1026789 13

Subnautica Review – Surviving A Whole New World Of Aquatic Wonder

by David Jagneaux • January 26th, 2018
Platforms: Rift (reviewed) and Vive

- Incredible sense of immersion
- Beautifully detailed underwater world
- Deep, rewarding survival and crafting systems
- Massive amount of content to do and see


- Head tracking only, no motion controllers
- Menus and some mechanics not optimized for VR well
- Feels a bit scattered and aimless at times

Survival games feel like the perfect genre for VR to take over next. I’ve written about this before, but the sense of sheer immersion in a strange, new world accompanied with the isolation and loneliness that often pervades the atmosphere would couple so well with a VR HMD that it feels like a no-brainer. A handful of games have adapted their content for headsets, such as The Solus Project, but not many.

Subnautica by Unknown Worlds is a game that first started experimenting with VR support about two years ago and has been in Early Access for a very, very long time on Steam. Throughout all of those years it has slowly incorporated more and more updates, expanded its scope, introduced new features, and ironed out issues on a consistent and reliable basis. For the most part, Subnautica is a prime example of how a developer should treat an Early Access game — even if the VR support could be a bit better.

If you’ve played any modern “survival” games then you’ll understand the core premise in Subnautica. You’ve crash-landed on a strange, alien ocean world with nowhere to go but underwater. Between managing your oxygen supply, gathering resources, and slowly crafting the gear you need to venture deeper and deeper. You’ll even build out entire sea floor bases complete with dwellings and sea pods for vehicle-based exploration.

Subnautica is the type of game that takes over mind and won’t let go. It’s addictive in the kind of way Minecraft was when it first hit the scene and offers so much to do and so much to see that you’ll want to keep going “for just a little longer” in the hopes that you’ll find something new and exciting around the next crop of coral reefs. It’s a beautiful game full of fantastical sea creatures and grand, aquatic vistas. Why we don’t have more games in this vein that take place beneath the surface is a great mystery.

One of Subnautica’s greatest surprises is just how interesting the world around you is. While other survival games, such as Rust, seem content with letting the world serve as nothing more than a blank canvas, the team at Unknown Worlds took their studio’s title literally and crafted a bizarre, strange planet worth exploring.

Which then leaves us with the issue of the actual VR support itself. As of the time of this writing it’s only head tracking. This means that the camera follows your head’s movement instead of being tied to the mouse like usual. That means you have to play with either a keyboard and mouse or gamepad, no motion controllers.

That isn’t a huge issue — lots of great VR games don’t use motion controllers — but it’s a larger problem because of the lack of attention paid to other elements in the game.  For example, many of the menus and HUD items are distorted, too close to your face, or just stretched out and cut off due to poor VR placement. Some items even block your view entirely. A lot of these issues were present in the Early Access version for several months and now even after the game is officially “released” they remain unfixed.

Since the VR market is still so tiny headset users probably make up a very small fraction of this game’s player base so I doubt the VR issues are at the top of their list of things to keep working on, but hopefully they get ironed out over time because the game itself, the quality of the visuals, and the sense of foreboding isolation is so potent that it’s a tragedy to see it mired by minor compatibility issues.

Final Score: 7.5/10 – Very Good

Subnautica is a very, very, very good game for fans of the survival genre. There is a near endless deluge of things to do and see and a vast, dangerous ocean to explore. It’s not uncommon to alternate between sheer dread and speechless wonder as you make your through this underwater wonderland. However, lackluster VR support and an overall density problem in terms of complexity and lack of direction at times hold Subnautica back from true greatness.

Subnautica is now available for download on Steam for Rift and Vive at the price of $24.99, with a 10% launch discount bringing it down to $22.49 until 01/30/18. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

Tagged with: ,

What's your reaction?
  • sebrk

    Wanted to like this game but without proper controller support I’m returning it. 🙁

  • fuyou2

    No Motion Controller Support? Are you kidding… FUYOU2

  • DeeHawk

    Been playing this game seated on Vive for almost 100h over the last year.

    This is my favourite VR game to date, and I wouldn’t ever play it with anything else than a regular gamepad. It works really well, and the Vive wands tend to… well, they tend not to work very well for these types of games..

    With that said, the performance on VR is horrible, even on a 980Ti I can’t get a stable experience on low settings. (Last tried in EA in December, I hope they improved it a bit with 1.0)

  • Apolysus

    Honestly I think that water games are among the best of VR content. It might sound funny but the limited view angle and slight blur makes me feel more immersed since this way it looks as if I’m really wearing diving goggles!

  • Gonzalo Novoa

    I will get it when they fix the hud and add touch support.

    • DeeHawk

      The HUD for VR was fixed in a december update.

      Also the game plays fantastic on a gamepad, I can’t see why people insist on using tracked controllers for these titles. You don’t have VR hands anyway, and there’s almost no aiming. (I hate head aiming with guns as well) It’s a regular FPS style game without weapons, and it will never become anything else.

      • Gonzalo Novoa

        I disagree about the HUD, it is far from fixed. When you look at the menus they are right there in front of your face and the icons should be in the corners of the screen.
        As for touch controllers I don’t have any problem playing with a controller but it is a simple question of convenience. For a pad I need to plug in the adaptor whereas touch controllers just work without needing any extras and they are also far more comfortable. That and the fact that many people do not even have a controller.

        • DeeHawk

          Oh well, it was hard to decipher your actual opnion from “fix the hud” alone. I still don’t know what you mean, I don’t have any major issues beyond performance. Before, you couldn’t even see your Health, Hunger and O2. Now THAT was unplayable.

          About your comfort sitiuation, I believe there’s a whole lot more people with gamepads, even wireless gamepads for PC, than there’s people with Rift Touch controllers. I simply see no reason why they would implement any support for Touch controllers when tracking is gonna be skipped anyways.
          Remember VR players are a minority in this game, Rift owners even more so.

          • Gonzalo Novoa

            Well, that is true, probably but I am only interested in playing the game in VR and that’s why I don’t like it the way it is now. The HUD is wrong for a few reasons, the most important being that I can’t even read certain messages that appear on screen since they are out of the field of vision. I know they are there because I can’t see there is some text but it’s impossible to read them and if you move your head up the text moves along so you can’t read it.

            I know there are more people with gamepads, I have two 360 pads plus ps4 and more, it is not a problem for me as I said but since I mostly play in VR now I still ned to plug in the wireless adaptor if I want to use them and I’d rather not have to do it. It’s not a big deal, not for me, but it is for people who do not have a gamepad (everyone who was not a player and jumped into vr with the Rift bundle won’t get a gamepad) and in all honesty, I don’t think implementing Touch support (working as a gamepad) would be that hard. I am not talking about implementing motion controls, just Touch as a gamepad.

            Funnily enough the game’s performance is very good for me and it looks gorgeous. That’s why the hud bothers me so much, I really want play it.

  • Hankyeol

    75/100 is way too low isn’t it? This game definately deserves 85-90

  • Justin Lavoie

    7.5 for very very very good game?

  • Wyrd

    Any chance this comes to PSVR someday?

    • After the VRWorlds underwater tank level, I really need Subnautica for the PSVR!