|Developer(s)||Unknown Worlds Entertainment[a]|
|Publisher(s)||Unknown Worlds Entertainment[b]|
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X/S
Subnautica is an open-world survival action-adventure video game developed and published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Players are free to explore the ocean on the alien planet 4546B, after their spaceship, the Aurora, crashes on the planet's surface. The player must collect resources and face creatures to survive.
Subnautica was released in early access for Microsoft Windows in December 2014, macOS in June 2015, and for Xbox One in May 2016. It was released out of early access in January 2018 for Microsoft Windows and macOS, with versions for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in December 2018. The physical console versions were published by Gearbox Publishing. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S versions were released in May 2021.
By January 2020, more than five million copies had been sold. A sequel, Subnautica: Below Zero, was released May 14, 2021.
Subnautica is a survival action-adventure game set in an open world environment and played from a first-person perspective. The player controls the lone survivor named Ryley Robinson, of a waylaid spacecraft called the Aurora, stranded on a remote ocean planet named 4546B.
The main objective is to explore the ocean and survive its dangers, while completing tasks to advance the plot. Players can collect resources, construct tools, bases, and submersibles, and interact with the planet's wildlife.
The majority of the game is set underwater, with two explorable islands, and a simulated day-and-night cycle that affects visibility. Upon beginning a new game, players must select a difficulty mode from the following four:
- In survival mode, the player manages their depleting health, hunger, thirst and oxygen. If the player dies, they respawn, but certain items are removed from their inventory.
- In freedom mode, gameplay is near-identical to that of Survival mode, but with hunger and thirst disabled.
- In hardcore mode, gameplay is near-identical to that of Survival mode but with permadeath. If the player dies, they do not respawn, and their save file is instead deleted.
- In creative mode, all depleting characteristics, such as health and thirst, are disabled, with the player able to access all crafting blueprints, and craft without the need for resources. Additionally, the submersibles, a stasis rifle, a Seaglide, a mobile vehicle bay, and a propulsion cannon are provided, which do not need an energy source to operate and cannot be damaged, unless the player damages them intentionally.
Subnautica takes place in a distant future, when humanity begins to colonize other star systems. The Aurora, a deep-space vessel constructed by the Alterra Corporation, has been sent to a system at the outer reaches of known space on its maiden voyage, specifically an area called the Ariadne Arm. Its primary mission is to build a section of high-speed space travel infrastructure known as a Phasegate in the Ariadne Arm. However, its secondary mission, unknown to most of the crew, is to search for and, possibly, rescue the crew of a ship called the Degasi, which crashed on planet 4546B ten years prior. After the Aurora enters orbit of 4546B, it is physically waylaid by a mysterious energy-pulse and crash-lands on the planet. Several crew members climb into lifepods and jettison from the Aurora during the descent, one of whom is Ryley Robinson, the player character. The other lifepods' inhabitants perish through various means, leaving Ryley as the lone survivor. Ryley finds records of the Degasi's crew stating that only three survived the initial crash, but later two out of the three are confirmed dead and one is presumed dead.
Ryley also learns of the existence of the Precursors, an ancient, advanced alien species that came to planet 4546B approximately one thousand years ago in search of a cure for a highly infectious disease, known as the Kharaa Bacterium. The Precursors discovered Kharaa during the exploration of an unknown planet, and the disease spread due to a failure in quarantine procedures, killing over 140 billion individuals. Investigating thousands of planets in an attempt to find a cure, the Precursors eventually located a species of organism on 4546B they named the Sea Emperor Leviathan, which produced an enzyme that could cure Kharaa. However, the only living Sea Emperor was too old to produce the enzyme in enough potency to have any effect, and the Precursors were unable to force its only eggs to hatch. In an attempt to investigate the egg-hatching process of the Sea Emperor, the Precursors took the egg of a related species, the Sea Dragon Leviathan, but the mother destroyed a Precursor research facility and inadvertently released samples of Kharaa into the planet's ecosystem. Forced to evacuate, the Precursors enabled a facility known as the Quarantine Enforcement Platform, which consists of a large weapon that fires on any ships attempting to leave or land on the planet. It is discovered that this weapon caused the crash of the Degasi and the Aurora.
The Sea Emperor, which seeks the freedom of her children, communicates telepathically with Ryley and helps him discover the prison in which she is held captive. She gives Ryley information on how to hatch her eggs, who does so and is cured by the enzyme produced by the juvenile Sea Emperors. Ryley then disables the Quarantine Enforcement Platform (only achievable by one not infected with Kharaa) and constructs a rocket with blueprints found in the wreckage of the Aurora. After escaping the planet, the Sea Emperor communicates with Ryley a final time, promising that the two "go together" although they are different.
Subnautica was announced by Unknown Worlds Entertainment on December 17, 2013, with Charlie Cleveland as the director and lead gameplay programmer, and Hugh Jeremy as the producer. The music is composed by Simon Chylinski.
Cleveland was heavily inspired by Minecraft, which he noted "transformed the game industry" and "threw away all traditional challenge oriented and progression oriented games". The release of Minecraft overlapped with Unknown Worlds releasing Natural Selection 2. Feeling burnt out, the team wanted to try something new and decided to make such a game. Other influences included scuba diving, the filmography of James Cameron, and "just the feeling of exploring the deep, dark, alternately beautiful and terrible, ocean depths. Feeling like I’m an explorer, almost an astronaut, not knowing what I’ll find". Cleveland did not initially view it as a survival game but as an exploration game.
Cleveland was also motivated by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Frustrated by lack of progress made in the US toward ending gun violence, Cleveland thought that he could do his part by making a non-violent game. As such, the development team opted against the inclusion of firearms in the game, with Cleveland describing the game as "one vote towards a world with less guns" encouraging players to think about "non-violent and more creative solutions to solve our problems".
The development team opted to use the Unity engine rather than Spark, the engine used for the company's previous game, Natural Selection 2. Subnautica producer Hugh Jeremy justified this decision because of the different demands that the game places on the engine, and "because [the team] does not include people working on Spark, it's not appropriate for Subnautica to use Spark. By using Unity for Subnautica, Spark can continue to develop in certain directions, while Subnautica develops in others. To use Spark for Subnautica would be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole."
The game lacks traditional missions or quest structure usually found in video games. This was a deliberate choice, with Cleveland stating "with intrinsic rewards, people are instead encouraged to just do the activities for their own merit, less people would be motivated to do it. But, if they did get over that learning period they would get to the point where they internalized that activity as pleasurable on its own and they would continue". Cleveland opted for this after reading an essay by Jamie Cheng who implemented similar philosophies into his game Don't Starve.
Early access versions of Subnautica were released on Steam Early Access on December 16, 2014 and on Xbox One Preview on May 17, 2016. During this initial release the game featured no hunger or thirst mechanics. After receiving criticism, specifically from one player whose critique "struck home for me", the team opted to include such a system eventually discovering that it helped players orient themselves to the early parts of the game. The full version of the game was released on January 23, 2018 for Windows and macOS personal computers, and on December 4, 2018 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game and a sequel, called Subnautica: Below Zero, were released on May 14, 2021. Previously, Below Zero was released in early access on January 30, 2019.
|Nintendo World Report||8/10|
|PC Gamer (US)||89/100|
Subnautica received positive pre-release reception. Ian Birnbaum of PC Gamer described Subnautica as an "underwater Minecraft", remarking that "with an experienced developer at the helm and a limitless variety of the oceans to play with, it's going to take a lot for Subnautica to go badly wrong. As the toolbox gets deeper and the shape of the end-game gets set, Subnautica will be a unique example of the ways survival can be tense, rewarding, and fun." Marsh Davies of Rock, Paper, Shotgun praised the rewarding nature of exploring the world of Subnautica, but criticized the "arbitrariness" and lack of intuition in some of the in-game recipes.
At launch, the game received "generally positive reviews" on all platforms according to review aggregator Metacritic. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw on The Escapist's Zero Punctuation series gave it a generally positive review, stating, "Underwater exploration is an inherently appealing concept: this whole new world rolling away before you, made all the more beautiful by its utter hostility." He did criticize the game as "a little unintuitive and not a little buggy". Croshaw would later list Subnautica as his second favourite game of 2018.
By January 2020, more than 5.23 million copies had been sold across all platforms, not including free copies given as part of promotions.
|2018||Golden Joystick Awards||Best Visual Design||Nominated|||
|Best Audio Design||Nominated|
|Breakthrough Award (Unknown Worlds)||Won|
|PC Game of the Year||Won|
|Ultimate Game of the Year||Nominated|
|Gamers' Choice Awards||Fan Favorite Indie Game||Won|||
|2019||D.I.C.E. Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Game Design||Nominated|||
|National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards||Game of the Year||Nominated|||
|15th British Academy Games Awards||Original Property||Nominated|||
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