Below is a dungeon crawling game with survival elements in which you play as a sailor who has washed up on an empty island. Or so it seems until you stumble upon a lantern that gets you into a cave system.
Below is a game all about feeling lost, with everything being unknown to both the sailor and the player themselves. You have no guides for where to go and no explanations on what to do outside of the controls for the game. This sense of being lost means you have to keep tabs on the rooms you’ve been through and where key items and doors are located as you make your way through the caverns, traversing deeper.
There isn’t anything wrong with games not holding your hand. If anything it’s a concept I prefer but it becomes a little tedious when you die to a trap or enemy and then have to start over without your gear. Probably the worst part about death is losing your lantern which is the main reason you’re able to even see in the caverns. Crafting a torch can help as an alternative light source however having to swap out for your weapons means you’ll be fighting in the dark, making it much easier to walk into one of the traps that likely killed you to begin with when retreating from the glowing red enemies that litter each floor.
Survival elements make up a secondary obstacle to worry about constantly as you make your way through each floor. Once again this becomes more and more frustrating the lower you go and more you die. Having to rush a floor to find the next campfire or run back the way you came just to craft some soup can easily ruin the pace of the game or force you into situations that are unfavourable. Hunting down bats for meat or picking mushrooms when low on health and hungry is an easy way to find yourself dead if an enemy roaming the floor decides to throw itself at you. Quenching your thirst also has to be done however this isn’t as much of a threat as starvation since water is much easier to access in the caves compared to food, where you will usually find yourself going back, closer to the surface to get some.
When you dispatch an enemy you’ll get little orbs that you use as fuel for your lantern. Not only is it required to light your way but also unlock new areas as the game goes on. As you progress you’ll gain access to new weapons outside of the bow and sword and shield combo you start out with. You will also encounter new enemies and obstacles the deeper into the caves you go. Certain creatures may not be aggressive unless provoked but can yield important resources like leather and meat.
Dying in Below has some strange choices made for it. Since you lose everything, including the one of a kind lantern that can’t be found anywhere else. You think it wouldn’t be that bad to get back however upon death you restart as a brand new sailor on the same beach. Some shortcuts can be unlocked but they’re missable, especially amongst the procedurally generated caverns. If you do get back to your body it will be marked by a glowing skeleton. That’s if you even make the harder version of the journey back since you’ll lack the lantern to detect traps or scare off certain enemies. It just seems strange that a game that’s already challenging with all your equipment would punish you by having you play a harder version of your journey to gain your equipment back.
It really is such a shame a lot of Below’s gameplay mechanics as a dungeon crawler and a survival game clash so much because it’s world it’s brilliantly put together. The isometric camera and good art style enables some clever environmental designs that look amazing, even with its limited colour schemes with it being set in caverns on a dark, rainy island. Having it’s eerie, soundtrack play as you explore really gives you that sense of exploring the dark unknown and does a great job of setting the mood.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher