Breathedge, the space survival sim from RedRuins Softworks, had its full PC launch last week. The game spent two years in early access, during which it faced many comparisons to fellow survival sim Subnautica. Although Breathedge never managed to match Subnautica's popularity during their respective early access periods, it's gaining renewed interest following its release.
It's hard to argue with the definition of Breathedge as Subnautica in space. After all, both games feature very similar gameplay loops and survival mechanics. However, the comparison isn't entirely fair to either title. The question is, does Breathedge do enough to differentiate itself from Subnautica, ensuring a fresh experience even for veteran fans of Unknown Worlds Entertainment's underwater survival sim?
It's almost impossible to read anything about Breathedge without a comparison being drawn to Subnautica. From Steam user reviews to previews and deep-dives from journalists, it's clear that the similarities are readily apparent. In fact, they start at the very beginning of each game, with a disaster that sees the player character stranded in a hostile environment. In Subnautica it's crash-landing onto an ocean planet, in Breathedge it's being wrecked in deep space.
From that shared starting point both titles follow similar survival gameplay paths. Players must set out from a bubble of safety into the hostile world, gathering the materials needed to survive while limited by their oxygen supply. With the materials they gather the player can craft basic tools, allowing them to acquire more advanced materials. Both games continue to expand from that point on, with advanced tools and even vehicles allowing further exploration and mastery of the environment.
While Subnautica and Breathedge ultimately offer a very similar survival gameplay experience, there are some major differences. The first and most obvious is in style. While not a game which takes itself too seriously, Subnautica is definitely focused on the difficult business of survival. The story logs and interactions that the player has are for the most part grounded in the seriousness of the world and the main character's situation. Conversely, Breathedge is explicitly billed as a comedy-game, with an ironic and at times childish sense of humor pervading the entire world.
This difference in tone is immediately obvious, but it's also wrapped up in a difference in pacing. Subnautica has often been praised for the steady progress of its expansion and exploration. Rarely are players unable to work toward the next goal ahead of them, or the next area to explore. Breathedge, by comparison, utilizes a much slower pace of sandbox expansion. This is mostly done through tool durability and tighter oxygen restrictions. Breathedge players will find themselves spending a lot more time re-crafting broken tools, and a lot less time exploring in the void. While this can be tedious at times, it makes sure that players never forget their desperate situation, or the hostility of space.
The most striking way in which Breathedge diverges Subnautica is in the latter half of its story. While avoiding spoilers, it's safe to say that the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters of Breathedge's single-player story take the game in a very different direction. The focus moves away from survival, base-building, and exploration, to focus more on the narrative.
While Subnautica keeps exploration at the core of the story, Breathedge's later chapters take on more of a linear, walking-simulator style. This helps to keep players focused on a new goal in the late-game, once they've mastered the advanced elements of survival. However, it can also leave players feeling as if the game no longer values the crafting and exploration experience that they've gained. Ultimately, although the comparisons are based in fact, Breathedge does a lot to set itself apart from Subnautica, and deserves to be judged on its own strengths and weaknesses.
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