At long last, underwater survival game Subnautica has officially released. Four years ago the developers (Unknown Worlds Entertainment) published the game on Steam’s Early Access platform, where it languished briefly before being noticed by popular YouTubers such as Jacksepticeye and Markiplier. Ever since then it’s been gaining a cult following among fans of the survival and exploration genre. On January 23 player’s patience was finally rewarded as the game left Early Access and became a fully released title. You’ve heard me discuss Subnautica before, but now that it’s complete it’s time to go back and review the game in its whole state. My review can be summed up pretty easily: Subnautica is a rare example of Early Access done RIGHT.
Before we jump into what I mean by that, let’s talk about the release itself. The update was actually more symbolic than functional – the only content that was added was the final end quest of the main story line (which I won’t be spoiling for you here). Many gamers noticed that the update was only a few megabytes, leading them to suspect that the ending had already been pushed out in a previous patch and the “release” merely unlocked it. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to release day the developers were on an update frenzy, with a new build pushed out almost daily. Players noticed performance rapidly getting optimized and bugs getting swiftly squashed (and, unfortunately, new bugs sometimes being born). Previous to this “frenzy” the developers had pushed out updates roughly once per month, which sadly isn’t as common with EA titles as it should be.
And THAT is at the heart of what I mean when I say this is “Early Access done right”. We’ve all seen way too many EA offerings which promised the world, took our money, and then faded away into oblivion. Some of these games were outright scams, while some of them were newer developers who sincerely tried but merely got in way over their heads. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are – the fact is most EA games fail, players lose, and at this point many rightly view Early Access as a joke.
Despite all that, Subnautica has renewed my faith in the EA concept: for the entire four year run the developers were making constant regular updates to the game – every month or so a player could load it up and visibly see bug fixes, performance improvements, and new content. Perhaps more importantly, the developers were in CONSTANT contact with their players through the r/subnautica subreddit, the Unknown Worlds forums, and the Steam forums. They responded to player’s questions and concerns on a pretty much daily basis – they even took time to talk to yours truly more than once. To any budding developers thinking about going Early Access the lesson is simple: ENGAGE your players and push out patches regularly, even if it’s not quite as much progress as you had hoped. Don’t leave your customers hanging for years waiting for news or an update like many EA titles tend to do.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short review as much as we enjoyed playing the game in its early access. If you can, we’d definitely recommend you to get the game once it comes out!