I’ve had a fear of water as long as I can remember. It’s not tied to anything traumatic from my childhood – I just don’t like deep, dark, cold lakes with muddy bottoms and slippery, darting fish. It all makes me very uneasy.
Therefore, trying to play Subnautica is quite an unsettling experience. The difference is, of course, Subnautica is make-believe. Having said that, it’s also very, very atmospheric – there are terrible things down in the depths, and they’ll try to get you.
It’s definitely worth diving into, however, despite any lingering uncertainty over the words “early” and “access.” At its heart, Subnautica is a deep-sea survival game, focussed on an unnamed person (?) who crash-lands (that’s your ship up above) in the middle of a vast ocean … somewhere.
You can gather things, craft tools and gadgets and sea-floor bases and submarines, scan colourful little fish, hope you don’t come across toothy giant fish, and generally try and figure out where you are and, I assume, how to go back home (maybe that part’s not in the game yet. I don’t know).
And it all looks wonderful. The colours, the swaying plant life, the sunlight rippling through the water, the oppressive nighttime darkness, the varied underwater beasties – even at relatively-low graphics settings (my card isn’t top-of-the-line), swimming around and exploring the sea floor is immersive and tense and exciting (and it’s probably a really, really good reason to get a VR setup).
You can’t really see everything at once, you understand. It’s dark. There are caves and great forests of various plants and weeds. You need to keep an eye on things like depth – not too deep! – and your oxygen supply. These things out there with you, meanwhile, aren’t always friendly. Some are small and harmless, going about their business, but others are large vicious and territorial.
Here’s how it tends to go. You’re exploring, searching for fragments to scan or wrecks to search. It’s dark – your little light source is helping, but it’s only pushing the darkness back, giving you a little bubble of visibility.
From somewhere out there, you hear a growl (or, in some cases, a deafening roar). You frantically spin your mouse around, searching for whatever just made that noise, hoping to get out of its way. If you do see it, it’s really, really big and right beside you and you jump out of your chair as your screen flashes red. Then you respawn back in the life pod, lootless, another victim of the beasts that roam the depths.
Crafting better things makes it all easier, of course, but I’ve yet to discover a way to actually fight back against these things (and I’m assuming there are bigger ones out there in the deeper places).
In any case, Subnautica is a lot of fun, and worth checking out. As mentioned, it’s still in early access, but new content is coming regularly, adding new places to go and story bits to find and general things to do.