Barotrauma Review: The Ocean is Deep and Full of Terrors

Explore the ocean, build your crew, face the Abyss.

Barotrauma is a co-op adventure game brought to us by FakeFish, Undertow Games, and Daedalic Entertainment. You play as a submarine crew on the moon of Europa, exploring the seas and fighting monsters with limited resources. 

Barotrauma gives me nightmares. I was playing this submarine simulator before its Steam Greenlight Trailer. No matter how many times I dive into the game and its setting, I’ve never gotten used to it. And yet, I keep playing, knowing full well what it’ll do to me. I think that’s the highest praise I can give it.

A Hostile World

In Barotrauma, you play as a submarine crew with friends or reasonably-capable bots. The icy surface is inhospitable, driving the residents to make new homes below. There, they share the currents with bizarre and beautiful flora and fauna. The stations most people make their homes are safe(r), but someone has to ferry supplies and thin out predators.

Barotrauma is a game about disaster. One minute everything is fine. Then half the sub is flooded, four are dead, and there’s a mudraptor in your face. At first, this seems at odds with the progression systems. You are encouraged to improve your sub, crew, and equipment until you can face greater challenges. One bad run can be disastrous.

This is balanced out by preparation and coordination. All sub damage can be repaired. Few injuries are severe enough to put a sailor down beyond recovery. No matter how bad the situation is, there is something you can do. And while you don’t always know what you’re up against, everything works in a consistent way. 

To help in survival, every member of the crew has Skills and Talents. Skills are a measure of how good they are with tools and equipment; better tools need higher numbers to use properly. Anyone can work a roll of bandages or stun gun, but more than that needs experience. 

Barotrauma skills
Image: Undertow Games/FakeFish

The Talents are divided by crew role. These include stat bonuses, special abilities, and new crafting recipes. Combined with the skills, a veteran sub crew looks wildly different from that of a new ship. The process takes just long enough to feel rewarding rather than grueling.

You’ll never feel completely invincible. But you will get invested in your sub, your crew, and you’ll keep things together, whatever it takes. That’s when the game shines most brightly. When you and your friends, if playing in a group, make stories you’ll talk about for years.

Barotrauma was one of the last games to get onto the storefront through the old Steam Greenlight system and was initially released as a pre-alpha all the way back in 2015. Combined with years in Early Access, it’s fair to ask what all this money and dev time actually accomplished. The Early Access version of the title wasn’t great. The animations were stiff, the graphics were crude, and many mechanics weren’t explained.

Barotrauma Screenshot
Image: Undertow Games/FakeFish

The core concept, however, was promising. Everything has benefited from years of expansion and polish. Old monsters have been recreated, new weapons like the coilgun were added, and the game evolved from a sub-simulator to a fully realized world.

The 1.0 version, which was released earlier this March, brings a new endgame as well as expands on the faction system. I was unsure what to expect from the endgame after half a decade of build-up but I was completely blown away. I can’t wait for the friends on my game night crew to see it.

Terrifying Depths

It’s amazing how much lighting does for the game’s atmosphere. Early entries of Barotrauma had perfectly lit submarines and oceans. Combined with an open field of view, you could see any threat coming. Now? Now I’m afraid when I wander past the sub’s floodlights. I scan every corner of the derelict station and alien ruin; what you don’t know can hurt you in this game.

The varied environments combine with the different creatures to bring the Europan seas to life.

The animals and other oddities will interact with each other as much as the divers and the sub. The level generator has evolved over time, removing the artificial feeling from previous stages.

Image: Undertow Games/FakeFish

The different locales also serve as the game’s difficulty curve. The Cold Caverns are peaceful and well-populated. Every biome after is a little less so until there’s no civilization, and every stretch of water holds more threats. Not just toothy critters, either. Toxic gasses, electrically-charged crystals, plants that hijack the ship; it all makes Europa feel like the place itself wants you dead.

The music has never been great in an “I need to share this with my friends” sort of way, but I will say the finale track breaks that trend. Even then, it perfectly matches the paranoia and uncertainty of your trips through the ocean. Sound also takes more of a supporting role, letting you know what disaster or monster you have to deal with today. At least until the hallucinations kick in.

A Leaky Hull

My only issues with Barotrauma are the ideas I wish it had explored more. Take the Faction System, for example. Finally, we’d have… something regarding the Coalition and the Separatists. These two sides who’ve been fighting since they were first written up to justify PvP. 

The faction quests feel like teasers for more to come than proper content. The side factions have more interesting and involved questlines than the 2 powers vying for Europa itself. This is in spite of the first Separatist mission uncovering the sort of dirt that revolutions are founded on.

The exceptional end-game puts these moments into sharper contrast. I know they can make narrative and gameplay gold, and I want to see more mechanics show that same level of effort. I won’t hammer on this point too hard, as Barotrauma has an impressive modding scene supported by in-game tools. Massive revamps and expansions to every system in the game already exist. And, unlike some mod-capable titles, Barotrauma can already stand on its own.


Barotrauma is an underwater adventure with a tense atmosphere, satisfying gameplay, and a clear sense of progression. It’s much better with friends, but even as a solo experience, I highly recommend it.

Barotrauma Review

Zeph Rider

Sound Design


Barotrauma is an underwater adventure. The variety of tasks offers something for everyone and plenty to keep busy with. Europa is a miserable place to live but a great one to visit for submarine shenanigans.


Barotrauma is available on Steam.

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Reviewed on PC.