Subnautica Below Zero Review

At first glance, Subnautica Below Zero appears to be a remarkable standalone expansion pack for its predecessor, which has been available on Steam since January 2019. 

The oceans of a future Earth are still as beautiful and as dangerous as they have been before—the addition of an in-game time system helps players become accustomed to the passage of time, which replaces the day-night cycle from the original game. Players can also get used to not having to return to their underwater base; now they can do everything from inside a new submarine.

Subnautica Below Zero review
Subnautica Below Zero review

It is understandable that many players would be disappointed by what Subnautica Below Zero really is: a limited multiplayer sandbox survival game with little depth. The most important element of this mode is crafting—there are several dozen different items that can be made using a 3D printer, each with its own recipes and functions. 

The player must constantly upgrade the power supply at their base station in order to use more advanced items. Comparing both these modes, it becomes obvious that Subnautica Below Zero was designed primarily as a multiplayer game; there is no need for single player content when you can make all you want in the “real” world.

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Subnautica Below Zero is the perfect way to experience the wonder and joy of exploration, danger and survival in a freezing, desolate landscape.

The graphics are stunning and the gameplay is thrilling. It’s an open world survival game with a huge variety of ways to play, from combat to exploring to building bases and vehicles. The map is so large that it’s impossible to explore everything on your first run through. You’ll need to play again and again in order to see everything this beautiful game has to offer.

Subnautica Below Zero : Storyline

Subnautica Below Zero is a game that is both familiar and wholly original. It feels like a spiritual successor to the cult classic, Subnautica—the first-person survival adventure set on an alien sea world that challenges players to survive and thrive. Below Zero continues the story of Subnautica by taking us deep into the frozen depths of the ocean, where we will be tasked with a new mission: to help survivors of a crashed spaceship stay alive until they can be rescued.

The game begins with a simple tutorial that helps acclimate players to the game’s controls, mechanics, and environment. It takes place in a small submarine as it glides through a canyon: we’re introduced to our avatar (a silent protagonist), basic flight controls, mining tools, and our very first biome. 

The canyon leads into vast oceanic plains where we get our first glimpse of how hostile this environment is—and how much work it takes just to survive. We’re motivated to explore when we come across the crashed spaceship that becomes our home base. This is the moment when Below Zero starts in earnest, drawing players in by making them feel like they’re doing something meaningful for those who have survived their crash.

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Subnautica Below Zero is a game in which you are a person who has lost their spaceship and, as a result, their way of returning home. You must survive on the planet that you have crashed on by gathering resources and crafting tools.

Subnautica Below Zero is an open-world survival game. In the beginning, you are dropped onto an alien planet with no guidance or direction. Immediately, you collect resources such as wood, stone, and metal to begin crafting tools. There are many different tools that can be crafted to help you survive and traverse the world more easily. These include mechanisms to mine for resources underwater, a diving helmet to explore underwater environments, and a flashlight to see inside caves and other dark places.

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The crafting system in Subnautica Below Zero is very simple compared to other survival games such as Minecraft or Don’t Starve. However, this makes it much easier to understand what you need to craft certain items when you need them. For example, if you want to craft an oxygen tank so that you don’t drown while exploring underwater, all you need is glass and some titanium. This makes it easy to know what to gather next while exploring the vast oceans of Subnautica Below Zero’s alien planet.

Below Zero is a better-written and more atmospheric narrative experience than the original. There’s less emphasis on shooting, more on exploration and detail, and a stronger pull to discover the truth behind what happened to your sister.

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It also looks far prettier, although it has yet to capture the gorgeous undersea environment from its predecessor. Yet it does feel like you’re discovering something no one else has seen before.

That makes for a much more varied and truly exciting adventure, even if playing the first game is not entirely mandatory. Subnautica: Below Zero can be enjoyed as a standalone experience for its grim mood, or as part of an ongoing saga that will continue in future updates to come.

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Below Zero is more than just a new story with a few new areas to explore. It’s another great way to fall in love with a game series that, if you haven’t played it yet, should be at the top of your list.

While the new narrative feels a little thin and I would have liked to see more variety in the items and resources available (you’ll spend most of your time in the early game just building up supplies for the end-game), it’s easy enough to look past those shortcomings and appreciate how much care went into crafting each level out of little more than ice and hulking monstrosities.

It’s clear that Subnautica’s world is an ecosystem all its own, one filled with surprises and mysteries we’ve yet to discover.

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Subnautica Below Zero : Gameplay

Set in the same world as the original game, Below Zero tells the story of an unknown disaster that has forced you to flee the safety of your home and explore the vibrant oceans of Planet 4546B once again.

Subnautica’s gameplay is a combination of survival and exploration, requiring players to gather resources, craft tools, build bases, and manage their health and hunger levels while exploring the ocean. Similar to Minecraft’s open-world gameplay, there are few restrictions on what you can do or where you can go as you make your way through the game’s many biomes.

The game features two different modes: Survival and Creative. In Survival mode you will need to collect resources, build bases to protect yourself from predators, and hunt for food using either submarines or mechs designed by yourself. The Creative mode allows you to play around with the building mechanics without having to worry about survival elements like hunger and health. You are able also to turn off all hunger/health bars for more convenient building.

Creative mode is really fun—you can create your own vehicles using hulls, thrusters, fuel tanks etc., then place them wherever you want.

The main reason to play it would be for the underwater world itself; the game is about exploration, so if you’re looking for high-energy action, this isn’t the game for you. 

There’s combat of course, but it’s relatively sparse and very easy when compared to other games. The difference between this and other exploration games is that Subnautica Below Zero is set in an underwater world that really feels alive. 

This is not a static game where you just swim around collecting things; there’s a story here, and it’s actually quite compelling. The beginning of the game involves crash-landing on an alien planet with a limited air supply, and as you explore your surroundings in your escape pod, you’ll learn more about the planet’s history as well as what happened to your crewmate who stayed behind while you left to get help. 

At first, the water looks like it’s full of resources but then you realize that almost everything in sight will kill or eat you—and some of these creatures are pretty terrifying! You’ll find yourself holding your breath as a giant creature swims towards you (yes, even if there are no predators nearby).

While exploring the planet, you encounter many different species of alien creatures. There are also some friendly human survivors looking for a way off of the planet. Overall, Below Zero has the same feel as Subnautica, but with new mini-quests and new items added to the game. The mini-quests are small missions that help you gain access to new areas or give you new items.

There are also several graphical updates in Below Zero that make it more realistic than its predecessor. Some other changes include new voice acting and a map marker system, which allows you to track your current location at all times.

Below Zero is a great addition to an already amazing game, and in my opinion is worth playing whether you’ve played the original game or not.

Unknown Worlds’ art direction continues to be astounding. With several new land and underwater biomes to explore, I was filled with wonder as I navigated the tangled passages of the Twisty Bridges or swam alongside alien wales in the Fallen Lily Pads.

The use of color and shape gives such a strong identity to each area and creature, with instantly recognizable and memorable silhouettes for important landmarks and species. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful game. And the jarring texture pop-in from the original Subnautica seems to be all but extinct, though I did still run into it in a couple areas, like around the edges of icebergs.

Subnautica’s music and art direction are as strong as ever. The new areas in Below Zero recall the classic Bioshock environments, with their cavernous spaces and eye-popping aquatic life forms, but the new biomes have their own distinct flavors. The twisty passages of the Twisty Bridges echo the claustrophobic feel of Rapture, while the Fallen Lily Pads have a more open, airy feel, where you can easily see out to the horizon.

It’s not just a natural beauty that pervades this underwater world either—the game makes expert use of color and shape to give each area a unique identity. The Eyeye habitat is a great example of this—you can instantly tell where you are by the shape of its domed roof and its brightly colored coral structures. The contrast between those structures and the dark shapes lurking below them is striking.

Subnautica also makes great use of sound to immerse you within its underwater world. You’ll often hear faint music playing from somewhere in the distance as you explore, and it really helps set a mood when combined with some of Below Zero’s more impressive creatures. A colony of baby sea turtles playfully swimming around you is made all the more adorable.

The most immediately noticeable addition to the Subnautica formula is the new ice storms. These storms have a real effect on you, and are not just for show: your ship’s visibility is hindered, your energy levels can run low, and you can end up freezing to death if you’re not careful.

But these storms aren’t just an excuse to keep you out of areas of the map; they force you to change tactics or even leave when you reach their radius. You see that giant iceberg? Well, it turns out that because of how those ice storms work it’s actually better to try and travel around it than through it. If a storm has been battering an area for weeks or months and has grown into a massive snow drift, its real-world counterpart would be a mountain range or even a wall of towering icebergs across your path.

Below Zero is as beautiful and immersive as you could have hoped for. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this is one of my favorite games of all time. It hits all the right beats for me, from the gorgeous visuals to the emotional soundtrack, to the fast-paced survival gameplay and the many stories across its deep and layered open-ocean setting. 

You get engrossed in trying to survive, but your curiosity and wonder at finding remnants of a long-dead civilization gets you exploring far beyond mere basic necessities. It’s an expansive, captivating game that gives you freedom while still keeping you on a fascinating and engaging path forward, with plenty of mysteries to uncover. 

For me, Subnautica: Below Zero was technically challenging as well as creatively fulfilling; there are lots of problems for you to solve in order to stay alive, but there’s at least equal opportunity for creative problem solving on your part too; discovering ways to maximize your supplies or dealing with different threats in clever ways.

The Verdict

Beyond the obvious graphical improvements and the wealth of new content, what really makes Subnautica Below Zero stand out is how it brilliantly expands the original game’s narrative. 

Despite being a sandbox game, Subnautica had a structured plot that was very much an Aliens-like survival thriller: you were an unseen castaway living on a planet with giant sea creatures and trying to get off it. Below Zero offers a compelling counterpoint to that story. Your character from the original game, now named Aurora after her escape pod, has been rescued and brought to Planet 4546B (the planet formerly known as Planet 4546A) where she is given a job heading up a new outpost.

The gameplay remains largely unchanged, but I found myself really enjoying the more relaxed pace of this game. The main story takes approximately 15 hours to complete, which I actually think is longer than the first game took me. And while there’s no strict time limit like in Subnautica, there are still plenty of deadlines that keep things moving along at a good clip. If you’re ever feeling lost, there are also plenty of diversions to keep you busy—new side quests, strange flora and fauna to scan for research points, scavenger hunts for rare artifacts.

Subnautica: Below Zero is still a damn fun game. The controls from the original game have been refined into a more comfortable, intuitive system. There’s more content to explore than ever with the inclusion of new biomes and additional species to interact with. 

And there’s some clever touches for fans of the first game, like all of those toys you can collect that unlock audio recordings, and additional lore entries about the planet and its structures scattered throughout the world for you to find. It never feels like too much, though; I never felt overwhelmed or like I didn’t know what I was doing, so this is quite possibly the best survival adventure game experience out there right now.

Overall, Subnautica: Below Zero is a great follow up to the original. The art direction is still top notch and it has the same feeling of exploration and mystery as the original. Although there are some areas that need work, they still have time to be worked out before launch. I’m excited to see where they take this one over the next several months leading up to release, as it has all the makings of an excellent continuation of the story and gameplay of Subnautica. I’m looking forward to playing it again when it launches on Steam in early access this month!

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