Barotrauma is a fascinating and immersive survival game that takes place in the depths of an alien ocean, that’s sure to terrify my fellow thalassophobians (there’s a reason trauma is in the name), but it’s well-wroth experiencing. Developed by Undertow Games and FakeFish, Barotrauma is a game that will keep you on edge with its perilous gameplay and intriguing storyline. Set in the depths of Europa’s ocean (a moon of Jupiter), players will come face-to-face with the creatures that dwell in the murky depths of the ocean.
Undertow Games initially launched Barotrauma as an early access beta in 2019, and with the help of valuable feedback from players, the game underwent numerous changes before being officially released with a version 1.0 patch. It’s excitingly a game that flourishes when experienced in co-op (although it till offers a single player experience), which makes the entire prospect of being stuck in an alien ocean with monsters that much more approachable.
In its simplest form, Barotrauma is a a survival game in which players must work together or solo to keep their submarine afloat and protect themselves from hostile creatures that lurk in the depths of an alien ocean. The gameplay is tense and challenging, with players having to manage the various systems of their submarine while dealing with attacks from dangerous (and terrifying) Cthulu-like creatures. It plays a lot like Faster Than Light with elements of Terraria, and having logged over 200 hours in both of these games – on paper this is a recipe for success.
The storyline of Barotrauma is surprisingly intriguing and well-crafted. The game takes place in a distant future in which humanity has expanded beyond Earth and colonised the ocean world of Europa. However, things have not gone smoothly, and the player is tasked with uncovering the secrets of what happened to the previous inhabitants of the underwater research facilities, meaning at times – you’ll have to disembark from the safety of your sub to explore these facilities closer (I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it).
The entire experience does a phenomenal job at keeping you on your toes, and I feel it showcases the true definition of thalassophobia, as you really don’t know what’s out there in the darkness of the water waiting for you. As an added fear-inducing feature, your submarine is typically dimly lit or completely dark, and this can pose visibility challenges for players who are not properly equipped. It is crucial to have a flashlight and other necessary tools before disembarking since it may be too late to retreat for proper equipment once caught in a difficult situation. This of course opens up ample opportunity for jump-scares when exploring.
As mention earlier, the entirety of Barotrauma is a lot more enjoyable if you’ve got a few crew-mates to adventure with. The game offers a range of roles on the submarine, each with unique responsibilities that any of you can play as. The captain is in charge of steering the ship and issuing orders. The security officer operates the turrets and fends off intruders. The medical officer provides aid to injured crew members and maintains their health. The mechanic repairs damages and creates items, while the engineer focuses on fixing power systems. Lastly, the assistant can handle multiple tasks but lacks specialization, making them ideal for operating two nearby stations simultaneously.
During moments of downtime, crew members can use raw materials to craft items like repair kits, stimulants, batteries, and diving suits at the fabrication station. Downtime is a term I’d use loosely in relation to my co-op experience, as my crew collectively decided to skip the tutorial for a true ‘blind’ experience, which really isn’t a good idea when adventuring into alien oceans. Every moment was pure and utter panic, and when we finally escaped or fended off monsters, we’d collectively be trying to figure out how to repair our submarine before we were attacked again.
It’s pretty rare to never really experience a dull moment in this style of game, which was really refreshing and enjoyable. Any time we lulled into a false sense of security, gigantic alligators would pop in just to remind else that we weren’t welcome in the murky waters we explored. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in single-player mode, you control each ship role in turn, with AI taking on simpler tasks. It’s still an incredible game in single player mode, but it’s definitely missing the chaotic fun factor of co-op, as you yell at your captain to stop snacking and actually steer the ship.
The art style of Barotrauma is one of its standout features. The game’s graphics have a unique and retro-futuristic aesthetic that evokes classic science fiction novels and movies from the 1950s and 60s. The world of Barotrauma is full of rich and detailed environments, from the dimly-lit tunnels of abandoned research facilities to the claustrophobic confines of your submarine. The game’s graphics are not just visually impressive but also contribute to the game’s overall sense of atmosphere and immersion.
The only negative aspect of Barotrauma for some players may be its steep learning curve. The game is not particularly forgiving to new players, and it can take a while to get the hang of the game’s mechanics and learn the user interface when certain events trigger, but it’s the kind of game that deserves to be learned. It’s a game where you’re meant to make mistakes, learn from them and then use that knowledge going forward, and if you just give it the time it deserves, you’ll unlock a world of fun, intrigue and a little bit of fear.
Barotrauma is the most fun I’ve had with a game this year, and it’s absolutely worth playing. The game’s unique art style, engaging gameplay mechanics, and emphasis on co-op (which nowadays isn’t always a focal point), is the perfect balance of gameplay and fun. While the game may be challenging for new players, the effort is well worth it, and the game is sure to provide hours of enjoyment for those who persevere.