I have always had a thing for underwater exploration, wrecks and other worldly sights of the things that haunt the deeps, a fascination that is at odds with the panic I feel in open waters, so a vicarious exploration of this through the safety virtual world was always going to attract me.

Enter Subnautica, released for early access in 2014 and now on its full release. At its simplest the game is a survival sandbox with a water bound sci-fi angle with an emphasis on exploration, wreck diving and base construction.

The Aurora has crashed onto planet 4546B, ostensibly an ocean world, you arrived with everything needed to  settle on the planet from diving fins to full scale deep diving submersibles,  all now damaged and scattered across the sea bed for hundreds of miles around in the exploded wreck of your space ship. Starting out with nothing but your busted escape pod you must find a way to survive on this beautiful and frequently hostile world where flight is the answer rather than fight.

The world is indeed beautiful, staring out in warm inviting tropical shallows of coral and bright fish darting, passing thorough tall kelp forests and down to abyssal depths were the already strange and interesting alien fish get somehow even more strange and interesting. The games final release has polished in a raft of lighting and luminescent effects on top of well realised designs of smooth future tech and weird alien sea life, all swimming through a selection of sweeping underwater vistas between claustrophobic caves and sea gardens.

Progress through these biomes is gated by obstacles made of your own limitations, each new development you make letting you swim that bit further, dive that bit deeper to find new fields of exploration. It’s very Metroid in some ways, diving wrecks and finding sections you cannot access until you return with the right tool to repair the mechanism or laser your way through a bulk head. You can try going right out there but good luck getting back from the dark, shark infested depths with no more air in your lungs.

This is all accentuated with a suitably calming ranging to creepy synthetic score, part of a bubbling sound scape that the cautious player won’t turn down, signifying ‘safe’ waters to the warning rumbling cries of a Reaper leviathan suggestion you go in another direction. Quickly.


It is a solitary experience build on sampling your world and what you can make with it, no multiplayer implemented or planned, the lone castaway being a central theme in a world that could have been randomised each play, but trades that for one carefully crafted world I have been playing its early access. I have enjoyed watching the different aspects of the game come in bit by bit, the world reshaped and expanded, running away from new threats that came down on me when looking for the block white cubes of wreck pieces now replaced by actually parts of what you’re looking for buried in the silt.

I stopped playing for a few months while the last builds came in let the final release surprise me and it have. The final eye candy update and the audio logs helping me sink back into the deep blue again, getting panicked as I realise I’m lost in the depths of a twisted wreck or suddenly far too close to a howling leviathan.

Some gripes persist, the world though pretty can be a bit samey in places, one twisting kelp forest is pretty much like another and one stretch of open sea dune is pretty much like another stretch of open sea dunes, but that’s the nature of the beast and those aren’t areas really to linger in on your hunt for another cave entrance or wreck. Also the endless hunt for materials to build things can wear but again this is the nature of the survival sandbox beast.


In the end Subnautica is a well realised, solo story peace where you can explore or just kick back and watch some sunsets and it is a highlight for independent, single player experiences. I look forward to all its future additions.

Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got to go searching for some fish teeth to make enamelled glass for my viewing dome.