'Subnautica: Below Zero' Switch Version Is a Lukewarm Performance Experience
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'Subnautica: Below Zero' Switch Version Is a Lukewarm Performance Experience

The version's performance issues on the Nintendo Switch have you restarting more than exploring the arctic ice caps of Planet 4546B.

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'Subnautica: Below Zero' Switch Version Is a Lukewarm Performance Experience

I'll begin by providing a brief overview of the Subnautica series.

After the critical success of Unknown Worlds Entertainment's "Subnautica," "Below Zero" continues the truly iconic formula, ambiance, gameplay, and overall deep-sea-open-world-survival adventure of its predecessor; mainly, the protagonist of the game, Robin Ayou, lands on the same ocean planet as the first game in search of answers to her sister Sam's death. With a more defined and emotional story spanning the galaxy, corporations, research, and family, "Below Zero" tugs at the sinews of the importance of identity and kin while introducing characters such as Marguerit and Al-An, the first sentient alien of the series.

Unlike its predecessor, however, this version embarks beyond the semi-concrete story of "Subnautica" where protagonist Ryley Robinson finds himself stranded on Planet 4546B after the crashing landing of the Alterra Corporation's deep-space vessel, the Aurora. Moreover, once players leave the escape pod and begin to traverse the depths of the ocean planet, "Subnautica" hints very little if at all to subsequent player actions: the whole point of the game is to survive, and when fending off teleporting robotic squid fish things called Warpers, a host of hostile fauna, and the infamous leviathan class organisms native to 4546B, "Subnautica" was more than a little frustrating at times. Nonetheless, the game brought forwards a survival experience like no other—and even for someone like me who is terrified of the ocean—"Subnautica" excelled in its difficulty and horror-survival aspects. "Below Zero" expands upon that great formula while offering a nuanced story.

Story wise, "Below Zero" blows it out of the water.

Unlike its predecessor, "Below Zero" offers a story of family, survivability, and the nature of being ushers players into a world completely apart than the 4546B we came to love in the first game. Robin's desire to uncover the mysteries of her sister's death on the polar ice caps of the ocean planet becomes this driving force that pushes players to scour the depths of cave systems, spaceship wreckages, and completely beautiful biomes that rival some of the most famous and or infamous biomes of "Subnautica." Furthermore, the inclusion of the Precursor Al-An (Precursors being the name of the highly advanced alien race attributed by humans) propels that story as Robin now deals with uncovering her sister's fate while slowly determining the fate of the Precursors themselves—ravaged by the same Kharaa Bacterium that decimated billions of the alien race and almost killed characters Ryley and Marguerit.

"Below Zero," while not focused on the Kharaa Bacterium, still maintains those echoes of the first game that tie directly to the respective stories of all the characters present and nuances the core motifs of family and being on an isolated planet. The story is immaculate, and the first observable Precursor is nothing short of astounding as Unknown Worlds went to great lengths to cement Al-An as a major series character struggling to find his way home and see his people if there are any left. Above all, while Subnautica introduced to us the terror of the deep sea and those dreaded Reaper Leviathans (players of the will understand my frustration and countless sea moths lost), its subtle story compares little to that of "Below Zero." The gameplay is also immaculate, although there are some major differences in difficulty.

There's newish gameplay to account for the added story and smaller open world.

The gameplay of "Below Zero" is both better and different in multiple regards than the original "Subnautica." Crafting is made easier since you can now pin recipes and have a visual indication of what you need to craft certain items, and it still maintains the survival aspects of discovering modules and blueprints that contain the information for craftable items, vehicles, and more. Scanning is still the cornerstone of the game, and both building and crafting are identical to "Subnautica" as before.

However, there are great differences in difficulty and resource gathering since "Below Zero" is about 25% smaller than its predecessor. Unlike "Subnautica," which contained a variety of shallower biomes and dark deep-sea biomes, most of "Below Zero's" more extensive biomes like beneath other biomes. Due to this, resource gathering is much easier since most resources and items are doubled up and bunched up together in the respective 25 biomes (most of which repeat and some of which are small overall.) A smaller map means less fauna, and less fauna also means fewer intimidating leviathans as the game does not feature the anxiety-inducing trinity of leviathans from "Subnautica": the Reaper Leviathan, the Ghost Leviathan, and the Sea Dragon Leviathan. This does take away slightly from the survival aspect of "Below Zero" since its relatively less scary, but there still are some formidable creatures. All in all, the gameplay is fantastic and an improved take on a phenomenal system.

"Below Zero's" technical issues take it from subzero temperatures to lukewarm, however.

"Below Zero's" performance on the Switch is nothing sure of laggy, choppy, and rather intrusive on the overall gaming experience. To be fair, the Switch is not a AAA game powerhouse like gaming rigs and other consoles such as the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series X. If anything, my second-generation PlayStation 4 and first-generation Xbox One run games like Subnautica—which carry a heavy list of bugs, patches, and performance issues—with relative ease. Nonetheless, the Switch version of "Below Zero" strips away from that "thalassophobic" underwater survival experience. Most of the time, it feels like you're competing for time—not because there are timed events in the game—but due to the fact that the Switch version crashes quite a bit when too many things happen at once.

A few particular crashes of mine resulted from the construction of my base and the addition of Moonpools (for vehicle docking) and both the interior and exterior grow beds for cultivating the useful flora of Planet 4546B. "Subnautica" also experiences some significant drops in frames when player bases got all bad and bougie, but the fact that the game seems as though its running around 25 frames per second (FPS) and messes with the renderings of textures severely takes away from the gaming experience. "Subnautica" also dealt with rendering issues, but all it took was for the player to stand still momentarily and structures/textures would instantly appear. "Below Zero is nowhere near that." The Subnautica series is built on the horror-survival and beauty of the underwater biomes, and to see textures or complete structures not render in due to performance issues make it piping hot mess of a game rather than an artic quest of family, science, and discovery.

Do you want to see your metal Sea Truck look as though it's an old PlayStation 3 rendering or as if it has a bumpy texture? No? I didn't think so. Nonetheless, the game is definitely playable albeit a slow process, but for the foreseeable future, I would recommend to players that bigger bases should be avoided or segment parts of your base around an entire biome; although, that might prove more of an issue since there are still countless fauna that are aggressive to players in all biomes. Steer clear of them and the sea monkeys! Overall, the performance issues need a resolution in the upcoming months as more and more games come out with long-standing issues upon release.

"Below Zero" is a phenomenal game overall, but a bad deal on the Switch.

Needless to say that the Switch version of Subnautica does not perform like its predecessor did on other consoles. Regardless, purchase "Below Zero" on the Switch is portability and the ease of playing anywhere is a requisite for you. Other than that, stick to the other versions of the game on console or PC for an exceptionally better experience without the disappearing Chelicerates and thieving sea monkeys! In all seriousness, though, the Switch version does little to wow in terms of performance, but the story and gaming experience is even better than that of "Subnautica." Improved inventory, pinning crafting recipes, and a host of in-game items presented at the very beginning of the game help to take "Below Zero" to new depths than its predecessor where finding the incredibly-useful-but-sometimes-elusive beacon tool was somewhat of a struggle due to the random generation of items.

"Subnautica: Below Zero" is definitely something that players should pick up, no matter the fear of the ocean or open waters (players like myself). However, Unknown Worlds definitely needs to patch the Switch version before considering it a Switch success and future staple game. Maybe Nintendo should release a pro-version of the Switch itself, but that seems further away than my appreciation for Reaper Leviathans!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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