Sometimes more of a good thing is just good. Subnautica: Below Zero, a standalone expansion to the original Subnautica, really lives up to that mantra. New players will experience one of the best true survival games in some time. Meanwhile, veteran players familiar with the previous game will get to enjoy the new mechanics and items to go along with a greater emphasis on storytelling. Whether new player or established veteran, Subnautica: Below Zero offers one of the most enjoyable and pure survival game experiences in its beautifully crafted underwater world.
Deep Blue Lore
If you’ve played the original Subnautica, which isn’t a prerequisite if you want to hop into Below Zero, then you’ll be a bit surprised to see much more lore and character development taking place over the course of the game. In the original game, you’re a nameless, faceless video game character. In Subnautica: Below Zero you play Robin, who is struggling to find out how her sister died on Planet 4546B. This time around, it’s refreshing to play as a protagonist who has some pre-defined purpose beyond just surviving and crafting items.
Needless to say, If you’re a fan of more structured and cinematic-driven narratives in games, it might be a tough sell when playing Subnautica: Below Zero. While I’m generally a big fan of more focused storytelling in games, it was a unique experience trying to piece bits of evidence like an underwater noir detective. You’ll need to follow the clues to put together what happened on the surface of Planet 4546B. If you missed certain PDAs or segments of the story, you were left to try and piece it together by filling in the blanks on your own. While at times, the story did feel a little vague, there were heartfelt moments when Robin learned what her seemingly estranged sister was doing down on the surface. While it can be a bit disjointed due to the freedom you’re given in this survival game, it’s the lore is ripe for the picking if you choose to engage with it.
Under the Sea in a Big Blue World
Subnautica: Below Zero certainly won’t burn out your graphics cards, but similar to the original, it paints a beautiful world through its carefully constructed underwater biomes. In Below Zero, these underwater biomes feel even more vibrant and breathtaking than the original game. Exploration is key in Subnautica, as you start out working from a single drop pod in the shallows to eventually wandering into the deep and expansive caves with more dangerous elements you will eventually need to tackle.
Progression, without the need to force an experience bar or skill tree on you, is one of the most beautiful things about Subnautica: Below Zero. Starting from humble beginnings, you’ll feel a growing sense of accomplishment as you attain upgrades to let you dive deeper. Your modular Seatruck can become more and more like a second home with the right upgrades and add-ons. As you progress further, you’ll need to venture into the most dangerous depths ocean has to offer. That’s the beauty of Subnautica: Below Zero. Balancing risk vs. reward as the deeper you dive, the more dangerous it becomes. Consequently, the further you go the more you have to gain by scanning new blueprints and discovering new resources that help you improve your base and character.
The Deeper You Go
Make no mistake, Subnautica: Below Zero is certainly a survival game. You’ll battle with hunger and fight off fishy foes in order to survive. Admittedly, the survival requirements of eating and drinking feel like they bog you down, but you can avoid worrying about hunger and just experience the game with “freedom” mode if you so choose. Likewise, if you just enjoy building to your heart’s content you can delve into the creative mode.
Base building remains similar to the previous entry, but with the occasional new items or building structures to make things more interesting for those survival game architects out there. It’s a challenge, because the more you build and the deeper you go, the harder it gets to expand your base due to the water pressure. Some useful new modules, like the large room, can let builders and survivalists go wild with their imagination or simplify the survival mechanics by allowing massive farms. Likewise, you can build on land, and have an entirely different experience if you so choose.
Whether veteran or new player, you’ll find it hard to go back to the original Subnautica. Below Zero hosts a number of quality of life improvements such as more interesting vehicles, improvements to the user interface, and changes to crafting recipes to spice things up. It’s enough to make Subnautica: Below Zero not feel like a simple clone of the original with new areas to explore, and it truly enhances the player experience as a result.
Subnautica: Below Zero Review | Final Thoughts
Subnautica: Below Zero manages to breathe life again into a crowded survival genre. As much as I love PvP and multiplayer, Subnautica offers a more laid-back experience punctuated by moments of sheer terror. A bigger emphasis on storytelling and new characters challenges you to reach out and explore the mystery down on the icy tundra of Planet 4546B. For new and old players alike, an improved user experience and new beautiful areas to explore will make the experience that much richer and enjoyable.
TechRaptor reviewed Subnautica: Below Zero on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
- Beautiful World and Level Design
- New Quality of Life and Add-Ons Keep Things Fresh
- Storytelling and Lore Add New Focus
- Story Can Feel Disjointed Due to Open-World Structure
- Dated Survival Mechanics Can Bog Down Pace At Times