Subnautica: Below Zero — Expanded Review

I first played Subnautica: Below Zero as an underdeveloped version in January 2019. My initial experience with the Subnautica sequel lasted at most three hours and ended when I reached a point where I was advised against continuing due to an incomplete, broken landscape. I decided to wait until the game was more developed before getting back into it.

When I returned to Below Zero late in 2019, I decided to start over from the beginning for the full experience. But somehow, I didn’t expect the difficulty to be ramped up so much. On my first playthrough, all the story points were a breeze to get through. But that was when it was just a bare-bones version. In the new and improved Below Zero, it takes longer to get through the story. Some extra steps, such as collecting resources to build something, are required.

This update has also introduced a human antagonist, whom I have only encountered once so far. I am very interested to see how this new thread ties in with a young researcher named Robin Goodall who gets an artificial intelligence accidentally lodged in her brain.

On my current playthrough, I have made it to a self-contained glacier, but the landscape is so huge and disorienting that it’s hard to find certain objectives needed to advance the story. I also managed to lose the submersible I’d put a lot of time and effort into constructing by parking it too close to aquatic creatures that could damage it.

Though it may take a while for me to get through the game, I’m impressed with how much Below Zero has been fleshed out. Quite a few of the underwater vistas are absolutely stunning, such as the bioluminescent Twisty Bridges or Lilypad Islands. The new creatures populating the ocean/glacier are equally impressive or terrifying—especially the Ice Worm, a leviathan sea creature who uses a molten-hot sword-like implement on its snout that lets it come at you from underneath the ice.

There have been so many changes or improvements made to Below Zero that it’s almost as if this is my first time playing it. I don’t know how much time it will take to reach the ending since I’ve not yet crafted the necessary items to explore the deepest depths of the ocean. But it’s been quite an experience so far.

Gamer’s Year in Review 2019

In my 2018 Gamer’s Year in Review blog, I mentioned a game called 60 Seconds that went unplayed for some time after I’d purchased it. Unfortunately, it is not the only title I’ve failed to delve into upon buying it. I feel that this year, it might be time to correct that and actually play the games that have been collecting dust. Whether it’s a more recent title or one that came out years ago, I hope you find a game on this list that appeals to you.

1) Eidolon (January) – I’m not exactly sure when I purchased this one or why I found it appealing, but it is a title I have mixed feelings about. Eidolon is pretty much just a walking simulator, where you’re making your way through a seemingly endless forest and just collecting food, the occasional hunting tool, or notes left behind by people who traveled the same route. Jumping from the main menu to the game itself was a bit jarring—since it starts you off in the same location you see in the menu, it took me a few seconds to figure out I was actually playing. The forest itself is pretty monotonous—there’s not much variety in your surroundings. And I spent the first few minutes thinking that any loud rustling I heard meant I was going to be attacked by something, but that’s not the case. I didn’t see much in the way of adversity in this game apart from the fact that your food will spoil if not consumed right away. I made the mistake of eating some bad berries—my subsequent attempt to satisfy my hunger while being sick was a waste of the good food. At one point, I found a map that indicated I’d eventually stumble upon a town or village, but I failed to see any settlement during the half hour I spent playing. Despite the repetitive, limited amount of graphics, there were points where it looked like the game would crash because it froze for a couple seconds. In addition, the notes you find strewn about the landscape have a ton of spelling or grammar errors—it’s hard to tell if this is deliberate or not. I do give Eidolon props for having a nice, serene soundtrack, but overall, it’s not for me.

2) Subnautica: Below Zero (February) — Though my goal was to focus on games I already owned, I couldn’t resist purchasing the sequel to one I played last year. Below Zero takes place on the same oceanic alien world seen in Subnautica — just years later. The story focused on Robin Goodall, a researcher working with a team to gather data on an arctic zone on the planet. I love that there’s an entirely new underwater realm to explore. And Below Zero features an equally intriguing sci-fi mystery story as the original game did. The one downside is that Below Zero is an early access title, which means that the developers released an unfinished version to the public to allow gamer feedback to help shape the finished product. I was only able to get so far into the story before the game advised me against going any further until an update was made available. Aside from this, I have found some metallic-looking resources that haven’t been given an official name. And I also managed to trap myself in an area that hadn’t been fully rendered yet. Since getting killed returns you to your base at the cost of items you’ve collected, I had to drown myself to escape that area.

3) The Coin Game (March) — The Coin Game is another early access title I got interested in trying out when I saw a YouTube gamer called CaptainSauce playing it. The Coin Game is set largely in a modern-day arcade and recreates popular machines you can earn tickets from, such as Skeeball or the claw game. There is however a lot more to the Coin Game, such as visiting other arcades in town or trading prizes for spending money at a nearby pawn shop. It also states in the in-game documentation that you can deliver newspapers, but I’m not sure that feature is available yet. The Coin Game is still in development; from what I can see, there is still a lot of work to be done. Exiting the bus after riding it across town somehow resulted in me immediately getting stuck in the floor inside a house — I had to restart the game when that happened. And playing for only a half hour resulted in me getting 440,000 tickets even though there’s no way I could have possibly earned that much. I do hope that the developers iron out the bugs and add a lot more content to this game to make it more enjoyable. As it stands, you can only play the same arcade machines so many times before it gets old.

4A) Raft (April) – Raft is another game I got inspired to try after watching YouTube gaming videos from CaptainSauce. Raft isn’t overly challenging, but it can get very tedious very quickly. You start out on a small wooden raft in the middle of an endless ocean. The game never explains how you got there, but the goal is to gather wood, plastic, palm fronds and many other resources from the surf to build up your raft and stay alive. The only things that break up the monotony are the occasional island or abandoned raft you come across, but these are pretty scarce. The one consistent threat you face is the shark that never stops dogging you as you drift through the water-logged world. The shark will even start chewing up the edges of your raft after so long. Killing this ocean predator will only buy you a short respite—another equally-determined shark will always take its place. I spent an entire day playing Raft and acquired a good amount of resources to build a large mobile fortress housing garden plots, a research station, a water purification station, and a barbeque grill among other items. I can see Raft being boring to some gamers, but there’s something about it that I find extremely addicting.

4B) Final Fantasy VII (April) – This isn’t the first time I’ve played Final Fantasy VII, but I’d barely scratched the surface on my initial run. I’ve heard for a while that the seventh game in the franchise is the most loved—I wanted to see for myself how it rates. For those who might not know, Final Fantasy VII focuses on a small band of freedom fighters battling an evil corporation for the rights to a promised land. One of the things that got me is that the story gets surprisingly kinky at times, such as when the villains try to mate a young woman with a wildcat-like creature. I have been enjoying the story so far, but the gameplay can get aggravating. Some parts of the map can be difficult to navigate—it’s hard to determine which path to take to advance. And I’ve reached a portion of the game where you have to fight four separate battles back-to-back; failing to beat one of them forces you to do all of them over from the start. Granted, I might have missed a save point after the first two battles, but I was so peeved after failing the last one that I quit the game for the time being. That aside, I look forward to discovering what comes next, even if I already know of the death of a major character late in the game.

5A) Dead in Vinland (May) – Dead in Vinland is another game I just purchased. It sparked my interest because it was produced by the same company that made a previous favorite of mine—Dead in Bermuda. Like its predecessor, Dead in Vinland gives you control of a small group of people—an exiled Viking family in this case—who you must help survive the perils of a mysterious island. You start out with just four people, with the option to find allies in the island’s inhabitants. Dead in Vinland is more difficult than its predecessor, in that you lose if one of the family members dies—Dead in Bermuda was more forgiving. On my first playthrough, I only made it six in-game days before the wife succumbed to depression and killed herself. I am doing much better in my second run and have gotten more knowledgeable about how the game works. What’s even better is that no two playthroughs are exactly alike—your characters start out with different traits each time and your choices impact the story. I look forward to multiple playthroughs and seeing all the different outcomes.

5B) Slime Rancher (May) – I hadn’t planned to include Slime Rancher in this article since this is not the first time I’ve played this game. It is quite interesting and somewhat addictive though. Slime Rancher has you assume the role of Beatrix, a young woman who acquired a ranch on a remote alien world. Capturing and corralling the indigenous sentient slimes is the basic premise of the game, but there is so much more to it than that. You can grow crops to keep your herds fed, unlock and explore new regions of the world, combat dangerous creatures called Tarrs that can decimate the population, make trades with other ranchers, and open a science facility—to name a few things. One of my favorite aspects of the game is that you can create hybrids of two different slime types, though you have to be careful with what you create. I found out the hard way that combining quantum slimes—they teleport all over and can’t be contained in a corral—and crystal slimes—they “plant” diamond stalagmites in the ground that will hurt you if you step on them—is a huge mistake. Aside from that, an extra bonus is that Slime Rancher still periodically gets updates that add more content to the game. I look forward to seeing whatever new discoveries are on the horizon.

6) Project Highrise (June) – Mid-year, I finally got to a game I’d owned for some time but never played. Project Highrise is a title I’d planned to delve into back in February or March, but better late than never. I first played the game on my Surface Book, but only for two minutes—the text\print portions of the game were unusually small and unreadable. On my custom-built PC, however, the game interface was perfectly normal and balanced. Project Highrise is basically a building management simulator in which you slowly construct a skyscraper containing residential or commercial properties—or both. I’ve played a similar game called SimTower, but that one was much more simplistic than Project Highrise. In this title, you must carefully consider every move to avoid going bankrupt. I’ve been having fun with it so far and look forward to seeing if I can stay afloat throughout.

7A) Kindergarten 2 (August) – A comic puzzle game in which this small group of five-year-olds behave like juvenile delinquents, Kindergarten 2 is the game to turn to for a quick boost of fun. Kindergarten 2 returns many of the characters from the first game and, like its predecessor, forces you to live through the same day over and over—Tuesday in this case. There are multiple quests you can pursue for each run, involving either a classmate, a teacher, or the school janitors. You do have to watch your step though. Saying or doing the wrong thing can literally get you killed; I found out the hard way by trying to rush through one of the scenarios. Ways in which you can die include being shot, stabbed, electrocuted, beheaded by a dodgeball, or mauled by a mutant creature. While Kindergarten 2 isn’t appropriate for young kids, it also isn’t explicitly graphic. And the final quest revolves around solving a mystery centered around the school’s principal, as was the case with the first Kindergarten. There is also a secret ending, which steals a page from a recent blockbuster film, which you can unlock by finding all the in-game trading cards for a game called Monstermon. Aside from enjoying the unique humor and intrigue of Kindergarten 2, I also particularly love the eccentric five-year-old character, Nugget. I can’t say what makes Nugget so lovable. Whether it’s his lazy eyes, obsession with chicken nuggets, or knack for digging deep pits on the school grounds, there something about the character that makes him a fan favorite. I hope to see more entries in the Kindergarten series in years to come, especially if they’re as comical as the first two games.

7B) Assassin’s Creed 2 (August) – I’d written in a previous blog that I’d never played any title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise; I’d been looking to change that. I’d wanted to start with the first game in the series, but I couldn’t get it to work. The first Assassin’s Creed kept crashing within seconds of startup. The second game centers around a modern-day protagonist who, through use of an advanced technology, remotely views the life of his ancestor to uncover a secret lost to the ravages of time. Assassin’s Creed 2, from what little I’ve seen so far, has an intriguing story, but the game itself leaves something to be desired. I found the controls a bit too clunky and it was difficult to navigate around the map once I got to the Eighteenth-Century portion. One of the first objectives is to win a race against the ancestor’s brother—it took me forever just to achieve that. Also, the game crashed on me once early on; I’ve yet to discover if this will be a consistent problem. That’s not to say I dislike this title. As long as I get a better feel for the controls and the game doesn’t keep crashing, I look forward to seeing where the story goes.

8) Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (October) – I’d purchased all three of the Danganronpa games early in September with the intention of playing the first game that month. But real life got in the way. Without going into much detail, I’ll say that my home life is undergoing some significant changes. That aside, I didn’t know a whole lot about the Danganronpa series, but the description sounded interesting. The summary of the first title promised an intriguing mystery story where you have to carefully consider your every move. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has you as a teenage male character who, by chance, joins a group of exceptional students in attending the prestigious school of New Hope Academy. Upon their arrival, the group finds themselves literally trapped in a nightmare. They are sealed inside the school and left at the mercy of a demonic-looking teddy bear who claims to be the headmaster. The requisite for graduating is that a student must commit murder without getting caught by their peers. The premise of the game aside, there are certain aspects I find annoying, such as the tendency of the characters to repeat phrases separate from their dialogue like “Hey!” or “Listen to me!” over and over. I also have not yet discovered an easy way to quit the game. While most video games allow you to pull up menu options by hitting the ESC key, Danganronpa only provides a tutorial for the game when pressing said key. So far, I’ve had to ctrl-alt-delete my way out of the game, though I may be erasing my progress by doing so. I’m inclined to think that this lack of a menu is intentional—the player may be made to feel as much of a prisoner as the characters. There is a lot about Danganronpa and its story I’ve yet to discover, but I look forward to seeing where it goes.

9A) PC Building Simulator (November) – I haven’t played much of PC Building Simulator yet, but I am unsure what to make of it at this point. This game is exactly what the title suggests—you’re building desktop computers by installing components and attaching cables. I see it as a good way to learn the ins and out of PCs, but this game’s interface isn’t the best. I may be able to tweak the settings, but even the slightest movement of the mouse will cause the camera view to shift more than I’d like. I’ve played a number of games where the default settings are very much the same as what I’m describing here. Maybe other gamers are better at controlling the mouse to avoid this issue, but it’s something I find very annoying.

9B) Final Fantasy VI (November) – I’ve yet to play any Final Fantasy game all the way through, but I like what I’ve seen of the sixth title so far. I was inspired to give Final Fantasy VI a try after viewing parody videos of the first twelve games in the franchise courtesy of a YouTuber called Rabtoons. Granted, there are some situations in Final Fantasy VI that are just plain ridiculous, such as one character suplexing a train, but that’s part of what makes this title so fun. Even still, I managed to get stuck early on when the main character fled an imperial army by hiding in a remote castle. After some time spent trying to figure out how to advance the story, I looked online for tips. I found that there are towers on either side of the castle that anyone unfamiliar with the game wouldn’t be able to locate. One of these towers contains something that you need to kick things into gear. I don’t know if there’s anything further in the game that I’ll get stuck on, but I feel I’ll enjoy Final Fantasy VI either way.

10) Cthulhu Saves the World (December) – I’m a big enough fan of H.P. Lovecraft to know that Cthulhu is a squidlike demonic creature that invokes insanity in anyone close to him. So it’s refreshing to see such a monster made into an unwilling good guy in the 2D video game, Cthulhu Saves the World. The basic premise is that the title creature is stripped of his power and the only way to get it back is to do good deeds and ultimately become a hero. Cthulhu Saves the World is very similar to the early Final Fantasy games as well as a more recent game series I’ve played called Aveyond. I love the Cthulhu title for its challenging battles against various creatures—there is some strategy involved—and its unique brand of humor. The one thing about Cthulhu Saves the World that really surprised me is that I was asked if I wanted to have a commentary on when I started the game. It was nice to learn that the developer worked in anecdotes about the making of the game that gamers could read as they’re playing. This is a feature that I’ve never seen before in all my years of gaming, but I really dig it.

I know I didn’t keep with my plan to only play games I already owned, but I have no regrets. I very much enjoyed most of the games I played this year. And there is always next year to stick to my original resolution.

My 2020 To Do List

“When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” – Frederick Maryat

Last year, I resolved to read one book each month. I read eighteen books in 2019. I also resolved to write 600 words a day. I didn’t come close to that number, but I wrote often without worrying about my daily word count. Organizing my closets also fell short, but I’ll try again.

My 2020 To Do List:

1. Purge my unworn clothes and excess books which I started doing in December.
2. Read a minimum of one book a month.
3. Finish the rough draft of the manuscript for my novel.
4. Submit a story to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Did you complete your to do list from last year? Congratulations if you did. If not, don’t give up. Just start anew. What is your list of things you wish to accomplish in 2020?

Time to Purge

Both my New Year’s resolutions and my new word list begin with “purge.” How about that for multitasking! Purge is the perfect word for what needs to happen at my house.

I have too many books and magazines to finish reading in my lifetime. My closets hold more clothes than I’ll ever wear. I also have too much needless stuff no longer relevant to my current lifestyle.

I’m not waiting for January 2020. I’ve already started the not-so-easy task of purging, because it’s hard to get rid of the sentimental items. I hope to find local charities or organizations that will give my castaways a new home.

What task or adventures are you trying for the new year?

URGENT MESSAGE: Get the Real ID

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine

Everyone enjoys traveling without a hitch. No one likes delays, cancelations, lost luggage, or any other problem. Now we have something new to worry about. If you fly domestically, you must have a federally compliant driver’s license called the Real ID to pass through security. This new requirement goes into effect October 1, 2020. To get this Real ID, take your driver’s license, proof of your Social Security number, and proof of citizenship to a Secretary of State office.

“If everything is in order, you’ll get a new license that has a gold star in the upper right corner – or an American flag on Michigan Enhanced driver’s licenses.” **

If you try to board a domestic flight on October 1, 2020 or later without the Real ID, you won’t be allowed to board the flight. “If you get turned away at the airport and forget to cancel your flight, you can kiss your ticket goodbye.” **

There won’t be a refund of your ticket.

Why haven’t we been notified about this before? 14 years ago, this mandate was signed into law; however, there have been numerous delays. Now the matter is urgent. Don’t wait until the last minute to take care of the matter. The lines will get longer, the delays numerous, and the urgency will hit all at once.

Get ahead of the game. Get your Real ID now!

**Detroit Free Press Sunday, October 27, 2019.