Un­der the sea!

PCPOWERPLAY - - Games // Review - De­vel­oper Un­known worlds En­tEr­tain­mEnt • P ublisher Un­known worlds En­tEr­tain­mEnt • P rice $ Us24.99 • A vAilAble At stEam un­known­­nau­tica DaviD Holling­wortH

I’ve played plenty of games that have been all about ‘flow’. Games with sim­ple, ab­stract set­tings, easy to mas­ter con­trols, and of­ten backed by gen­tle, am­bi­ent mu­sic; games that drop you out of the ev­ery­day, switch your mind to a dif­fer­ent gear, and kind of force a med­i­ta­tive state upon you as adapt to the game’s sooth­ing rhythm.

Sub­nau­tica is nei­ther sim­ple, nor ab­stract. It fea­tures a rich nar­ra­tive, com­plex, in­ter­lock­ing sur­vival mech­a­nisms, and one of the most calm­ing and yet also alarm­ing aquatic set­tings I’ve swum around in since Su­per Mario 64 (don’t @ me – that wa­ter level was le­git­i­mately ter­ri­fy­ing). But for all of that the game still man­ages to do ev­ery­thing in its power to slip you into a higher state of be­ing through the power of flow.

It’s just that ev­ery now and then a gi­ant sea mon­ster will also try and eat you.

Sub­nau­tica has been in the slow evo­lu­tion of Early Ac­cess for a while now, but I’ve come to it clean on its full re­lease, and I’m pretty glad of it, too. While ar­eas were added or changed through the game’s devel­op­ment, and its plot fleshed out, the fi­nal ver­sion is as com­plete as you would ex­pect, and the chal­lenges of the game’s Sur­vival mode fresh and, well, chal­leng­ing. You’re the ap­par­ent lone sur­vivor of a star­ship that’s crashed onto an un­ex­plored, aquatic world. There’s just you, your es­cape pod, and some very ba­sic tools to stay alive. Ocean stretches around you as far as the hori­zon, bro­ken only by the burn­ing hulk of your crashed star­ship, and your lone­li­ness leav­ened only by the un­car­ing AI that has ac­com­pa­nied your pod’s hap­haz­ard launch. It seems a bar­ren world… un­til you leave your pod.

Un­der the sur­face is vast, rich, un­der­wa­ter world, with a dozen dif­fer­ent biomes, com­plete with plants, preda­tors, and vary­ing con­di­tions. As you move out from the your es­cape pod, you start to gather re­sources, and craft sim­ple items – with more tools, you can gather new re­sources, and so on un­til you’ve built a mini-sub, and are start­ing to lay down the bones of an un­der­wa­ter habi­tat. At the same time, you get to ex­plore your crashed ship, dis­cover the rea­son be­hind its mys­te­ri­ous fail­ure, and learn some dark se­crets about the planet it­self. The sense of ex­plo­ration and dis­cov­ery is beau­ti­fully or­ganic.

At the same time, the flow of nec­es­sary, repet­i­tive chores helps give the game a re­lax­ing rhythm. You go out, find new (some­times scary) stuff, but then you’ve got to go back to base and make more wa­ter, or pre­pare more food, or recharge some bat­ter­ies. Given the very le­git­i­mate ten­sion of the game – this world by and large wants to kill you, ei­ther by toothy sea mon­sters, lava vents, toxic en­vi­ron­ments, or crush depth – the rou­tine you build up is re­mark­ably sooth­ing.

The late game may get a lit­tle drawn out, but the first ten or twenty hours of the game goes by in a won­der­ful flow of vivid seascapes and amaz­ing crea­ture de­sign. By the end… you may not even want to leave the planet!

lone­li­ness leav­ened only by the un­car­ing AI that has ac­com­pa­nied your pod’s hap­haz­ard launch

Uh, Dave, we thought you said this was calm­ing. Abort! Abort!

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