First things first: my thalassophobia was hit something rotten here. Transitioning between rooms sees the camera hover above the connecting tube, clearly showing the depths below. While it’s hardly the most visually realistic representation of the ocean, combined with the muffled audio it was surprisingly effective at placing you under the sea. At least, that’s my excuse for my constant deaths early on. Subaeria is an action game with rogue-like elements, this time set on a deep sea facility.
After the ice caps melted and flooded the planet, humanity was forced to adapt to survive. While the wealthy lived on the upper floors with all the luxuries they could muster, workers below kept the place running and were forced into slavery as any rebellion is met with extermination. It’s one of these workers you play as, Styx, who breaks the rules and returns home to find her family dead. It then falls to you to navigate the facility looking for President Dorf to exact revenge.
While this sounds somewhat dark, the story isn’t really treated too seriously, and beyond a few NPC interactions, there isn’t much beyond the opening cutscene. Which is good, because if the whole aim is to survive to find Dorf, then the story would be over damn quick. Each square room has 4 exits, only 1 or 2 open on any given play-through, and each play-through the layout of the facility changes, though the actual rooms are the same each time. Some are easier than others though, so on my first play-through I got chucked straight into the hardest room of the lot and died almost instantly.
Great start, but that’s the rogue-like creeping in there. Restarting gave me better odds, and thankfully when traversing the dreaded connecting tubes, you can see the room you are about to enter so you can retreat and go another path if you don’t fancy losing your progress again. This might make it sound too easy as you get to know what challenge to expect from each room, but thanks to some slightly iffy controls and the almost-top down camera, actually completing the rooms can be a challenge.
Once you enter, the door shuts behind you and you are tasked with eliminating the cleaners, colored robots out to finish the job of eliminating you. Some have blades, other’s guns or grenades, but Styx is completely defenseless without her AI companion. While you can’t destroy the bots directly, you pick up various perks which allow you the AI to manipulate them in some way. Bots come in blue, yellow and grey varieties, and there are various environmental traps and hazards which you can use to your advantage.
While grey bots can’t be hurt, blue and yellow can only be destroyed by the opposite color, so a blue laser will destroy a yellow bot and visa versa. Using the perks, such as one that repels them or causes them to careen wildly about with the weapons firing allows you to smash the bots into the obstacles, or each other, and once all of the colored bots are gone, you are free to sweep any loot and move on. Using the right stick to move your AI about feels natural, though it’s often hit and miss as to whether it will work.
Not because the bots can resist, but the hit detection seems a bit off and I found too often it wasn’t clear a power had worked. Pressing the trigger again will disable it, and as they have limited use, I found I wasted the only means of defense I had on more than one occasion. Also, if you are standing on a box or any slight elevation, it won’t work, meaning you need to put yourself in harms way in the hope of a power registering. Combined with the awkward camera angle making it hard to judge distance, means combat encounters are just as much about fighting the game, as the enemies.
There are various shops along the way to help, though the random nature of the location and items means you can in no way rely on them to help. Likewise for the NPCs, some dishing out rewards while others actually take health away. Most are in the same location so you can learn who to avoid, but still annoying when it happens. Manage to traverse your way through though, and each level ends with a boss encounter. These are big, heavy hitting enemies that aren’t afraid of a cheap trick or two to force you into a restart. The first one alone literally fills the room with bullets and grenades so much that it’s impossible to not take a hit.
Styx is seemingly made of paper too, as just a few hits is enough to send you back to room 1 to start over again. It is possible to skips rooms in order to speed up progress, but you could be missing out on a better perk or some credits for the shops. Technically it’s a bit of a mess too. The game has a pretty nice art style, with lots of bright colors and designs (as well as the aforementioned water effects). But, for some reason, load times are atrocious, easily over a minute between levels. Styx will often get caught up on scenery (even something as innocuous as moving up a ramp) or the physics will just go mad, causing the exploding barrels to wipe out an entire room.
While I did manage to find some fun here, learning routes and besting the rooms as quickly as possible to move on (some even have specific challenges to this effect), it’s just a bit to slapdash to recommend. Repeatedly dying through what felt like the games fault and not mine frustrated, and the long load to try again definitely had me reaching for something else far sooner than I might otherwise have. Unlocking new perks did add some variety to play-throughs also, but actually finding them among the levels was difficult. If I found one useless decoy perk, I found enough to last a lifetime.
Subaeria could have been fun if it wasn’t for the atrocious loading times, the poor controls, the tedious hit detection and the awkward camera angle. The whole experience just screams of wasted potential, offering up a slapdash game in place of something more refined and better developed. Putting its decent art style to the side, Subaeria simply hasn’t been constructed well enough to merit a recommendation.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.