Three years after the release of the first installment and several months of early access, Subnautica Below Zero is finally here in its full version. What is the sequel of the alien deep sea survival game worth?
In Subnautica Below Zero, we find the familiar planet 4546B, on which our heroine Robin will fail. Her unofficial mission is to investigate the circumstances of the death of her sister, Sam. She suspects in particular Alterra, the trans-governmental organization for which the two young women work, of hiding certain elements concerning her death and on the latest experiments in progress. After a breathless and rhythmic first cutscene, the tone of the game is set. You have the heavy (very heavy) responsibility of surviving in icy and hostile lands while trying to find a starting point for your investigation. As in the previous installment, the emphasis is on survival in the most primitive way possible: you have to monitor your hunger, thirst, temperature, oxygen and your health points.
We therefore find here the same style of play as before, which should delight fans of the first Subnautica. Thereby, Below Zero is also widely affordable for those who have not played the first game. The title even has four different game modes that allow it to adapt to the desired difficulty and experience desired by each player. Note all the same that the two modes taking into account hunger and thirst are by far the most demanding in terms of gameplay, survival here really taking precedence over the plot. Otherwise, the game is fairly balanced and there are not too many external dangers.
A successful narrative whose importance is underestimated
This leaves plenty of room for exploration and, to a lesser extent, for storytelling. Subnautica presents a rich and dense open world, especially in the depths of the oceans. The fauna and flora display bright and shimmering colors, and both animal and plant species are of rare diversity. We can also highlight the efforts of Unknown Worlds which tries to do it justice with graphics at the height of an excellent independent game studio. As long as we take the time to explore it, the world offers us some riches and the exploration system is far from punitive. On the contrary, the rewards are felt very quickly, the discovery of the craft plans resulting directly from your findings and your previous craftings. Thanks to your small arsenal, you will be able rather quickly to explore more distant lands and survive more and more easily. However, we often wonder why we are doing all of this.
Indeed, the frame of Below Zero is really interesting, but absolutely not put forward. The game offers very few cutscenes and dialogue, the bulk of the storytelling being found in Alterra’s writings and data unearthed all over the open world. Collecting these items is optional, so some of the plot can quickly escape the player. And yet, the conspiracy theory surrounding Sam’s death, as well as Alterra’s actions, is a plot that works well and is rife with suspense. But, as sometimes happens in the game, the lack of guidance has caused us to go astray more than once (both literally and figuratively). However, further thoughts out loud could have been enough to direct certain moments that have become empty and where one has the impression of going in circles due to a lack of clues.
Frequent execution faults
If the part between the game of survival and the game of exploration is generally well respected, it is less so with regard to other aspects of the game. Below Zero incorporates many of the faults of its predecessor, which we would have hoped to see disappear or improve. For example, day / night cycles are problematic because they prevent uniform exploration, which breaks the rhythm. At night, the title becomes very dark, which interrupts any productive research. This can quickly become disturbing, knowing that the cycles repeat themselves far too quickly to be able to really progress at your own pace.
The game is seen in the third person, a perspective that may put off some and appeal to others. If the realistic side of the game uses it wisely, this gameplay is still a bit complicated to handle. It is always difficult to know if you can jump or not in a place, the vision of the horizon is quite limited and it is often difficult to swim on the surface of the water the first time. As for the creative mode, which frees itself from any law concerning survival, it is not a real asset for the game. It ironically leaves little room for the imagination and has little of added value. In this mode you have all the tools, equipment, and plans in addition to unlimited resources. However, the style of furniture to be used is very limited, time cycles are always present, and it does not allow for great follies or possibilities, with the player remaining siled on the hostile planet of 4546B anyway. Suffice to say that with this mode we quickly made the tour of everything there to see and do.