Game: Subnautica: Below Zero
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam, Xbox, PS4 and PS5)
Developer|Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Age Rating: EU 12+ | US Everyone
Price: US $29.99 | UK £24.99 | EU € 24,99
Release Date: May 14th, 2021
Review code provided with many thanks to FortySeven PR.
Survival of the Gamers
The survival genre just seemed to explode in popularity over the last few years in the video game industry. For some reason, gamers seemed to find immense fun in monitoring thirst, hunger and sleep meters whilst trying to survive in difficult circumstances. I guess it’s more fun than doing it in real life. Well, Subnautica hit the eShop with a double whammy with its first game and its sequel Below Zero which I will be reviewing today. Let’s see if this underwater survival title is as cool as ice or below zero.
Crash Landed on You
Playing as Robin you crash land on the coldest part of planet 4546B or Sector Zero on a quest to find your sister. But it’s never as easy as picking up a phone. Nope, you gotta dive into the cold water looking for resources to craft useful tools which will help you find clues to your sisters’ whereabouts, these come in the forms of PDAs scattered around the world.
Not only that, but you also need to monitor your hunger, thirst, temperature and oxygen levels. Then there are also those giant sea monsters that sometimes just want to chase you and devour you, which makes for some heart-pumping moments. Unlike a lot of survival games Below Zero may appeal to people as it has a bit more purpose thanks to the main story mission driving you forward once you finish messing about of course.
The initial barrier to Below Zero may seem a bit steep to some gamers. The game doesn’t give you a whole lot of instructions on how the mechanics work. You’re just sorta dumped in the ocean where the only thing marked on your hud is an underwater base where you find you can craft food, water and tools. The game kinda just expects you to discover things for yourself like grabbing fish and taking them back to base to craft into food or water. Whilst also not hoarding too much food in your backpack as it will literally decompose.
I mean it was quite fun discovering this stuff but I can see it quite easily frustrating some folk. Once you craft some of the games main tools like a survival knife, a scanner and a mineral detector, things do start to fall into place and you make steady progress. The key to progression is exploration, the more you swim away from your base of operations, helpful waypoints will pop up to inform you of areas of interest. But you can go at your own pace and I felt no rush to complete the story, since just taking in the different locations was quite something.
An early niggle I did have is Robin runs out of oxygen far too quickly. So much of the initial game was me slowly swimming to the surface to replenish this over and over. You can expand your oxygen tank through crafting and even craft a tool that propels vehicles that get you around much faster. But initially, it feels very slow and tedious especially if you’re not familiar with survival games.
Performance and Looks
The performance on Switch was a lovely surprise. After observing footage of the original game I was expecting this to struggle on the Switch since it felt more suited to consoles and PC. There is after all a lot going on. Creatures are swimming all over the place, some cute, some pretty dangerous. There are also underwater plants majestically swaying in the water bringing life to the world. You also spend a lot of time on land in this adventure where things certainly take a turn for the cold.
There are some very impressive weather effects such as snow falling into the ocean. You’ll probably be glad you’re playing this from the warm comfort of your home. It’s all quite beautiful really and it performs impressively well on both TV and handheld. Of course, there are a few compromises, sometimes textures do pop in as well as objects in general which can take you mildly out of the experience. But at the end of the day to have a game this good looking, playing well on Switch is quite a victory for the developers.
Below Zero to me is a game I enjoyed in hourly bursts here and there. You can save absolutely anywhere, a function I wish all games just let you do. So if you are busy or need to desperately switch over to a game of Tetris 99 this is very helpful. If the survival meters are not your cup of tea, the game does offer multiple options where you can just switch that stuff off (like the hunger and thirst meters) and just enjoy the game as a nice exploratory zen-like experience.
Strangely the most fun I had with Below Zero was just swimming around in the ocean discovering new places and things to craft. The main story takes around 15 hours to finish but depending on how much you just want to mess around in the world that can increase exponentially. If you do find your own niggles in the game there is an option to give feedback to the developer as well as send a screenshot, which seems like a welcome feature for potential future patches.
Conclusion – Under the Sea
Subnautica: Below Zero is easily one of the best survival games I have played on Switch. Whilst a small initial barrier to entry, it’s hard not to get captivated by the world above and below the water.
If you haven’t been keen on survival games before this may not turn your head again. But if you’re looking for an underwater adventure like no other Below Zero is well worth going out in the cold for.
Final Verdict: I like it a lot