Skip to main content

Battling death, explosions and other nightmares in Sunless Sea: Zubmariner


In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today Katharine gets deep into Zubmariner.

Back when I was a naïve teenager, I was really into Pirates of the Caribbean. And I mean, really. The kind of person who had Jack Sparrow posters on her wall, Pirates cushions, Pirates T-shirts, even Pirates PJs. Thankfully, those days are long gone now—even I won’t defend Pirates 4—but after thoroughly enjoying Pirates 5 at the cinema (anyone who didn’t belly-ache at that guillotine scene can fight me), I’ve had an itch to revisit Failbetter’s nautical roguelike, Sunless Sea. I had to abandon it after several crews started eating their own limbs before we’d even set sail, but with its unplayed Zubmariner expansion still docked in my Steam library, I thought, like Pirates, I’d give it a second chance. 

It turns out my captaining skills are still as rusty as Orlando Bloom’s acting, but this time I was determined to claim one of its highly illegal zubmarines. First, I had to head to somewhere called Port Carnelian, a distant colony on the southeast coast where my journal tells me zubmariners still collude in secret.

With no map to guide me, I leave Fallen London and head into the darkness. I’m barely out of the shallows, however, when my engine bursts into flames after some overzealous acceleration. The game gives me the chance to save the wounded, but the story’s invisible dice roll is cruel. Before we’ve started, a crew member dies and half the hull is up in smoke. 

To reassure the remaining survivors they won’t immediately die in another ball of fire, I shore up on nearby Mutton Island and head for the pub. Just as we’re about to leave, though, I spy a woman in distress on the beach. I rush to her aid, but suddenly she slithers into the sea, revealing herself as merely the tip of a terrible monster’s tail. I leg it back to the ship as fast as possible, but just as we cross the gangway another zailor goes crunch behind me. 

The mood’s now as sour as Bill Nighy’s stinking squid beard, but it’s not long before my lookout spies further trouble. Just above, the false stars in this subterranean cavern start blinking—a rare and ominous event, my journal says, but also fortuitous if you record the new constellation. Things can’t get any worse, I think, but apparently, they can. Three stars disappear and someone starts sobbing in the distance.

With our sanity dwindling and our supplies practically spent, I press on. Eventually, we hit the map’s farthest corner without even glimpsing our goal. As tempting as it is to stop at Kingeater’s Castle, though, I don’t want my crew getting ideas. I double back, only to find a jillyfish blocking our path. My hull has more holes than the plot of Pirates 3, but somehow we pull through. 

Finally, Carnelian creeps into view. We made it! In my excitement, however, I miss the Dreadnought hiding in the fog, and one shot sends us to Davy Jones’ locker. So much for standing atop our sinking mast and defiantly strolling ashore. If anything, my crew’s probably quite relieved. I am too, to be honest. I might not have a zubmarine, but at least I’ll be closer to barnacle-face Bloom. After all, he’s always been the hot one.