I have a friend who loves the Horror genre but absolutely cannot play Subnautica. Totally freaks her out. However, 15-year-old Sinister loves playing the game; even when most of the game is him yelling “No. No! NOOOOOOO! AGH!!”. It’s hilarious to watch. When Subnautica: Below Zero was announced, we were all eager to sign up. Is it as good as the original? Can we explore the deep? And does it fit the Halloween-vibe with jump scares? Let’s dive into Day 7 of our 31 Days of Halloween Games and find out!
“It’s not so much that everything is trying to kill you. More like, everything is indifferent to your survival and you happen to be at the bottom of the food chain.” – EG Sinister
I was going to open with a paragraph comparing the Subnautica series with Australia but according to our 15-year-old son, Australia is a much easier place to live in. #straya Both Subnautica and its sequel Subnautica: Below Zero are survival games. While Subnautica: Below Zero is sold as a stand-alone sequel, it was originally intended to be a DLC and was updated before release in May 2021. We’re going to have a look at the two games together.
What is Subnautica?
Subnautica starts with a crash-boom-bang. Your character’s ship has crashed on a planet called 4546B. Your main priorities are survival and exploration (in that order), to learn about the environment and find a way to escape. The planet is mostly water, which makes for a visually stunning game and plenty of surprises. It can also be distractingly beautiful, as you busily look for food and do not notice the great shadow coming up behind. This game is absolutely terrifying. It is beautiful but it is jump-scare anxiety at any moment.
You can’t help but admire the ultimate open-world survival. There is no hand-holding or guidance tutorials in Subnautica. It is very much learn-as-you-go, which only adds to the atmosphere. The computer will tell you when you are in need of certain resources but that’s about it. There is a lot of assumption that you can figure it out on your own. In saying that, the game has proven popular with the YA and mature gamers. Our 12-year-old started Subnautica but says it’s not his style. The 15-year-old loves it (as do the adults in the family) yet he has noted one or two times when he had to walk away for a few minutes to get his heart rate down (you can read a little about this here). Don’t think you can play this game with an easy completion status. You are going to have to work hard to survive but the gameplay makes it worthwhile.
While exploration and survival are key elements, Subnautica also has an enjoyable story to follow along, giving reason to this crazy adventure. None of it is handed to you; the story unfolds as you explore and discover bits and pieces. One player may discover a part of the story, while a different player may go in the opposite direction and discover a horrific twist in the game. This puzzle-piece collection helps break up the story without breaking up the exploration. You aren’t disturbed by hours of cutscenes explaining what happened. Instead, you are given enough clues to encourage you to explore further if the story is motivating you enough. Between the visuals, the atmosphere, and the gradual mystery narrative, Subnautica is one of the best survival games I have ever come across.
What is Subnautica: Below Zero?
It is fair to say, Subnautica set a VERY high benchmark for any sequel that followed. The original was so … original, it was able to bring in the terror with greater ease because players had no idea what was going on. With Subnautica: Below Zero, there is already a preparation for fear and terror. And it has less of an impact when you expect it.
Subnautica: Below Zero is set two years after the original. You play as scientist Robin Ayou, returning to Planet 4546B to investigate what happened to the research party who had vanished here earlier. Your sister was a member of the team, so you have some personal motivation. Once again, it is a game of survival and exploration; you can’t solve the mystery if you die first.
This time, the story plays a much bigger part in the game, so I don’t want to reveal too much of it. Suffice to say, there are elements that continue from the original to the sequel. Playing Subnautica: Below Zero first may spoil some plot points and character development when you eventually play the original. For that reason alone, I would recommend playing the games in chronological order.
The setting in the sequel is slightly different to the first, taking a deeper dive into the frozen arctic environment. Naturally, this makes the environment darker and potentially scarier but personally, I don’t think Subnautica: Below Zero has the same level of ‘jump-scare’ as its predecessor. There are, however, more biomes to explore under the water. The map is a little smaller but the density for discovery has increased. Within each of these new biomes is a plethora of flora and fauna (and items) to find.
Despite the exploration, Subnautica: Below Zero lacks some of the awesome world exploration that is so good in Subnautica. Instead, it seems to depend more on the story-building to move you along. In the sequel, many of your discoveries are with purpose where the original was filled with wonder and WTH moments for the sake of a WTH moment.
Double Trouble in the Water
If you are looking for a great survival game, then Subnautica (the original) is the best game you can buy. It has all of the key elements with a sense of wonder which encourages you to explore further afield, even though you know you are likely to be chomped in half. Perfect for a night-in during Halloween, especially if you like your monsters a little on the weird side.
If the narrative sounds intriguing but you are on blood pressure medication, you may want to head straight for Subnautica: Below Zero. It may not complement your Halloween vibes quite as neatly but it is still an enjoyable game with gorgeous visuals and game mechanics to entertain you for a few hours.
Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero are both available on PC, Mac, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series X | S. For more details, check out the official website here.
Subnautica: 4.5 out of 5 cuddle fish
Subnautica: Below Zero: 4 out of 5 thieving sea monkeys