Subnautica: Below Zero Review
A good survival sim should be pretty stressful stuff. You’re alone, in a hostile environment, struggling to make it just one more day. The moment you can truly relax is the moment that game in question either wraps up or loses all its momentum. In this sense, Subnautica: Below Zero succeeds. Despite the serene environments and the gorgeous wildlife, every second is rife with tension – kind of. The game world is just so peaceful, so enchanting, that the tension struggles to keep up. Even so, I had a lot of fun navigating these frozen oceans.
Right off the bat, this entry starts a little differently than the first Subnautica game. While you’re still stuck in a tiny pod watching your life force deplete itself, at least it’s not even slightly on fire. You’ve also embarked on this doomed mission by choice. Your sister is lost somewhere on this planet, and it’s your job to find her. Also to live, that’s pretty important. Every step of your search represents another level gate of sorts. You’ve got to advance your tech and your base to a certain extent before you can continue. It makes sense from a mechanical perspective, but this snarls up the flow of the story something fierce. Luckily the struggle to get to these plateaus is sufficiently engaging.
Mysteries Of The Deep
Your path forward opens up whenever you discover the required blueprints. Scan enough wreckage, and your systems get updated with a stack of fresh recipes. It doesn’t take long before your base of operations is a massive one. You can jazz things up with hot coffee, fresh tunes, and maybe some windows. While you can build a bigger base easy enough, you’re soon running into some serious resource issues. Every tool steadily loses battery power, food will quickly rot on you, and you’re constantly running out of air. Even popping up to the surface is no relief, thanks to the frigid temperatures. On the flip side, every new system you spin up makes things that much easier to handle. It’s a delicate balance of constant stress and sweet relief.
I managed to keep my head above water, so to speak, but it’s a long walk on a crumbling ledge. If all of this sounds just awful, you can adjust your game’s settings so that things like hunger, thirst, and horrible sea monsters pose less of a constant threat. Maybe you just want to build a giant Sealab-style base underwater without the stress of remaining well-fed and undigested. If so, Subnautica: Below Zero has you covered. Normally I’d be all about that, but the difficulty and progression speed are quite finely tuned. So long as you can juggle the need for food, air, and water, you’re in the clear.
Like the first game, all of the beauty is beneath the waves. Strange skies and frozen air give way to vibrant, lush worlds around every corner. Soft lights emanate from various plants, crystals coat the cliffsides, and coral protrusions spiral in a dozen directions at once. Every biome is teeming with life, with only some of it looking to murder you. Even the more aggressive specimens are breathtaking beasts that glide like knives through the deep. The sea monkeys are friendly enough, but they will steal whatever gear you’re holding at the time. All of this creates a captivating environment, a sort of soothing balm that eases your constant stress as you stave off death from every angle.
So Many Strange New Lifeforms
The upside to Below Zero’s blistering pace is that progression moves at a similar cadence. You may be about to starve every ten minutes, but you’re also expanding your underwater home at a steady clip. Titanium, the key component in habitat building, is bursting out of every corner. The plant you convert to batteries grows right outside your doorstep, and any fish you can grab with one hand is a potential food source. Once you acclimate yourself to the basic rhythms of survival, your road towards success opens right up. All you have to do is endure several hours of constant stress, and a slight buffer can be built.
Your enjoyment of this game depends on your expectations. While there is a cohesive story, it’s tucked away for the most part. You stumble across the plot every couple of hours, but much of your playtime is spent staying alive. The various gameplay loops have been tweaked, modified, and expanded from the original, but fans of the first game will find a lot of this very familiar. On the other hand, if you’ve been starving for more Subnautica, Below Zero is an absolute feast. You’re constantly scanning, salvaging, crafting, cooking, and expanding your little empire. Depending on your tolerance for stress, this can either be a serene little salt-crusted sandbox, or a nail-biting marathon. Either way, Subnautica: Below Zero is one ocean expedition you won’t want to miss.
***A PS5 code was provided by the publisher***
- Alien oceans are still gorgeous
- Progression moves briskly
- You’re never really bored
- Can’t relax for several hours
- Strongly resembles previous game
- Story remains distant and unobtrusive