Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Why I Think Subnautica is One of the Best Horror Games

Why I Think Subnautica is One of the Best Horror Games

By Casey Douglass


Subnautica


Subnautica is a game that I almost didn’t buy. I’d had an interest, then a disinterest, and then things seemed to align and I saw it on sale and picked it up. I knew the kind of game I was getting: a sci-fi water-based survival game with exploring and beasties. What I didn’t realise is that Subnautica would give me some of the best experiences of horror and awe that I’ve probably encountered. Which, as surprises go, was a most welcome one.

Subnautica
The life pod with the wreckage of the Aurora behind.
The game begins with a spaceship, the Aurora, plummeting through the sky, a life-pod splashing down in water and a nice bit of fire-extinguishing. Then the longer-term survival begins. Everything you need is scattered for miles around, the groaning, flaming Aurora blotting the horizon. You can’t stay long underwater before running out of oxygen. You also don’t have much equipment. Or food. Or drinking water. As situations go, it’s a grim one. But to paraphrase The Martian’s Mark Watney... ‘Fuck you water-planet!’

Subnautica
My Seamoth in the moon-pool
The early game is spent creating basic equipment, scavenging resources and scanning everything you
can find to see if it’s useful. Before long, you will have moved from your small life pod to a base of your own construction. You will create a mini-sub called a Seamoth, and you will likely have swanky things like battery chargers, food-growing beds and sonar. Sonar links to one of the first ways that the game wowed me.

Subnautica
Sonar revealing the terrain
As you might imagine, shallow water is easy to see through. As you explore, the sea-bed dips away from you into ominous looking darkness. You might catch sight of something lurking out there, or even hear the alien-cry of some vast predator. But it’s all shrouded in murk. It’s like looking into the abyss of space, but scarier in some ways, more personal and reachable, rather than infinite darkness. You know there is a bottom to it, where unseen things dwell and cavort and consume. Pinging your sonar reveals the secret of the contours around you, but fades moments later, like the ultimate tease.

Subnautica
My humble base
As you push on, scanning and discovering abandoned places, you get the chance to build a Cyclops, a larger submarine. When I finally built mine, I was amazed at the size of it. My base at the time had four rooms, a moon-pool (a snazzy underwater docking room) and various corridors, yet the Cyclops, while narrower, sat three stories tall and loomed next to it like a leviathan of my own making. I wasn't expecting it to be so big. When you turn the engine on it rumbles and purrs with a power that the tiny Seamoth can only dream of. Oh, and that Seamoth can drive up into the Cyclops’s bowels and dock, strapping itself in to come along for the ride.

Subnautica
My new Cyclops 'looming'
The thing is, and I don’t mind admitting it, I’ve barely taken my Cyclops ten yards. During the early game, I lost two Seamoths to things that latched on and tore them apart. I’m wary of my Cyclops meeting the same fate. Sure, I can build another one, given the time and resources, but right now, I find myself sat in a comfy zone of mild fear. I’ve carried on exploring with my Seamoth, even built the Prawn suit that enables the player to bound around like a little underwater mech, but the Cyclops sits and waits for me, wondering when I will feel the urge to go deeper.

I know there are bigger things out there, deeper darknesses swirling with creatures that, if provoked, would attack me and destroy me. I also know that the answers to the various mysteries around the planet, and my own survival, lie down there too. I can definitely sympathise with Bilbo Baggins sneaking into the Lonely Mountain. You want to go but you don’t. That’s where I am. And I’m enjoying it. I can dictate the pace, and stretch out the anticipation as long as I feel like it.

At the moment, I am scouring the safer areas for resources, enjoying my feeling of relative safety. Every time I come to one of those areas of extreme depth, I ping my sonar and watch the red grid slide down a previously unseen funnel, and not even come close to showing the bottom. I hear things roar and take heed of the depth warning coming from my craft’s A.I, and I know I will find out what is at the bottom soon.

Subnautica
Fresh underwear time.

I never expected Subnautica to cause the feelings to arise that it has so far. It’s a different kind of fear to that found in a game like Alien: Isolation or Outlast. They provide a more acute fear. Subnautica’s is a nagging unease that occasionally results in moments of panic-fuelled retreat and loss, but it is more seductive for that very reason.

If you like horror games and have not tried Subnautica, due to it not really looking like a horror game, take a closer look. Visit Unknown Worlds Entertainment here to view the official site.

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