Ah, the vast expanse of an unknown ocean. The elation of exploration. The fear of running out of oxygen. The beauty of an alien sunset. The terrifying sense of loneliness. The joy of building things with your own hands. In a word: Subnautica.
Even though it was released in 2018, many gamers are discovering it now that it’s on Game Pass for both PC and Xbox. And many of them are falling in love with the idea of fighting against a difficult fate.
Its premise is simple, almost trivial. You crash your spaceship onto an alien planet that’s almost fully covered by an ocean, and you have two goals: living and leaving. You have to find food and fresh water, avoid nasty creatures that may kill you. And of course, you have to figure out a way to repair your ship so you can get away from this planet. This involves finding raw materials and putting them together, figuring out ways around dangerous areas, and so on.
It’s a challenging game that mixes up strategy and action, and it’s easy to see why many people love it and want more. Let’s look at some games like Subnautica to quench your desire for adrenaline!
1. Subnautica: Below Zero
The most obvious suggestion in a list of games like Subnautica is… Subnautica’s own sequel. This time you’re a research engineer on an alien planet and lose contact with the orbiting ship. You know where this is headed: more water, more deadly creatures (and weird but cute multi-eyed penguins), more things to discover and more items to craft.
Below Zero is set about a year after the events told in the original Subnautica, and builds on that story. If you’re reading this, then it’s something you’re familiar with. For others who haven’t played Subnautica, we strongly recommend doing that first. Moreover, Below Zero is currently in open beta but is far from being finished. An upside of that is that you get to play it multiple times as it grows. A downside is that it may be frustrating to pay for a rough product.
Where to play it: Subnautica: Below Zero on Steam, for Windows and Mac. (A console version will be available in the future.)
You wanted water? Here we go! The story is deceptively simple at the beginning: you’re on a raft (no surprises there) in the middle of the ocean, and all you have is a plastic hook. You’ll have to keep hunger and thirst under control by picking up anything that comes along.
This will allow you to build more items that you can use, and expand your raft into a bigger vessel that lets you explore other parts of the world. Of course, you can dive into the water and explore what’s beneath you as well.
The only problem? A giant shark. Survive that!
Where to play it: Raft on Steam, for Windows.
It’s a little unfair to compare FarSky to Subnautica, but then again it’s inevitable. The setting is the same. The goal is the same. The premise is almost the same (you crash a submarine instead of a spaceship).
However, FarSky is simpler and much shorter and can be completed in about two hours. It cannot have the same level of complexity a Subnautica, and neither does it claim to.
Those who aren’t sure about investing too much time into games of this genre should try this to, uh, get their feet wet.
Where to play it: FarSky on Steam, for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
4. No Man’s Sky
Set in a procedurally generated universe (in the tradition of Roguelike games), which means that everything here is totally random, No Man’s Sky had a rough start when it was first released. The storyline felt incomplete, and the game somewhat empty, despite its stunning visuals.
This was improved with subsequent updates, its survival elements are not as polished as Subnautica’s, and some players find them kind of repetitive. On the other hand, the plot is intriguing and may be worth a look, especially if you’re looking for something with more land and less water.
Where to play it: No Man’s Sky on Steam, for Windows. Also available for Xbox One and Playstation 4.
Picture this: it’s the late 1980s, you drop everything to be a ranger in Wyoming. Your only contact with the civilized world is your boss on the radio. Something weird happens, and you find yourself looking to untangle a series of mysteries in the wilderness. Sounds interesting?
It’s more of an adventure than survival game, granted, but the graphics are simply gorgeous and the characters really come to life, as the game progresses from humor to fear. The soundtrack is the cherry on top.
Where to play it: Firewatch on Steam, for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Also available for Xbox One and Playstation 4.
6. The Forest
Your plane crashes and you’re left to fight for your life in a wilderness full of mysteries. No, not like Lost. There are mutant cannibals here. Mutant. Cannibals. And the worst part is that they’re not blindly evil, oh no, they actually have a system of values and morals. Except they’re completely different from yours.
If you wanted a survival game that also makes you think, look no further. The Forest’s world is truly alive, and you can interact with it in any way you see fit. There is lots to explore, and lots that can kill you if you’re not careful.
Where to play it: The Forest on Steam, for Windows.
7. ARK: Survival Evolved
This is one of the games that is most often compared to Subnautica, due to its realistic survival elements. Ark: Survival Evolved (or just “Ark”) shares the same backstory as other games. You’re stranded on an island and have to fight for your life by hunting animals, crafting objects, harvesting resources, learning techniques, and even growing your own crops.
Oh, and there are dinosaurs. And you can ride them. And breed them. Not kidding!
It’s one of the most realistic games on the list in terms of what you need to do to stay alive. Just like Subnautica, you need to take care of food and water; only oxygen is “free” here. Overall it’s relatively easy to learn, but quite difficult to master. If you plan to leave your mark on the environment and start building full cities, expect many hours of grinding!
Where to play it: ARK: Survival Evolved on Steam, for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Also available on Xbox (including Game Pass) and Playstation 4.
8. The Long Dark
One of the best-rated games on the list, The Long Dark is reminiscent of Subnautica in that you are alone against nature. Only this time it’s not an alien world and there are no spaceships.
A plane crash leaves you stranded in an icy wilderness, somewhere in Canada. You only have your clothes and your goal is simply to survive. Easy? Not really. You have to keep track of your body temperature, your hunger, your thirst, your stress level, and your physical condition. If you die, you die for good.
There’s also a story mode, but if you’re here coming for more Subnautica, we think that you’ll love survival mode.
Where to play it: The Long Dark on Steam, for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Also available on Xbox (including Game Pass) and Playstation 4.
Not strictly part of the survival genre, but certainly worth an honorable mention due to the sheer amount of water.
The adventure unfolds entirely below the surface of an ocean. Everywhere you look, you’ll find fish and plants that interact with one another and with you. There’s a lot to explore, especially when your guide is a great white shark (seriously). Ancient ruins and technologies to discover, puzzles to solve, and even larger animals to ride.
It may not have the “punch” of Subnautica, but it’s a lot of fun, and appropriate for more relaxed times. Besides, how can you resist that exotic name?
Where to play it: Abzû on Steam, for Windows. Also available for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
10. The Solus Project
Sometimes misspelled as “Souls Project”, so pay attention. The premise is a bit of a cliché: Earth has gone kaput and you’re part of a small group of people trying to find a new world. Something goes wrong and your ship crashes onto a planet that you were considering for a colony. (At this point, we are starting to wonder about the overall safety of space travel.)
Your goal is to find a colony to join, but this world features caves, temples, and other objects made by some intelligent civilization. As you explore them, you are forced to keep your hunger, thirst, and temperature under control. That’s not always easy, as the availability of food and water depend on the weather, the seasons, and ultimately your choices.
The story is not always buttery smooth, but the survival mechanics are quite solid.
Where to play it: The Solus Project on Steam, for Windows.
11. 7 Days to Die
The backstory is a little weird: the nuclear fallout of WW3 killed most of the world’s population, but some areas were spared… only to be filled up with zombies.
If you can get past that oddity, though, this game is awesome. You get elements of survival, strategy, role-playing, horror and a big open world to explore.
Even the fact that 7 Days to Die never lost its “early access” status is a misnomer. The game is polished and well regarded by fans all over the world.
Where to play it: 7 Days to Die on Steam, for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Also available on Xbox One and Playstation 4.
12. Space Engineers
Occasionally compared to Minecraft, Space Engineers is really a beast of its own.
Like its blocky distant cousin, it allows you to build and change a world as you see fit, while also providing a complex survival mode that will keep you busy managing your resources. At the same time, Space Engineers provides an incredibly realistic physics engine and a system of volumetric objects that interact with one another in an interlocked grid. A lot of fancy words, isn’t it?
In practice, that really means that you can assemble, join, destroy, and repair anything in the game, much like in the real world. Indeed, the level of realism is so astonishing that we have heard of people building and breaking things just because it feels cool. Throw procedural generation into the mix, and you have a game that will quickly get you addicted.
Where to play: Space Engineers on Steam, for Windows. Also available for Xbox One.
In the End, What Are You Looking for in Games Like Subnautica?
As you can see, there are many different takes on what a survival game should look like.
Subnautica is intriguing because of the peculiar environment that it forces on you. In our daily lives we don’t give the ocean much thought, nor we ever stop to think whether we could survive alone there.
That’s what makes it so attractive, and also why many of these other games tend to have outlandish backstories. They are designed to heighten the feeling of discomfort, forcing you to think about things you take for granted, such as food and water.
We strongly suggest exploring all of these, as each one has its own quirks. You may discover that, after all, the best games like Subnautica for you are those that don’t look like Subnautica at all!