Review: Subnautica: Below Zero


A frigid new standalone story that may’t fairly fill the unique recreation’s flippers

Subnautica was a survival recreation for individuals who thought they have been sick of survival video games.

Not solely did it stand out within the style with its one-of-a-kind alien water world, it additionally nailed a way of real chart-your-own-course exploration. I felt like I needed to work for each discovery, whether or not it was some weird biome or a brand new software that might assist me dive deeper, nevertheless it by no means felt like work. The recreation even had a reasonably compelling sci-fi thriller to unravel, full with an precise ending to achieve.

In my 2018 overview of the unique Subnautica, I steered that it is likely to be the “best underwater game ever made.” I stand by that immediately. Free-diving, recklessly piloting a submarine, stomping across the seafloor in a Prawn Suit — it felt incredible to get to know Planet 4546B again then, and it nonetheless does now.

Three years later, after one other Steam Early Access push, Unknown Worlds has put the ending touches on Subnautica: Below Zero. Version 1.0 is completed, and I’m glad I had sufficient restraint to carry off.

Subnautica: Below Zero (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Unknown Worlds
Publisher: Unknown Worlds
Released: May 14, 2021
MSRP: $29.99

Subnautica: Below Zero takes quite a lot of cues from its predecessor, and there are even story threads throughout each video games, however you needn’t have performed Subnautica (although I like to recommend it). You can consider this full recreation as a complementary but standalone expertise. It’s type of like a condensed, refined, and extra character-driven tackle the unique Subnautica, set in a frigid nook of the identical planet.

The occasions of this space-faring story are as soon as once more set in movement with a crash touchdown, however this time, it was intentional — type of. You play as Robin, a xenologist who sneaks onto Planet 4546B to study the reality about her huge sister Sam solely to seek out out that this is not just a few oceanic planet with freaky little cute penguins roaming round. Ancient aliens, a nigh-unstoppable illness, and a power-hungry company all match into the larger image. Before her accident, Sam had been working in an icy area often called Sector Zero. Was it actually negligence? That’s the official line from Alterra, anyway.

Compared to the primary recreation, the story in Subnautica: Below Zero has much less of a “lone survivor” feeling, though you will not meet many characters face-to-face, and there are undoubtedly nonetheless prolonged intervals the place you may soak within the chilled-out music and ambient wildlife noises reasonably than have full-on conversations or hearth up audio logs. That stated, Robin speaks her thoughts; she is not a silent protagonist.

I believed the quiet adventurer method labored properly sufficient final time given the way in which Subnautica‘s narrative slowly got here into focus piece by piece by scanning ruins and artifacts, however for Below Zero‘s extra instant and personally motivated story, there needed to be back-and-forth. Robin takes every little thing in stride, and whereas she’s decided as hell, she largely retains it gentle. The voice appearing is a step up generally, to the purpose the place I did not wish to skip any audio recordings I discovered on the earth. I significantly preferred Robin’s banter with an entity often called Al-An in the course of the again half. No spoilers!

I’ll say this a lot: I felt sufficient of a push to need solutions about Sam’s destiny. And I had sufficient of a drive to gather each scattered useful resource wanted for Al-An’s questline, which culminates in a becoming ending.

Glow Whales are big and peaceful.

Mechanically, Below Zero is similar to Subnautica — one thing I’m completely cool with. Limited oxygen and intense strain nonetheless closely issue into your means to discover the broader area past the security of your life pod, as do all the instruments and playthings you may step by step unlock. It’s such a enjoyable loop.

Compared to different survival video games that may get slowed down with boring useful resource fetching, I’ve at all times appreciated the way in which the Subnautica collection makes these chores really feel entertaining and, if you realize the place to look, pretty fast. There’s a logic and consistency to this ecological world. An enormous a part of these video games is studying your environment from reminiscence. In different phrases, as soon as once more, there is no map. That may sound obtuse; in follow, it is rewarding. The sooner you determine the place every biome is and what makes it distinct, the earlier you’ll be able to set up a extra everlasting pad and craft automobiles for longer expeditions.

Below Zero reuses many key objects just like the Scanner, Repair Tool, and Habitat Builder, and likewise provides a number of new playthings just like the Thumper, a tool that can instantly make sense to Dune followers. In phrases of pure helpfulness, the hand held Mineral Detector is a godsend when you realize you are in the appropriate space for a useful resource however you’ll be able to’t fairly spot it. I sort of adore the Air Bladder, a type of “oh shit I’m about to drown” emergency possibility that launches you towards the floor. The software will get phased out after getting a big oxygen tank and a submersible Seatruck, however early on, I used it each probability I received.

Above all, Below Zero nails the unimaginable otherworldly panorama and creature designs that made the primary Subnautica such a treasure. From lush kelp forests to deep blue jelly fields to purple hydrothermal vents and unsettling cave techniques, the surroundings is begging to be totally explored. The wow issue by no means lets up, both. Even as somebody who went laborious on the final recreation, I used to be persistently caught off-guard.

Unknown Worlds combined a squid with a shark and the result is horrifying.

The majority of the Below Zero takes place underwater, so it is sensible that there could be a remixed vibe to your toolkit in addition to some omissions just like the hulking Cyclops submarine. That did not trouble me, nevertheless it’s value declaring. Generally talking, this recreation is extra compact, with little to no wasted area, and it’s kind of much less scary. If the darkish depths of Subnautica freaked you out somewhat an excessive amount of, I believe you may have a smoother time navigating these waters. There’s a too-deep-for-comfort dive that is equal to the Lost River and Lava Lakes trek, nevertheless it’s not practically as high-stakes or paranoia-inducing.

Then there’s the significantly expanded on-foot gameplay, which is the place Below Zero‘s snowy theme and story are the strongest. As a lot as I dig the wintery ambiance, the ice-covered areas are cooler to have a look at than they’re to play. I stored making an attempt to foolishly rush via them, which solely received me extra rotated. My recommendation for the snowy areas is to take your time to really perceive their winding layouts, and, if nothing else, go away some well-placed beacons so you’ll find your method again to the ocean.

In concept, I like the thought of needing to maintain my temperature up by ducking into caves throughout a horrible storm, deploying a Thumper to maintain the pesky Snow Worms at bay, and zipping throughout the Arctic Spires on my Snowfox hover-bike. I additionally love the thought of piloting a remote-control Spy Pengling that may mix in with the pure world. The drones can squeeze into tunnels to seize sources, and bravely snatch a handful of Snow Stalker fur. These land-based zones must be excessive factors. Instead, they fall quick.

The Snowfox in action.

When it comes right down to it, there is no topping the liberty of underwater motion with the Seaglide, the Seatruck, and even the Prawn Suit as soon as you have gotten the leap jet and grappling arms. Again, the Snowfox seems neat, it simply does not really feel as easy to pilot — however I caught with it to see Sam’s story via to the top. In an in any other case glorious recreation, a few of these out-of-water areas actually stand out.

So a lot of Subnautica: Below Zero is superb, although. If you loved Subnautica, you have gotta play this too — it is stunning. And should you tried the primary recreation however could not deal with the scary ocean vibes, you may fare higher this time. All in all, I’d say it was 15 hours largely properly spent, and now that I’m accomplished with the story, I can focus on styling my foremost base and constructing a number of zany outposts in precarious locations.

Even if there are quite a lot of shared components between the 2 video games and the ground-based traversal is not every little thing it is cracked as much as be, Below Zero‘s higher concentrate on character-driven storytelling lands properly and this standalone journey captures the unmatched magic of underwater exploration once more.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]


Subnautica: Below Zero reviewed by Jordan Devore



Impressive effort with a number of noticeable issues holding it again. Won’t astound everybody, however is value your time and money.
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