Unknown World’s Subnautica was a fascinating entry into the survival genre that saw a tremendous amount of success in the years after its 2014 release. Rightfully the game set itself apart with a xeno-oceanic world of seemingly endless depths to explore. In addition, its exploration-based gameplay and often terrifying ventures into the alien unknown made it a particular success with streamers and their audiences.
Now Unknown Worlds is attempting to expand upon the original with a proper sequel, Subnautica: Below Zero. The second attempts to bring all the exploration and survival horror elements of the first game with numerous quality of life tweaks, world developments, and an expansive story. Let’s talk about how it holds up.
RETURN TO 4546B
Much like the first game, you’re launched into the action pretty quick, although at least this time, the choice to plummet dangerously from space in a drop pod is made by the character. The plot starts fairly simply with your character seeking after information regarding her deceased sister, an accident that she is convinced wasn’t so accidental.
Rather than plummet into the ocean like the first one, surprisingly, you land on the planet’s frozen surface. A good chunk of this game is actually spent above land, and Below Zero makes this particular addition reasonably quick. Within minutes you’re in a cramped underwater survival pod fabricating and exploring the ocean, though. And thus, those familiar with Subnautica’s core loop will be right at home.
Exploring a Sequel
The above land exploration portions of the game add quite a bit more to the world, but it’s still the sprawling ocean of Subnautica where the game shines. While players will be balancing survival and oxygen depletion below the ice, they’ll struggle to keep their character’s body heat up above it. As a result, you’re likely to freeze to death in a cave before you encounter any of the above-ground aliens.
Just like the first game, what’s really impressive about Below Zero are the visuals. The ocean, aliens, and gorgeous underwater vistas are the showstopping moments that will force you to stop and admire them, even if your oxygen tank has just moments of air left. Moments in this game really walk the line between exploring beautiful moments while surviving terrible unknowns. The plot is more pronounced in Below Zero, and the story has a proper narrative with characters to reveal itself to the player, rather than the typical amalgam of lost logs and such. The plot is excellent and engaging, enough so that I found it drove me to complete the missions as quickly as possible to discover more. Of all the quality improvements in this game, it’s the crafted story that really adds depth to Subnautica.
As for bugs I was surprised to find I found a fair few, especially compared to my time with the first. A few of the above-ground travel moments felt finicky and I had a couple of moments with certain creatures spawning in places that were far too small for their models. Even then, these bugs were infrequent and resolved themselves quickly.
Ultimately I think fans of the original will mostly agree that Below Zero captures everything spectacularly unique about the first while adding quality of life improvements and some of its own features.