Subnautica: A “Broken” Masterpiece

Always on the lookout for good sales on digital games, easily the best deal I ever got was when I downloaded Subnautica for free, thanks to PlayStation’s whole “Play at Home” program.  Having already seen Youtuber 8-BitRyan play the game online, I never really intended on playing Subnautica for myself, as awesome as it looked.  But I simply couldn’t pass up such a great opportunity.  Now that I have (almost) finished the game, I can say that Subnautica is easily one of the greatest games I’ve ever played…and also one of the most flawed.

The basic premise behind Subnautica is simple to follow.  You crash land in the ocean of an alien planet.  Starting with nothing but your lifepod, you begin exploring your new, hopefully temporary, home, gathering materials and scanning everything you can find for blueprints.  There’s nothing more satisfying than becoming increasingly fit for survival on this harsh alien world, as you gain better gear and even various vehicles, which will allow you to travel farther and farther away from the safety of your lifepod.

The amount of freedom in this game is amazing.  You have an enormous ocean to explore with various unique biomes with their own flora and fauna.  Eventually, you’ll even be able to build your own seabase.  While the mere notion of building myself a base, absolutely anywhere I chose, was rather overwhelming at first, a time finally came when I decided I was ready to build myself a proper home beneath the waves.

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent working on this thing.  It started out as a simple room with all my basic tools and some storage and quickly expanded from there.  I built a dedicated storage room (and a bonus one in case I needed it), two moonpools for my Seamoth and Prawn, and so much more.  I had a room for my water filtration machines.  And even a bioreactor for emergency power when my solar panels weren’t able to keep up with my energy needs.  I even had an indoor garden, paving the way for a fully vegetarian diet now that I no longer had any need to catch fish.

The Duck's Subnautica Seabase
Welcome to my sweet abode!

Becoming self-sufficient was a big deal for me and made me feel that much less vulnerable in such a hostile environment.  Strangely enough, however, that was another thing I really loved about this game.  How vulnerable you were.  There are three kinds of hostile Leviathans in this game (along with a handful of smaller predators), and while I think you can technically kill them, it’s very difficult.  Plus, why would I want to?  Part of the fun was avoiding these beasties.

I remember the time I was minding my own business by the Aurora.  I hear a roar, and I look over to find a Reaper swimming straight for me, unsuspecting as I was in my Seamoth.  Pure instinct kicks in, and I dodge it by going perpendicular, after which I ducked down and hid in a crevasse until I knew it was safe.

Oh, and there were the multiple fires I had to contend with in my Cyclopes due to Ghost Leviathan attacks.

Video from YouTube User: Virtual Bastion

Yes, I would consider these moments among some of the highlights of my experience.  To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride as I grew accustomed to the challenges this game had to offer.  I was quite proud of the fact that I never died from lack of food, water, or oxygen (as far as I remember…).  I fondly remember the time that I was able to recover my Cyclopes after near certain doom.  And let’s not forget the biggest success of all…how I was able to get over my initial terror of the ocean.  Open water, deep water, and the aggressive creatures that lurked within.  By the end, I had become quite courageous, if I do say so myself.  But there was one thing remaining that still scared me.

The crashes.

Reaper Leviathan grabs my Seamoth
I mean, I guess this is pretty scary, too…

It’s really a shame that this game also happens to be one of the most “broken” I’ve ever played.  I mean, broken is a bit of a strong word, as most of the game’s copious issues weren’t really a big deal.  Sometimes textures look pixelated for a few moments.  Pop-in is a very noticeable issue when approaching the two islands or a forest of kelp.  And short-lived freezes are commonplace, as well.  Also, never beach your Seamoth, or there’s a good chance it will fall through the ground and become completely impossible to retrieve.  That’s right, the game is just so good that I’m largely okay with all of these nuisances.

But the crashes, though.  I think I had a good 50 hours invested in the game when they started.  Towards the end of my playthrough, every several saves resulted in a crash.  The first time it merely kicked me out to the PS4 home screen and lost me maybe 15 minutes of progress.  The second time it happened, the PS4 turned off completely.  Turning it back on gave me an error code which relates to corrupted data.  Further research informed me that many people have save crashes with Subnautica, particularly after building the Cyclopes, which I had recently done.

Naturally, seeing my PS4 shut down on its own was quite startling, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to play Subnautica since.  Who knows if my save file is even still there, as it is another common issue for the game to corrupt save files entirely.  Frankly, I was both disappointed to quit the game so close to finishing it and simultaneously relieved.  The game had been nothing but bad luck for me (I was recording it for Youtube, and I had no shortage of technical problems with my capture card while playing this game, as well), and part of me was glad I could finally give myself permission to just leave the game unfinished and save myself the stress of worrying about the next issue that might arise.

Oh, but when I allow myself to dwell on the amazing time I had with this game, my heart once again breaks with the memory of what I had lost.  I was so very close to finishing the game, and I was really proud of the seabase I had built.  I just can’t understand why the developer didn’t fix these issues.  It’s been a couple years since the game came out, and now they’ve released the sequel, Below Zero, so it seems the chances of Subnautica’s many problems being resolved are quite slim at this point.

The Prawn
Farewell, Prawn Suit, I hardly knew thee

As you might have guessed, I can’t help but feel rather peeved about the whole thing.  Throughout my playthrough, I would occasionally get a little message on the side of the screen requesting feedback.  And while I am well aware that it is commonplace for games to have issues patched after release nowadays, there is still no excuse for Subnautica’s issues, especially since they have not been patched.  Why, Unknown Worlds, are you asking me for feedback?  The problems with your game have already been widely reported at this point.  What more can I say to convince you to fix this?

Nevertheless, I still must recommend Subnautica.  I love this game.  That’s what makes the problems all the more aggravating.  If it was a cruddy game, I would just say, “Don’t bother.  This game isn’t worth the trouble.”  But it is worth the trouble, even as I had to decide with a heavy heart that I couldn’t risk killing my poor PS4 just for one solitary game.  I had joked at one point that the game was cursed.  This idea didn’t remain funny for long because it started to come too close to the truth.  I can only hope against hope that a more stable version of the game will be made available one day.  And if this ever happens, I will be more than happy to give the game another chance.

This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on August 31, 2021.

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