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Game Info:

Subterrain
Developed By: Pixellore
Published By: Pixellore
Released: January 21, 2016
Available On: Playstation 4, Windows, Xbox One
Genre: Top-down shooter/survival
ESRB Rating: M for Mature – Violence, Blood and Gore, Language
Number of Players: 1
Price: $16.99
(Humble Store Link)

*Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

Though entertainment is and should be the primary goal of all video games, they can be educational as well. Most run the gamut from transparent Sesame Street shovelware to irreverent Typing of the Dead-esque romps, but a few can teach you practical life lessons as well. In Subterrain’s case, it reinforces a message learned from Doom: don’t build a research base on Mars, lest you get overrun by monsters.

Subterrain puts you in the shoes of Dr. Albert West, who comes to the Mars colony MPO to develop a cure for his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. After a lab accident results in the death of a test subject, West is thrown in jail for murder, where he stays until a prisoner transfer gets cut short by a sudden loss of power. As food, water, and emergency power wanes, West escapes his cell from the air duct to find that, while he may be the only one living on MPO, he’s certainly not the only one that’s ambulatory.

As a top-down shooter, Subterrain has you wandering the various sections of MPO in search of supplies to escape Mars; as a survival game, you’ll have to take West’s hunger, thirst, fatigue, bodily injuries, infection level, and bowel movements under consideration while you do so. MPO is littered with random objects that can be repurposed for raw materials, which are then used to create items to keep West alive and the station’s reactor powered up. Nearly everything is researchable and upgradable using MPO’s built-in facilities and 3D printers, and you’ll get better backpacks, guns, reactor cores, health kits, and more as you progress. Your capacity for creation is limited by your materials and your machines’ software – this becomes the basis for leaving your safe zone at Central Control and prowling the infected halls.

Subterrain
Highlights:

Strong Points: Many gameplay features that work well together; lots of helpful details and quality-of-life additions
Weak Points: Repetitive and overstays its welcome; mediocre music; some framerate drops, vanishing items, and audio glitches
Moral Warnings: Violence, blood, gore, and disturbing imagery; drug and alcohol use; some mild swearing

It’s certainly a lot to juggle, but to its credit, Subterrain pulls it off. At first, your progress is hampered by the small size of your backpack – each type of pack has both quantity and weight limits – as well as your oxygen, thermal, and power packs – every zone outside of Central Control has broken filters you need to find and replace, and your flashlight and ranged weapons stop working when your power pack runs out of juice. As you fill up on items and run low on air, you’ll have to head back home, where you can dump your goodies, make new items, and set out again for longer periods of time. As time passes, however, the various sections of MPO become more and more contaminated, resulting in ever-increasing strength and numbers of virus-spawned enemies, who can and will mount attacks on your home base. It all results in a steady power progression for both West and the infection – you’re always getting stronger, but the challenge still progressively rises. If that challenge proves too much or too little, there are four well-documented difficulty options as well as an optional permadeath setting, though you can’t change these in-game.

Even so, there’s not much variation to the overall gameplay once you settle in. There are fifteen zones outside of Central Control, and all follow the same script: find a data chip or two for your software upgrades, replace the filters, scavenge items, kill mutants, repeat. You’ll have a general knowledge of where to go through journal entries you find laying around, but outside of that you’ll comb the procedurally generated, similar-looking halls for the same objects in every location. The later locations have eleven floors each, with the thermal regulator always located on the final level, so you’ll have to visit each and every area of each and every zone before you’re done. It’s repetitive, lengthy, and nearly soul-crushing near the end, as you’re treated to a fake-out ending and given a new goal to upgrade the filters in every area, now with even stronger and more numerous enemies in your path. If you still have unexplored floors at that point, you’re in for a rough time.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however; Subterrain is well detailed and full of little quality-of-life additions to help out. The journal entries, while worth reading for the main plot and interesting side stories they convey, have important text highlighted in yellow. West will announce when he’s getting tired, hungry, low on oxygen, and whatnot; though it might seem silly to state that he needs a drink when he’s neck-deep in monsters, it’s certainly helpful. Each of the four general types of creatures have their own sound effects you can hear through doors, and the background music changes dynamically depending on how infected the floor you’re on currently is. Areas of high infection will also take on a grimy bluish filter that will dissipate as you eliminate monsters. All this helps temper the amount of menu-checking busywork you have to do, and makes the ride at least relatively smooth throughout.

Subterrain
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 78%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 79%
Violence - 2/10
Language - 7.5/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Subterrain’s graphics and art style play well together, even with its rather muted color scheme. Most everything is recognizable at a glance, though it’s occasionally hard to tell drawers and chairs apart. Weapons and armor change appearance with each upgrade, and the aforementioned corruption effect is a nice touch. The sound effects are equally well done: guns of varying levels sound appropriately powerful, and the hum of machinery and the strange noises of the monsters set a fitting tone. West has a few voiceovers, and his acting is a bit disinterested but of decent quality nonetheless. The music, however, is less effective: as it’s tied to the number of creatures in the area, you’ll hear the same generic bass-filled ambient song for a large portion of the first half of the game. It’ll soon get replaced by the “highly infected” tune, which is loud and chaotic to the point of annoyance. With the number of hours you’ll need to put into this game to finish it, you’ll quickly grow tired of the game’s limited soundtrack.

While generally rare, Subterrain has a few bugs that need pointing out. Perhaps due to the scope of the game, little framerate hiccups can occur, but never for more than a second. The audio has a tendency to glitch out in the final areas and boss fights, likely caused by reloading after death. The most egregious bug, however, has to do with your item shortcuts: each type of armor gives you one to six item slots you can activate with the relevant number keys, but sometimes replacing a slotted item with another will cause the former to vanish entirely. It only happened three or four times through the game, but it’s still annoying to have your supply of health kits vanish into thin air deep in infected territory.

As expected from a shooter, violence is plentiful. Your enemies disintegrate on death, but shotguns and grenades will blow them apart beforehand. The ground will usually be bloody, and there is no shortage of mutilated human corpses to find. The monsters aren’t technically undead but do have a lot of zombie-like characteristics, and the infection in general makes for some grotesque imagery. While it's for survival rather than recreation, West can drink beer to quench his thirst, and use three different drugs to enhance his abilities for a short time; these are optional for the most part, though the final bosses might be impossible without the use of the speed-increasing drug. There is some swearing, though surprisingly light considering the setting – it’s limited to uncommon uses of “hell” and God’s name in vain. West does use some crude, though not particularly vulgar, language to indicate when he needs to go to the bathroom, but as a cultured man of science, he won't relieve himself anywhere but a toilet even as the last man standing in an apocalypse. The game also blurs West out when he's doing his duty, but he pretty clearly keeps his armor on. Subterrain’s ESRB rating started as Teen but was increased to Mature shortly after launch; the latter designation is much more fitting.

In the end, Subterrain is a well-crafted game that happens to overstay its welcome. The various parts fit together well, but it’s ultimately a game with little variety. Fans of the survival genre, however, will likely find a large, satisfying experience with a more than fair price tag; there’s no denying the game is good at what it does. He may not be Doomguy, but Dr. West can rip and tear with the best of them.

-Cadogan

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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