Developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment should be very proud of themselves. When their underwater crafting and survival game Subnautica came out back in 2018, it made a huge splash with gamers looking for something new in the survival game genre. Our GiN Reviewer Vincent Mahoney awarded Subnautica one of the only 5 GiN Gem review scores that entire year.
The series was followed up upon with the equally excellent Subnautica Below Zero, which earned similar praise from reviewers, including the team here at GiN. Below Zero adds a lot of land-based features to the map, and introduces new creatures as well as a new environmental danger in the frigid temperatures. Maintaining your heat while exploring the land in Subnautica Below Zero is very similar to keeping your oxygen levels in check when swimming underwater in both games. Running out of heat or oxygen will quickly kill you faster than the hostile wildlife and sea creatures.
While the launch of Below Zero was rightly celebrated, it did mask another major development for the franchise, namely the move and upgrade to the new next generation consoles. Only a few games have upgraded for better play and added features on either the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 consoles. One has to believe that if Below Zero was not launched at the same time, that the move would have made more news. It’s worth noting that a dual Subnautica and Subnautica Below Zero physical disk pack is now available for the Nintendo Switch as well, and although that version is outside the realm of this review, if you own a Switch you should do yourself a favor and check it out.
Upgrading games on the PlayStation 5, where the new version of Subnautica was reviewed, generally adds increased framerates, better responses and sometimes new features. The zombie motorcycle open world adventure Days Gone is a perfect example. On the PlayStation 4, the game is perfectly playable, but tends to slow down at times, like when being chased by a major hoard like the one you find at the old saw mill. The upgrade gave that game a much smoother gameplay feel that seemed much more natural, while also looking a lot better.
As those of you who have played the game know, Subnautica is a challenging environment graphically for a console to try and render. Most of the actual exploration is done underwater which means there is an underwater filter applied to everything which includes things like little bubbles which gobble up the framerate. The ridiculously pretty underwater landscapes don’t help the graphics engine either. Still, it plays reasonably well on the PlayStation 4.
If you happen to own the game on the PS4, then the PS5 upgrade is free. The only problem is that your saved games will not transfer over. I have no idea why they would not allow saves to come along for the ride as most of the actual features of the game are identical. The only thing I can figure is that the landscape under the water seems a lot more dense on the PS5 version, with more seagrass and little things like god rays when you are near the surface. It’s possible that the save file for the PS4 does not take this data into account and therefore is not compatible. In any case, the game is not that long, so if you enjoyed playing it before, this gives you a good excuse to start over again.
On the PlayStation 5 the first thing that you are going to notice is the shorted load times. It can take over a minute or more to start a new game on the PS4. On the PS5, it averages just about 30 seconds to start a new game and configure the world. Thereafter any load times are pretty instantaneous.
Because we had to start a new game on the PS5, we couldn’t do any direct comparisons between our PS4 and PS5 builds. So no side by side videos because this is a different world. However, the visual differences are noticeable. Everything looks better on the PS5, with more colors, denser environments and generally a more realistic overall appearance for the ocean and its many strange lifeforms. The other thing that will be immediately apparent is the fact that everything is much more responsive. You will actually feel like you are swimming on the PS5 version and gliding through the water. We didn’t realize how different the PS4 version was in terms of control until we went back and played on that platform and really felt the downgrade.
We also realized that we were swimming a bit faster than before. Yes, it was a different world, but the distance between the life pod and the island where the Sunbeam tries to land is about the same in both. Doing a swim from one to the other took about a minute less on the PS5, which was surprising. The game is probably running faster all around, which is noticeable on those multi-mile marathon swims.
The PS5 version has two possible settings for graphics, high quality or high framerate. To get the most of the new world and the power of the PS5, you are going to want to make sure that high quality is selected. The game is designed to run at 60 frame per second, but does not always achieve this on the high quality setting. Still, the graphics are notably better as is the gameplay even if it can’t quite maintain 60fps. There were also a few instances of screen tearing, but only for the most part inside complex bases that we constructed, so the transition to the new platform is slightly less than perfect, though the flaws are pretty minor.
Whether or not the NextGen update means you should play Subnautica again is up to you. It’s a great game and if you have been missing out on the underwater adventure then this might be a good excuse to dive back into this fascinating world. And if you have never played, then starting out with this better version of the game is an easy choice. For everyone else, if you have the PS4 version then the PS5 one is a free download. Assuming you can actually find a PlayStation 5 then you would be silly not to play this version instead. It’s not a perfect upgrade, but close to it. And you can’t beat the price.
Like the original game, the PlayStation 5 version of Subnautica earns 5 GiN Gems. Dive in if you want to have fun again with this stunning underwater adventure, now somehow made just a little bit better.