General feedback on Original + Below zero

permeakrapermeakra Moscow/RussiaMembers Join Date: 2020-08-18 Member: 263386Posts: 16 Advanced user
I played both the original game (referenced as SO below) and Below Zero (referenced as BZ below). I liked both games (referenced together as SN below). However, I'm not sure that I like direction for the evolution of the game from SO to BZ should be followed further. Besides, I think it's time to sit down and try to decide, what made SN a good game.

Let's begin from the fact that SN is hardly the best survivalcraft. There are numerous surivivalcraft games that are generally better: Ark Survival Evolved, Dying Light and NoMan's Sky to begin with. SN isn't all that good as a sandbox either. SN doesn't have the best graphics, since the engine used is mediocre at best. So, the success isn't there. Where does it lie?

In my eyes it is exploration through beautiful landscapes with fairly rare aesthetics and a somewhat meaningful goal-oriented storyline together and a way of locomotion most people rarely have a chance to experience IRL

Let's start from the story. There is a goal-oriented storyline in both SO and BZ. Both provide a good way to structure gameplay, providing long-term and intermediate goals. I'd say that story in SO does a better job. AL-AN is not marked on map early on and can be missed quite easily for a long time. But fine.

Regretfully, the story provides little beyond structuring gameplay and providing some background. It isn't bad on its own, some games have very rudimentary plot, like Quake, but work fine. So, it isn't much of problem. Still, finding a good scriptwriter and/or giving them enough time and resource to work would be good. And please, please, flash out the game world around the script and not vice versa.

The story is also quite dark, which clashes with bright visual occasion humor of background lore.

Aesthetics in the game is built around visuals. Let's say it again: SN is NOT the only game set underwater. The way it presents underwater setting is not exactly common, though it isn't rare either. The ocean is an abyss of unknown and games like Narcosis and Soma use it impressively as a source of dark, oppressive atmosphere.

SN, however, is not a horror. It might have a few jump scares, but that's all. It uses a lot of visually pleasing bright colors and occasional fog effects that fascinate the player and create a sense of wonder. It also uses a lot of 'bioluminescence', i.e. glow effects and (sometimes awkwardly made due to restriction of the engine) dynamic lightning. Light is a great tool in the hands of the designer. Lost River in SO is GLORIOUS. It is, frankly speaking, my favorite area in the game and one of my favorites in videogame landscape design in general. Even 'creepy' Blood Kelp Area in SO still creates a sense of wonder (BTW, I missed it in BZ) There are some areas that lack those visuals and for they were boring and|or annoying, like Lava Corridors in SO.

I have hard time naming games that created a similar sense of wander in me by their graphic style. I can point at Ori games and first few Xen sections of Black Mesa, but otherwise draw a blank.

The visuals, however, are held back by flaws of the engine. The designers didn't use 'toon shader' style choices common for Unity games, but Unity isn't well suited for 'realistic' graphics, glow effects and color choices or not. Still, the graphics designers made a fantastic job and deserve praise.

As for the way of locomotion... Well, full freedom to move in 3 dimensions is quite rarely given in games.

That said, what about future? Or, more specifically, my take on changes in BZ in comparison with SO. First of all, a smaller map size isn't much of an issue, since large areas of the SO map were rather barren (Crash Zone, Dunes, Mountains, Crag Fields). Introduction of a rather large above-water area is worth more consideration. With lack of in-game HUD map, navigation in SN is rather tiresome, but it is considerably simplified by ability to move above terrain, which is not a thing in above-ground areas. As reasult, even though I liked visual style of Glacial Basin, navigating it was enough of a poison to make the experience ... a mixed bag. Strangely enough, Snowfox helped with it considerably, I liked running the hoverbike. Reduced depth range also isn't an issue, I found it quite refreshing. To be honest, I wouldn't mind if the third game in the series was entirely set about 200 m depth What, however, is annoying is clipping issues and limited ability of Unity to handle physics.

In conclusion, I urge the management to consider following for the SN spiritual successor

- Invest into more graphics-oriented engine. This probably means Unreal Engine, unless Source 2 goes public at time.
- Story first, build map around it later. Because seriously.
- Spend more on QoL, like item management.
- More freedom to explore, especially for above-ground zones.
- Better physics.
- Strip unneeded sandbox elements (but keep the needed ones!).
- Think agains about role of Leviathans and similar high-tier predators.

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