Thursday, July 28, 2016

Subnautica Preview (XONE)

We’ve seen lots of sci-fi survival games about crash landing on harsh alien planets or exploring worlds full of dinosaurs, but very few such games take place out in the ocean and underwater.  That is what Subnautica brings to the table and it is a refreshingly unique take on the survival genre.  It is currently in the Xbox Game Preview program, and it is still admittedly pretty rough, but it looks fantastic and the foundations for a great experience are already in place.  It will be interesting to see how it comes together in the months leading up to the final release, but see our preview of the game for its current status right here.

Subnautica page on

Subnautica has been in early access on Steam for about a year and a half and launched in the Xbox Game Preview program in May 2016.  It is somewhat concerning that the game has been in early access for so long without a final release, but the fact the developer was confident enough in it to put it on Xbox One means, hopefully, it is at least reasonably close to being done.  We don’t have any sort of release window yet, though.  For the pleasure of playing it early on Xbox One it’ll cost you $20.

Subnautica is a first-person sci-fi survival game where your space ship crashes into a world made up of seemingly endless ocean.  You escape the crash in a life pod and from there your objective is to survive.  The game has separate story modes, a freedom mode with no story but survival aspects, and a creative mode where you don’t have to worry about survival and can build whatever you want with unlimited materials.  We’ll mostly just focus on the freedom mode, for this article, though.

Survival in Subnautica requires you to eat food, drink water, and make sure you don’t drown.  You’re exploring a world of nothing but water, after all, so monitoring your air supply is of vital importance.  You find materials – either natural or wreckage from your ship – that you can then use to build new items, weapons, structures, bigger air tanks, and more.  As I mentioned, though, deep diving beneath the waves to find materials is dangerous, not only because you only have limited air, but because the alien world is full of strange creatures you have to contend with.

The crazy fish and other creature designs as well as the undersea plant life in Subnautica are impressive and really drive home the alien nature of the planet you’re on.  I also can’t stress enough how surprisingly fantastic the game looks.  The underwater world you explore is gorgeous and offers a surprising amount of variety in the terrain, creatures you encounter, and the things you can discover.  It really is impressive looking.

There are some issues, though.  The interface for building things is somewhat clunky and figuring out how to do things and what everything actually does isn’t explained nearly well enough yet.  Movement on dry land – in your escape pod or in any habitats you build – feels totally awful.  Just walking around and looking at stuff is so fast and frantic and jittery feeling even when I turned the sensitivity all the way down.  Out in the water the movement feels awesome, though.  Overall game performance also needs work, especially when you finally build your own submarine.  Trying to drive the “Cyclops” sub dumps the framerate down into the single digits, rendering it basically unusable at this point which really limits how much of the game you can realistically play since you can’t travel too far.

Those issues aside, however, the foundation for a good experience is already in place.  The premise is definitely appealing and the great visuals and creature designs are already fantastic.  It is already a world you want to live in and explore, but the gameplay and performance just need to get polished up to make it all work.  Sci-fi fans and gamers eager to give survival under the sea a try will dig it, but know that it still needs quite a bit of polish.  The $20 asking price makes jumping in now a bit easier to swallow, too, because the potential for greatness is pretty high with Subnautica.

We’ll keep this article updated with any major news or updates, so stay tuned.