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Games: Subnautica one of the most rewarding survival games you'll find

Subnautica – a land down under
Neil McGreevy

Subnautica (PS4)

By: Unknown Worlds

KICK-starting a late 80s craze for all things aquatic, James Cameron's The Abyss brought in tow a wave of seaborne sci-fi chicanery such as DeepStar Six and Leviathan. Though brief, the fad for swapping outer space and the ocean resurfaced in this year's PC oddity, Subnautica, which now makes its way to Sony's console.

A sub-aquatic sandbox that gamers shouldn't let slip through the net, Subnautica is a virtual deep-dive and one of the most rewarding survival games you'll find. As the only survivor from the Aurora, players find themselves all at sea on the planet 4546B, forced to scavenge and survive like a sodden cockroach in its Neptunian landscape.

Water-based shenanigans that make you work for every inch of progress, Subnautica is as beautiful as it is brutal, balancing serene, aquatic antics (complete with utterly intuitive swimming and diving controls) with a sense of dread. A game of briny exploration, survival comes from building your own base and crafting exotic tools, with its difficulty coming from being a juicy member of the food chain.

With lungs seemingly the size of grapes, first on the menu is an air tank. Cast your scavenging net further and you'll discover blueprints for new items and better gear, allowing you to really hit the depths, all the while ensuring your lungs and guts are well stocked.

While finding everything you need requires time and a certain amount of luck, there's also terror in the vast blackness of the deep. Davy Jones' locker plays host to all manner of bioluminescent beauties but plumb the depths and you'll face an ocean of pesky piscines ready to stuff their gizzards. The deeper you go, the more nightmarish those enemies become and you'll soon be praying for microplastics to choke the beggars.

Dropping players into the middle of nowhere, with zero guidance bar "survive", Subnautica's vagaries may frustrate gamers who just want to kick some fishy anus. The game's mechanics are initially bewildering, though once you find your sea legs, there's a massive oceanic playground to explore, and always some new resource to find, artefact to unearth or freaky-deaky creature to scan.

The sheer artistry on offer – with cracking sound and the kind of creature design that gives James Cameron wet dreams – belies the game's indie budget, though this is obviously stretched when things gets busy, with framerate hiccups and the kind of graphical pop-in rarely seen this century.

Still, that's no reason to sniff at a game with ambition by the gallon. Subnautica but nice, this curious blend of underwater survival shenanigans is well worth dipping your toe into – you won't want to come up for air.

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