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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A Brave New World in Subnautica

By KAMEK - It's A Brave New World.

Open world games have quickly become the most iconic AAA games released. Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, and even my once personal favorite Horizon Zero Dawn. This isn't surprising, but what if a comprehensive open world experience came from an indie developer? Subnautica is such a game (from Unknown Worlds Entertainment) and this Koopa will tell you it's a wild ride!

We've seen this happen before. Other smaller projects such as Minecraft took an open world experience and ran all the way to a completely different dimension with it. Subnautica though, it's something special. The audio design is pleasingly plump with bits and bobs that give you a real sense of what you're doing or picking up. The visual design is beautiful in its gorgeous biomes and desolate shipwrecks. The gameplay and controls are odd, but I chalk that up to my inexperience in Keyboard/Mouse, and open world games in general. Subnautica, through the richness of the game, makes you feel something. It engages you. It engages your imagination. Maybe it's these things that we've been wanting and searching for all along.

Subnautica green warp .gif
Clear your mind...What is it that you truly desire?... KoopaTV of course!

I've long held a firm belief that higher graphical fidelity isn't necessary for enjoyment. It's an old Nintendo stance that had been ingrained in me, but the more visually impressive games I played as I branched out, the more it cemented that line of thought. Subnautica is pleasing to look at. Going from lush kelp forests to barren wastes at the bottom of the sea activates my imagination and theorize what could have happened here. The remains of the ship you were traveling on scattered through the world fills you with dread and pity just thinking about what could have happened. There are unspeakable horrors lurking in the deep that I won't explain to you because they're so far out there. The main character is handled nicely. You don't see much of him except for a shadow. Eventually you get to see his shadow hair which has an impressive shadow look forward to that.

Subnautica Ryley Corbinson shadow haircut
I generally imagine him as the scuba diver who takes away Nemo.
Especially since there's an in game screenshot feature!

The controls are a bit silly to me. Again, I credit that to my lack of PC gaming experience. Regardless the system makes sense and if you take any length of time at all to adjust it to the way you prefer it you should be alright. If I had to give a soundbite answer I would say it's on the better side of undersea mechanics. This includes the vehicles you can drive as well.

Gameplay is subtle. That's the best way to describe it. There's quite a bit of explanation, but the game unfolds in a way that is so open and vast that it's unparalleled in it's unnerving. If I were to be forced to give a comparison off the top of my head I would choose NES The Legend of Zelda. The options are open and vast. The only limitation you seem to have if your ability to breathe. Eventually as you complete your advancements you receive more story and your ultimate goal becomes clear, besides leaving the planet of course. Does it work? I would argue yes? This is where my comparison comes in. I will admit to looking up a guide or two to figure out how to get to certain places or obtain certain things. Looking back on it now I don't think I would have. Is that a symptom of a problem? I suppose so, but I'm afraid I'm not intelligent enough to give you the answer. Did it have an overwhelming negative impact overall? No? I did end up being spoiled a bit and that was regrettable, however, I wouldn't want them to make changes to accommodate my failure. 

Subnautica status ok systems online radio communication offline
It's okay. It really is.

What I've determined to be the crowning glory in this game is the audio work. I would love to spend an afternoon to speak with the audio director of this game, Simon Chylinski. I boldly venture to say that if the audio for this game had been mediocre-to-moderate quality this entire game would have suffered equally as much. Every small item pickup, every little creature cry, every behemoth's bellow; all of it resonates a deep, rich, and satisfying end in that notch of your brain that receives it and can appreciate it. The music ranges from wondrous and awe-inspiring to intimidating and full on horror panic attack. The combination of sounds and music come together in a seamless swirl to engage your imagination and project it into the game. It's uncommon for a game to be propelled so far into greatness (in my eyes) by audio alone.

Subnautica options menu general tab sound volume display
Pump it up to 11!
(It's difficult to find an image to portray sound without spoiling anything)

Steam credits me with 49–50 hours sunk into this game. I ended up rushing to the end of the game. I do regret that quite a bit. No Man's Sky was on sale while I was playing this and I couldn't bring myself to start it while Subnautica was still incomplete. I had been wanting to play the former since its tumultuous release. I looked up how to get to the end game and finished playing so I could jump to the next open world experience. In my haste to have a new experience I ended up compromising a great one. Unlike Subnautica, we all only have so much time to survive here on this planet. I implore you to take your time with this experience and enjoy it.

Subnautica Planet 4546B moon
After all memories are all we can take with us in the end.

Games make you really think about how we experience the world. This one gave Kamek a new lease on life. If you want to see parts of Kamek's journey and future journeys, you can view them and him at

This was awarded the Best KoopaTV Review of 2019!
Subnautica is coming to Nintendo Switch in early 2021.

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