Someone once somewhere (probably Steam forums) said that trifecta is what simpletons employ in arguments. With that boundless wisdom out of the way, long time no three, eh? Here’s Subnautica‘s three then.
Ever since the curtain came crashing down on Elite: Dangerous (fuck that game!) and No Man’s Sky (fuck that one, too, although maybe less?) revealing a bunch of trainee extras wielding carrots on sticks, I’ve been floating around Subnautica like a hungy shark (yeah, water life metaphors!), unsure it’d provide me with the much-needed fix. It’s when it made its first crawl stroke (told ya!) out of Steam’s Early Access earlier this year, I pounced (wait, sharks don’t… never mind). Needless to say, I was blown away by it.
It understands immersion
I’ve been a sucker for immersive experiences in video games ever since I can remember. I’m also very much aware that immersion may mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, it’s the virtual mechanical clickety-clack when interacting with a world that’s believable, and that is governed by incorruptible rules.
This, with the clickety-clack replaced by a progress bar or the world injected with some RNG nonsense, tends to go to hell very quickly in far too many games of late. In Subnautica, it never does, even when your interactions aren’t always presented with complicated first-person animations, even when you start questioning the near-magical 3D printer always at your disposal.
Tons upon tons of open world or survival games cut corners with procedural generation or RNG these days. I probably shouldn’t say ‘cut corners’ though. It makes the majority of those developers look like they know what they’re actually doing. Unknown Worlds steered away from all that lazy-arse bullshit that only creates, if anything, a disjointed illusion of an illusion of a cohesive world. The result of their decision is profound.
Subnautica‘s persistent world is, while still maintaing a sense of discovery and wonder, making sense at every turn. It is home to beautifully distinctive biomes, each serving its own purpose. Location actually matters in varying any potential tedium so much as effectively eliminating it, it shapes gameplay in meaningful ways no fucking algorithms can ever do. It’s absolutely sublime.
It doesn’t (have to) explain itself
This is as much about storytelling as it is about hand-holding. As for the former, it’s uncanny how little arbitrary cutscene exposition can Subnautica flow with. Pretty much all of the narrative here stands on finding and reading PDA logs. The original System Shock showed the world just how much does this simply work and Subnautica learned it well.
Then there is of course the fact that Subnautica doesn’t give you a map. It’s a decision as bold as it is insanely awesome. You’re only given straight directions to a few of the points where the plot unravels from or where the clues to get you started are. From then onwards, you’re on your own. No idiotic icon hunts, and even if collecting resources may be technically busywork, it seldom, if ever, feels mind-numbing or like a playtime padding.
And there you have it. As Subnautica approaches its already-guaranteed block ready to dive (oh, here we go again) into this year’s Race To GOTY, we eagerly await what else do Unknown World have in store for it. Also, one more whole weekend with it wouldn’t do us harm either wethinks.