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Subnautica: Below Zero Is Great For Fans, Confusing For Others

Subnautica Below Zero Menu Title
Courtesy of Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Subnautica: Below Zero

Release Date: May 14, 2021
Available as: Digital and Physical

Subnautica: Below Zero Crosses Uncharted Territories

Subnautica: Below Zero is one of those games where players will need to take their time with understanding what it is the game allows you to do, as well as what the game wants you to do. At certain times, video games are guilty of “holding your hand” through a lot of the story to the point where it feels like an interactive movie rather than a game in which you explore your surroundings. Below Zero is way on the opposite side of that spectrum, absolutely refusing to tell you more than what the protagonist already knows arriving at a foreign location which is absolutely nothing.

The PS5 offers improved visuals compared to the PS4 and Switch counterparts, running at a solid framerate in Performance mode while doing little to deviate from the colorful and impressive graphics. For a Unity engine game, the game pushes the engine to the limits as vivid colors flourish and pop in high fidelity. In “Quality” mode, this is made clearer as realistic shadows and anti-aliasing make the game feel more realistic while keeping its cartoon atmosphere. 

Penguin Gameplay Underwater
Subnautica: Below Zero - PlayStation 5 Direct Capture

Performance Takes A Dip In Some Aspects

Unfortunately, even under “Quality” mode, the game’s framerate starts to dip to the point where it’s best to keep it under “Performance” mode. I preferred the latter visually as it appeared brighter than the “Quality” mode, although I saw what they were going for with the usage of post-processing. 

The moment the protagonist lands on Planet 4546B, Robin is left to nothing more than a rescue pod, complete with various necessities including storage and a crafting table, as well as her suit which has basic levels of oxygen. The game encourages you to explore the area surrounding her, while also being mindful of their surroundings. Things that need to be micromanaged, including oxygen levels, hunger, thirst, and temperature status, also add to the challenge. Fortunately, wildlife is abundant, including fish and edible plants, for Robin to harvest and transform into food to alleviate said problems. 

Subnautica: Below Zero Underwater
Subnautica: Below Zero - PlayStation 5 Direct Capture

Micromanage And Survive Under The Sea

Players will have to be mindful of the various types of edible organisms as some may sate their hunger while also leave players lacking thirst at the same time. Converting the fishes into water will help with hydration, but that will also lead to a lack of sustenance, forcing the player to decide which of the two is more important. You can also craft helpful equipment from the wildlife, including a combat knife and upgrades to Robin’s equipment, making her journey across the unknown planet go smoothly in the process.

Below Zero does not hold your hand, it requires the player to take risks for the plot to go anywhere and to figure out the mystery behind the death of your sibling. Fortunately, the environment is beautiful to grasp as the vibrant colors of the wildlife flourish underwater. Conversely, the frigid icecaps on the surface show how treacherous mother nature can be, with thunderstorms and blizzards happening at any given notice.

Players who feel overwhelmed in not knowing what to do can take solace in the various game modes that Below Zero has to offer, including a “Creative mode” which allows players to build their world without the worry of finding resources or monitoring Robin’s health. There’s also a hardcore mode in which upon player death, the game automatically ends and the save file gets deleted.

Subnautica: Below Zero Gameplay
Subnautica: Below Zero - PlayStation 5 Direct Capture

Subnautica: Below Zero Is Confusing In Its Endgoal

While the game is very beautiful to look at, I found the type of game on the slow side. From looking at reviews, its prequel, Subnautica was worse with its pacing to the point where it was uncertain exactly what it was the player had to do to progress the plot. If I felt lost in playing Subnautica: Below Zero, I could only imagine what the original was like. 

Perhaps it’s also the result of me nitpicking as I feel there’s a point of “too much open world-ness.” Giving the player the freedom to do whatever they wish is a fine selling point, but leaving players lost without much of a way to understand what their next objective is can make the game feel more akin to underwater Arctic Minecraft than the story-driven experience that Below Zero wishes to be.

Subnautica: Below Zero is now available on the PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Switch.

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