What's your favorite non-violent game?

What's your favorite non-violent PC game? That's what we've asked the writers of the global PC Gamer team today. As with every edition of our regular PC Gamer Q&A, which is published on Saturdays, we love to read your responses to the same question in the comments thread below too. 

When it comes to our choices, expect a cool mix of trucking, underwater exploration, floating through space, a space station, puzzle games, old-fashioned physical comedy and even a quiz series. You'll also find a couple of responses below from members of the PC Gamer Club.

Samuel Roberts: Jazzpunk

I don't think Jazzpunk is strictly non-violent, since it features a joke deathmatch mode called Wedding Qake where you fire cake at each other, but the main game is pretty tame. It's basically a Naked Gun-style comedy adventure, where you prod different parts of the environment or characters to make jokes happen, and it's extremely enjoyable. 

This from the game's Wikipedia page also confirms it's not completely non-violent, but damn, I'd download any game that includes this: "a version of Duck Hunt in which the player pelts cardboard ducks with slices of bread from a toaster, [features] prominently in the game's storyline." I don't remember that bit, to be honest, but play Jazzpunk. It'll make you laugh. 

Andy Kelly: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Regular readers will know that I'm forever banging on about this game, but it really is one of the best on PC—and notable for its complete lack of violence. I mean, sometimes I'll get frustrated and ram my HGV into a slow-moving motorist, but mostly I just trundle peacefully along the motorway listening to German rock radio stations.

American Truck Simulator is a nice alternative. Although I prefer the European scenery, particularly the Scandinavia expansion, the deserts of the western United States make for some atmospheric driving too. Both games are some of the most relaxing experiences you can have on PC, like a lovely screensaver for your brain, and I can't recommend them enough.

Tom Senior: EVE Online

EVE Online isn't a non-violent game exactly, but if you keep your head down you can coast around in high-sec space admiring nebulae and bathing in the sweeping synth soundtrack. EVE's asteroid fields have given me the most peaceful moments in games. I don't have time to join a corp and get the full EVE experience, but I drop in occasionally and stretch the game across two monitors to make the cosmos feel as huge as possible. Then I just sit back and watch the little mining lasers suck ore out of unsuspecting rocks.

Speaking about non-violent spaces in games, I recently started following The Safe Room on Twitter. It highlights areas designed to give players respite in tense games. The pictures remind me of the sense of relief you get when a game puts the brakes on. Even violent games can deliver moments of reflection.

James Davenport: Proteus

I play Proteus a few times a year now. Something about a pixelated rabbit that makes plinking sounds with each hop gets to me. But it's not just the rabbits—everything emote and dances and boops and beeps when you walk by on whatever procedurally generated landscape you washed up on this time. Everything from flowers to bees to gravestones has something to say, and they sing it in accordance with the tune of each season. You'll rotate through them all in Proteus, while the song and its natural instruments change mood with the little deaths of autumn and the vibrant renewal of spring. Proteus only takes an hour or so to finish, and its lack of a clear goal will bother some, but it's a complete emotional circuit. If you're looking to contemplate life, death, transcendence, and plinky rabbits without ever pulling a trigger or bashing dragur over the head with an axe, it's a must play.  

Jody Macgregor: Bernbrand

Bernband is an entire alien city right out of a Star Wars movie compacted down to an 11 MB download. Bug-eyed aliens bobble around the streets, flying cars vroom past the walkways, and banging music comes out of every third building. It's a game about walking around and finding cool spots—the dudes listening to hip-hop in the car park, the aquarium where you can get inside the glass—and that's enough for me. Your alien feet clip-clop as you walk past glowing buildings, passing from noisy spaces like bars and thoroughfares to quiet alleys and back again, and the contrast makes it feels just like being lost in a real city.

Bernband is free on Gamejolt, and is all the work of Tom van den Boogaart. He's currently working on an expanded, paid version, and has been posting gifs of the work-in-progress on Twitter.

Chris Livingston: You Don't Know Jack

I still play You Don't Know Jack every now and then. It's still a fun, fast, and silly trivia series after all these years (the first YDKJ game was way the hell back in 1995). It's one of the few games I stream to the TV using the Steam Link, and party play lets you use your phone as a controller, perfect since my phone is almost always in my hand anyway.

I just looked it up and apparently there's yet another volume coming out later this year, which makes me happy—though in terms of non-violence I should say some of Cookie's jokes and puns can be almost physically painful.

Tim Clark: Dear Esther and Lumines


I suppose the expected answer is some sort of elegiac stroll-'em-up, of which my favourite would be the none-more-poetic Dear Esther, which is the right sort of pretentious. But really there's a ton of stuff I could choose. Pro Evolution Soccer during its glory days, though my last ditch tackling might disqualify it. And how about puzzle games? A remastered version of Lumines is coming out later this month, and the original is on Steam already. It's super peaceful in a trancey, high energy sort of way. You know what I'm saying. 

Bo Moore: Stardew Valley

I've put more than 200 hours into Stardew Valley now. It's the game I've gone back to the most in the last few years. I don't do so in short little bursts, though. Every time I return it sucks me in for a good long while. At this point it almost feels like I'm speedrunning it as I try to min/max my first few seasons, rapidly upgrade my tools, and get my winery operation up and running as quick as possible. I get burned out quicker each subsequent return, and yet I keep going back. 

The PC Gamer Club: Subnautica, Abzu and The Talos Principle

We asked the members of the PC Gamer Club to suggest an entry this week through our Discord channel, and we got a couple of great responses. User Mildoze picked both Subnautica and Abzu, noting the former has a little bit of violence. "Subnautica is an amazing story game that forces the player to think for themselves and does it without ever turning you into a powerhouse. You're always vulnerable (even 40 hrs in), never given offensive tools, and forced to go ever deeper into more dangerous waters. The best choice in every confrontation is to flee, but you can't always do that when you're panicking in a cavern 1000m below the ocean without any weapons or enough oxygen to make it to safety."

And on Abzu: "It's like playing a living aquarium. So peaceful and beautiful under the sea. It's a game where there is no threat of dying, no enemies or hostility of any kind. It's easy to relax and reach a Zen-like state of mind playing Abzu  I've never fallen asleep playing a game until Abzu. Yet for a couple weeks every night I would turn it on, fighting off the sandman as I made my way to the end of this amazing exploration game." 

Fellow Discord member Ronder opts for The Talos Principle. "For me it would have to be The Talos Principle. Aside from the excellent puzzle setups, the main conflict in the game is generated by the questioning terminals you meet. As they gently prod you and question your sense self-identity as well as your responses to that, the AI unit you pilot vicariously comes to self-awareness through you. This form of intellectual combat is stimulating, especially given the scope of the game, and gifts you subtle questions to ponder long after the closing credits. It's hard to see how potentially erasing your sense of personhood could be non-violent, but the game achieves that masterfully."

But what about you, reader? Let us know your choices in the comments. 

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Update 84 Released

Crushing Bugs

Since launch, we have been prototyping potential Subnautica expansions, working on Xbox One launch, and working on tidying up some of the more glaring bugs in the Steam 1.0 release. Today we released an update that includes a bunch of that tidying up. Here's the list of changes: [list] [*]Main menu button texts update correctly when switching languages [*]In-game menu button text colors fixed [*]F8 panel fully translated [*]Cyclops flooding leak indicators now clearly outside of the hull [*]Controller navigation and selection boxes fixed [*]Builder menu usable with swapped mouse buttons [*]Lifepod fabricator lighting fixed [*]Cyclops hatch door collider fixed [*]Disallow poster placement where wall lockers are disallowed [*]Non-localized text removed from color customization terminal [*]Physics bugs with ion cubes and precursor keys fixed [*]End-game achievements now trigger [*]Lost river creatures now immune to brine [*]Player mask now correctly lit [*]Can not despawn Aurora by building a base next to it anymore [*]Seamoth hatch animation fixed [*]Changing quality settings in game reminds player to restart the game [*]Time capsule UI simplyfied [*]Pathfinder tool recipe adjusted [*]Entering exosuit while sprinting fixed [*]Fixed saved game rocket not being ready for launch [*]Reduced hitching when rebuilding a base [*]Fixed moonpool ladders not working properly when cinematics have been skipped [*]Time capsule fixes for various platforms [*]Added option to turn off subtitles. [*]Updated TimeCapsuleTitleFormat [*]Fixed base interiors looking incorrect when viewed from inside a vehicle or another base [*]Fixed Cyclops interior not looking correct when viewed from a vehicle [*]Fixed low LOD of certain base windows [*]Re-caching of entire world (to help with hitching a little) [*]Options menu screen resolution fix [*]Fixed localization of deconstruction errors [*]Added TimeCapsuleTitleFormat to English.json [*]Translator credits update [*]Translation updates [/list] Enjoy!

Historical Factoid

In the early days of Subnautica development, updates did not have names. They had numbers, like Seamoth Update, because they were punchier. Under the hood the named updates continued to have numbers. Update 84 reverts to the old school: A Subnautica Update with no name. - (UWE) This post was edited to include additional changes pushed in a small update released just after Update 84. Together the two updates constitute Update 84.
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The significance of Subnautica's cascading failures

I lost the keys to my apartment mailbox the other week. I wasn’t really concerned at first. It’s 2018, how often do I need physical mail? But as the days went on without the key turning up, my worries mounted. 

I’d switched health insurance plans just last month and was waiting for a letter from my new provider. If I couldn’t find the key, I couldn’t get the letter. If I couldn’t get the letter, I’d have to have an awkward conversation with my landlord about making a duplicate. How much would that cost? Would it happen before I missed the deadline to reply to my provider? How expensive, or how frustrating, would that screw-up be? 

Little problems cascade into big ones. Life doesn’t pause for you to rectify them. It’s how people get their cars towed, miss work, and then can’t make the money to pay to get the vehicle back. Or how someone causes a state-wide apocalyptic panic with a mis-click. 

Survival games like Don’t Starve and DayZ fuel and feed on similar cascades of drama. Hunger and thirst meters stand in for worries about rent or your health insurance bill. They push you to brave zombie- and monster-infested wastes for supplies. Then those foes push you towards other necessities, like bullets, health packs, or upgrades.

Subnautica, my new personal favorite survival game, shares some of those fantastical problems. There are sea monsters lurking beneath the waves of Planet 4556B (the ocean world where the game takes place), but they keep to their territory if I keep to mine. I’m free to tend to my undersea garden—to collect my in-game nutrition from an ever-replenishing aquarium and do the daily chore of making sure my habitat, submarines, and ore-drilling mech suit are powered up in case I need them. 

By the time I was halfway to my destination I was starving. My titanium transport was mostly out of juice.

It’s an agrarian dream, a damp Stardew Valley. The low-stress subsistence of Subnautica is the fantasy of life in a less complicated world, free from any needs or wants but my own. The world is alien enough to let me dissociate from reality, but the escapism is rooted in a real-world desire for things to be simple.

I could spend hundreds of hours like this, as some players I know have done, or as others do with Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon. But Subnautica is different. It has a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, unlike many survival games. And for better or worse, I’m the kind of person who has to see a game’s #content all the way through.

So I revved up a submarine the size of a double-decker bus and set off for the deepest point in Subnautica as you are supposed to. But I didn’t make it there. I’d forgotten to pack spare food, water, health packs, and fresh power cells, you see. By the time I was halfway to my destination I was starving and my titanium transport was mostly out of juice.

It was a simple mistake, but as in real life it had cascading consequences. When you "die" in Subnautica you’re sent back to the last safe harbor you stood in, minus whatever raw materials you had in your inventory. But partway to the trench that would push the game’s story forward, I had collected glittering rubies and pulsing radioactive material I’d never seen before. 

I wasn’t about to give up those. So I did my best undersea sprint—a mix of breathless swimming and Spider-Man swinging with my mech’s grappling hook—to get back to base before death claimed my precious rare goods.

In Subnautica, I collect my mushrooms to fuel a bioreactor and expect to have a salted Reginald around for easy eating.

The local monsters didn’t appreciate the panicked racket I made. EMP-burping crab creatures, jellyfish people that could warp me out of my vehicle, and man-faced squids that shook my equipment all waded between me and the safe mundanity I had made under the sea. 

For want of a water bottle, I earned these creatures’ tentacled wrath. Because of their interference, it became even harder to return to my kelp beds and aquarium before keeling over. It was the avalanche of stress over losing my key all over again.

And that relatability is exactly what made my escape so terrifying. Some genetic instinct tells my squishy human body that being chased by sea monsters is upsetting, but barring bad luck and a shark attack I’ll probably never know that fear first-hand. Forgetting to gas up before taking a long and lonely drive through unfamiliar territory, though? That’s a drama past experience lets me wrap my mind around.

None of that is possible without Subnautica’s early, gentle monotony. By definition drama is unexpected, and nothing is more unexpected than a break in the routines that we set for ourselves. In real life, I go up the block to buy bagels on Wednesdays and expect my mailbox key to be where I left it. In Subnautica, I collect my mushrooms to fuel a bioreactor and expect to have a salted Reginald around for easy eating. The idea that this will always be the case is a myth I make for myself. 

Building up and breaking down that kind of fiction in a safe environment like videogames isn’t just fun, it’s a useful form of self-examination. It makes me look at the flaws in my own routine. How quickly could everyday life come crumbling down, just because I do something the same way, every day, because it’s comfortable? What else about the world around me is broken, wrong, or unfair because someone decided it was more comfortable for them this way?

Subnautica has its alien sea monsters, but maybe they’re not so unfathomable as they seem. The real world is certainly full of predators—from payday loans to rent-hiking landlords and con artists phishing for your credit card number over the phone—just waiting to take advantage of any crack in our fragile routines. 

Subnautica lets me swim or sail away from my problems, but reality isn’t so straightforward. My key did turn up eventually (someone found and hung it above my mailbox, which was pretty nice of them). Next time I might not be so lucky, and my underwater adventures have made me think harder about where I keep it.

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Subnautica map coordinates and exploration tips

Image via Steam user

Subnautica's bizarre alien life and dramatic rock formations make it easy to spend a lot of time beneath the waves, but it's also easy to get completely, where-the-hell-is-my-Seamoth kind of lost. Maybe humans just aren't built to navigate as well underwater as we do on land, or maybe Planet 4546B needs to hire a better city planner. 

Whatever causes it, getting turned around under the sea is no fun. There's no such thing as an in-game Subnautica map, and even the really smart fish haven't figured out how to invent GPS satellites. To help out our fellow marooned survivors, we put together our own map and a few of our best strategies for finding your way around in Subnautica.

A note on spoilers: This guide is spoiler-free. We won't give away any locations from later in the game or share directions to the fully stocked, 24-hour supermarket hidden under the sea. That said, exploring Subnautica with no knowledge at all, getting lost, and stumbling across something amazing is a pretty great experience. If you haven't gotten into the game at all, go get your feet wet and come back here when you need help.

Orientation for beginners

The world you explore in Subnautica is a volcanic crater, though you wouldn't know it by sailing a boat across it. On the surface you'll find nothing but open ocean and four landmarks: your lifepod, the crashed hulk of the Aurora, and two mountainous islands (usually obscured by fog until you get close to them). To get your bearings, the lifepod is in the middle, the Aurora is to the east, and the two islands are to the northeast and southwest.

Click the map to expand to full size in a new tab.

You'll find a schematic for a compass pretty early in the game, and it's essential for finding your way around. With a compass and this map, you can plot some basic directions for yourself using the grid markings, which have a line every 500 meters. To get to lifepod 19, for example, you swim about 250 meters due west from your crash site. Lifepod 6 is around 300 meters east and 200 meters north—according to Pythagoras, that's 360 meters due northeast.

As for depth, that's much simpler: hug the ocean floor. Almost all of the good stuff is found on the floor, whether it's in the charming shallows at 8 meters or the inky depths at 900 meters. Whether or not you can go deep enough to find the floor depends on your equipment and your vehicles, but the question of "where is that thing?" is usually a matter of directions, not depth.

Filling in the edges

Since there's no in-game Subnautica map, you're going to need to take some notes yourself. When commenters or forum posters say they want a map in the game, they usually want a way to cross off explored areas or remember important locations. If you want to keep track, make like it's a '90s-era adventure game and break out a notepad.

To actually note locations, you need a coordinate system, and you have two options: console coordinates or homebrewed beacon triangulation. One of them is cool and fun and the other is dumb and boring. You can use whichever one you want, I'm not your dad.

Here's the first way: Everything in Subnautica has in-game coordinates. You can find coordinates by pressing F1 to bring down a console menu. Under "Camera world pos" you'll see three numbers shown as (x, y, z), where X is east-west, Y is depth, and Z is north-south. If you find something cool or you're done exploring a certain sunken wreck, press F1 and note those coordinates so you can refer to them later. If you really get stuck and you consult the wiki, you can use those coordinates to find whatever you've been looking for.

Personally, I find pulling down a console menu a serious buzz-kill. That's why I prefer the second method, which fits better inside the tools of the game: Triangulation. Triangulation can be used for making maps in all sorts of ways, but the method we're going to use here is position resection: using three fixed, known points to determine your unknown location.

To get a known fixed point to measure from, you need beacons, floating radio transmitters that stay stable in water. After you scan a few fragments at wrecks near the shallows, you'll unlock a blueprint for a beacon, and a little copper ore and titanium will let your fabricator whip one up. 

For the best coverage, swim (or drive) out to the edges of the map and drop all three beacons. This may take you over some deep and dangerous waters, but as long as you stay on the surface, you probably won't die.

The key with beacon triangulation is to spread 'em out as much as you can. Once you've got all three placed and labeled, you can bring up your tablet and toggle a HUD display to show icons and distances. When you want to make a note of a spot, get a distance reading from each of the beacons, e.g., 900 meters away from #1, 640 meters away from #2, 1,000 meters away from #3. If you find a wreck with a broken door panel but you left your repair tool back at base, those distances will work like coordinates to help you find your way back.

Biomes

There are a lot of distinct biomes in Subnautica, and some crafting recipes will force you to track down a specific biome with some rare creature or mineral. This list isn't exhaustive—there are two major mushroom forests, for example, in different and unconnected parts of the world. I'm also not mentioning some of the rare, hard-to-reach biomes that show up late in the game.

Shallows and kelp forest

This is the easy one. The shallows and a bordering kelp forest are the first things you'll see when you swim away from your lifepod for the first time. There's a ton of food and basic crafting materials to be found here.

Grassy plateau
Coordinates: 362, -90, 21

You'll see the wide open spaces and bright red grass first. These plateaus have more interesting minerals and some of the more aggressive small animals.

Crash zone
Coordinates: 453, -13, -180

The area immediately around the Aurora has been churned up, and most of the plant life has been destroyed. You'll find a lot of scrap metal, minerals, and a few supply crates from the cargo hold. To get there, well, swim toward the massive burning spaceship.

Mushroom forest
Coordinates: 529, -175, 371

There are two separate mushroom forests, and they're very distinctive: towering trees of flat, disc-shaped fungus branches. It's one of best looking biomes to explore, and it's one of the first places you find large mineral deposits. As soon as you have drilling gear, head to the mushroom forest to load up on crafting materials.

Jellyshroom cave
Coordinates: -355, -110, -226

Strangely beautiful and super creepy, the Jellyshroom cave is like if you lit your bedroom with lamps made of nuclear waste: sure the lighting is good, but you don't actually want to spend time in there. You'll find an entrance quite close to your lifepod, but you'll need an upgraded vehicle to dive all the down to 300 meters.

Mountains
Coordinates: 1090, -265, 1215

The northeastern island is the uppermost tip of a sprawling mountain range, most of which is underwater. You'll find some really rare minerals on the sheer cliff faces, and large predators are everywhere.

Mountain island
Coordinates: 309, 0, 1080

The northeastern island is larger than the southwestern one, and it's covered with more tunnels and places to get lost. You'll find a lot of gold and lithium in the caves, and the large alien tower on the northern tip is going to be an important part of your adventures.

Underwater islands
Coordinates: -85, -66, 635

Large alien membranes act like floatation devices, holding a large archipelago suspended under the surface. These are a good place to find diamonds without going too deep, as long as you can avoid being eaten.

Floating island
Coordinates: -620, 0, -967

The underwater islands' more famous, more successful cousin, the floating island managed to gather enough weird alien membranes to breach the surface and stay up there. On the surface is a dense rainforest full of edible plants and crops you'll want to take back to your home garden for food. You'll also find quite a lot of tech and architectural blueprints in the old ruins scattered around.

Dunes
Coordinates: -1101, -213, 342

One of the best places to find large mineral deposits is also the most dangerous. The dunes are dark and murky with silt and sand even on a sunny afternoon, so watch your back. When you start drilling, it really ticks off the neighbors.

Blood kelp
Coordinates: -977, -315, -532

When it's time to suck it up and head into that deep water, that bad water, you're probably looking for blood kelp. Skeletal kelp vines drop valuable organic matter, and you'll find other hard-to-find crafting materials like gel sacks, uraninite, and deep shrooms.

Grand Reef
Coordinates: -435, -319, -991

It's deep and there are some pretty serious predators, but the Grand Reef is gorgeous to look at. If you can dodge the floating anchor pods, you'll find some of the most diverse mineral deposits in the game. There are also two very large sunken wrecks to explore for some good tech blueprints.

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Subnautica's hands-off approach to storytelling is brilliant

Subnautica achieves a rare feat for survival games by weaving together the usual exploration and base building with an absorbing sci-fi story. Being the lone survivor of the Aurora, a spaceship that crashlands on a waterworld, there's a surprising amount of humanity in the abandoned audio files and diaries you find while scouring the ocean floor. 

About six hours into your adventure, however, Subnautica's story rises to an exciting—and very unexpected—crescendo. It's a singular moment that, for weeks, haunted those of us who have seen it. Last week, Pip, Andy, and I began talking about that moment, and what we discovered was that Subnautica's rare willingness to let us control our character during this pivotal moment each let us experience the story in dramatically different contexts. We each had our own perspective on what happened, and it wasn't until we got together to discuss them that we realized what actually happened.

To demonstrate how brilliant this single moment is, we're walking you through our version of events.

Beware, what follows is a complete spoiler for the first major plot twist in Subnautica. It's an incredible moment, so take the time to experience it for yourself first.

Did I do that? 

Steven: My first few days surviving in the deep oceans of Subnautica were suitably short-sighted. As the sun rose each day, I'd dive down into the shallows surrounding my life pod to scoop up any ores and minerals I could find while occasionally catching and eating fish to keep my stomach full.

It must've been a few days before I even realized that my floating escape pod had a radio transmitter that could receive broadcasts, and it was to my horror and shame that I discovered several old SOS messages from other crew members of the crashed Aurora. With the little gear I had, I set out to their last known locations only to find their empty, destroyed pods. Their bodies were now food for some monstrous fish, I presumed.

It was around this time that I also began receiving broadcasts from someone who was definitely still alive. The Sunbeam, a cargo ship passing through the system, picked up the Aurora's distress beacon and was coming to investigate. With no way to send them a message, it was nerve-wracking spending each day waiting for their next broadcast. They had no confirmation that anyone had survived, so how would they know to look for me?

Not wanting to hold out hope, I continued my daily routine of foraging for materials and slowly building tools and vehicles to help me better survive. As each day ticked by, I'd return to my pod to find a new message from the Sunbeam ensuring any survivors that they were coming. I was hopeful. 

One day I returned to find a message from the Sunbeam's captain, Avery Quinn, telling me they had finally plotted a course to the planet's watery surface. They shared a waypoint almost a kilometer away—much farther than I had dared venture before—and instructed me that I had 45 real-time minutes to get there for rescue.

Andy: I had the feeling something bad was going to happen, but I wasn’t sure what. When the captain of the Sunbeam tells you they’re on their way to rescue you, he talks about hoping the weather holds up. So I thought maybe the ship wouldn’t be able to land because of, I dunno, a space storm? I was only about six hours into the game at this point, which felt way too early for a successful rescue. Even so, I was totally unprepared for what happened.

Steven: I felt the same way. Was I really going to be rescued that quickly? Was Subnautica's story mode so brief? Uncertain and with a million questions in my mind, like what was behind the alien-looking constructs I had found nestled in an underwater cave, I decided to continue foraging and building. When the Sunbeam was just 10 minutes away, I loaded up in my Seamoth submarine with food and water and began the long voyage to the rally point.

Five minutes later, I saw something I had never expected to see: An island. Pulling up to shore in my Seamoth, I disembarked on a beach and wandered a few meters closer to find something equally unexpected. Jutting out of the island, an alien tower reached almost a kilometer into the sky. At its base, I found an entrance guarded by a forcefield. Two pieces of a broken tablet fit together in a nearby console and granted me access. With four minutes to kill, I decided to head inside.

I picked my way through the base, stopping to scan different pieces of technology and then read their descriptions in my PDA. By the time I reached the alien computer near the back of the main foyer, I had only 30 seconds before the Sunbeam would land. 

I had a million more questions. Did the Sunbeam captain intentionally choose this island as our rendezvous? If so, did they know about the alien base located there? Were they really just a cargo ship that happened to pick up the Aurora's distress beacon, or was there a more sinister motive at work here? With each second, I grew increasingly skeptical that my supposed saviors had other plans for me. I wished I had brought a weapon.

With 30 seconds remaining, I hastily pushed a button on the central alien console. My PDA instructed me that it had begun a data download, but I wouldn't have time to read it. Almost immediately after pushing the button, I heard an enormous groan come from the tower itself. Not having any time to think, I ran outside to meet the Sunbeam.

Back outside, I looked up to see a black dot in the sky growing steadily as it approached the surface. To my left, the alien tower continued to groan. Had pushing that button started some kind of process?

"Aurora survivor, we have your PDA signature," Quinn said. "I don't know how you walked away from that wreck let alone survived since then. We'll be happy to bring you on board." Seconds passed, and I watched the alien tower with rapidly growing horror. It was rotating and angling itself. It no longer looked like a tower, but a cannon. Oh shit.

As the Sunbeam finally came close enough that I could make out the shape of its hull, the alien tower began glowing green. "What is that?" Quinn said to a crewmate. "—from the planet?" A lance of green energy erupted from the tower and the Sunbeam exploded. Pieces of its nearly vaporized hull sprinkled across the ocean before me.

I stood there, on the beach, in utter shock. Replaying the events in my mind, the only thing I could focus on was how, like an idiot, I had gone pushing buttons inside the base without knowing what they did. My stomach was in knots. Without knowing what I was doing, I had just accidentally murdered everyone on the Sunbeam.

Survivor's guilt 

Andy: I stood on the beach with five minutes on the timer and minimized the game. Then, shortly before the five minutes were up, I heard a metal grinding sound. I flipped back to the game and saw what I previously thought was an alien skyscraper suddenly transform into a giant cannon. And it was then that I knew the Sunbeam was done for. I looked on in horror as it was blown out of the sky, although I must admit I was thinking “If that crashes I might be able to scavenge some cool stuff out of the wreckage.” But, alas, it was totally vaporized.

Steven: Hearing Andy's story totally confused me. How had the alien cannon fired if he hadn't first turned it on? Something wasn't adding up, but it wasn't until I spoke with Pip that we realized what actually had happened.

Pip: Unlike Steven and Andy, I was really far into my current playthrough when I encountered the Sunbeam broadcasts. I’d actually ignored the radio signals (and even the Aurora itself) for ages as I was perfectly content to explore and build on my own. By the time the Sunbeam storyline began, I’d already found the Mountain Island it leads you to by myself. I’d thoroughly explored its caves and waters, and I’d collected the resources needed to access the alien facility which extends from the beach. 

Because I wasn't pressed for time like Steven, I was able to read each of the data logs I recovered from scanning the alien technology. One of the data points in the facility offers up the following:

“This device houses energy equivalent to a 100MT nuclear detonation, which can be channeled through the facility and directed at vessels overhead, or bent around the planet's gravitational pull to strike targets in orbit. Power is routed via the attached terminal, allowing for the device to be deactivated if necessary. It is currently operating without parameters, suggesting it will target any ship within range.”

Knowing that and then hearing the Sunbeam communication that told me that craft was going to come down to the surface to fetch me was such a strong moment of powerlessness. I spent the full countdown bumbling around the island and the alien facility trying to figure out if I had any ability to alter the Sunbeam’s fate. It is maybe possible, but that's a part of Subnautica's much bigger story. 

I tried to find anything in my PDA which might suggest a radio modification to allow me to send rather than just receiving messages, but no dice. I ended up just standing there helplessly. The only thing left in my power was to pay the Sunbeam’s crew the courtesy of witnessing their demise. 

Breathing room 

It's rare that a game let alone a survival game has such confidence in its story that it doesn't force you to pay attention to one of its most dramatic moments.

Steven: Talking to Pip and Andy about this moment, we were all shocked to find that each of us had a very different take on what happened. I thought I had turned the gun on and murdered everyone, Andy had to endure the horrific confusion of seeing it all unfold without knowing why, and Pip had to suffer with the knowledge of what was going to happen but no way of averting the disaster.

Andy: I’m surprised by how good the storytelling in Subnautica is, and how much freedom you’re given to experience it. I love that we all have different stories about a moment they could’ve easily just made a passive cutscene, but instead Subnautica gives you full control of your character during the entirety of those events. You don’t even have to be there to witness the ship being shot down. I did not expect a survival game to tell a compelling story, but here we are. The Sunbeam moment weirdly reminds me of The Shining, when (spoiler alert) Hallorann arrives at the Overlook after a long, treacherous journey to rescue Wendy and Danny, and is almost immediately killed by an axe-wielding Jack. A real gut punch.

Steven: Exactly. The whole setup for this moment is brilliant because the countdown timer builds so much anticipation that players respond to in different ways. Some might go immediately, similar to Pip, to scope the rendezvous point out. I wish I had done that because it might've given me a chance to read some of the alien data logs and understand what the facility was ahead of time. I had rushed through exploring it, so I was fully under the impression that I had destroyed the Sunbeam by mucking around with the alien computer inside the tower. It was all just a huge coincidence that I pushed that button the moment the tower came to life.

It's rare that a game—let alone a survival game—has such confidence in its story that it doesn't force you to pay attention to one of its most dramatic moments. Letting you move freely during the Sunbeam rescue attempt is brilliant because it lets you be an actor in the scene and, if you're like me, draw some terrible (and misinformed) conclusions.

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Subnautica s time capsules contain hidden treasures

*singing* Wouldn't it be ice if this was frosty / then we wouldn't have to live so looong

Underwater survival game Subnautica has a feature I neglected to mention in my review time capsules! These titanium pods are player-made containers. They can hold a message, a screenshot and a few small items. At a certain point in the game you get to make one of these capsules. It s then put through a voting process, vetted by the developers and – if it’s good enough – finally plopped into the ocean for other divers to find. Some of these gifts have been useful, others sentimental. One is even an easter egg from the game s technical artist. Here’s the best ones we found when we went trawling (through Reddit). (more…)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun
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The Joy Of Subnautica s Sea Treaders

Subnautica is remarkable for a great many reasons, and one of them is a particular creature discovered at about 300m deep, stomping their way in long processions across a well worn path of the seabed. The Sea Treaders. These titanic crustaceans(?) are a herd of complete joy. (more…)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun
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Subnautica gave me the experience I wanted from No Man s Sky

For the record, I thought No Man’s Sky was fine. It fell way short of my expectations, sure. A combination of developer Hello Games over-promising, and those promises mutating and growing out of control in my own mind. But I managed to squeeze thirty enjoyable hours out of it—especially after Creative mode was added, removing the constant, tedious need to harvest fuel and craft warp cells. It’s a game I turn to when I want to play something placid and undemanding. I love idly hopping between planets, taking photos, and wondering what the procedural generation will throw up next.

But that’s not the experience I wanted. When it was first announced, the idea of taking a starship and exploring a vast galactic frontier was thrilling. My imagination was flooded with visions of landing on uncharted alien worlds that were rich with mystery, intrigue, and discovery. But the reality is a lot of mostly dull, samey landscapes littered with a repeating handful of structures and objects, making this infinite universe feel somehow limited in scope. But with over 18 quintillion randomly generated planets to visit, it’s perhaps unsurprising that none of them really feel that special.

There’s just one planet in Subnautica, home to an expansive ocean teeming with peculiar flora and fauna. Explore its depths and you’ll find fields of dancing kelp, caves illuminated by fluorescent fungi, bubbling thermal vents, and sandy plains sprinkled with glowing plants. It’s a diverse, vibrant setting, and feels truly alien. And while it may be unfair to compare quintillions of procedurally generated planets to a static, hand-crafted one, playing Subnautica gives me exactly what I wanted from No Man’s Sky: landing on another world, exploring it, and being surprised by what I find there.

If you’re only aware of Subnautica in passing, you might have written it off as just another survival game. But what makes this one stand out for me is the story, which hums away in the background and can be dipped into, or ignored, at your leisure. Your ultimate goal is getting off the planet you’ve crash landed on, but along the way there are mysteries to unravel, stories to piece together, and intriguing secrets lurking beneath the waves. And these discoveries contribute to an ongoing narrative, making following signals, poking around in wrecks, and looking for clues in lost PDAs worth your time.

But sometimes it’s better to just pick a direction and swim. Some of the most impressive things I’ve seen, I discovered completely by accident. The hulking silhouette of a wrecked starship, resting precariously on the edge of a shadowy abyss. An underwater volcano spewing fire and ash. Shoals of iridescent fish swimming across the spotlights of my submersible. And it only gets more interesting the deeper you go, which gives you an incentive to craft advanced equipment and vehicles to withstand the crushing pressure of the depths. I usually find harvesting materials and building stuff in survival games a chore, but in Subnautica, every step towards a new invention that’ll let me explore further and deeper is hugely exciting.

Subnautica’s underwater world also feels like it has a functioning ecology. Plants and sealife have distinctive roles and behaviours, and they interact with the environment around them: whether it’s a sand shark bursting out of the silt to grab a passing fish in its jaws, or stalkers scooping up chunks of ship wreckage and taking them for a swim. Compare this to the creatures in No Man’s Sky, who roam in aimless herds and have no real connection to their surroundings, and you can see why Hello’s planets feel so dead. Another benefit of choosing to sculpt rather than generate an ecosystem.

A common misconception about procedural generation is that there’s no real authorship involved—that procedural worlds are soullessly churned out by software. But it takes a creative mind to write the rules of that software in the first place, and artists to create the assets that fuel it. For me, the real problem with No Man’s Sky isn’t that it’s procedurally generated—it’s that it fails to use that impressive technology to create a compelling exploration experience. And in a game that claims to be all about the joy of discovery, that’s a pretty fundamental flaw. A flaw that Subnautica manages to avoid by limiting its scope to a relatively small, more curated space.

Perhaps procedural generation is fundamentally at odds with satisfying exploration. When you find a diary in Subnautica, you hear them specifically talk about the place where you found it, giving that location context—and maybe even leading to a supply cache or secret entrance. But creating that connection with some randomly generated mass of terrain is a lot more difficult. And that’s why, when you find something in No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t actually matter where it is. There are no references to the local geography: that there’s a nearby mountain that may be worth investigating, or a lake abundant with resources. And without those details, exploring feels meaningless.

An infinite universe where every planet is as detailed and bespoke as Subnautica’s ocean world would be great but, crucially, literally impossible. So forget infinity. The hours I’ve spent paddling around in this weird, wonderful alien sea have been more memorable than all the time I spent planet-hopping in No Man’s Sky. And I think that makes a solid case for future sci-fi exploration games to focus on smaller, more detailed settings over an endless, characterless expanse of cosmos. I’d personally rather have one, or a handful, of interesting, hand-crafted planets filled with things that are actually worth discovering than several quintillion random, forgettable landscapes.

PC Gamer
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Subnautica is the ultimate gaming safe place

I’ve long been absorbed by the pleasure of games as safe places. Those oases that allow you to be entirely distracted from the outside, encased in a fantastic world that let you find calm. As someone who lives with the incessant turmoil that is generalised anxiety disorder, such games can offer extraordinary respite. And none has ever done this more for me than Subnautica. (more…)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun
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How to enable Subnautica's developer console

We get a little giddy when we open a new game, hit the tilde key, and a console prompt slides down from the top of the screen. Messing with console commands is a PC gaming tradition—mucking about with the passage time is especially fun—and Subnautica includes a thorough library of dev hacks. The console isn't enabled by default, though, so you'll have to do a little prep to use them. Below, learn how to enable Subnautica's console commands and what they are.

Enabling the console

1. Press F3 to open a sub-menu which will appear in the upper-left hand corner of the screen.

2. Press F8 to free the mouse.

3. Uncheck the 'Disable Console' option.

4. Back out by pressing F3 and F8 again. 

5. You should now be able to open the console with the tilde (~) key, though this may vary with keyboards. It will appear as a grey box in the lower-left corner.

Note: The 'Disable Console' option will remain unchecked between sessions, but every time you restart the game you'll need to press F3 to open the menu, then again to close it, before the console will work.

Teleportation

biome [name] — This will teleport you to the biome of your choosing, with [name] being any of the following:

  • safe (teleports you to safe shallows, where your lifepod crashed.)
  • kelp
  • kelp_cave
  • grassy
  • grassy_cave
  • mushroom
  • koosh
  • koosh_cave
  • jelly
  • shroom
  • sparse
  • reef
  • grandreef
  • dunes
  • mountains
  • moutains_cave
  • deepgrand
  • bloodkelp
  • underislands
  • smokers
  • inactivelavart
  • islands
  • tree
  • lostriver
  • lavazone

goto [name] — Teleports you to a location. Type 'goto' with no variable for a list of locations. 

warp [x] [y] [z] — Warps to a set of coordinates you provide.

warpforward [meters] — Warps the player forward. Use a number to indicate how many meters forward to warp.

warpme — Teleports you to the last base or vehicle you were in, eg, the Cyclops, the lifepod.

spawn — If you're stuck, just type this to respawn nearby.

randomstart — Plops you onto the lifepod at one of its start locations.

kill — kills you and respawns you back on the lifepod.

Spawning items

item [item] [number] — Adds some number of an item to your inventory. If an item name is two words, write it as one, eg, item copperwire 10.

spawn [item] [number] — Spawns some number of an item or creature in front of the player, eg spawn seaglide 1.

clearinventory — Deletes everything in your inventory.

sub cyclops — Spawn the Cyclops.

sub aurora — Spawn the Aurora (look behind you).

seaglide — Spawns a seaglide.

vehicleupgrades — Gives you all common vehicle modules.

seamothupgrades — Gives you all Seamoth modules.

exosuitupgrades — Gives you all Prawn Suit modules.

exosuitarms — Gives you all Prawn Suit arms.

spawnloot — Spawns quartz, copper ore, magnesium, salt deposit, gold, and four metal salvage.

madloot — Fills your inventory with glass, titanium, computer chips, batteries, a survival knife, a habitat builder, and a scanner.

resourcesfor [item] — Gives you the resources needed to craft a certain item, eg, resourcesfor cyclops.

ency [name] — Unlocks a databank entry. Type ency all to unlock all of them.

unlock [blueprint] — Unlocks a blueprint, eg, unlock cyclops.

unlockall — Unlocks all blueprints.

Cheats and modifications

bobthebuilder — Adds a habitat builder, survival knife, scanner and repair tool to your inventory. Enables fastbuild, unlockall, nocost, fastgrow, fasthatch, radiation.

fastgrow — Plants grow super fast.

nocost — Unlimited use of the fabricator, habitat builder, vehicle bay, and so on, regardless of whether or not you have the resources needed.

noenergy — Turns off or on power usage for vehicles, tools, and seabases.

nosurvival — Disables food and water requirements.

oxygen — Unlimited oxygen.

nitrogen — Adds the potential for decompression sickness, but increases underwater time.

invisible — All creatures ignore you.

fastbuild — Build modules with the habitat builder instantly.

fasthatch — Eggs hatch quickly.

fastscan — Reduces scanning time.

filterfast — Reduces water filtering time.

radiation — Disables radiation.

fixleaks — Seals the Aurora's radiation leaks.

unlockdoors — Unlocks all doors, except those which need to be opened with a laser cutter.

cure [range] — Cures you and all creatures within the specified range (a number in meters) of Kharaa.

infect [range] — Infects you and all creatures within the specified range (a number in meters) with Kharaa.

countdownship — Initiates the Aurora countdown timer.

explodeship — Blows up the Aurora.

restoreship — Un-blows up- the Aurora.

startsunbeamstoryevent — Starts the Sunbeam story event.

sunbeamcountdownstart — Starts the Sunbeam countdown.

precursorgunaim — Bye, Sunbeam.

forcerocketready — Launch the escape rocket without disabling the quarantine enforcement platform.

Debug and system commands

To change your current game mode, just type the name of the mode: creative, freedom, survival, hardcore.

day — Set the time of day to daytime.

night — Set the time of day to nighttime.

daynightspeed [number] — Change the speed of the day/night cycle. 1 is default, so 2 is double, and 0.5 is half.

speed [number] — Sets the game speed multiplier. Using a 2 would double the game speed, while 0.5 would halve it. Good for setting up screenshots.

entreset — Reload all assets, except terrain.

gamereset — Loads last save.

farplane [#] — Sets view distance. Default is 1000.

fog — Toggles fog.

freecam — Toggles free camera. Great to combine with F6 (removes HUD) for screenshots.

fps — Displays FPS and other statistics.

sizeref — Spawns a diver model.

vsync — Toggles vsync.

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