As the person responsible for the creative direction of Subnautica: Below Zero, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what makes the highly esteemed original, Subnautica, tick. Below Zero has been built on top of a game that many know and love, but we’re not looking to play the same exact song each time. Below Zero must reflect the values that made Subnautica great, while also giving players something new and different.
Subnautica is many things to many people. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I might say it’s an open world, underwater, sci-fi, base building, survival-adventure game with a hint of primal terror. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…
So, what’s different about Subnautica? What sets it apart from other survival games, and how do we approach design and development to make something special and unique?
For me, at its core, Subnautica is a game about exploration and discovery. Our philosophy is that the experience is at its best when we trust players to discover this vast alien world – and its many secrets and surprises – on their own.
It’s our belief that the thrill of discovery, encountering a strange lifeform at the bottom of the ocean, awakening an ancient alien intelligence, wandering into a brilliant and unexpected underwater cavern, is so much richer when players are driving the experience forward themselves.
This filters into how we approach design. Our philosophy is to always try to suggest direction, rather than offer it up explicitly. One of the first things players notice is that Subnautica doesn’t have missions or objectives. We don’t tell you that you’re 47% (or 110%) through the game. You can find a map of the world, but we don’t show you your position, or even your orientation (until you build a compass) And what good is a 2D map underwater, anyway?
It’s up to you to find your way through the world, finding new ways to survive and explore as you get deeper and further into this planet alone… or so you might think.
In Below Zero, you play as xenobiologist Robin Ayou, who arrives on 4546B at great personal risk to try and find answers about her sister, who died under mysterious circumstances during a previous mission in Sector Zero.
Naturally, this quest for understanding doesn’t go quite the way you might think and encounters with other lifeforms will take you in many unexpected directions. We’ve taken great pains to design a narrative for players to discover. We give some early hints to get the ball rolling, but then you’re left to your own devices, searching for clues scattered throughout this vast world’s deep underwater biomes and the far reaches of its icy tundra.
In Below Zero, it’s up to you to follow the dramatic threads and because of that, players can explore at their own pace. Perhaps you just want to build an underwater palace down in the Deep Lily Pads, where you can reflect on all the alien beauty while customizing your Seatruck. You can do so, without stress, in Creative Mode. Or, if you really want to raise the stakes, Hardcore Mode will ensure you don’t get too casual whilst swimming among the alien fishes.
Subnautica: Below Zero will be available on May 14 for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. The original Subnautica is also available as an Optimized for Xbox Series X|S title alongside the release of Below Zero, and owners of the original (digital or physical) can upgrade the enhanced version for free thanks to Smart Delivery.
Subnautica: Below Zero
Unknown Worlds Entertainment, Inc.