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The Great Descent

This is the final part of the Subnautica Season. Spoilers ahoy! This follows The Glory of the Infinite Sea, on Subnautica enabling accidental discovery, Beautiful, on the real beauty of Subnautica's design, and Cold Metal, of my disappointment with base building.

What are we doing here? Why would anyone put themselves through this?

Silence engulfed the dead city block but the silence was not absolute. Sometimes I would hear the soft, yet threatening shuffle of rotten feet. Or the click-click of a giant spider’s legs tapping across cobblestones. Or the gibber-speak of a malevolent apparition.

The Haunted Cathedral level from the original Thief: The Dark Project (Looking Glass Studios, 1998) overwhelmed the player with dread and a terrible feeling of having passed through a veil that separates the reasonable, normal world from one into which no human should stray. This was not the first time Thief had conjured this atmosphere as Down in the Bonehoard had a similar ambience, but it had nothing on The Haunted Cathedral.

Of course, this is a recognisable trope, gaming’s take on Orpheus’ descent into hell to bring back Eurydice. The player must journey into a type of Hell to retrieve something of importance. Dark Souls has plenty of it but I am here to discuss Subnautica’s Orphean descent, in which the very depth of the ocean itself is terror.

I warn you, though, reader. Descend further into this bottomless trench of words and you will hear the screams of spoilers and the thunk of ALT+F4.

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Cold Metal

This is the third part of the Subnautica Season. This follows The Glory of the Infinite Sea, on Subnautica enabling accidental discovery, and Beautiful, on the real beauty of Subnautica's design.

Subnautica is fantastic. More or less. The resource gathering and blueprint hunting can get a little tedious, but Subnautica is not alone in committing that crime. Around the waterworld in 80 days, just to find that a blob of blood oil. But this was not the only flaw in the ointment.

Something that, perhaps, should have had more resonance and impact: building a home away from home.

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This is the second part of the Subnautica Season. The first part, The Glory of the Infinite Sea, was about Subnautica enabling accidental discovery.

Spoiler warning! This essay contains spoilers for important discoveries and events in the middle of the game.

I had started to receive radio transmissions.

Subnautica’s radio smears on a little extra story but its primary role is a gentle goad to get players out and about, directing them to other Aurora escape pods which made planetfall. Some transmissions come bundled with a location that can be tracked on the HUD but when I received one with a vague “oh it’s over here roughly” I wasn’t sure, in the wide open sea, whether I would find it. This was Subnautica resisting the siren call of a GTA-style open world; let’s see how the player copes without throbbing, bobbing arrows.

I took a stab. The instructions were expressed relative to the shattered hull of the Aurora and I swam out to what felt roughly the right spot... but I found nothing. I kept swimming away from the Aurora in a straight line, thinking perhaps I wasn't far enough out.

This was before I even had a seaglide which makes travel a lot more snappy and I was swimming without any form of support... but the sea bed began to recede. The deep dark unknown sent a tingle down my spine, like it always did. I gritted my teeth. I knew in my heart that I must have missed the escape pod but I kept going out of some madness. How big was the sea? How far could I go? When would danger visit me? Another part of my brain, however, was screaming at me: Stop! These seas are not meant for you yet! Turn back!

And then something happened which changed everything.

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