Subnautica Review – VR & Console

Unknown Worlds are beavering away at their fantasy underwater survival game Subnautica since December 2014 although the game has most recently made its way to VR and Xbox One preview program. As an incomplete game though weighing in at £16 on Xbox One and around half that on PC is this underwater adventure worth investing in? Take a look at our Subnautica review for the full picture.

Subnautica Review – VR & Console:

Today we’re taking a look at Unknown Worlds expansive water based fantasy survival game Subnautica which is available now on PC and Xbox One preview program. To be clear, the game is still in development although it has been since the end of 2014 as Unknown Worlds constantly update the game with new features. So, considering how long the game has been available it’s quite feasible to review the game at this juncture.

From the offset players can choose between three main modes of play which includes the core survival mode, a less stressful freedom mode where the survival element is removed and a creative mode where anything goes. It’s recommended to start with the freedom mode which acts as a non threatening way to learn the basics before tackling the much less forgiving survival.

Once the game starts players are thrust into an escape pod following the crashing of their spaceship into the murky alien waters – leaking radiation in the process. There’s little fanfare and not really much of a story and much like Minecraft you’re left to fend for yourself by way of discovery – or sneaking looking at the Internet for pointers if you so choose. But be warned doing so would be spoiling a great part of the game’s premise so is advisable refrain.

Once you’ve found your feet, the onus in Survival mode is to keep your health maintained, be well fed and thirst quenched by gathering resources and crafting equipment so you can improve your chances of survival. There’s the dangers of running out of air if venturing too deep, or being eaten or attack by other creatures who dwell in the waters. In Freedom mode all you need to worry about is your health and oxygen levels when diving.

In the starting escape pod there’s a handy fabricator machine which enables you to craft new items showing you what resources are required leaving you the choice to explore and pillage as you see fit. There’s a list of useful items needed to make new gear and with your PDA device you can also view what blueprints you have and what’s needed to create each item. It’s fairly straight forwards as you discover plentiful supplies of common items the more you take to the waters but learn quickly that more in-depth exploration is required for rarer items. Sadly, the lack of real explanation of what you’re supposed to do leaves the experience a bit daunting for newcomers. So whilst the game is in preview there’s hope a fleshed out tutorial is included for the final release. At present, it’s not clear you need to scan crates to gather more desirable blueprints which in turn enable you to craft the more exciting gear such as underwater submersibles and even offensive weapons. It’s also not clear that a major starting objective is to craft an item which allows you to construct and build your own underwater bases. In fact, aside from simply exploring the varied themed biomes a goal to build a base is something easily obtainable and an objective to work towards if you’re left wondering what to do.

After many hours of finding parts and then the resources to build and construct, you’ve got quite a number of options to make a pleasant home for yourself outside of the starting escape pod. You can start off with pretty basic designs using a simple room, before expanding to more lush living quarters. With quite a bit of time investment you can turn your home into quite the luxurious paradise which is engrossing as you see it develop and rewarding once it’s complete. In the face of no real story this is very much an end goal if you’re looking for one aside from finding and crafting all of the items.

Looking at the graphics and Subnautica offers some fantastic visuals with great variety across its biomes with varied underwater landscapes, swaying fauna and menacing lifeforms. There’s some excellent attention to detail as you explore. It’s a fantasy game at heart though but this works in the game’s favour and keeps it more interesting as a result. The visuals provide a grand job of making you feel like an underwater adventurer with some great water effects and sense of scale and that’s what counts here. A day and night cycle also gives the game a more vibrant flavour and when you see the changes in light impacting your visibility below the surface it aids the gameplay quite a bit especially when you’re forced to whip out a flashlight to see where you’re going or put off an excursion until day breaks.

Audio is quite sparse but on occasion kicks in with some excellent ambient music which works wonders with the watery theme. There’s a slew of spot sound effects as well which act as suitable warnings of dangerous creatures lurking about.

Subnautica also has VR support for the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and having spent plentiful hours playing in VR it’s undoubtedly the best way to experience the game…by far. The fact that both head mounted displays feel like you’re wearing goggles in the first place makes it all the more immersive. Being able to look around 360 degrees fully and feel the massive presence of depth is incredible, although there has to be some warning that the game’s movement could induce VR motion sickness in some players depending on how much VR experience you have. As a game to dip into to gain VR legs it’s quite possible given the slow movement speed but diving in for long sessions is quite feasible due to the relaxing nature of the game. It’s certainly up there with the must try VR experiences at the moment.

Subnautica is a refreshing game which perhaps is only let down at present by a lack of direction for new players. For those who just want to explore then there’s enough to sink your teeth into and discover. It’s the game’s onus on self-discovery which acts as a major appeal even if it’s not suitable for everyone. You can plough plentiful hours in this game if you understand what’s required of you to make progression, but if you’re left simply swimming about with the fishes then your playtime will feel restricted as a result and perhaps it’s then an online guide might be useful to look at. Aside from a lack of direction, the game does have its negatives what with no gamepad support outside of VR mode and the placement of objects being a bit fiddly at times. There are also a number of graphics glitches and performance drops most notably on the Xbox One version which to be frank is quite a mess at the moment and in need of some serious optimization.

Subnautica already is a compelling and favourable game in its preview stage especially in VR and just sits right with the platform. It has still got some way to go in terms of making a story and ironing out the creases but with constant updates it’s looking good. As an investment today it’s worthwhile especially considering the low price on PC. On Xbox One, not so much until more progress is made. If you’re looking for some cool underwater adventuring then Subnautica is well worth the purchase or at least keeping an eye on until the game releases proper – although you might be waiting quite some time given the game’s age.

Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.