Subnautica: Below Zero

Icon - Calendar Released: 14 May 2021
Icon - Edited Reviewed: 23 May 2021
Platform: PC

Subnautica below zero

This review contains no plot spoilers, but mentions mechanics and items you may not want to know about if you want to go in completely blind.

Subnautica was one of my all time favourites. Thankfully with it's huge success, the team have taken everything they learned and produced an even more special game with a larger budget. Everything from Subnautica is improved. If you enjoyed the first one at all, this is an absolute must-buy. I played Subnautica 4 times (which is ridiculously rare for me), most recently 2 weeks before Below Zero came out to remind myself. This review is, as always, a simple list of good and bad, with the addition of what I noticed changing from the first game.

Improvements over Subnautica

  • The main counter in the bottom left that was always oxygen before now switches between oxygen and temperature, depending on situation
  • The main character is voiced, and there are loads more voiced PDA entries
  • Everything is crisper; text, menus, resolution of the PDA, graphics etc
  • Hugely improved graphics in every way. Higher res textures, more detail, more animations, better lighting. Creatures like the Peeper and Bladderfish are back again, look way better and have really nice animations. They really wobble around now rather than just moving around in the water. Reflections on glass surfaces are really well done
  • The surface of the water now has ice in some places, so you can't just swim upwards all the time. There's also a lot more cave systems, which make the map view of the Seaglide invaluable
  • You can pin recipes so you don't have to keep them in a text file to remind yourself
  • The view distance/mechanics have been much improved. You can see further, and there's practically no texture pop-in anymore
  • There's a weather system. Blizzards, fog, hail etc all make the world feel more alive. And when it's hailing heavily, you can see the stones plopping into the water and sinking slightly if you're just under the surface
  • You can run with the flashlight, without putting it away (minor, but it was annoying in the first game)
  • Some food can give you health
  • Items with durability or a countdown now show that in a line next to their icon in the inventory. Things like how long until food rots, or how much oxygen is left in a tank
  • Icons now appear at the sides of the screen instead of only when they're onscreen (like nav beacons and your vehicle). This makes it WAY easier to get an immediate feel for where things are around you
  • The air bladder doesn't just propel you up, it can also be used to extend your oxygen supply once per dive
  • The Seaglide now has dedicated controls for turning the map and light on/off independently instead of toggling through multiple settings with one button
  • Things like gold/silver/lead now have their own nodes instead of being random drop chances from the same node, so you don't have to break ones you don't need
  • Enamelled glass doesn't need RNG shark's teeth anymore
  • The Prawn suit has a 'forward thrust' jet instead of only upwards, making it MUCH more useful for getting around

Pros

  • The introduction sequence is really well done. Actually, throughout the game, all the interactive cutscenes and big plot sections are well done
  • Blueprints from the first game are introduced within the first couple of hours to get you back up to speed, then there are also plenty of new ones throughout the game
  • Runs really well
  • Beautiful, unique eggs for every species
  • New vehicles
  • Land exploration is done much better than the first game, adding a cold mechanic. This makes land exploration another survival mechanic, and offers an interesting break from water exploration
  • Great voice acting
  • Lots of sections are designed to allow you to free dive more easily, with oxygen plants and vents
  • There are some really great set pieces to explore
  • Far more decorations and base building elements
  • More story sections than the first game
  • More plants to grow in the gardens. They've removed the medical kit fabricator, but you can grow plants that restore health & heat

Cons

  • The maximum depth is significantly less than Subnautica and in general the map feels much smaller. That's a con, but the map itself is way more detailed than the first game. It feels like everything is interesting and there for a reason, and there are very few big flat sections with nothing in them
  • There are still only 5 hotbar slots (presumably to accommodate consoles). I'd like 10 to use my keyboard so I don't have to keep swapping inventory items to slots
  • Below Zero has got rid of the orange/purple tablets, but has the same problem where it takes you an hour to get somewhere, only to realise you're missing one key item and have to go all the way back to base and come back to continue progressing
  • I never found the second part of the [redacted] upgrade. Getting around with lots of modules is a huge chore without that so I ended up just travelling with the Seatruck cabin
  • I reached a point where I'd visited all the markers and explored everything I was aware of, and was still missing a plot item. With absolutely no idea where to go, I ended up looking at a walkthrough, which pointed me to somewhere I'd already been and missed something
  • In some areas, there's basically nothing you can do to stop getting attacked by a leviathan, as they will come at you from any distance, and you can't hide. Which makes it an annoying game of get eaten, get out and repair, get eaten, repair
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