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EARLY ACCESS REVIEW POSTED: 1 JANUARYIt’s hard to overstate what a magnificent exploration and adventure game Subnautica is.What really stands out to me is that experience—not an XP bar, but the accumulation of knowledge about the game world, its locations, and its inhabitants—is the most powerful weapon in a player’s arsenal.Take Stalkers, for example: They’re the first large predators a player will meet, and initially they’re annoying and seem quite threatening. An experienced player will ignore them, though, or at most circle and poke them with a knife to make them go away, while at the same time stealing all of their scrap. It helps to have upgraded swim fins, upgraded O2, and other advantages, but if you took upgraded fins and O2 tanks away from experienced players, they still wouldn’t have any issues with Stalkers.There’s a lot to find and a lot to do in this game. The need to unravel the game’s central mysteries and to obtain blueprint fragments, salvage, and rare materials from wrecks, grottoes, and strange installations will force you to leave your comfort zone time and again. First you’ll crawl out of the Safe Shallows, then you’ll creep further and deeper, then you’ll swim further still until one day you’ll be amazed at how far away from Lifepod 5 you’ve gone, at the readout on your depth meter, and you’ll wonder how you ever thought that the seaweed areas just outside of the Safe Shallows were in any way scary.Sustenance is a challenge at first, and you’ll scramble to get enough food and water, but later on they become a matter of management and planning ahead. If you’re going on a long expedition, you’ll want enough supplies to last for the duration, but not so many that you can’t haul a goodly amount of salvage back to base.As for fiddly stuff, you can spend hours building and customizing your underwater habitat, customize the look and module loadout of the various vehicles you can build (once you’ve got the complete blueprints and necessary materials), and have a lot of fun with the wide array of gadgets and Portal/Half-Life-style “techno-guns” the game has to offer. There’s a lot of meat there, but the true meal lies in exploration.

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