Quick question: what’s scarier than the incomprehensible depths of our oceans, where totally undocumented sea life roams in a life of perpetual darkness and where human life is simply impossible? That, but on an alien planet’s frozen moon, whose topside we also haven’t documented and is ram-packed with unspeakable, harmful things. And what’s scarier than both of those things? Being stuck in a submarine with other people.
That’s the setup, more or less, to hardcore multiplayer sci-fi submarine survival sim Barotrauma. You and a team of 15 other players - or AI, since there is a singleplayer mode too - descend the depths of Jupiter’s moon Europa, keep the sub operational, moving between underwater biomes to complete missions and fend of the aforementioned unspeakable, harmful things. You communicate. You delegate. You each work diligently in your assigned roles, and you complete the missions as a team.
I mean, presumably that’s happened at least once since Bartrauma released in Early Access in 2019. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but even though it’s got over 2.5 million players, I think it’s safe to say that 99.99991% of play sessions have not turned out that way. In reality, Barotrauma is a game about the most outlandish, chaotic and hilarious sabotage, subterfuge and skullduggery ever committed below sea level. It’s got a little bit of Among Us about it in that way, if Among Us was a grindhouse horror where crewmates injected each other with deadly parasitic viruses that paralysed and muted them.
Now that the full release has arrived, players have the chance to check out new tutorials and and a totally overhauled campaign, replete with a scripted event system. Like there wasn’t already enough to worry about down here with some guy singing to you while simultaneously holding a shotgun to your face, and giant shrimp-like creatures destroying the deck below you.
Graphics and environments have also been polished considerably over the course of Barotraum’s Early Access phase, leading to a V1.0 that looks genuinely unsettling, moody, and distinct from just about anything else out there. Light and darkness are the key theme here, visually: light is a rare commodity down in the waters of a frozen moon, and awful, awful things happen outside it.
Barotrauma’s community is closely involved in the game’s development, all the way along. Lead developer Joonas Rikkonen had been toying with the idea of making a totally unscripted, sandbox-style experience in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, and first put a playable public build live way back in 2016. It was the encouraging player response to that build that led to Rikkonen taking a job at Finnish studio Fakefish to continue its development.
Barotrauma’s Discord community is now more than 30,000 members strong. Their feedback has shaped the game over the last four years, and they’ve been active in expanding on the game’s framework, too. Fakefish made the source code and all the dev tools used to create the game available to that community, which has spawned quite the modding community. Its Steam Workshop has 60,000+ different entries. I’ve yet to find one that stops me being terribly frightened. Fakefish have included one of those player-made ships in this 1.0 release of the base game, as part of a community competition.
Also new to players who haven’t submerged since v1.0 arrived are explorable outposts, wrecks of other submarines and improved alien ruins. There are more monsters and missions out there, and character progression goes deeper thanks to a talent system. Barotrauma’s full 1.0 release is available now on Steam.