At first, it was hard to put into words why I was less satisfied with the finished Below Zero, despite the cool things it added, the new creatures, the weirder world, and our visitor to the world getting into Big Trouble. It’s not unsatisfying, and I would err on the side of “It’s pretty damn good”, but something bugged me.
And then I remembered the earlier draft of the story. The one I gushed about way back when.
Ah. That’s part of it.
See, way back when, Robin was cheery, enthusiastic. She loved the world from the get go, and Sam was the serious one, the one who covered your ass, somewhat, as things started moving. But now… Well, it’s a different Robin. A Robin who was previously Sam, come to find, uhhh… The Sam who was previously Robin.
Woman of colour as the protag, and the game doesn’t make a fuss about it? This is good, and I’d honestly like to live in a world where drawing attention to this as good wasn’t a thing I felt the need to do. But right from the get go, their zest for the world, that pep, something that I definitely resonated with… Well, it was gone. Replaced by a no-nonsense protag who, honestly, I’d have preferred way up in the sky, watching over you, adding practicality to your wonder.
Still, the rest of the game is good. I won’t say excellent, because it has less landmarks, and is therefore harder to navigate around, and a lot of the early game relies on the oxygen plants dotted around the deeper areas (I personally assume Robin just sticks her face in there and huffs it up like a bong with her rebreather) to both create tension and segments where you need them to go to certain important places. The land remains mostly a sidenote, and the sea remains, as it should be, a big focus.
And, lack of landmarks aside, what a sea it is. Green tinted vine caves, where thieving sea-monkeys, bombfish, their nests, and an ancient alien signal reside. The “smokestacks”, where thermal vents, giant mantis-shrimp (complete with punching action), and the first of the Big Boys resides. The forests of creepvine remain entrancing (and confusing), the coral chasm is a place of beauty, and the frozen underside of a glacier is a dangerous place where the smallest things can and will hurt you reside.
Guess where an important early game plotpoint resides? Nah, I’m kidding. It’s actually in a cave in the coral chasm.
Anyway, aesthetically, the game remains as on point as its predecessor. Underwater is beautiful, the UX remains pretty much unchanged, the neofuturist look of everything gives our intrusion a sterile feel, just as it did in the last game, and yes, the dystopian messaging of how Alterra is colonialist and crapitalist as fuck remains, although nowhere near as obvious at the beginning as it was in the earlier story version.
Overall, I’d still say that if you love the idea of survival and crafting in an alien ocean world appeals, or you enjoyed the original Subnautica, that Below Zero is worth it.
But when, like me, you remember the bright eyed and bushy tailed Robin who was thrust into WTF and somehow still remained optimistic? Well, you don’t enjoy it as much.
Still not leaving the world. Don’t wanna, can’t make me.