Subnautica: The Escape from 4546B

The Spoiler Warning

I feel the need to preface this post with a spoiler warning. I will be discussing the underwater-survival game known as Subnautica, from its nuances and weaknesses to its strengths and story. If you haven’t had the opportunity to play through this title, or haven’t seen someone else doing it this is your warning—I wouldn’t want to take away the magical experience of discovering the vast, beautiful, and absolutely terrifying world of Subnautica on Planet 4546B. You have been warned.

Introduction: Welcome to Planet 4546B

Subnautica is a game created by Unknown Worlds Entertainment in which the player explores an uncharted alien planet known as 4546B. The big difference between Subnautica and other open-world survival games is that 4546B is covered almost completely in water—and your exploration takes place within the depths unknown.

The early access version of Subnautica hit Steam in December 2014, with the full release coming much later in January 2018. I’ve personally had experience with the game since early access, and the progress made by Unknown Worlds Entertainment is magnificent—from the fauna you encounter to just how mystifying and fun (albeit, terrifying) it is to explore the vast world with tens of biomes, different resources to collect, and different challenges to conquer.

The Story of Subnautica and the Aurora

Subnautica starts aboard a transport ship called the Aurora, sent out to build a phasegate by the Alterra Corporation. During a slingshot maneuver around Planet 4546B, the Aurora gets struck by a mysterious energy pulse (which you later find out is a part of the Quarantine Enforcement Platform), resulting in a catastrophic failure and a crash landing on the surface of the planet. Before crash landing, many lifepods carrying several crew members of the Aurora get launched across the planets surface, including the one carrying you, the main protagonist.

After waking from your unconsciousness, you must start to build up resources and survive this vast, unknown planet. You begin with your lifepod being your only real place of safety, although the first biome is relatively free of things that will cause you trouble. As you discover the resources available in this first biome, you start to be able to construct your scanner, and oxygen tanks so you can explore further without running out of air, and you start to be able to venture into the next biomes, each with increasing size, and variety of flora and fauna.

Subnautica Early Access Loading Screen showing the Aurora as its crashing into 4546B's atmosphere A Subnautica loading screen showing the Aurora as it begins its crashing descent onto 4546B.

Subnautica has a total of four game modes currently: creative, freedom, survival, and hardcore. Creative mode allows the player to explore freely and asks them to manage no resources. It also turns off aggressive fauna, making it so even the scariest of creatures in the unknown pay you little attention. Freedom turns up the heat, making the player find sources of oxygen and health to keep them alive, while also managing energy for their base and systems (through batteries and generators), as well as hull integrity, or the health of the vehicles they craft. Survival adds hunger and thirst as additional resources to manage, while hardcore adds perma-death. Each game mode makes the gameplay almost drastically different, but the real change only comes in a time and resource-management aspect, as you will need to more frequently find food and water, or repair so you don’t get a dreaded perma-death.

By the time you start to explore these biomes, and your area of comfortable exploration increases, you begin to receive delayed distress signals from the other lifepods that crash landed when you did. Your character decides to task himself with visiting those lifepods to search for survivors, only to realize that he’s the only one left. Over the first several days, your Artificial Intelligence-driven PDA informs you of the degrading Aurora Engine, until its eventual explosion. This explosion causes the area surrounding the Aurora’s wreckage to be polluted with radiation, requiring additional resources to build a radiation suit to explore it.

Quest Accepted: Your Mission

Quest Accepted: Your MissionWhile exploring 4546B, you begin to see creatures with strange green growths on them. Then, after a self-scan you come to realize that you, too, are infected with this virus. After around ten days of exploration, you receive a signal from a rescue ship called the Sunbeam. They give you the coordinates of their landing point, and you venture toward one of the few landmasses on 4546B. Once on this island, you come across a weird, alien-looking structure, complete with green vein-like markings that appear to be some sort of power-flow. As the Sunbeam approaches, this structure animates and aims what you determine to be an energy gun directly at the Sunbeam, and shoots it out of the sky in front of you.

This is the point where you start to put two-and-two together. The Aurora was handed a similar fate when it got too close to the planet’s atmosphere and was shot down by the same structure. After exploring the planet for a while, and this structure, you come to realize both are part of a larger network of structures created by The Precursor Race to eradicate the very virus you are infected with, the Kharaa Virus.

Through logs you find and add to your PDA, you come to the conclusion that the Kharaa Virus is the reason that the energy cannon is active—it was meant to prevent other lifeforms from visiting 4546B and taking the Kharaa Virus with them when they leave. It was meant as a quarantine system, until the Precursor Race could find a cure to the virus. The Precursor Race inhabited 4546B approximately one thousand years before our story takes place.

A rendition of the Quarantine Enforcement Platform in offensive mode, ready to gun down anything that enters the atmosphere. A rendition of the Quarantine Enforcement Platform in offensive mode, ready to gun down anything that enters the atmosphere.

A highly advanced and ancient race, the Precursors originally came to 4546B to study the Kharaa virus, to stop it from completely destroying their race. These plans fail, and Kharaa is released onto 4546B, which ultimately lead to the downfall of the Precursors. Their work wasn’t in vain, however, as they created a species called a Warper from parts of other species from different planets in an effort to move all Kharaa-infected beings toward the containment facilities. They also created a ventilation system that vents oxygen-rich water to their main containment facility, along with venting Peepers around 4546B. Peepers are a species of fish trained to use this system of pipes to distribute Enzyme 42, the cure for the Kharaa Virus, throughout the planet. This is likely the reason any fauna still exists and lives healthily on 4546B.

When you reach the main containment facility, you discover a ton of data about the research and development the Precursor race was doing with Enzyme 42. You also become aware of the sole survivor of the Sea Emperor Leviathan class of fauna, which is the reason that the ventilation system is piping oxygen-rich water back to the primary containment facility. This leviathan can communicate telepathically and informs you that you must collect several different rare types of flora to create a hatching enzyme to help finish the Precursor research, and hatch the last five Sea Emperor Leviathan eggs in order to help them disperse Enzyme 42, something they produce naturally.

The main containment facility also contains portals to each major biome, allowing for much more efficient navigation of the vast planet. At this point in the story, you’ve also probably explored most of the available space in Subnautica, making these portals feel even better for navigation.

The Sea Emperor Leviathan—the final hope for eradicating the Kharaa virus and making it home. The Sea Emperor Leviathan—the final hope for eradicating the Kharaa virus and making it home.

Final Stretch and the Unknown Future

After hatching the Sea Emperor Leviathan eggs, the Sea Emperor Leviathan in the containment facility dies, as it is well over its expected lifespan and had one purpose: to make sure its species lives on. The newly-hatched babies travel through a portal with you to the Quarantine Enforcement Platform, with the energy cannon from before, and begin to release their enzyme into the ocean. You grab some of the enzyme to heal yourself and embark on your final mission: to shut down the Quarantine Enforcement Platform and build a rocket ship to escape 4546B. This is currently where Subnautica ends, although there is DLC Coming in 2019 that will expand this planet to have an Arctic Biome, and additional story content.

Subnautica is all about exploration and survival. You gather resources and use your scanner to unlock new patterns to further your research. From the Seaglide, which is a personal propulsion device that you use to travel at increased speeds, to the personal submarine known as the Seamoth, and even a submarine fit for an entire party known as the Cyclops, there are tons of vehicle patterns to unlock and build to allow you to travel deeper, and to better defend against the fauna, which is probably out to kill you.

Leviathan-Class Creatures

One of my favorite parts of the Subnautica universe is the fauna, specifically the Leviathan-class species that inhabit the planet. These are given their classification due to their size, with the smallest Leviathan measuring at just over 50m long, with the longest being the Sea Emperor at 160-200m in length. The first of these creatures you will probably encounter is the Reaper Leviathan, a huge eel-like creature with vicious mandibles used to grab onto you or your vehicle and take them for a ride through the ocean. These creatures patrol specific areas (including that around the Aurora crash site) and will only bother you if you’re in their patrol, and line of site. The rule of thumb with these sorts of creatures is if you can hear them, they can see you.

A Reaper Leviathan - the first Leviathan-Class creature encountered on 4546B—grabbing ahold of the player's Seamoth. A Reaper Leviathan – the first Leviathan-Class creature encountered on 4546B—grabbing ahold of the player’s Seamoth.

The Review

Subnautica does a lot of gaming well. From the audio cues to let you know if and where creatures are coming at you from, to the sense of urgency the recovered data logs give you, each moment in this universe makes you feel like you’re doing something great, even though it’s literally you against the world. Subnautica also facilitates a range of gameplay, from casual to downright terrifying, and can encapsulate the idea that each time you survive an encounter with some large, dangerous fauna it’s a huge victory.

I will note, that the weakest part of Subnautica comes when you reach the end-game content, or the last few missions. At this point, you are probably decked out in vehicles and gear and shouldn’t need to gather many more materials outside of the quest items. The game starts to feel like a glorified fetch-quest that is standard in many RPGs—go here and gather this, then come back for me to tell you to go somewhere else. The terrifying fauna feels a lot more trivial, especially when you have the Precursor portals to travel around the planet, and overall the endgame starts to feel drawn out and rather boring. This only pertains to the last 2-5 hours of gameplay, so don’t fret too much, but be aware that you will probably feel like the survival/exploration aspects of this game are diminished after you’ve…well…survived and explored basically everything.

Subnautica is a relatively hardware-intensive game, and I wouldn’t recommend playing it without a good PC. This world is absolutely beautiful and has tons of different flora and fauna to discover, with each and every element looking like a great part of a very cohesive world. Nothing feels out of place, except for the player character in this vast world of unknown. Because of this, it would be a disservice to play Subnautica without being able to utilize those high-end graphical settings.

Overall, Subnautica is one of my favorite games of all time, and definitely a top contender for 2018. They took the survival genre and did something completely different with it, and it worked out so well. Gameplay totals at least 40 hours in the first playthrough, with subsequent playthroughs only needing around 20 hours. The procedural map generation system is unique to Subnautica as well—the biomes are always in the same locations, but the things within the biomes are generated at random. This means that if you are aware of which biomes the unlocks are in, and how to navigate between them efficiently, the game becomes much easier.

Want to start your adventure on Planet 4546B? Looking to get a gaming computer set up to facilitate this? Reach out to the Armor Techs and let us help you get ready for this adventure. We’ll work with you and your budget to get your system up and running and ready to play!

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