For a couple of months now, the Epic Games Store has been giving away a free title every two weeks. And pretty decent ones, too. It’s a shameless ploy to get people to keep the platform on their computer and check in every once in a while, and hey, free works. I’ll grab quality free stuff, and the first title that they released was Subnautica.
I’d heard good things about this survival game, but as survival games don’t typically draw me in, I wasn’t exactly rushing to try it out. But it was first up on the list I made for March, and with a few kids crowded around me, I dove into the watery world of Subnautica.
Subnautica wastes no time getting right into the action. In the first seconds, the player is ejected from the large spaceship Aurora and sent hurtling down to an ocean world in nothing more than a floating lifepod. Surrounded by thousands of miles of water on each side, alone (as far as I know) on the whole planet, and looking across the ocean at the slowly burning (and exploding) Aurora, the feeling of isolation is palpable. This game quickly taps into that fear we have of bobbing on an ocean’s surface and knowing that there’s a whole world (including some hungry critters) below our dangling feet.
The lifepod serves as a small base of operations for the starting game, and the player is sent out on repeated sorties to grab crafting mats, scan the wildlife, and look for useful wreckage from the spaceship. Inside the lifepod is a machine that generates free health kits, a fabricator that makes useful gear if fed the right mats, a small storage container, and a radio that serves as a de facto questgiver.
I said that survival games don’t usually draw me in, but Subnautica overcame that quickly. This was due in part to a few factors:
- The all-underwater setting is really inspired and sets this game apart visually and thematically from other survival games. It’s a different ballgame when you’re swimming and have depth and oxygen to contend with as limiting factors.
- It’s gorgeous. I want to keep exploring because everything is so interesting to look at.
- It’s a very slick game with just the right amount of UI and tight controls. The crafting doesn’t feel too complicated or cluttered, and I quickly got into the swing of moving, scanning, and resurfacing.
- The story — of what happened, what survived the crash, what else is out there — is really compelling to keep me playing.
- Plus, this title proved to be a BIG hit to my kids who loved watching it and giving me suggestions. I assigned roles to each of them, such as “bad fish spotter” and “oxygen watcher” to make everyone feel involved.
One other great factor elicited applause from me — there are multiple play modes, including one where you don’t have to worry about food or water. I put in a few hours in the regular survival mode, but honestly, the food/water feature wasn’t that hard to deal with or added much to my enjoyment of the game, so I restarted in the freedom mode instead. It still felt challenging and fun, just without the chore of cooking fish and drinking whenever my computer got grumpy about my fluid intake.
I can sense that there’s a lot to this game and plenty of hours ahead, and honestly, I’ll probably keep on playing for a good while to come. I guess it took Subnautica to convert me into a survival game player, even if for just one title.