Obviously, this review is a few weeks post full release, but as I tend to do, I like to take some time to collect my thoughts when offering my take on any subject. Subnautica: Below Zero is no different.
I will also do my best to avoid any spoilers, but in the streaming and Youtube age, I’m sure most interested in this topic have seen things or played the game by now.
Subnautica: Below Zero was fully released in May of 2021 after just over a year in early access. During that time, the game took on a few different iterations as far as the storyline is concerned, but the thing I noticed most was that the actual gameplay mechanics were basically consistent the entire time.
It is also fair to mention that early on, pre early access this game was expected as an “update” to the original, which led most to believe this was going to be a continuation of the original story, and most likely a DLC.
As it turns out Below Zero became its own story, with few to no tie-ins to the original. Even though it takes place on the same planet, it is a stand-alone game, not a sequel. This I think is an important point when forming an opinion, even though it’s hard to not draw comparisons due to Subnautica being in the title. With that being said let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
First and foremost, This game is visually stunning. The textures and biome design are second to none. It has always been my experience that games using water textures always experience terrible frame rate drops, but this title really has none of that, so well done on that front.
Second, the crafting is easy to understand and the collection of resources is pretty easy to accomplish. When this mechanic is done wrong, it can be a game killer.
Third, this kind of ties in with the first point, but the fauna in-game is amazing. The variety of life is very well done. It’s easy to see this was a point of focus for the developers, and it shows.
Now for the bad, and sadly there is a lot of it. Unlike the original, I never felt the peril of being in a survival situation. The original game did an amazing job of giving the player the feeling of being against all odds, and desperate. Below Zero falls way short on this front. At no point during my gameplay did I ever feel like I was in a no-win situation, and for me, not feeling like my life is in danger, destroys the concept of a survival game.
I never bought into the storyline and felt like it was forced on me rather than being a part of it. In a nutshell, you play Robin, who is trying to solve the riddle of the death of her sister, who was researching the planet. At no point did I even care if I solved this. And to my dismay, you don’t even have to for game completion. This, in my opinion, is fatal.
One of the best parts of the original was the crafting of vehicles. Below Zero offers a new submarine called the sea truck, and with it modules you can craft to assist you along your journey. Even though I crafted them all, I discovered that not a single one was needed to finish the story. Two additional vehicles are available to craft, and again neither need to be done for any reason. I’m not completely sure what the developers were thinking here, but they for sure missed the mark by including them and having “below zero” actual need for either.
Here is the bottom line, and it might be an unpopular opinion, especially knowing how much the Subnautica community loves this title. With a $30 price point, this title is just not worth it. The gameplay is basically identical to the original, with less than half the gripping storyline. It truly pains me to have to point out the failures of Below Zero, especially considering how much I loved the original.
As always I’m happy to debate the issues I’ve found with this game, you can click the jester banner below to find me on twitch, I go live 4-5 days a week and play a variety of games, all I ask is that we keep the debate classy. Until then, happy gaming to all.