Natural Selection 2 developer Unknown Worlds announces ocean-based Subnautica

Patrick Carlson at

Subnautica, the new project revealed today by Natural Selection 2 developer Unknown Worlds Entertainment, has us looking below the surface. With an open-world ocean as its metaphorical sandbox, Subnautica sounds like an exploration experience that might not fit comfortably into some of the neat little categories we use so often when talking about games.

Unknown Worlds describes the prototype as a game that will blend the genres of role-playing and exploration, and the project's initial art has a futuristic and high-tech look, even if it's not clear yet what specific oceanic setting it's set in. But at least from images like the one above, it's likely to be one we haven't seen before. And while the blended-genre approach that is so evident in the RTS/FPS mechanics of Natural Selection 2 is a familiar challenge to the developer, Subnautica also represents a move in a completely new direction for the studio, according to Unknown Worlds public relations lead Hugh Jeremy.

"We just don't know what Subnautica is yet," Jeremy tells PC Gamer. "We can't point to a specific genre, we can't point to action RPG, MMO RPG, MMO FPS, a simulation game. We can't point to any of those and say 'Thats Subnautica right there, that's the genre.' We just don't know. And it's not going to be apparent for a very long time what Subnautica actually is. Maybe it will fit into an existing genre, but that's certainly not for us to say and it's certainly not for us to say that it will create a new genre."

The game currently deals with designing, building, and crewing up submarines, a core component of which involves their navigation from a cockpit, according to Jeremy. He also points to prototype concepts that see some of these features carried out in a first-person perspective. Although we know there'll be a focus in the game on diverse underwater environments and their physical effects on navigation, it also remains to be seen how this will be reflected in sub construction and design. This is an aspect that really intrigues me in its unfamiliarity. Who spends so much time thinking about submarine design?

Oceans, in terms of the mystery and danger that they represent, are for me underutilized as a setting in gaming. That's one of many reasons Subnautica is something I'll be keeping an eye on as it moves through development and more information surfaces. For a look at some of the concept art being created for the game, check out the studio's reveal video below.