First of all, it’s a great survival game. As a survivor of a spaceship crash, you begin the game in an escape pod floating gracefully on the surface of an alien tropical ocean. You need to pay attention to your hydration and hunger, but since the game’s map is almost entirely aquatic, you’ll also need to find a way to dive deeper without suffocating and being crushed by water.
Secondly, Subnautica is really beautiful, especially when you stay in the sunlit surface waters. Colorful fish flit about, plants and coral reefs provide a lot of color to the ocean floor, and you can swim around without much need to worry. Even when you reach deeper regions, where more aggressive animals live, the game still looks amazing.
There’s even a quite interesting story you need to figure out if you want to escape the planet. You don’t need to, of course, but it is there, and provided a lot of background to the world you’re exploring.
The list below features a few games that share something with Subnautica, be it an aquatic, or otherwise unusual, setting, Most of them are survival games, some of the endless variety, others have a dedicated story mode, all are worth checking out.
|Genre:||Adventure, art game, simulation|
|Developer||Giant Squid Studios|
Although Abzu isn’t a sprawling survival game complete with crafting and managing your vitals, but where it easily matches Subnautica is through the stunning setting. In this game, developed in part by people who worked on Journey, you’ll explore the beautiful underwater areas filled with wildlife and ruins hiding a story of a long lost civilisation and a way to restore life to the oceans.
Swimming with schools of fish, or side by side with an appropriately sized whale feels amazing, and to find the life-restoring wells you follow great white sharks, not some abstract marker. The narration is wordless, letting you truly immerse yourself in the world’s atmosphere. It also is a rare game that doesn’t demonise great white sharks, which is an interesting approach by itself.
ARK: Survival Evolved
Beyond the readily noticeable genre connection of the base game, is a pleasing number of unusual settings available in the expansions. While you absolutely can explore underwater areas and face aquatic creatures, there’s no strictly nautical map. What it does have in the “unusual biome” department, is the underground map introduced in the Aberration expansion.
Aberration introduced an underground biome full of weird creatures and threats you never had to face in any of the surface-world biomes. Admittedly, the level of danger in Aberration is more akin to the depths of Subnautica’s world rather than its sunlit surface waters. ARK on the whole also has a bit of lore found in scattered journals providing background to the game’s worlds, which is nice.
|Developer||System Era Softworks|
As the name suggests, Astroneer lets you explore the stars, or, specifically, 7 hand-crafted planets with different biomes. Since uninhabited planets are quite unfriendly to human life, you’ll have to spend some time adjusting the environment in order to survive. That means a lot of crafting and even more playing around with the very fun to use Terrain Tool allowing you to you freely landscape.
It won’t take you long to establish the foundation of your future self-sustaining base, build useful vehicles, and to develop tethers allowing you to explore further away from the base and deeper underground without risk of suffocation. There’s no story to speak of, and beyond the player’s self-direction the game offers a few challenges to complete on each planet, if you want to.
In terms of unusual biomes, Grounded may well have Subnautica on the ropes. Not even a beautiful alien ocean full of colourful fish and dreadful sea monster can compete with being shrunk to the size of an ant and exploring a suddenly forest-sized backyard garden. Grass is the size of trees, ants are the size of wolves, and spiders have the size of big rhinos, and thrice are aggressive.
Grounded takes the idea and runs with it. You’ll gather fibre from grass as a wood-substitute, you’ll hide out in discarded soda cans, and you’ll collect drinking water from dewdrops. It’s a wonderfully realised, believable environment, complemented by excellent insect design, from ants to genuinely terrifying spiders. And new features are still flowing in, so it’s worth coming back to every so often.
No Man’s Sky
After a number of substantial updates, No Man’s Sky is a great, relaxing, space-exploration game with all the requisite bit, and even some story to propel you forward when you lose momentum. The core draw of NMS is the virtually infinite number of possible planets, each with procedurally generated geology and wildlife. If you’re the first to discover them, you even get to name them!
Over time new systems and improvements were added, such as base building, expanded survival mechanics, functional multiplayer and more. Since the 2016 release No Man’s Sky has become what it was always meant to be: an exploration/survival game in a universe big enough to appear infinite. It doesn’t necessarily have the thrills of deep-sea diving in Subnautica, but otherwise it’s great.
Of all the games on this list, Raft bears the most immediate similarity to Subnautica by the virtue of its oceanic map. You begin on a small, ramshackle raft with a rumbling in your stomach and a dinky hook to gather flotsam that may help you survive. Good luck, try not to die. In time your floating plank will become a huge, self-sustaining residence your you and your friends, if you plan well enough.
There’s also a number of islands you can find on your journeys, which will yield resources you wouldn’t easily find floating about. In addition to abandoned buildings, islands also contain small stories of people who used to live there. However, both on land and on open waters you need to watch out for aggressive wildlife which can ruin your day and your buoyant home.
|Release year:||2015 (Early Access), 2020 (full release)|
|Developer||Beam Team Games|
Your plane crashed into the ocean, but your survived, now you have to figure out how to stay alive in this hostile environment. The premise certainly sounds like Subnautica, except in Stranded Deep we’re dealing with a procedurally generated bit of the Pacific Ocean, not an alien planet with a spaceship wreck looming in the distance. And like in Subnautica you’re encourage to dive for resources.
Of course, you need to monitor your vitals, which can be done thanks to a handy watch displaying all the relevant gauges. You’ll also craft a whole lot, from buildings, to boats, to even flying machines if water bores you. Interestingly, the game also includes a split-screen co-op and is enabled for Steam’s Remote Play, letting you play the game even with someone who doesn’t have it in their library.
Subnautica: Below Zero
|Release year:||2019 (early access)|
|Developer||Unknown Worlds Entertainment|
Subnautica: Below Zero is a sequel to Subnautica, taking place two years after the events of the original game, and the planet is still 4546B we know from the first game. There’s a substantial change in scenery, however, because we’re leaving tropical oceans in favor of the arctic equator. There’s also a new protagonist, Robin Ayou instead of Ryley Robinson, who is presumably paying off his huge debt.
Subnautica: Below Zero features a fair bit more solid ground than the previous game, but there’s still a lot of underwater exploration to do, a lot of new wildlife unseen before, and a whole bunch of alien secrets to figure out. It’s still being developed, so more content can be expected to pop in over time, but even as it is right now there is a lot to enjoy, and the world is still beautiful like in the first game.
The Long Dark
Staying with the cold theme, The Long Dark takes place after a worldwide geomagnetic storm, and is set in the harsh, yet beautiful, Canadian wilderness. You were a pilot who crashed in the middle of nowhere and is now faced with many things that can kill him: the cold, hunger, exhaustion, wild animals… There are four preset modes changing the difficulty, and a way to make a custom one.
There’s even a story to play through, currently at three episodes, providing a lot of context and personality to what you’re going to be doing during the game. The narrative follows pilot Will Mackenzie looking for his passenger Dr. Astrid Greenwood lost in the plane crash. The player gets to play both characters, depending on the episode, an approach that weaves a more compelling story.
The Solus Project
|Developer||Teotl Studios, Grip Games|
The Solus Project is a complex, detailed game about surviving on an alien planet that’s barely suitable for human life. You’re the last survivor of an expeditionary force seeking a new place for humanity to resettle after the destruction of Earth. Unfortunately, your ship malfunctioned all the way into the ground when you made an approach to Gliese-6143-C, and you’re all by your lonesome.
Between extreme temperatures, dynamic weather, and an occasional earthquake you’ll have enough to worry about even before you start exploring and poking about for secrets and answers. There is a lot to discover in the game’s several islands and tombs of those who wound up on this planet before your dynamic entry. The Solus Project is an engaging singleplayer journey you can also go on in VR.
Total immersion gaming
That concludes the list of games similar to Subnautica on some level. Of course, there are many more survival games out there, like The Forest, some of which were featured in another list.