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Subnautica cover art.png
Cover art
Developer(s)Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher(s)Unknown Worlds Entertainment Gearbox publishing
Designer(s)Adam Loranger
  • Charlie Cleveland
  • Steven An
  • Max McGuire
  • Jonas Bötel[1]
  • Cory Strader
  • Brian Cummings
  • Scott MacDonald [1]
Writer(s)Tom Jubert
Composer(s)Simon Chylinski[2]
SeriesSubnautica Edit this on Wikidata
Genre(s)Adventure, survival, open world

Subnautica is an open-world survival-adventure video game developed and published by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. It allows the player to freely explore the ocean on an alien planet, known as planet 4546B, collecting unique resources to survive. They will face creatures of all kinds in a battle for survival.[3][4]

Subnautica was first released in early access for Microsoft Windows in December 2014, Mac OS X in June 2015, and for Xbox One in May 2016.[5][6][7][8] The full release out of early access was in January 2018, exclusively for Microsoft Windows on Steam, and later on the Discord and Epic Games stores, with the versions for the Xbox One[9] and PlayStation 4 on December 4, 2018.[10]

Subnautica has a standalone expansion called Subnautica: Below Zero which launched into early access on January 30, 2019.[11]


Subnautica is a survival, adventure game set in an open world environment and played from a first-person perspective. The player controls the lone survivor of a space ship called the Aurora that was hit by an unknown beam of energy, on the fictional ocean planet 4546B.

The main objective of the player is to explore the game's world and survive the dangers of the planet while at the same time following the story of the game. Subnautica allows the player to collect resources, construct tools, bases, and submersibles, and interact with the planet's wildlife.[12]

The majority of the game is set underwater, with two explorable islands. It has a day and night cycle which affects the gameplay and surroundings, as well as four difficulty modes:

  • "Survival", the player will have to maintain nutrition, hydration, and oxygen. If the player dies, some items are lost from his inventory.
  • "Freedom mode", in which hunger and thirst are disabled
  • "Hardcore mode", which is the same as Survival, except that if the player dies, the player will no longer be able to respawn
  • "Creative Mode", in which the hunger, thirst, health, and oxygen features are all disabled, all the crafting blueprints are acquired, where no resources are needed to craft and the submersibles do not need energy and cannot be damaged.

The game officially supports VR headsets such as the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift with the additional input of a keyboard and mouse or game controller according to the Steam sale page of the game.[13]


Subnautica takes place in the late 22nd century, when humanity begins to colonize planets in space. A vessel constructed by the trans-gov Alterra, known as the Aurora, has been sent to the outer reaches of controlled space on its maiden voyage. Its goals are to construct a high-speed space travel structure known as a Phasegate, and to find a lost ship, called the Degasi, which crashed on planet 4546B long ago. While the Aurora was cruising around the planet, it was hit by an unknown energy pulse and crash-landed on 4546B. Several lifepods are jettisoned from the Aurora as it was crashing, one containing the player. The other lifepods' inhabitants perish through various means, leaving the player as the only survivor. The player finds records of the Degasi’s crew stating that two are confirmed dead and one is presumed dead.

The player also learns of the existence of the "Precursors", an alien race that came to this planet to research a bacteria called the "Kharaa". 4546B is under automated quarantine due to the bacteria escaping in an accident. The Quarantine Enforcement Platform shoots down ships that attempt to leave, land or enter orbit in order to stop the bacterium from spreading to other worlds. The player witnesses this happen when another ship, the Sunbeam, detects the Aurora’s distress signal. When the player attempts to deactivate the installation, it fails due to the player being "infected". In order to leave the planet, the player must locate the Precursors' base deep underground to find the Sea Emperor Leviathan. It has been keeping the life in the area alive by using small creatures known as "Peepers" to distribute small amounts of a degraded form of the cure. This keeps the planet's flora and fauna alive but it is insufficient to eradicate the plague. It asks the player to help it hatch its eggs because its young produce the cure in a purer form. Once the player hatches the eggs using a hatching enzyme received from the Sea Emperor Leviathan, the player is cured of the infection. They are then free to disable the Quarantine Enforcement Platform and construct a rocket to leave the planet, ending the game.


Charlie cleveland gdc 2019 cropped.pngJonas Boetel GDC 2019 cropped.jpg
Charlie Cleveland (left) and Jonas Boetel presenting at the Game Developers Conference 2019

Subnautica was announced by Unknown Worlds Entertainment on December 17, 2013,[3] with Charlie Cleveland as the game director and lead gameplay programmer, and Hugh Jeremy as the producer.[1]

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."[14]

The development team opted against the inclusion of firearms in the game. Charlie Cleveland, the game's director, described Subnautica as "one vote towards a world with less guns," and had felt inspired by real life gun violence, including the Sandy Hook shooting, to encourage players to think about "non-violent and more creative solutions to solve our problems."[15]

Subnautica was released on Steam Early Access on December 16, 2014,[6] and was in early access development until January 23, 2018. It was released on Xbox One Preview on May 17, 2016.[7]

The complete version of Subnautica was released on January 23, 2018 for Steam.


Aggregate score
Metacritic(PC) 87/100[16]
(PS4) 81/100[17]
(XONE) 82/100[18]

Subnautica received a 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."[4] 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.[19]

At launch, the game received "generally positive reviews" on all platforms according to review aggregator Metacritic.[16][17][18] 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 that it was "... a little unintuitive and not a little buggy."[20] However, he would later go on to list it as his 2nd favourite game of 2018 in his year-end video.[21]


Year Award Category Result Ref
2018 Golden Joystick Awards Best Visual Design Nominated [22][23][24]
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 [25]
2019 D.I.C.E. Awards Outstanding Achievement in Game Design Nominated [26]
National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards Game of the Year Nominated [27]
Sound Effects Nominated
15th British Academy Games Awards Original Property Nominated [28]


  1. ^ a b c Jeremy, Hugh (December 17, 2013). "The Crew of Subnautica". Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Archived from the original on April 17, 2016. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  2. ^ "About Unknown Worlds". Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Archived from the original on March 23, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Carlson, Patrick (December 17, 2013). "Natural Selection isaac Edwards announces ocean-based Subnautica". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on January 29, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Birnbaum, Ian (January 9, 2015). "Subnautica: Early impressions of Minecraft under the sea". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on January 29, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  5. ^ "Subnautica Xbox Preview Releases on 17 May - Subnautica". Subnautica. May 16, 2016. Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Matulef, Jeffrey (December 17, 2014). "Natural Selection 2 dev's Subnautica is out now on Steam Early Access". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on January 29, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Santangelo, Nick (December 23, 2015). "Subnautica is now in development for Xbox One". XBLA Fans. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2016.
  8. ^ "Subnautica (Xbox Game Preview) Is Now Available For Xbox One". Xbox Live's Major Nelson. May 16, 2016. Archived from the original on February 8, 2018. Retrieved February 7, 2018.
  9. ^ Chalk, Andy (January 9, 2018). "Subnautica will finally leave Early Access later this month". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on January 10, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  10. ^ "Subnautica". PlayStation. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  11. ^ Shabana, Arif (January 30, 2019). "Subnautica: Below Zero Out Now as Early Access Title". IGN. Archived from the original on January 31, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  12. ^ Jeremy, Hugh (December 2013). "Subnautica: Descend into the Depths". Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Archived from the original on March 30, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  13. ^ "Subnautica on Steam". Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  14. ^ Jeremy, Hugh (December 18, 2013). "Why is Subnautica using Unity, and not the Spark Engine?". Unknown Worlds Entertainment. Archived from the original on April 5, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  15. ^ MacLeod, Riley (April 4, 2016). "Subnautica Developer Explains Why He Won't Add Guns To The Game". Kotaku. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  16. ^ a b "Subnautica for PC Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on February 15, 2018. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Subnautica for PlayStation 4 Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Subnautica for Xbox One Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  19. ^ Davies, Marsh (January 5, 2015). "Premature Evaluation: Subnautica". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Archived from the original on April 20, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  20. ^ "Subnautica". The Escapist. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  21. ^ "2018 Best Worst and Blandest (Zero Punctuation)". YouTube. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  22. ^ Hoggins, Tom (September 24, 2018). "Golden Joysticks 2018 nominees announced, voting open now". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  23. ^ Andronico, Michael (October 26, 2018). "Golden Joystick Awards: Vote for Ultimate Game of the Year". Tom's Guide. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  24. ^ Sheridan, Connor (November 16, 2018). "Golden Joystick Awards 2018 winners: God of War wins big but Fortnite gets Victory Royale". GamesRadar+. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  25. ^ "2018 Gamers' Choice Awards". Gamers' Choice Awards. December 9, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  26. ^ Makuch, Eddie (January 10, 2019). "God Of War, Spider-Man Lead DICE Awards; Here's All The Nominees". GameSpot. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  27. ^ "Nominee List for 2018". National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers. February 11, 2019. Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  28. ^ Fogel, Stefanie (March 14, 2019). "'God of War,' 'Red Dead 2' Lead BAFTA Game Awards Nominations". Variety. Retrieved March 15, 2019.

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