Sponsored By: Epic’s
Predatory Pricing totally altruistic and pro-consumer giveaway.
Time Swam: I have no idea, as the Epic Launcher doesn’t tell me that sort of thing.
Shallow End Review
So, let me see if I understand this correctly. You all love this game, but can’t be bothered to try literally anything by the greatest developer of all time.
But I’m the weird one.
Mariana Trench Review
I am a fan of boring games with lots of busywork. Farming Simulator, Spintires, Stardew Valley, Destiny—I’d even love to see Nintendo remaster the original Chibi Robo! My credibility as an authority on pointless grind, while perhaps not unparalleled, is certainly vast and deep.
So, when I tell you all that Subnautica isn’t a good game, I do so with hundreds (thousands?) of hours — in better games — to back me up. If you’re having fun with it, I won’t tell you you’re wrong, but I will silently judge you and perhaps rush my children out of your path as you walk by.
The game is visually stunning, if you like fish, which I don’t. The ocean is nature’s scrap pile, where she puts all of the hideous wretches and evolutionary mistakes that never see the light of day. And rightly so! Fish are the Mass Effect: Andromeda of animals, abandoned even by evolution before being fully patched.
Seriously, who thought the blobfish was a good idea as a character? That loyalty quest is terrible!
Fish aren’t even good to eat! I mean, even fish don’t like eating other fish. They’d literally rather bite a steel hook with a worm on it. Now, some of you might disagree, but let me pose the question: what’s the worst thing a fish can smell like? If you were honest, you would answer, “itself,” which tells you everything you need to know about fish.
To be fair, the horrid abominations surrounding you in Subnautica are gorgeous and well animated. That’s not my beef with the game. Some people think fish are beautiful creatures and keep large glass boxes in their homes so they can look at them. Those people are also wrong, but I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade. Like what you like. What do I care?
No, my problem is with the gameplay. As I’ve made abundantly clear, I love grind. I’ll do menial quests and hunt for random encounters all day long. I’ve put over two hundred hours into Fallout 76, for crying out loud. But the loop in Subnautica isn’t fun.
First, there’s the air. You can swim for less than a minute before you start getting klaxon warnings to return to the surface. You can increase your air supply by singing “Even the Nights are Better,” or by crafting bigger oxygen tanks. But the oxygen tank crafting materials are on the bottom of the ocean, which you can barely get to with your starter kit.
Second, there’s the food. You pretty much have to eat all the time. The game starts you out with a couple of granola bars, but then you have to fish by playing whack-a-mole. Simply (he said sarcastically), swim up behind a fish, wait for the “grab fish” prompt, and hope you are fast enough to nail that infinitesimal hitbox. Then swim back to your home base and cook the fish, replenishing five percent of your hunger meter. Now go do it nineteen more times and hope you don’t die of thirst in the process!
Because you also have to manage thirst. Again, you start with a few Poland Spring bottles, but soon you’re on the hunt for some way to make water.
It took me an hour to figure out what I needed in order to make drinkable water: a very specific fish I caught completely by accident that can be used as a filter. Again, one ration of water crafted this way restores maybe five percent of your thirst meter.
In the end, I spent the vast majority of my time in Subnautica trying to catch tiny, skittish fish and then swimming back to base to craft food and water—all just to stay alive long enough to get more ingredients for food and water. Over and over. Occasionally, I’d run across some metal, which I could use to make tools if I collected twelve more bits of it. Someday, I might even have enough to craft a stash box so I can store all these acidic mushrooms that are the apparently the only abundant thing in this game, and are probably good for absolutely nothing.
I see stories about people creating elaborate undersea bases, and I wonder how they’re doing it. The obvious answer is that they’re playing in “creative mode,” which disables everything that makes the game remotely interesting and leaves the player to contend only with the horrific monsters of the depths.
Sure, I could do that—if I thought any victory won by cheating was worthwhile. Why not just download a save file with an accurate reconstruction of Rapture from Bioshock and claim it as my own while I’m at it?
Will we all float on ok?
Part of me says, “Yes.”
Part of me says, “Are you kidding? You’ve got almost a thousand games in your library, and you’re going to obsess over this crap?”
I know who makes the more compelling argument.
And before you mention it, I know I haven’t played very long, but I’ve reviewed other games in this space that have slow starts. Typically, I’ll play longer before writing my opinion (for example, I played Metal Gear Solid 5 for six hours before writing the TL;DP). The difference is that other games made me want to play more by dangling progress in front of me. Subnautica offers no path to progression that I can see. I can’t craft anything because I need to explore, and I can’t explore because I’m too busy grabbing fish with my bare freaking hands to find anything that might make survival easier.
It’s a Catch-22 of suck. Put that on the box!
Is it the Deep Dark Souls?
Yes, but not in a good way. Dark Souls makes you feel weak and afraid, but competent. Subnautica makes you feel hungry and thirsty and suffocated, and doesn’t really give you much you can do about it.
It also surrounds you with fish, which is just freaking creepy.