Subterrain Review | MOUSE n JOYPAD

If my experience with video games is anything to go by, I’m a big fan of the idea of a good survival game. I liked DayZ when I was reading about it and watching gameplay videos, but as soon as I kickstarted it myself, I hated how it played. ARK is good, but way too much of a grind when playing solo. Minecraft I’ve had enough of and The Forest is simply too stressful for me to play on a daily basis. The Long Dark is a true survival experience and I liked that one, but the difference between how fast time goes there and how fast my actions are completed makes it feel off. So yeah, I do like the idea of playing games such as this, but when push comes to shove, I rarely stick to find out what the “endgame” looks like. This is why I was pretty stoked about Subterrain, even though I was sure the same thing would happen here.

Set in the underground facilities of Mars, Subterrain puts you into the boots of aptly-named Adam West (Lovecraft fans will know), a scientist imprisoned for his shady practices – from what I gathered, he was trying to alleviate his wife’s Alzheimer, but his research didn’t sit well with the government. Thus, the game begins with a monologue in his solitary cell, as he describes what exactly happened to him. After some commotion, the doors to his cell open slightly, tantalizing him to escape. The problem is, though, that there’s no way to pry it open enough for him to squeeze through, and for about a week he survives on leftovers and tap water. The game begins with you, the player, tasked with finding a way out of the cell and escaping Mars altogether.


Oh. Great. Bugs. I love bugs.

Subterrain plays from an overhead perspective, allowing the claustrophobic horror to seep into the players as they imagine just what might be hiding in the shadows. The most of the game is fairly dark, with the vast majority of light being cast by West himself, via a couple of available light sources such as the lightstick and flashlight. As you begin your trawl across the prison complex, you quickly become aware of the fact that something is horribly wrong, and soon bump into your very first mutant. These creatures are what’s left of the population of Mars, and they’ve been afflicted by some sort of mutagen that turned them into monsters.

If I had to guess, and took into account the name of the protagonist and the reasoning behind his imprisonment, I’d say that it’s all his doing. I haven’t had the chance to complete the story just yet, because it’s quite expansive and I enjoy playing slowly and deliberately, but that’s my guess at least. Either way, you’ll have to hold your ground against a considerable number of murderous beasts that are roaming about. There are a fair few nuances to combat, especially melee, which is perhaps more similar to Dark Souls than anything else. West can equip a personal shielding device, up to three armaments of his selection and is fairly capable when it comes to bashing heads in. Hitting the spacebar performs a fast evade, which is extremely useful when facing more than one or two monsters at the same time. The firearms are kind of iffy in that they’re fairly imprecise until you invest in an upgrade or two, and the damage isn’t impressive at first either. Hit feedback could be better as well, but since combat is a relatively rare occurence anyway, it’s not that much of an issue. Indeed, in Subterrain the focus isn’t on fighting the mutated monsters, but rather on surviving long enough to escape Mars. There’s no pure survival mode implemented as of now, but I’ve seen the developer comment on how it may well happen further down the line.

After scouring the prison area and equipping some better gear, you’ll find the tram which will be your lifeline in midgame and endgame, simply because you’ll be using it to move to new areas of the complex. However, your first stop will necessarily be the Command Center, which will serve as a headquarters for West for the duration of his stint on Mars. This is a safe area for the most part (before the invasions hit) and you’ll find some key equipment such as energy packs, oxygen tanks and thermo-containers that are an absolute necessity when venturing into new areas. Once you’ve got your bearings in Command, you’ll have to divert some power into other areas of the complex and start chipping away at Mars, and hopefully finding some hints as to how you should escape.

The gameplay is very surprisingly deep for a game of this caliber, and the survival aspect is especially good, seeing as how the developer managed to pull off what I would say is the perfect balance between actual gameplay and the nuisance that is keeping the protagonist alive. I very much appreciate the ability to move various objects around the areas, which for example allows you to block doors and generally provide cover where there is none. Makes Subterrain feel much more grounded and down-to-earth than it would have been otherwise. Kudos for that.


The UI looks complex at first but is actually very succint.

The downside to having such an abundance of gameplay mechanics is the necessity to convey all of it to the player, though, so prepare to read numerous literal walls of text just to get you prepped up for what’s coming next. As a newcomer to the game, I was flabbergasted by the amount of mechanics I had to figure out, and sometimes even the tutorials aren’t of much help. So prepare to fail a couple of times before nailing down what’s what and where it may be. And once you have everything mechanically figured out, then you can focus on the ever-evolving (literally) threat posed by an increasing number of mutants present in some areas. If you leave them unchecked for too long, they may well swarm the Command Centre and leave you gasping for air.

As far as graphics and audio go, I’m fairly impressed with the visuals and slightly disappointed by the sound design. The gruesome details and effects all work great and make the game extremely foreboding when encountering corpses and/or leftovers from the mutants’ romps, but the audio is simply too meek and forgettable in virtually every aspect. It’s perhaps my greatest qualm with the game, even though it’s not like I’ve had many. Also, it’s important to note that the game is fairly demanding as far as hardware goes, primarily due to dynamic shadows, effects and some very cool lighting present in some levels. So don’t go in expecting it to work on your grandma’s ancient PC.

Overall, I’m extremely happy with Subterrain. Not only does it perform the tasks it sets out to do masterfully, but it also delivers in terms of meta, endgame and virtually every other aspect aside from audio. Pixellore also announced enhancing the game further in the future, with the possible addition of a cooperative mode, which is very promising to say the least. If you’re on the fence whether to invest in Subterrain or not, just do it.