But this magical world has not yet accidentally shared all its secrets. The discovery of other of them is offered by a separate extension Below Zero, which after two years in the preliminary approach was finally released in full.
Below Zero is a standalone datadisk that takes place on the same planet, so of course it shares a historical-story background with the original game, but it has no connection to the Subnautica plot itself and instead represents a new ensemble. The story takes place a few years later, and this time the protagonist is the promising scientist Robin, who arrives secretly on 4546B to find out what happened to her sister.
And it’s all like … smaller. Which, of course, makes sense, it’s still about expansion, not continuation, but the warning is appropriate: Don’t expect Below Zero the same story ride. No fantastic revelations about the shape of the entire planet or the fate of the universe are going to come to you this time.
It will certainly not surprise anyone to find out that the contact with the remnants of the fallen civilization of the Architects is again involved in watching the path of crumbs left behind by the mentioned sister. And again, these are the most interesting moments, because dealing with the fates of powerful beings from ancient times, who, despite their maturity and technological possibilities, could not avoid a cataclysm, simply has something to do with it. One then seriously feels like a cosmic pioneer, and when his footsteps are the first sound in millennia to be heard in imposing alien halls, it’s really not that hard to get drawn into the situation and experience sacred reverence and amazement with the heroine.
In contrast, the “human” line and the search for siblings seem rather lost. He doesn’t have the necessary move to the goal, the plot stumbles forward, because he has to, artificially driven, not spill out, and if he offers a catharsis at the end, it has remained ingeniously hidden from me. If the game is still in the preliminary approach, I would say that the narration is probably not finished yet and we will have to wait for the finals, which would drive the careful plot pizzicato into the necessary crescendo, but …
Old familiar loop
It would, of course, be odd to expect a major change in gameplay concepts or significantly reworked mechanics from the data disk. This fact can be positive or negative depending on the angle of view. On the one hand, it provides the certainty that if you enjoyed playing the original Subnautica, Below Zero will most likely not disappoint you either. But at the same time, it is necessary to realize that the fascination with the original game also stemmed, among other things, from the fact that no other deep-sea survival existed. It would not surprise me if there were those in the second stage, which is played practically the same, those who would no longer experience that feeling of refreshing novelty with such force.
However, if you did not have the honor of the title, know that from a game point of view, it is a kind of survival metroidvania in the open world. The only difference is that the process is no longer locked to obtain a double jump and the like, but depends on how deep you can dive.
It’s basically a completely simple but sensitively executed design: Your submarine can withstand a certain depth. In it, you will move through the story and find new materials, from which you will build improvements that will give you even greater depths. There you will find another storyline and you will collect new raw materials again and so on. It works as it should.
Survival mechanics are practically identical to the original game. This means you don’t have to worry about any draconian mechanics. Hunger and thirst sometimes come on, but there are quite a few food sources, and if you prepare at least a little for the expedition and pack a meal, starvation is not too dangerous.
Unsurprisingly, oxygen has the biggest impact on gameplay, and you need to be extremely careful and estimate well how far you can get away from the submarine. But no worries, it’s still not a science, and once you drown twice, you’ll know what you can afford. Subnautica is based on exploration and story, not player suffering.
Of course, the construction part is not present either – if you are in the mood to build an underwater base, the game will again meet your rich offer of various rooms, equipment, furniture and decorations. And if you put in the effort, you can really build a luxury apartment with a view, equipped and self-sufficient, decorated with flowers that will filter the water and produce food.
In reality, this is not necessary at all, because a primitive cube with a door, in which you put three or four vital devices, is enough to go through the game and you’re done, but if you enjoy pipetting purely for the joy of the result, go for it. No worries, I also set up a beautiful bedroom and I was rightly proud of it. It was useless, but I didn’t care, because the feeling that you have a cozy refuge somewhere behind you, where you can return, somehow enhances the exploration experience.
I want back in the water!
On the contrary, what does not help the research experience is the biggest novelty of the data disk. In the original game, you also looked at the land, but only very briefly and occasionally. Below Zero, on the other hand, forces you to leave the embrace of the waves quite often and you spend about a quarter, maybe a third of the total time on the Arctic plains. It didn’t have to be. Or at least not to that extent.
It is clear above the sun that the game and its engine are perfectly prepared for an underwater adventure, but another, much more limited type of movement on land is difficult to handle. The character cannot climb to the slightest bump, which he can dial first-class, especially in the narrow tunnels of ice caves. Likewise, the moment I got stuck on any railing or got stuck between boulders while trying to reach the ledge and had to humiliate out again, it was more than would be convenient. In other words, overcoming terrain on land is many times less fun than in water. And that’s not good.
Over time, you will get used to terrestrial clumsiness and you will no longer perceive it, but unfortunately the impoverishment of the environment is constant. Even the level design of the land is not entirely to be praised, and the contrast is all the more painful when you know that there are fantastic underwater habitats right next door, but to move the story, you have to stumble through a chaotic chain of paths and corridors between snowy plains that look one as the other and where, due to a lack of landmarks, you get lost every seven seconds or so.
Not to mention that, by analogy, you’re constantly freezing to run out of oxygen, hailing every minute, or a night with a thick fog comes when you see ahead as far away as an undead diopter who has ripped off his glasses. Getting out of a confusing labyrinth is an ordeal, even if you know where you are going, doing it blindly is a whole new level of hell. And no, it doesn’t help the atmosphere. On the contrary, it seems like a first-rate poison that the developers added because they weren’t sure what to do with it.
The strange hairy pig bears don’t help either, which you can drive away with flares, but if you don’t have one at all, you will have to go cross with them. And, to put it bluntly, I’ve seen a better crafted fight in the game world.
Sure, Subnautica had never had a center of gravity in violence, and working on a polished duel would probably be useless in general, but what is worth, killing a bear is really something. Get ready for an extraordinarily elaborate round-and-round run around the monster and half a minute of stubbornly stabbing in the tail, as the creature sweeps you away with a few blows when trying to frontal, but spins behind you at Hindenburg speed.
All in all, I suffered more terrestrial passages and could not wait to return below the surface. Because there it’s real walnut again. Smooth, dynamic, unrestrained movement without a single snag and deep melts until the eyes cross. Unlike the ice plains, it’s like heaven and bagpipes.
Fantastic, sometimes surreal landscape of the ocean floor, strange creatures wherever you look. Some will pass by with stoic composure, others will try to catch you, but you will leave behind the back of your submarine as you slip into another cave, into another tunnel, and you know that behind the nearest bend there will be another breathtaking view in front of you.
Dense, rugged coral forest decorated with playful streams of bubbles. Right next to a mysterious plain scarred by geothermal explosions, lined with quirky purple geysers. A little deeper, fascinating islands, buoyed by air bubbles in the flowers of gigantic alien water lilies. Spiral depths of coral bridges, luminous walls and even below them halls full of radiant crystals and wild stone formations.
As already mentioned, Below Zero is an overall smaller game. The story line itself, if you know a little bit what you are doing, will take fifteen hours. Which means that the scope of research is a bit smaller – in short, it is not as visible as in the original title. But what can be seen in the depths is great.
In one sentence: Underwater a stone, nothing much on land.
I did not come across any technical problems or snags except for the mentioned clumsy movement while walking. The game fell once, which I have no problem forgiving, given that it never happened again.
However, it was just one fall that makes me pass on information redeemed by blood and tears. Below Zero has no auto save or no checkpoints. Think about it and save it by hand on a regular basis, because I can testify from my own experience that when the game crashes and you find out that you have just lost some six hours of progress, it is a matter of kicking the monitor.
Below Zero is Subnautica in a more intimate style. The story is not as captivating as in the first stage and the world is smaller, but the underwater exploration and the sensitive design of the game progress still provide fun. On land, it’s, of course, worse, but I still wouldn’t be afraid to recommend the data disk to those who liked Subnautica. You will just have to squint a little at times, but the mysterious depths will make up for it with a little tolerance.
And if you don’t know the original game, go fix it first. After all, he is still one of the best survivors of all time, if not the best at all.