You equip your lantern to illuminate a path through the dense fog as you look for a way to the next floor. The light then reveals enemies approaching in front as bats appear and fly overhead. Your hunger reaches treacherous limits as starvation looms. You continue to fight off the enemies while moving in an undiscovered darkened area. A sudden movement results in coming in contact with a trap that pierces your body as your corpse drops to the ground. Death. A new boat arrives on the island with a wanderer to do it all over again. Welcome to Capybara Games’ Below.
Below begins with a wanderer that arrives on a far-off remote island who is destined to explore and uncover the secrets that lie below the depths of the surface through procedurally generated dungeons. You will need to persevere through constant darkness and all that it shrouds within each floor that you set foot upon. Only later one will your mission begin to unveil itself as your presence is the light to the darkened world.
Below is a roguelike adventure where death is inevitable. Not only will it occur, but it will make you a more capable explorer and fighter each time. There are no tutorials, or communication, to guide players through the world and to advise them what needs to occur in order to overcome enemies, or how to unlock entrances to the next area. It is an unforgiving experience that requires you to learn from your mistakes, and there will be mistakes. Your entry into the darkness will quickly uncover the puzzle of areas within each floor that need to be explored in order to find passage onward. You will also find items, food, traps, and enemies lurking about to hinder your every move.
The excitement momentarily shifts to anger the first time you die and realize you have lost all your gear and have to start over. However, you are able to loot your corpse to recover all lost items. This is not an issue if you are only a few floors down, but the deeper you explore the more risky it is to locate your corpse. Shortcuts are put in place to help guide you back to where you succumbed to your demise, or you can utilize the campfire waypoint, if you were willing to spend the twenty-five light orbs to unlock it. It can also only be used once and then a new waypoint will have to be unlocked at another campfire for the same fee. Retrieving items from your previous inventory is a must, but you first need to replenish your inventory in order to survive the journey to recover your body and by the time you reach your corpse your inventory can already be full. You will always need to recover your lantern as it guides you through the darkness and any keys that were under your possession.
Hunger, thirst, and warmth will be the biggest hurdle to overcome within Below. The constant search for items and food to help maintain these effects will create tense moments as you watch your wanderer get closer to death. The crafting and cooking system will help you overcome these statuses, but the deeper you explore, the more difficult it is to locate the necessary items to create nourishing meals. Colder environments will also have you running to fires in each area to restore your warmth meter, or you will freeze to death. My biggest concern is with the limited inventory system as I tend to be a hoarder when it comes to collecting loot. There is an area called The Pocket that you can uncover and store items, but having a few more storage spaces in your own inventory would have drastically improved the experience.
One of the many mistakes I made occurred while in a state of desperation as my wanderer was close to starvation. I was able to collect and consume raw meat from various rats and bats, but this resulted in becoming sick. Movement was greatly reduced and it forced your character to throw up every few moments, giving enemies sufficient time to attack. I was overwhelmed and died while throwing up.
Lighting plays an integral role within Below as darkness exists in every aspect of the experience. Not only is the player left in the darkness on where to go and what to do, but the depths are shrouded by darkness that requires a light source to help guide you through to the other end. You will quickly locate a guiding lantern that will be more essential than your sword and bow as it will not only guide you through darkened areas, but it will be required to unlock certain passages to progress the story of Below.
Shining the lantern will illuminate a limited clear path to ensure your safety, but using it in such a way, or simply having it equipped to give minimal light around your character, will deplete the orb energy that is attained from killing enemies. Maintaining an ample amount of orbs is another item on the to-do list, but players can also rely on a torch to guide them. Another frustrating aspect within Below deals with acquiring orbs from enemies. If an enemy is killed close to a ledge, the orbs that they drop fall over the edge out of reach. At first you may think it is not an issue, but as your progress across narrow ledges and become attacked by a multitude of enemies, it would be nice for the orbs to remain on the ledge. Your character will not fall over the edge if you walk close to it and that is what is most frustrating as the developers cannot have it both ways. Either they both can fall off the edge, or none of them can.
The dark and tense atmosphere is presented through stunning visuals and an engaging soundtrack, but your constant struggle to survive will overlook the beauty that is both seen and heard. Environments are crafted well, but it can be difficult to fully appreciate each area if you are sitting far from the TV due to the smaller design and execution of Below.
Below is definitely not a game for casual gamers as the frustration level at times may entice you to shut down the game. It requires patience and careful exploration in order to avoid certain death. However, your eventual demise will take place and it is recommended to take a deep breath before setting out again to uncover what lurks Below. Anyone looking for a challenge, or who enjoys roguelike adventures, should definitely take a look at Below.
For PlayStation fans, the game is now available. Capy revealed the new Explore Mode which has now made its way to Xbox as well. Explore Mode removes the difficulty and shifts the original game’s intended mode to Survive Mode. With Explore Mode, the more stressful elements have been toned down, and you won’t need to manage your hunger, thirst and so on. It’s a lot more enjoyable I find when I don’t have to worry about my character will die of thirst.
Survive Mode is perfect for those who look for that roguelike challenge and delivers a punishing experience if you choose to trek the environment at your own peril.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]