Subnautica: Below Zero PS5 Review

June 15, 2021

About six or seven years ago I became absolutely addicted to survival games. At the time, I was living with friends who were also gamers, and we would regularly get our consoles or desktops running for some co-op survival action. As the survival fever died and we gradually gravitated back to other games, I went back to spending most of my survival time on my own. That meant there wasn’t as much of an emergent narrative happening, as our friendly self-made quests and goals dissipated. Instead, I began looking for more story focused survival experiences, with one in particular truly fitting the bill: Subnautica. With a surprisingly heavy emphasis on narrative and an underwater setting that was unlike any other survival game I had played, it hit the mark for me perfectly. A few years have passed since Subnautica released and now it’s time for the sequel, Below Zero, to take its place.

Subnautica: Below Zero is set two years after the events of the original game and opens with scientist Robin Ayou smuggling herself onto planet 4546B after sister Samantha died under circumstances ruled ‘employee negligence’ by her employer Alterra. Knowing her sister and not believing the reports, she’s brought herself to planet 4546B to perform her own investigation and gain some answers and closure. Much like its predecessor Below Zero focuses heavily on this plot to push the game forwards, so expect to come across plenty of cutscenes, audio logs and text entries across the planet. There’s still enough lack of direction at many points to push you to explore and investigate, stopping the narrative from becoming constricting, but I thoroughly enjoyed having a narrative thrust there to provide additional prompting and reward for my time. Much like the original game, it also goes to some interesting places, so you’ll have plenty to find and enjoy here.

Mechanically, much of Subnautica: Below Zero will feel instantly familiar if you played the original game. Just like in the past, you’re battling against your body and the planet in an effort to stay alive. That means capturing aquatic wildlife to make food and water, finding other resources to build technology and equipment, and exploring and scanning literally everything you can find to unlock new crafting recipes. There’s a clear progression to crafting in the game, as you initially have a relatively small repertoire of items you can create with the fabricator in your base, and you’ll unlock more complex and interesting ones as you progress. Many of those recipes are unlocked by exploring areas and finding data vaults or by scanning resources, creatures or scrap you find. That means there’s always a very clear reward for your efforts beyond just surviving, which certainly gave me extra reason to go out of my way to explore every nook and cranny.

Where Subnautica: Below Zero really differs from its predecessor is in its world and the implications that come with it. In the original game you basically spent the vast, vast majority of your time underwater. While that’s still largely the case here, there are also large land-based areas that you’ll explore on the freezing planet 4546B. What that does is introduce a whole new stat to manage: your temperature. As you emerge from the water and step foot onto the frozen landscape, your temperature will immediately begin dropping. You only have a short period of time before you freeze, so you need to look for environmental features that will help keep you warmed up and alive. There are caves, sheltered from the freezing cold, plant-like fronds with heating elements attached to them, consumable chillies and more that can be used to keep your out-of-water adventures going for longer. It’s an interesting new addition to the game, with the real benefit here being that you get the occasional break from being underwater and have some new scenery to explore. The added variety was something that I absolutely appreciated in my time with the game.

On a graphical level, Subnautica: Below Zero is good without being great. The game’s biggest strengths come from its art style, with colourful and light-producing elements working perfectly to offset the darkness of deep waters. There is plenty of bio-luminescence around and the game can genuinely look beautiful at the right spots in the ocean. On the planet’s surface, that’s far from true. While there are some interesting elements in caves – again typically when bioluminescence or colourful lighting is used – much of the surface is an empty, barren snowscape. While I certainly don’t expect my snow environments to be littered with colourful elements, I do typically want a bit more to offset the white snow-covered floors and grey cliffs.

Overall, Subnautica: Below Zero is another fantastic survival game from Unknown Worlds Entertainment. They’ve recaptured what made the original a great experience, with heapings of interesting narrative, a beautiful underwater world to explore and great lashings of survival and crafting. I would have appreciated a little more life being breathed into the overland world, given that is the biggest change from the previous game, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. Whether you’re a survival game fanatic or have been looking for one with a bit more narrative, this is the game for you.

Subnautica: Below Zero was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a review copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. For more information, check the official website.


- Plenty of interesting narrative
- Exploration is heavily rewarded
- Underwater areas can look beautiful
- Super solid gameplay mechanics


- Land-based areas don't look amazing
- Can be easy to sometimes get lost

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