Review – Subnautica: Below Zero

When I first heard about Subnautica: Below Zero, I thought it was going to be some kind of DLC for the original game. Which was fine considering it was one of the best titles I played in 2018, not to mention one of the best survival games ever made, period. Later on, people started mentioning this was a sequel, but others were calling it a spin-off… while some other people were saying it was a standalone expansion. What the hell was Subnautica: Below Zero supposed to be then?

Subnautica: Below Zero Penguin

You can pet these weird penguins. I mean, I wouldn’t, but you can.

Thankfully, it’s a full sequel to the original, with a brand new map and storyline. You’re still trapped in the planet known only as 4546B, which is comprised of a massive ocean and sparse bits of land, but instead of landing near its equator, you have the arduous task of surviving after crashing near the planet’s arctic region. That means that the surface of the planet is as deadly as the bottom of the ocean. The former might provide you with all the oxygen you need, but you’ll die of hypothermia in a few moments if you don’t seek shelter or jump into the warm(er) ocean.

Just like in the original Subnautica, you need to constantly swim to the surface as your initial breathing apparatus is downright terrible. You’ll start off with a mere capsule-like shelter and a handful of items at your disposal. You’ll need to explore your vicinities in order to collect resources which will allow you create new tools, pieces of equipment, and later on, your own habitat. Just like in the original game, you will spend dozens of hours creating your dream sealab in Subnautica: Below Zero. There are a handful of new modules to connect to your lab, as well as tons of furniture you can create to decorate it in a way to make it feel more like home.

Subnautica: Below Zero Habitat

Home sweet home. Sure, not the greatest achievement in architecture, but I love it regardless.

The arctic region of 4546B has a lot more surface landmass, meaning that once you craft the necessary equipment to survive more than ten seconds in the freezing cold, you’ll be able to explore a surprising amount of large islands with lots of blueprints to scan, PDA’s to collect, and objectives to complete. Unlike the original Subnautica, where moving on land made you look slower than a penguin, your character moves on land stupidly quickly, running around in a manner that would make Usain Bolt proud. In fact, moving around in Subnautica: Below Zero as a whole is quite pleasant: the map is not too big or small, your natural swimming and running speeds are ideal, and you can craft lots of transports to make things even easier for you.

Another main addition in Subnautica: Below Zero is the bigger emphasis on storytelling. Sure, the original Subnautica had a neat story with plot twists and an ending, but Below Zero ups the ante with more human characters to interact with, a cohesive list of objectives and motivations that are explained right in the first cutscene, and a lot more dialogue. I was worried at first, as your main character doesn’t sound that relatable or sympathetic at first, but in an ironic turn of events considering the game’s setting, I warmed up to her after a while.

Subnautica: Below Zero Framerate

Subnautica: Below Zero can look quite pretty at times, especially when the framerate decides not to ruin the experience.

I was looking forward to playing Subnautica: Below Zero on the PlayStation 5 once I found out next-gen versions of the game were going to be released alongside every other port on the same day. I need to clarify that yes, the game is gorgeous and slightly better looking than the original Subnautica, but this isn’t exactly a game that was developed with next-gen in mind. In fact, this PS5 port feels like an afterthought.

The main problem is the game’s performance. Even though there are two graphical presets, one which prioritizes visual fidelity and another one which prioritizes a higher framerate, the latter is highly unoptimized. Slowdowns are frequent, especially at night when you’re forced to swim around with your submarine’s headlights on. Things are a bit more forgiving on land, as there’s less terrain being rendered in real time, but considering the fact you’ll spend around 90% of your time underwater, you’ll quickly grow frustrated with how uneven this game’s framerate is.


Wassup MTV, welcome to my crib.

You can get used to the janky framerate, even though it’s far from ideal. Subnautica: Below Zero isn’t really a fast paced game, even when you’re desperately swimming towards a source of oxygen in order to avoid drowning. It’s bad, but the gameplay loop is so addictive that you’ll eventually ignore some of these issues, especially since the control scheme is pretty intuitive with a controller, surprisingly enough. Well, with the exception of the fact that jumping is initially assigned to the Triangle button, but you can completely customize every single command inside the options menu.


I hate this guy. I hate this guy so much.

In all honesty, yes, Subnautica: Below Zero is just more Subnautica, but don’t think of that as a bad thing. It might not have that many new features when compared to its predecessor, but considering how excellent the original game was, having yet another well-designed Subnautica, with a brand new map to explore and challenges to overcome, will always be worth celebrating. It suffers from some annoying performance issues, granted, but I am hopeful Unknown Worlds will come up with some patches in the near future. And that will ensure I’ll never stop expanding my nonsensically ginormous sealab.


Graphics: 7.5

The same excellent art design from the first Subnautica, but with some slight lighting tweaks. With that being said, it doesn’t look like a next-gen game per se and its framerate is all over the place. You can get used to it, but it’s still a nuisance.

Gameplay: 9.0

Subnautica‘s excellent control scheme and gameplay are equally enjoyable and easy to learn on a controller… as long as you do one little tweak regarding jumping, which is initially assigned to the triangle button for some reason.

Sound: 8.0

The soundtrack is as good as before. While there is way more voice acting in this game than in its predecessor, it’s not too bad, which is a relief.

Fun Factor: 9.0

It is indeed more of the same, but more Subnautica will always be worth celebrating. Its map is stupidly well designed, its progression system is excellent, and as always, its building mechanics are just way too addictive.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Subnautica: Below Zero is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Switch.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of Subnautica: Below Zero was provided by the publisher.