In a market filled to the brim with any combination of the following tags: horror, survival, exploration, open-world, base-building, and the dreaded early access, Subnautica stands as a testament to how good an open-world survival-adventure game can be if it is developed properly.
Created by Unknown Worlds Entertainment in 2018, Subnautica doesn’t deviate too much from the general survival trope. Your ship, the Aurora, crashes on an alien ocean world lovingly named 4546B after it is hit by a beam weapon. It then becomes your objective to explore the planet, fix up your ship, and try to survive.
Unlike some other survival games, the world geography is locked and there are no random seeds. Your ship can crash in different areas, but you will still be on the same planet as every other player that plays the game. You will spend a significant amount of the game in water, as should be obvious from the classifier ‘Ocean Planet’. There are, however, two islands which you can explore and there is a day and night cycle.
Subnautica is relatively unique in that it does not fall entirely to the player to “make up their own story” as they journey. This particular game has a set story which you can progress, and has an actual ending, which is somewhat rare for a survival-action game.
With all that said, it is actually pretty hard to find games to compare Subnautica to. To be clear there is a tsunami of survival-adventure, open-world games out there, but Subnautica carves out its own niche as being one that is nearly unanimously acclaimed. I have found a few that might scratch that itch for you though.
Disclaimer: The games are not placed in any particular order.
10 Subnautica: Below Zero (ETA: 2019)
|Initial Release Date||Possibly 2019|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, macOS|
|Developer||Unknown Worlds Entertainment|
|Publisher||Unknown Worlds Entertainment|
Some of you may be sitting back in your seat with a look of consternation on your face thinking, “you can’t use the game’s own expansion for this list”, and to you I say… you are probably right. That being said, it is still in early access, as it has not technically been released yet I think I am in the clear.
Subnautica: Below Zero is a sequel to the aforementioned Subnautica, set one year after the events in the first game. You will be returning into the lovingly handcrafted world of 4546B, and it is set in a largely arctic region of the world. You begin stationed in a cosy research base, doing scientist things, when everything goes horribly wrong. From there on you need to build habitats to live in, gather resources, conduct research, investigate alien artifacts, you know… a lot of the same things you did in the base game. Subnautica: Below Zero is slated to be released on October 31, 2019, barring any delays.
9 No Man’s Sky (2016)
|Initial Release Date||August 9, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows|
I might catch some flak for this one. As we all know, back in 2014, upon it’s release No Man’s Sky was largely considered to be one of the most egregious offenders of false advertising in gaming history. A trailer was shown with gorgeous worlds teeming with alien life, and when release hit, we found that the universe was nearly devoid of life and the planets were remarkably similar and drab. The game was boring, repetitive, and lacked any sort of personality or spark that would inspire people to play it.
To quote Garrosh from the truly epic Warlords of Draenor trailer (yes the expansion sucked but the trailer was great), “Times Change.” No Man’s Sky has undergone significant improvement and several overhauls. The developers could have jumped ship and faded into obscurity, like so many other open-world, or in this case galaxy, survival-adventure games, but they stuck with it. No Man’s Sky will take you adventuring across an array of unique worlds teeming with life, and you will even get to meet other space-faring aliens on your travels. If you picked it up in 2014 and were so disgusted you never opened it again, I would advise you give it another shot.
8 Space Engineers (2019)
|Initial Release Date||October 23, 2013|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, Xbox One|
|Developer||Keen Software House|
|Publisher||Keen Software House|
Space Engineers was officially released in February of this year. Much like No Man’s Sky it abandons a handcrafted ocean world for the cold void of space. While you can play Space Engineers as a single player game, it really comes into its own when you are playing it with other people. This game is less concerned about survival, and more concerned about exploration and exploration. It does, however, lack the story and lore of Subnautica.
In Space Engineers you take on the role of a Space Engineer (obviously). You will be gathering resources, constructing bases, building ships, making planetary outposts, and in general, building anything you want. It follows, somewhat, in Minecraft’s footsteps, in that nearly every object is destructible. It also follows relatively accurate physics, like inertia, mass, and force. Pick this up if you want a survival-action, sandbox, open-universe game set in space.
7 Minecraft (2009)
|Initial Release Date||May 17, 2009|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux|
Minecraft was first released in May 2009. I personally bought the game during its Alpha Version release in 2010. It wasn’t officially released as a full version game until 2011, and it has undergone a tremendous amount of changes since then. As I am sure many of you are aware, Minecraft is a procedurally generated open-world, cube-based survival-adventure game. There are millions of different world seeds, and each world is practically infinite. The maximum surface area of just one seed is 60 million blocks by 60 million blocks or 3.6 billion square kilometers. This equates to the surface area of between 6 and 7 earths. You probably will never explore an entire seed.
You take on the role of well.. yourself really. I mean technically you are Minecraft Steve or, as added in later, Minecraft Alex, but in all reality you will most likely change your character skin and select your own name. Your goal, quite simply is to survive and flourish in this hostile world. There are villages to find, temples to explore, abandoned mines to plunder, monsters to fight, and even a terrible dragon to slay. But all of this is secondary to your true purpose in Minecraft… To make a giant creeper statue out of colored cloth and TNT and blow it up (this might crash your game).
6 The Forest (2018)
|Initial Release Date||May 30, 2014|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows|
|Developer||Endnight Games Ltd|
|Publisher||Endnight Games Ltd|
The Forest has the distinction of being the only game on this list I have not personally played. That being said, I had a few friends who would not shut up about it for a few months, so I am pretty sure I can weigh in on it. Unlike the previous games on this list, the Forest tends to lean more towards the survival side of things than the exploration and creativity side of things. It is heavily combat oriented, and you will often find yourself under heavy attack, especially at night.
You are the lone survivor of a plane crash. You find yourself in a seemingly uninhabited area, but soon discover that you are not as alone as you had thought. Unfortunately, your fellow inhabitants are mutant cannibals so they do not make for the best of neighbours. You will be focusing your efforts on building a base, defenses, gathering food, and keeping yourself alive at all costs. As with all survival games, you will also be exploring around, but you will find your journeys frequently cut short by the approach of night, and the fiends who want to devour your sweet body meats.
5 The Long Dark (2014)
|Initial Release Date||September 22, 2014|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh, macOS|
The Long Dark is a somewhat bleak and harsh game compared to some of the others on this list. You will not be exploring a beautiful ocean world, a variety of unique and spectacular planets, the mysteries of space, or even the forbidden depths of a charmingly blocky world. You will instead be exploring the frigid wasteland of Northern Canada. Now I live in Canada, and it is not a stretch to say that the North-West Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut, are vast lands of harsh wilderness, where the unprepared can find themselves in trouble very quickly.
In the Long Dark you take on the role of a pilot who crash lands during a global disaster. This game does not have any sort of mythological enemies. There are no zombies after you. No mutants are coming to eat your flesh. It is simply you against nature. Your goal is to survive as long as possible in this truly ruthless environment. You have to watch your body temperature, fend off animal attacks, find food, tools, and weapons. The game story is being released in episodes, and at the time of this article only episodes two of the five have been released.
4 Satisfactory (2019)
|Initial Release Date||March 19, 2019|
|Developer||Coffee Stain Studios|
|Publisher||Coffee Stain Publishing|
I have mixed feelings about putting this game on this list. On one hand, Satisfactory is a very fun first-person, open-world, factory building game. On the other hand it is an Epic exclusive, which I find to be an abhorrent business practice. I am a firm believer in an open market system for media, and companies buying exclusive rights just limits freedom of choice. That said, Satisfactory is a particularly fun game. I would describe it as a first-person Factorio.
You have landed on an alien planet and it is your job to research new technologies, survive alien attacks, and building an automated production empire of your dreams. It is multiplayer, much like factorio, so you can build sprawling conveyor belt mazes with your friends. The graphics are very impressive, but the survival aspect is a little lackluster in all honesty. Still a good game worth checking out if you are not utterly opposed to Epic’s draconian business practices.
3 Astroneer (2019)
|Initial Release Date||February 6, 2019|
|Platform||Xbox One, Microsoft Windows|
|Developer||System Era Softworks|
|Publisher||System Era Softworks|
Astroneer is a game that had been in early access since 2016. It was a game I had picked up initially and relegated it to the “will probably never be finished” list of survival, open-world games that plague Steam. I was happily surprised in February of 2019, when the game was released. Astroneer is a game that is fundamentally a mixture of No-Man’s Sky and Subnautica. It involves the colorful if not as realistic graphics of Subnautica, and the space and planet exploration of No Man’s Sky.
In Astroneer you take on the role of a space explorer who has set out into the endless depths of space. Your goal is to build bases, create vehicles, explore, gather resources, and ultimately survive. The story is a little minimalistic, and is honestly not as involved as Subnautica, but if you are looking for a truly fun open-world survival game that has actually been released… look no further. Also I should probably note that while the game is multiplayer, I would give it a few more patches. There are a few bugs in the game and they are magnified when playing multiplayer.
2 ABZU (2016)
|Initial Release Date||August 2, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch|
ABZU is much more about exploring than survival or base building. It is a lovingly crafted oceanic adventure that offers a few hours of solid gameplay in a beautiful world. My only real criticism of the game is its length. I think I completed it in around three hours, so if you are looking for a game to sink dozens of hours into, this probably isn’t it.
In ABZU you take on the role of a diver whose goal is to descend into the depths of the ocean and uncover its mysteries. You will interact with a huge variety of sea dwelling denizens, and there are dangers that lurk in the depths. There are mission objectives, but they are fairly trivial to complete. The most important goal in the game is to soak in the atmosphere, the music, and the ambiance of the living ocean around you. I cannot state this clearly enough though, do not expect a challenging, edge-of-your-seat game.
1 The Solus Project (2016)
|Initial Release Date||June 7, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows|
The Solus Project is a game I have mixed feelings about. On one hand it is a truly breathtaking game visually, it also tries to capture the survival mechanic, but in all honesty this alien world is remarkably well supplied and I never had any concerns regarding food or water. The game embraces a more horror-centric experience, and you should be aware that, mixed in with the pretty decent story, there will be many spooks to be had.
You take on the role of a scout, trying to find a colonizable planet for humanity’s flotilla of survivors out near Pluto. As with most survival games, your ship gets merced and you end up as the victim of a crash landing. Your team members are dead and you are the sole survivor, however you are on a lush alien world with a plethora of camps full of supplies. Go solve the mysteries waiting for you.
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