In Subnautica: Below Zero, players explore an underwater world on an alien planet. (Entertainment of Unknown Worlds)
Sometimes when playing a video game where a protagonist might drown, I subconsciously hold my breath until my avatar finds oxygen or dies. Maybe that’s because I’m a longtime swimmer, but situations like this make it all too easy to imagine myself in risky water situations. And that’s how Subnautica: Below Zero, which takes place largely under an ocean, elicited a lot of panic reactions.
The sequel to 2014’s Subnautica, Subnautica: Below Zero slips players into the wetsuit of Robin Ayou, a scientist who travels to an alien world to try and figure out what happened to his sister, Samantha, who worked for the ethically dubious company, Alterra. After receiving a vaguely worded notice from Alterra informing him of her sister’s death, supposedly due to Samantha’s “negligence”, Robin sets out to investigate.
Following a hard landing on the surface of planet 4546b, Robin seeks refuge in a small underwater escape pod to escape the dangerous weather conditions that regularly rock the planet’s surface. The escape pod is equipped with a storage locker and a maker that 3D prints tools and equipment. The manufacturer also cooks fish and extracts it for drinking water. To craft the necessary tools that will allow him to explore the depths of the ocean – such as an oxygen reservoir and fins – Robin must scour his environment in search of exploitable resources: titanium, copper, quartz, etc. She must also monitor wrecks or equipment. left by previous explorers. Using a hand tool, she can scan items to acquire blueprints for the maker. The more useful the item, the harder it is to collect resources for it.
Early in-game resource gathering expeditions typically don’t require players to venture very far from the escape pod. However, as Robin’s mission continues, she must travel further to acquire what she needs to brave more dangerous areas. Before she can build and upgrade a Seatruck to explore the ocean without constantly having to retreat to the surface to replenish her oxygen, she will have to take risky dives to acquire rarer resources. Rubies, for example, are located hundreds of feet deep, often in places where predatory creatures are simply animated and far from frightening.
My favorite parts of Subnautica: Below Zero were the ones that caused anxiety. It’s easy to get disoriented while exploring the game’s many underwater caverns. Finding a much-desired resource and then losing it to lack of oxygen before Robin can replenish his tank is the kind of exquisite pain that the game offers, and hitting Robin’s head on a ceiling where I expected open water to cause a feeling of dread. Oddly, the way Below Zero swings between long, choppy stretches between points of interest and short spells of perilous activity absorbed my attention in a way that many more frenzied popular horror games don’t. Progressing through the game on its default Survival mode relies on a series of small victories like crafting an item or finding a hard-to-locate place. Regarding this last point, I certainly consider Below Zero to be what I call an “internet game” because so few clues are given as to the location of certain spots. So unless you have a lot of patience to roam the field for hours on end, you will definitely want to avail yourself of the online resources.
When I first started playing Below Zero, I was initially put off by the need to track resources back and forth while making sure Robin didn’t die of dehydration or starvation. Fortunately, the developers have been far-sighted enough to include the “Freedom” mode which eliminates the need for food and water; there is also a “Hardcore” mode where Robin has only one life and a “Creative” mode which cuts the story and eliminates the need to suck up resources, find plans or worry about it. oxygen and hunger. Looking back, I would have liked to have chosen Freedom Mode as I found having to feed and hydrate Robin a tedious affair in a game already heavily dependent on resource management.
Subnautica: The conventional science fiction storyline of Below Zero, which revolves around an avid company seeking to advance in the weapons business, has never caught my interest. But the painstaking effort it takes to move Robin from one minor narrative point of interest to another made me appreciate his very human small scale of success.
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S