You’re alone on an alien planet with nothing but hostile waters around you. You hear roars in the distance from some unknown leviathan. A shadow skirts just underneath the waves and you only just catch a glimpse of a maw full of jagged teeth before you’re ripped open. That is but one scenario players can face in the game SUBNAUTICA. It throws players on to an alien planet with nothing but an escape pod, their wits, and an endless expanse of ocean around them. The inhospitable ocean and all that lurks within it are the greatest threat to players of the game. SUBNAUTICA presents exploration and survival in a fun and unique way that fans of its genres are sure to enjoy.

SUBNAUTICA is brought to eager audiences by developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment—a fitting name, given the situation. Players are able to use the keyboard, or controller in some cases, to swim and navigate through the vast ocean biomes that lie all around them. In survival mode, players have to worry about their air meter, hunger, thirst, and their general health bar. It also features other modes that are less intense, save for the Hardcore mode which features rogue-like permanent death if a player dies on top of all of survival mode’s requirements.

Assuming players choose survival mode, they are in for a distinct challenge as they pit their wits against the alien seas and all that dwell within. It’s an interesting take on the free-roaming survival/exploration genre. It’s also one that absolutely terrified me.

Monsters ten times your size inhabit these waters. Colossal sea serpents, bio-luminescent creatures that look like Cthulhu given form, spiny eels that can shock you to a crisp, crabs with visible brains whose broken beaks long to tear off your face—the list goes on. You are alone. They aren’t, and you’re in their territory now.

READ here on THE OCEAN IS BROKEN for more terrifying ocean fun!

SUBNAUTICA
Nope.

It starts out innocent enough. You’re in the Safe Shoals with your main ship, the Aurora, sitting decimated off in the distance. Your only option, as a player, is to explore and scavenge for food, materials, and anything else to make sure your survival continues to happen. As with natural game progression, your ventures start having to go beyond the friendly, skittish alien fish that flee from your presence and into stranger territory. Next thing you know, you’re deeper down in an algae forest with strange barracudas charging you, mouth lined with hungry teeth. Or, you’re getting nibbled by tiny red Biters or avoiding strange purple sharks that burrow in the sand.

Then, as you get more daring and start venturing out further and further, you start hearing roars in the distance. Or, perhaps a glimpse of creatures floating gently by emitting a soul-haunting bleat not unlike a whale. SUBNAUTICA now has you out in the ocean, by yourself, and largely defenseless.

The roars continue in the distance, slowly getting louder as you venture forth. Perhaps you’re in the trusty Seamoth, a little submarine you can construct with enough material, diligence, and time. You’re coasting along when—suddenly— you’re grabbed and face to face with the king of SUBNAUTICA, of the alien ocean itself, the Reaper Leviathan. This serpentine tyrant roars in your face and shakes the craft like a rag-doll. If you’re lucky, it won’t break it against the ocean floor and leave you dead in the water with this colossal beast.

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Pictured: Something that has actually made me cry “No!” repeatedly at my screen AKA a Reaper Leviathan.

The worst part about all of it is that the Reaper Leviathan isn’t even the biggest thing in the ocean anymore when it comes to SUBNAUTICA. Two more beasts, the Sea Emperor and the Sea Dragon Leviathan, are also slowly but surely being introduced to the game. Their size is a bit more than the Reaper Leviathan, and while only the Sea Dragon will be aggressive, like our friend pictured above, players are still left in open waters with now not one, but four colossi. Among them are also the gentle Reefbacks, seashell shaped giants which float gracefully in the deep, baying their whale-like songs with long tentacles protruding from their underbellies. The very sight of them is unnerving, and definitely scary at first, until you realize they have no interest in your squishy flesh. There are plenty of other aggressive baddies in SUBNAUTICA that make the ocean a living hell for anyone with thalassophobia.

What is thalassophobia? It’s a big, fancy word that derives from the Greek word thalassa, which means sea. In short, it means a fear of the sea, though most often relate it to either a fear of deep, open waters or the possibility of what might lurk underneath. Given Greek and Roman mythology’s propensity to giant sea monsters that still remain nightmare fuel to this day, it is not exactly hard to see why it not only got its name but has been around for as long as it has.

A fear of the ocean is nothing new. In fact, one could even say that it is a fear that has evolved in the entire waking history of the Earth. The Precambrian Era saw our fishy ancestors squaring off in hostile oceans with giant sea scorpions and giant squid-like beasts. Other eras, such as the Cretaceous, Cenozoic, and Triassic have also given rise to some true nightmare-fuel, such as the Liopleurodon, the Mossasaur (as featured in JURASSIC WORLD), and the infamous Megalodon.

CHECK OUT more water horrors from The History of the Swamp Thing.

As someone who suffers from thalassophobia, I was not prepared for the raw, primal fear that SUBNAUTICA instilled in me. A friend recommended it, and I remember being near paralyzed by the vast open waters that lay before me. I’ll never forget pitifully paddling above water and hearing those roars from deep underneath me for the first time. The  fear that something would lunge upwards and swallow me in one bite put me into a raw panic that I’ve not experienced for a long time. Not since playing RESIDENT EVIL 4 when it first came out.

CLICK if you prefer to be afraid of zombies over sea monsters!

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A dive with a whale shark. Despite being totally docile creatures, this would be a nightmare for those who suffer from thalassophobia.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to stop playing.

It’s not often that a game can so perfectly encompass a deep, dark psychological fear. Horror games of legend can, and have, mimicked: panic, isolation, desperation, psychosis and many phobias from a fear of clowns to creepy little girls staring at the floor and not moving. SUBNAUTICA, however, isn’t a horror game. It’s a survival/exploration game that is built around an alien environment and the challenge of man vs nature.

I must thoroughly give SUBNAUTICA props for what it has inadvertently accomplished. It’s fun, it’s beautiful, and it’s one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve had in a game outside of my massive horror collection. Kudos, SUBNAUTICA, you beautiful, awful nightmare. Will it give you thalassophobia? If the screenshots in this article didn’t stir any cringing, you’re probably safe, but you should still give SUBNAUTICA a try for yourself. Who knows what you’ll find lurking under the peaceful waves.

 

 

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