The underwater world of Subaeria is controlled by the totalitarian regime of President Dorf, whose policies have created a world that is deeply divided amongst the haves and have-nots. The lower members of Subaeria’s socio-economic ladder are caged away in the Factory where they work away most of the day. What time they’re not creating foodpills or medpills for the upper echelon a large portion of the working class engage in using exPods -a virtual reality type device – as a means of escapism from their dreary reality. Simulators for the exPods are not cheap, however, and so hacking is a rampant issue. President Dorf’s tough on crime stance extends its zero tolerance policy all the way down to this minor crime.
When players first meet Styx we discover that she has quite a fondness for hacking exPods, but for whatever reason she is arrogant to the point of believing she would never be caught. Unfortunately we find out very quickly that Styx is quite wrong, and as a result of being found guilty of a crime she and her entire family have been ordered to be ‘cleansed’. Unless you’ve played The Division, you’re probably not likely to find an antagonist referred to as “cleaners” as threatening, but in Subaeria being ‘cleansed’ means being eliminated by a brutal force of murderous robots. Styx returns to her home crate to find that her entire family has already been ‘cleansed’ as a result of her hacking, and decides to seek out and destroy President Dorf in order to avenge their deaths.
Styx’s journey to track down President Dorf leads players through 4 different sections of Subaeria, each ripe with a variety of environmental hazards that can harm Styx if you’re not careful but which Styx can also use to put an end to the cleaners that are hunting her down. Each section is broken down into various rooms, but due to Subaeria’s roguelike nature the number of rooms, and their layout within the level are randomized with each playthrough. Unlike most other roguelikes, however, the rooms in each level of Subaeria do not change much with each attempt at a run, despite their random placement within the level itself. This means that once you’ve learned the strategy to a certain room you can guarantee that should that room crop up again you’re already going to know how to eliminate the cleaners and get out.
Subaeria’s puzzle mechanics shine in how Styx overcomes the room fulls of cleaners. Players can control Styx with the left analog stick, but they also control her companion drone with the right analog. The drone is on a limited leash, however, and can only go so far away from Styx. Littered throughout the world are a handful of apps for Styx to install on the drone – handled by having the player press left or right trigger to install the app into one of two available slots – and then using the app is as simple as placing the drone over the top of a cleaner and clicking the corresponding trigger. Apps available at the beginning of the game are fairly mundane to start with. The Master app, for example, allows players to take control of a cleaner and move it at their leisure for a short time, whereas the Target app can stop a cleaner in its tracks and malfunction, causing the other cleaners in the room to attack it. These apps gradually level up with usage, which results in quicker cooldowns or longer use durations. Completing certain in game events leads to unlocking better versions of the apps, which are often combinations of two beginner level apps such as BankMaster which allows Styx to control a cleaner herself, but then collect Creds (Subaeria’s in game virtual currency) once the cleaner is destroyed. Players can use the creds they collect to buy boosts that can help Styx in a variety of ways such as shortening cooldowns, improving battery life for longer usage, protection from environmental hazards, and extra health.
The cleaners are created by two different competing companies so some are blue while others are yellow and thus the player can use this to Styx’s advantage to pit the cleaners against each other. There are also neutral cleaners around, which are indestructible, but Styx can still use these cleaners to take out both of the other, branded cleaners. Coupled with environmental hazards and the random nature of the apps available to Styx on any given playthrough, Subaeria adds intensity to what would otherwise be a simple puzzle game. You can never rely on any one given solution for a room, as the apps you had available on a previous run may not show up on future attempts.
While Subaeria’s campaign does take a page from roguelikes with its shorter run time, the game does offer 10 different endings for Styx’s journey along with 50 unlockable apps and 11 different boosts. some events only become available on new playthroughs after completing other endings, so even after a successful run, Subaeria leaves you begging to go back in to see what other adventures Styx can now embark on to change her story.