Subnautica’s Eye Candy update makes water look wetter


I’ve been meaning to sink some proper time and energy into Subnautica, Unknown Worlds’ game of submarine exploration and underwater survival, but looking at the latest update suggests I might be best waiting until I get my shiny new PC. That’s because the Eye Candy update makes the game (visually) better, down where it’s wetter. Rub your eyeballs all over the update trailer within or take a peek at the full update notes here.

Essentially, the Eye Candy update brings your usual suite of post-processing effects to the table. That familiar cocktail of detailed depth-of-field, motion blur, color grading, lens artefacts, chromatic aberration and more. You’ve seen it in a thousand other games this year, but it really does seem to give the alien, underwater environments of Subnautica a boost, and it just feels right to have the underwater world feel a little murkier. But that’s just a land-lubber talking, so take it as you will.

These renderer improvements coincide with a variety of graphical bugs that they’ve managed to squash, including stars being visible through the moon, sun-shafts piercing through shadows and more. There’s a few small additions to the world itself in this update, with abandoned bases seeing the most love, gaining audio-logs¬†detailing the plight of those who came before you. Mechanically, the Dive Reel has also been buffed to leave a breadcrumb trail of glowing markers, a work-in-progress tweak allowing easier escapes from dark underwater tunnels.

Rendering bugs aside, almost all the new visual features of the Eye Candy update seem to be optional, meaning that your PC shouldn’t creak and groan too much if you lack the hardware to drive the fancy new shader-based effects. Plus, some people would prefer to have the underwater world pin-sharp and perfectly defined. Personally, I think a certain haziness is an intuitive part of the deep-sea diving experience.

Other recent updates to the game have brought a somewhat more tangible improvements to the game, including the adorable (and pun-tacular) Cuddlefish, a creature that seems to fill a previously unnoticed void in-between Excitable Puppy and Octopus – truly a critter worthy of being an aquatic Disney Princess’ sidekick. Before that, the game expanded on the dramatic beats of its progression with an alien plague, a cure found deep within the ocean, and dark depths now haunted by luminous and impressively menacing predators.

Subnautica may still be in Early Access, but it’s an enormous critical success on Steam, with thousands of recent reviews almost all giving it a thumbs up – a rarity for open-world sandboxes like this. You can pick it up on Steam for ¬£19.49/$25, although the upcoming winter sale is almost certainly going to take a chunk of that figure if you don’t mind waiting a little longer to get your feet wet.


  1. Sakkura says:

    I wonder how the graphics update affects VR.

    • Kefren says:

      You choose what water detail level you want, and it works fine. I had it super-smooth at some kind of mid-level that still looked great.

      A bigger problem for me was the controls. I could do most things on the Touch but not all (I think it was missing a menu close button or something). But I liked having my hands free so I could make front crawl and breaststroke motions while swimming forward. They really should make that a locomotion option for swimming (I was just acting). But for all the options I had to use a normal gamepad, and that just felt wrong.

      • Vandelay says:

        On the Vive, I don’t think you can use the controllers at all. It has to be with the gamepad. I’m okay with that, but using the motion controllers would obviously be better.

        The main issue with the VR version is the HUD isn’t positioned correctly and much of the text is unreadable. The game itself is great in VR, but I’m waiting for them to fix those issues before I return.

    • geldonyetich says:

      I am hoping they add teleport movement. Seeing an entire underwater biome slide around you will test the endurance of all but the most hardened VR aquanaut.

      • Sakkura says:

        Nah, the mask at the edge of your vision helps (cockpit on vehicles is even better).

        The problem with Subnautica, at least in the past, has been shaky performance. If you look around and the whole world hitches, you’re gonna start to feel bad.

      • Nizrael says:

        Really? I play Subnautica on a secondhand Rift DK2 I haven’t replaced yet for hours at a time with no discomfort at all. To my sensibilities, their VR motion control scheme is the best I’ve encountered.

      • Jo says:

        To me what makes it nauseating is the half second pauses when it loads in a new chunk. Swimming in the same area is perfectly fine, but once you start actually exploring (not that uncommon in an exploration game).

        If chunk loading could be fixed to still maintain 90fps when running from an SSD then the vast majority of discomfort would be alleviated.

    • Jo says:

      The main problem (last time I tried it with my Vive a few months back) was that the engine was never designed to stream in new parts of the map while maintaining 90fps.

      Even running off an NVME SSD, the half-second stutters when moving into new loadzones was the most nauseating part of the experience.

      Graphics you can always turn down, and lower but consistent framerate is far preferable to hitches like this.

  2. Biscuitry says:

    I love Subnautica. I picked it up a few years ago, near the beginning of its time in Early Access, before it even had much story to speak of, and almost instantly fell in love. My most recent play through was more recent, just after they added the s** e*****r and a big chunk of the endgame content. Sounds like it might be time to go back again already.

    In some ways, it’s not the same game as it was back in the beginning. The ocean was less hostile then, and it had more of a sense of lonely tranquility than it does now. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the new sense of tension, because I do, but it’s different enough to make me look back fondly on the earlier versions and maybe be a bit more forgiving of their at times egregious bugs than I might have been otherwise.

  3. Kefren says:

    The problem for me was that the water effects were great, but the visuals were undermined by a massive transparent planet that floated around in the sky. Two different PCs and you could still see stars through it, so it wasn’t just a one-off. It was just wrong. The fact that your computer never comments on it seemed even weirder.

    • zal says:

      So true! it was painful to see.. but they’ve finally fixed it! (at least on my GTX970)
      What drove me crazy about that particular bug is that it wasn’t present when I first started playing, and snuck in as part of some later update, and I worried it would never go away.

      On a side note, I’ve been impressed with how little this patch impacted performance for me. I made 3 concessions a while ago: Motion Blur, Depth of Field and V-Sync are all off. Thats allowed me to set FXAA, Detail and Water Quality to “High” and still enjoy a comfortable framerate.

      I was going to play more but, whether on accident or on purpose, my main save is on that 1-life hardcore mode.. and after couple dozen hours of progress, I’m in some pretty intimidating environments. The tension is becoming too much, and starting to undercut my urge to play it.

    • Nizrael says:

      That is one of the fixes they specifically mention in the patch notes for this update.

  4. LewdPenguin says:

    Whilst it has certainly been a long while since I revisited this, from my experiences before it didn’t need more bells and whistles so much as greater draw distance, because last I played most of the world still popped in harshly ~50m from you with another jarring LoD boundary closer yet.
    I’ve noticed various promises of improvements over time but having not returned quite yet I’m wondering if they’ve actually happened and the game looks good out to a distance, or if they’re falling into the common trap of a game that looks awesome so long as you never want to see further than a few paces from your character.
    As for the trailer above all I see is the sort of grossly overapplied fullscreen softening that used to be lambasted as a lazy way to cover up shitty textures, maybe it looks better in practice or theres some other nicer effects going on too, but from that quick glance it sounds like a good thing you can turn it off.

    • ThricebornPhoenix says:

      I still see rendering issues sometimes, but performance has improved greatly on my rig in the last month. With another month or so dedicated to optimising and bug fixes, it should be in pretty good shape when it leaves EA.

      They have apologised on the Steam forum for the trailer:
      “We’ve been spending the vast majority of our time on bug-fixes and performance, but our update video focused on the graphical options we added. This made it look like we spent the last month on the wrong things. Further, the video itself didn’t show the options in a very good light, usually being unnoticeable or looking worse in the before and after.”

      • causticnl says:

        the LOD issue is still there. Go to the mushroom forrest, if you swim you dont notice it, but if you’re in a vehicle you have to move 10 meters -> stop wait for the enviroment to catch up with you -> move 10 meters. And this is on a 1080 i7.

        • ThricebornPhoenix says:

          Oh yeah, I still have some problems, especially in Mushroom Forests. I am a little surprised to find that this is the case for people who are not running the game on what is basically a potato, though (HDD, Core2Duo, GT730, 5GB RAM).

          Up to a month ago, I had to play with graphical settings turned way down and still had frequent lag/hitching (everywhere), several-minutes-long load times, occasional (temporary) freezing while saving, etc. Started a new game the other day and the settings had reset, but even with higher quality graphics, all the things I just mentioned are gone. I’ve even seen some wrecks fully loaded by the time I approached them. That being the case, I’d expect it to run like a dream on a modern computer. :/ Sounds like they’ll need that month.

    • Splyce says:

      Those issues seem to be rampant, still. Fired it up last night, and in an area where anything of detail is ~200m down or so, a straight dive ffrom the surface shows a blank sea floor, then some rough outlines of grass, then some terrain, finally some debris or whatever. From far away, the same world looks absolutely empty. It’s really too bad, I’ve never encountered this kind of limitation with other games before. It would almost make sense if it was procedurally generated as you move, but the entire world is now static and unchanging no matter what. If it never gets fixed, would be a major disappointment.

  5. Simbosan says:

    Is that really the music? Yeeesh

    • Synesthesia says:

      Yeah their choices for trailer music are always so so bad. “You know what would go well with tranquil swimming in a planet brimming with strange life? PSY TRANCE!”

      It’s not as bad in game, thankfully.

  6. klops says:

    What’s wrong with me? The “new” videos just looked blurrier or whatever the word is. The “old” settings looked better to me.

    Also: I have a serious phobia about underwater stuff. It’s so bad, swimming and diving in Far Cry, for example, is almost too much for me. I also have never played Minecrafts or games like it. Still, Subnautica interests me a great deal.

    • Sakkura says:

      Nothing wrong with you, it is blurrier. But then stuff underwater will look slightly blurry IRL. They also seem to be going for a movie-ish look though, going past just making the graphics more realistic.

    • Replikant says:

      I am in the same boat as you, as they say. I found Subnautica to be quite tranquil and relaxing, however, and the first biome is named “Safe Shallows” for a reason. Recently it has turned nastier, with more enemies being added and I still hope they offer a fourth play-mode option, without enemies but with the story enabled.
      Still, I’ve had a blast playing it. Speaking off which, I am waiting for the launch.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      I’m glad they’re adding these options for people that like them, but for me I far prefer the sharper visuals. It doesn’t matter what’s more realistic when we’re making art.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Loved the time I spent with this, still waiting for final release to get lost in it.

  8. racccoon says:

    Its blur candy is all it is as there no depth perspective.

  9. Scandalon says:

    1 – (assuming target audience reads left-to-right)put the “old” on the left, “new” on the right.

    2 – Don’t rapidly change your comparison methods between clips.

    3 – If you have to do the first two (don’t), don’t swap the locations of old/new between the comparison types.

  10. Mandrake42 says:

    All the fluff options can be turned off thankfully. I took this for a spin the other day and performance is the best its every been. (Admittedly I turned things like depth of field, chromatic aberration and motion blur off, because why would I want to make the graphics artificially worse when a video game does not have the physical limitations of an actual camera lens?)

    • Megatron says:

      Because it’s simulating something that does have those visual limitations?

      • Cederic says:

        My camera lenses are carefully designed and exquisitely designed to minimise chromatic aberration, and my post-processing software offers further automated reduction/removal.

        It just isn’t relevant. Why would I want it in a game?

        (I get lens flare on maybe one photo out of every 4000 too, so that’s also entirely unnecessary)

        • Mandrake42 says:

          Hah! Thanks for the response. So they are emulating physical flaws in cameras that have, in a lot of ways, ceased to exist in actual cameras (Because they were unwanted side effects in the first place rather than desired design elements). So in that context, games slavishly continuing to forcibly jam in those limitations makes even less sense. Especially when a lot of the time it costs extra performance in order to artificially degrade visual quality.

  11. Vasily R says:

    I love these survival type games, so I’ve been meaning to play Subnautica for a long time now. Perhaps I’ll finally pick it up in the winter sale.

  12. Osi says:

    I went back and tried Subnautica out again because of this update- the game is amazingly better now with the improvements since I last checked in.
    My wife now has it too- played it all weekend- horribly, uncontrollably addicted now too! :D

  13. Megatron says:

    Not long now, Subnautica. Not long now.

    Just get to 1.0, fix those performance issues, and you and I are going to have a rare old time.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Have they finished the actual story yet? Can you play from beginning to end, escape the planet, whatever?

    That’s what I’m waiting on, not just… blurrier water.

    • Mandrake42 says:

      No, the story is not completely finished yet but everything is pretty close. Honestly, waiting is the best bet as its not far off release now. I’ve avoided dipping into it too much simply because I want to experience it in its fully polished form. Still, having bumped about 10 hours into it over the years, I can honestly say I feel it’s going to have been worth the wait.

  15. Crocobutt says:

    Can’t wait for them to finish the game. Tried it a while ago and it was very nice, played very well with my deep-water phobia.
    I hope the lens vaseline mode is optional. Game was beautiful as it was.

  16. Kikinaak says:

    OK, so it looks better. But have they fixed the godawful lip smacking chewing eating noise yet? Several people have made complaints about it. If you dont understand why this is a problem google “misophonia”. People on the forums who raise this issue get ignored by the devs, and attacked by the fanboys. Several of us have attempted to fix it via mod but the devs insist on using a modproof wrapper for all their assets. Seems a large number of people have paid good money for a game that is unplayable for them.