Only one game from me this week. The two reasons for that is because the game itself can swallow your life for long periods of time given the content and that I received Madden NFL 20 through a Twitter contest of sorts.
Since Madden NFL 20 isn’t part of my backlog quest though; I’m instead going to discuss Subnautica in this weeks’ piece. I’ve got a bit to say about this thrilling yet frustrating game.
I fell in love with Subnautica almost immediately. I have come to the conclusion in recent years where I realized I really adore games in settings where huge bodies of water is heavily prominent. I chalk this up to living in Kansas and always dreaming of living on or close to the ocean or a major lake. There is something soothing and relaxing about that atmosphere for me whether it’s surviving a zombie outbreak in Dead Island, out on assassination missions in this console generations’ Assassin’s Creed titles, or even a game like Subnautica where you are trying to survive after crash landing on their planet.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Subnautica has a chill atmosphere, especially in the beginning. Despite the survival aspect of the gameplay, the world is truly stunning. It feels lived in and alive in ways past survival games I’ve played haven’t. The fauna under the waves is unique and beautiful especially during nightfall where the colors of some plantlife really glow. Schools of fish are commonplace with a wide variety to notice and the land structure invites exploration. Subnautica nails what in my opinion is the most important piece in a game like this: the setting.
Let me also be transparent about something – I’m not a fan of survival games usually. I hate resource management and loathe any system in which I have to scavenge for food, water, air, etc. Subnautica has several modes to choose from and I decided to initiate my playthrough with the one where I could ignore hunger and thirst, but could still drown while searching for materials. Not ideal for my interests, but I was also interested in the story, so this was the best path to take. That didn’t stop me from jumping into the most lax mode later on to try and see some more advanced stuff. More on that reasoning later.
Starting out in Subnautica, it’s easy to be overwhelmed quickly. You can aim to board your crashed ship immediately but quickly learn the futility due to a ring of radiation around it. So instead you trek around this ocean finding sunken boxes containing parts to scan (once you craft the scanner at least) or acquiring numerous minerals which require trips back to your pod to craft or deposit them. The capacity to carry items is limited, and I found myself disheartened to find something I might need only to realize I had to drop something else to pick it up.
During this time, you will run across creatures that will choose to ignore you or seek you out for sustenance. If you think some of the early sharks are bad, there are creatures at further depths that are designed by nightmares. Hearing the growl of something you’ve never seen before is absolutely frightening in this game, especially if you gander a long shadowy presence closing in on you. You might be fortunate to get away, but it creates a paranoia that leaves you repeatedly checking every angle around you in fear of what could be lurking.
The lore of Subnautica is far deeper than I expected it to be also. While on the surface the game is about discovering what happened to your crew, you realize that your escape is dependent on learning about this world. I want to avoid specific spoilers, but running into specific locations opened my eyes as to what Subnautica had in store. That came into fruition more and more with the audio logs and radio transmissions I would find detailing what came prior to crashing on the planet and what may still be hidden in the world to find.
Crafting is also an incredibly big part of this game. Some blueprints are already known at the start of this game and utilizing those off the bat is important to keep the ball rolling. For instance, the scanner is a must-have for progress in the game. While it allows for scanning parts of the environment and creatures, it also can scan parts of wreckage scattered around the world. New blueprints can be obtained by finding this wreckage and scanning it. It may take several pieces before it’s added to your Fabricator in the escape pod, but once it is, they are free to craft whenever the materials are available.
The number of things to craft is also quite impressive. While some are small items like copper wiring or fiber mesh to help further crafting items, others are a bit more valuable to the player. Having some lockers crafted can expand your storage around your ship since there isn’t much to work with initially for instance. Creating certain types of fins can allow for improved movement around the world while creating new dive suits can better your chances of surviving radiation and pressure from descending further into the depths. If you get to the point where you hate traveling back to your pod, you can create a new habitat somewhere else at the bottom of the ocean. It’s pretty impressive overrall and doesn’t feel restrictive or difficult to obtain most things.
With all of that in mind, I love Subnautica. But for everything I love, it pushed back on me in several areas. I already mentioned my dislike for the survival mechanics themselves and juggle the constant inventory limitations, but it gets even worse in areas.
For the most part, the game runs pretty well. I have been playing on a PlayStation Pro leaving me to question the performance on the lesser version. There are small things like pop-in of the environment that is noticeable but not exactly game breaking. Easy enough to get over but disappointing nonetheless. A bit more frustrating is the slowdown that comes from entering and exiting the water. Usually jumping into the water is a smooth transition with only occasional hiccups of frame rate, but surfacing is another story. Popping your head above water would lead to the game coming to a complete stop for a second or two. Didn’t seem to matter where or when, and in a game where you may need to surface frequently for air, it can become quite irritating.
The biggest gripe is the reason I started a creative mode session. We live in 2019 and it should be practically mandatory at this point.
THERE IS NO GOD DAMN AUTOSAVE!
Do you know how much it hurts in a survival game to make a lot of progress and lose a good 4-5 hour session because of no damn autosave? That’s exactly what happened to me. When a case like that happens, I have zero interest in going back and trying to make up my lost time. Is it so difficult to have a few save files available to prevent this? A few places it autosaves creating multiple points in case you run into a problem with one or the other? Then on top of that allow a manual save. So that’s why I started a creative mode so I could play with some creation aspects and investigate the deepest places of Subnautica to see things I probably won’t see in a legit playthrough now.
Even with that huge frustration, I can’t knock my time with Subnautica that didn’t revolve around my hate for its lacking autosave feature. It’s hands down my favorite survival game I’ve played. The world is amazing, there’s something new wherever you turn, and there is plenty to do without being overtly mean to the player depending on the mode you choose to play on. If you haven’t given it a shot, I would highly recommend doing so…as long as you don’t forget to save.
As for my next backlog, an old survival game is having an update! I loved that game at its barest and I’m excited to see all of the changes made to it since then. It may be the only one I end up playing, but No Man’s Sky is where my head will be at for the next Back(log) to the Front feature.