Developer(s) – Capybara Games
Publisher(s) – Capybara Games
Director(s) – Kris Piotrowski
Producer(s) – Nathan Vella
PEGI – 12
Released in 2018 following a lengthy development cycle, and with much hype surrounding it at the time, Below is a roguelike action-adventure game with a top-down perspective set in a mysterious world with hidden secrets. When I first saw trailers for this game, I was quite excited about it myself; for first impressions, it looked like one of those games that players could sink their teeth in for hours on end. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out just how minimalistic this game really is; in many respects.
Graphics – 8/10
The one aspect in which Below doesn’t seem minimalistic, however, is the graphics. Though relatively simplistic on the technical level, especially for an eighth-generation game, it more than makes up for this in its conceptual design, soundtrack, and overall atmosphere. The build-ups of tension throughout each area in anticipation of enemies attacking and uncovering traps that cause instant death (or failure to do so) are very well executed. The game can go from weirdly serene to incredibly tense very regularly throughout, and it can put players on edge and keep them on their toes in that respect.
Gameplay – 5/10
The game involves combat, exploration, and crafting to survive. There is a survival mode for the more avant-garde player, and an exploration mode for those not looking for the same level of challenge. But either which mode I played, I found the gameplay to be one of the minimalistic elements to it. Combat is intermittent, regardless of the fact that each room is randomly generated, and in my opinion, there isn’t enough incentive to explore as much of the world as possible like there is in a lot of open-world, or even semi-open world, adventure games. More definitely could’ve been added to this game.
Controls – 10/10
The control scheme presents no problems, however. The combat system is easy to get to grips with, and basic things like movement and camera angles also pose no unnecessary complications either. It reminded me a lot of Titan Souls in its basic layout, but it has that little bit more functionality. It’s just a shame the full potential of such functionality wasn’t used with how little there is in the way of gameplay.
Lifespan – 2/10
The lifespan of the game also disappointed me greatly. The game can last an average of around 4 hours, which for a game that supposedly encourages exploration, is nothing. It’s most definitely a far shorter game than what I was led to believe it would be after having seen the first trailers and experiencing all the hype surrounding it.
Storyline – 4/10
The story of Below is even more minimalistic than the gameplay. It follows a warrior of unknown origins having landed via ship on a mysterious island, and is left to explore. That’s it. Something abstract happens in the end, but it’s one of those story endings that is supposedly open to interpretation, but because everything is left to the imagination, there’s no real basis on how to interpret it. Some may say that this, in and of itself is what may make it a good story, but offering no means of emotional investment of any kind was not the way to go about it; and that’s the case here.
Originality – 6/10
I have to give praise where it’s due, however. The game’s overall atmosphere and conceptual design do make it stand out to a certain extent. There is indeed an element of players wondering exactly what the purpose of the setting was, what it was before the player character arrived, and the backstory behind it all, a lot like Shadow of the Colossus in that respect. But by comparison, Shadow of the Colossus did offer a lot of things for the player to become emotionally invested in; much more so than in this game.
Overall, Below was a bitterly disappointing experience, and the ending definitely left me thinking not to ever pick this game up again. Producer Nathan Vella described it as a “super video game-y video game.” In all honestly, when even the developers are struggling to give it even a semi-cohesive description, it should be taken as a red flag.