Subterrain is a top-down survival game developed by Pixel Lore. The game takes place in a Mars colony, where the main character, Dr. West, has been imprisoned for murder. But prior to a transfer, the entire center shuts down and everything goes silent, with the prisoners trapped in his cell. He finally gets out only to find the place swarmed by an infestation, and he must fight off zombies and gather supplies to survive. There are several layers to survival in Subterrain, where the player has to maintain everything from food and thirst to bodily functions, as well as multiple types of conditions which effect health and stamina. The area is an open world, where the player can travel to anywhere on the map with no direct path, trying to gather more supplies. In truth, you have one objective: to survive for as long as possible.
The game controls mechanically like most top-down adventures, with a huge interface. You can detect items, obstacles, and containers nearby. This is a pretty vital ability, because if there were one word to describe Subterrain’s visuals, it would be dark. It’s difficult to talk at length about the visuals because most of the game is so shrouded in darkness and fog, and it takes a considerable amount of time before you find a decent light source, which quickly sucks down your power (which is also your ammo). This is especially troubling, because enemies don’t make a lot of noise, and have a tendency to sit right on the other sides of doors making for a lot of sneak attacks. It is very easy to pass up an important item, or get bombarded by an enemy you never saw coming. It adds to the atmosphere in some ways, but the lack of any other kind of feedback like noise removes a bit from the atmosphere as well. The ability to detect items to pick up is helpful, but it becomes habit to spam that ability everywhere, in fear of missing something.
Speaking of enemies, the enemies are zombies. This is a very standard affair, at this point. These particular zombies of the infected variety, and thus are faster and can easily chase you. They can be a bit difficult to telegraph, especially since most lunge forward to attack, and seem to have a broad radius that takes some practice to learn to dodge. You’re very likely to die, multiple times, especially when you are just starting and haven’t found your first ranged weapon. Which means you’re liable to face the greatest obstacle in the game – obscure checkpoints. The game doesn’t appear to have a save indicator, nor can you save manually. Instead, there appear to be set doors where the game saves, but you won’t know it unless you die and have to start over. As well, when you die, you do not continue, but rather are taken to the menu screen, and made to start from the last checkpoint – with whatever health and conditions you had at that checkpoint.
This creates a significant problem if you’re cornered by a zombie with no access to medical kits. It is not always easy to fight off a zombie, especially with a melee weapon, without taking a hit. So if you get stuck at a checkpoint with low health, right before a zombie, with nowhere else to go, it can take several attempts to get past that one zombie. The tedium is not very entertaining. Having multiple checkpoints or a way to quickly continue, rather than having to navigate the menu screen only to get dropped off at the last save point, would be beneficial. It doesn’t add to the difficulty, more becomes a chore.
As well, the save points are arbitrary. If you travel to a new area, and die before making it to the next checkpoint, your checkpoint is going to be the last area you were in, not the area you just traveled too. This wouldn’t be as big a problem, except the travel takes a bit more time than just walking through a door. Again, this isn’t an enormous issue, but it is a nagging issue that becomes obnoxious after doing it for the fifth time.
The crafting system is highly comprehensive, and it seems more sensible than other games, where you can craft a complex explosive on the spot using tooth picks and scotch tape. You craft at designated tables in the environment, where you can disassemble random junk and use those materials to make guns, power cores, and all manner of other items. You can also use the infected remains of zombies you’ve killed to conduct research and discover other items. All while maintaining a highly comprehensive survival system, including everything from your temperature to your blood purity.
The days can seem a little slow, especially with no true objective. Subterrain takes a page from the book of Minecraft by making the world very open ended. After the tutorial, you can go wherever you want, and explore the world. The issue is, unlike Minecraft, where you can easily create your own projects, and jump right in fairly effortlessly, Subterrain is survival only. Survival is an important aspect of life, but a lot of aspects of survival can be pretty boring, so there are occasional segments that feel very slow, and there isn’t a lot of ways to fill in the time while waiting for research to finish or traveling from one segment of the world to another.
Subterrain, as of yet, is imperfect, but the broad survival mechanisms are fascinating enough to keep survival fans going. It is the nagging details that become the biggest problems. The game is meant to be challenging, but the small annoyances pile on and make it more frustrating than hard. If you can overlook those things, Subterrain is a good game with tons of excellent details. Those small elements could be fixed in the official release, and more features including a new minimap have been added throughout the alpha mode. There is a lot of growing for this game to do, as of yet.
This game was obtained from the developer, Pixel Lore, and reviewed on PC as an early access.