing the same as the original when it feels like a smaller game. However, it’s still in early access with a little over two months until fully released, and even feeling smaller; it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. My experience, so far, has been mostly positive, and I can’t help but recommend this as I would the original. Let’s see how it turns out when it releases on the 14th of May.