Subnautica Below Zero: Game Review

Subnautica Below Zero is an amazing game by Unknown Worlds. I do not say this lightly, as I am very hard to please, especially when it comes to modern games. I like my pixelated retro games, and I’m not too fussed when it comes to graphics. Subnautica Below Zero is a wonderfully beautiful game, however and the gameplay is absolutely enchanting. In this review there are going to be some whopping great spoilers, so if you just want to dive into it, I rate Subnautica Below Zero as a solid 8/10. It has everything you could want from a game where you’re on an alien world, except multiplayer. If the Subnautica Series was multiplayer, well… I don’t think I’d play anything else with my close friends. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite characters, taking you through the trailer. 

Subnautica Below Zero has been given a bad rap by some for it’s story, yet I am actually a great fan of what Unknown Worlds has done with the worldbuilding of the game. In short, I loved Below Zero so much that I’d normally get stuck into glossing over how amazing it is. Instead I’ll start off by mentioning two of the things I really hated about the game.

Firstly, whilst the idea of Robin containing the data of AL-AN is a great idea, and makes a lot of sense to me, I didn’t like the ending and departing from the planet.

Secondly, I really, really loved Marguerite Maida in the first game in her conversations with the Torgal family, but I was not a fan of her interactions in Below Zero for the most part – however, they did in a storytelling element make sense. It just goes to show that too much of a good thing can be… A bad thing. It’s the same sort of effect River Song in Doctor Who had on me. Too much River and I didn’t want anymore, but there she was. In Below Zero, she’s a great character, but physically, she didn’t need to be there as it made the game feel less isolated. 

The environments and artwork were, as with the first game stunningly beautiful, and I was very impressed by what Unknown Worlds achieved there, however what I liked even more about Subnautica Below Zero was the history of what transpired on the planet, and in particular, the way they handled sexuality within the game. Unknown Worlds Entertainment support a variety of organizations who fight forjustice and social equality, which they talk about in the jobs section of their website, and I think that their entire team does an amazing job. To that end, they introduced some very bold concepts in Below Zero that I could never have expected – Whilst many games focus on what have become known as LGBT characters. They are usually exceedingly one dimensional, however Unknown Worlds has made their sexuality just a trait that characters share, and doesn’t overly indulge in making every character an overpowered mary sue. In particular two relationships stood out in this regard:

Firstly, and most obviously, the relationship between Danielle Valenti and Samantha Ayou. The relationship starts off flirty, fun and enjoyable. Later on, Danielle is clearly shown trying to manipulate Samantha by telling her she loves her and demeaning her. This is incredibly toxic and Samantha later talks about her regrets in her voicemail to her sister. 

Secondly, Emmanuel Desjardins has an offworld relationship with a man called Davide. Emmanuel, or Manu as he likes to be known seems to enjoy the idea of a long distance relationship, but he doesn’t seem closed off to starting a relationship behind his partner’s back, as seen when he flirts with Fred LaChance, which makes Fred uncomfortable. Emmanuel is shown to be manipulative, cold and not easy to trust. He also appears rather narcissistic.

The bold move to have two of the main villains in the background history of the storyline be gay, manipulative and fault ridden, was an incredibly bold move by unknown worlds, beautifully executed in just a few short clips of dialog, and this is what makes the company shine.

So many games and television programs these days portray people as “This person is gay, this is their entire personality, they are awesome, overpowered and badly written.” Usually these characters in games and films seem to be written by people who seem to be ‘pro social justice’ but generally lack any contact or connection with LGBT people. They follow the ropes and make characters that cannot be seen as possibly offensive out of fear of backlash. They become separated from the other ‘flawed’ people in the story, and usually ‘flawed people’ are what make a story good. I see it normally as disappointing factor, because why shouldn’t someone who’s gay or transgender have the right to be a good character? 

Unknown Worlds looks at these characters moreso in the context of “This is a person, this is their life, they just happen to be gay.” In a world in which a company seeks to unite others, I can think of no nobler way than to show people as being human at the very core, and rather than have religion or sexuality being the core of the character, it’s just one of the traits a person can have. This is inclusion, this is storytelling and this is not alienating. This is what integration should be about and they do it so brilliantly!

Samantha Ayou is an incredible character, probably being the closest thing to a Mary Sue in the game, as she goes on to foster a friendship with Marguerite and develop a cure for the virus. But even she doesn’t manage to survive, and its’ your job to find out what happened. Even though she would in most cases be classified as an overpowered Mary Sue, the fact she doesn’t survive is brilliant. She also has regrets, she suffers, and she ultimately achieves many, but not all of her goals, making her incredibly tragic and a heroine we can root for!

In Below Zero they have created some of the most beautifully human characters that I have enjoyed in my journey through the frozen seas. These are just two of the amazing characters in Subnautica Below Zero. How can one not love Parvan – the brilliantly flawed and broken man, who pretends to have it together, living a life of regret at a post he doesn’t enjoy. Then we have my ultimate hero from sub zero: Fred LaChance. Fred is the man we saw in the trailer, an absolute legend who puts his life on the line on a daily basis driving his sea truck around. He puts his job on the line trying to help his friends running personal errands, and he also has a luxurious mustache, and a grooming kit you can find in the game. Fred is without doubt one of the best characters I have enjoyed in a game for a very long time because of the way he interacts in the voice recordings. I especially enjoyed him being hit on by Emmanuel during being told off.

Then we have the crew of the Mercury II which crash landed on the planet beforehand… I could spend all day going into how much I enjoyed the dialog of the crew. Their hopes and dreams utterly shattered. Both heartbreaking and beautifully written.

Overall, Unknown Worlds has really impressed me both with Subnautica and Below Zero. I originally bought Subnautica when it was in early beta, and my computer couldn’t handle it. Years later, playing both Subnautica and Below Zero, all I can say is that they have created a pair of masterpieces which I have thoroughly enjoyed, and that’s more than I can say for most things. Their work to bring people close together in the world is a truly noble cause and I hope they will make fantastic games for many years to come. I only wish, I wish SO MUCH that these games were multiplayer.

Alex O’Neil

I am the CEO of Ramro Synergy LTD, an up and coming digital synergy firm based in the UK. I work as a blogger, SEO specialist and Web Designer, and my hobbies include making small films and writing music.