22 June 2024

The new title from Capybara studios, presents itself as a “roguelike” with elements of “dungeon crawler” and with a “top down” perspective , that cultivates the mystery of what is beyond the levels below the scenario but penalizes too much the gameplay, because at the slightest slide there will be a consequence, most of the time, negative.

The question of what Below is in its true essence, never goes away, not even after a few hours of gameplay. There is no line of text that explains anything. The player can only count on him and his willingness to discover what lies behind a gloomy environment, full of fog and mystery. Literally everything that is achieved is the result of his own experience, in a way, luck and his ability to draw some conclusions about what surrounds him, as well as the ability to manipulate / transform the various objects within him.

There is a feeling that everything seems to be immensely large, making the player feel small, emphasizing everything around him instead of what the player controls.

The role of the environment is further evidenced by the texture of each sound effect, which from the first contact with the island becomes an important mark. For example, the use of wind noise as a compass for the exit door of a level where the lack of light is a constant.

The journey begins with the arrival of an adventurer on a boat off the coast of an unnamed island. The camera presents a comprehensive view of the world painted mainly by dark colors, rain and fog that fades as the player makes his way. From the beginning it is remarkable how aimless and confused the Below world is. Not that there is anything wrong with a title of this nature, but without a layout such as a map or any sense of direction can leave some players with an unnecessary sense of frustration.

There are two game modes, Survival and Explorer. Note that in both game modes death is permanent, as the entire inventory, if not kept in the specific place for that purpose, will be lost. It can be recovered in the next run at the place where the outcome of the previous adventure occurred.

However, these two modes have some important nuances in their type of game. In Survival mode, it is expressly necessary to have supplies such as water or food, not only to recover the life lost between combats with enemies, but also for the survival of the character. That said, it is also necessary to hunt and cook their own food. In Explorer mode, the food only serves the purpose of restoring the life bar.

In both modes the cold and the injuries are also an important part of the character’s survival. Wounds inflicted by enemies can cause a “bleeding” effect, healed with healing items, which can be picked up from the ground ready to be used, or created with a combination of captured elements. Anyway, there is always that taste of a “survival” game regardless of the type of game. As for the cold, it is possible to find elements that help fight lower temperatures, such as skin armor or the use of points where it is possible to light a heating source, such as a mini fire. These heating points also function as points of light in the darkness of the dungeons.

This is all connected by “fast travel” points, even for later runs. All these “fast travel” points, presented as bonfires, remain as long as the player discovers them and lights them up.

Each new encounter with the island is tremendously similar to the previous one since all elements, enemies and locations are simplistic and do not change shape or disposition. So the more you play and repeat the same location, the less interesting the adventure becomes.

Below mixes music and visual art in an almost poetic way that you don’t see very often. But while the visual strangeness and atmosphere attract those who travel to this world, their interactions and mechanics seem to want to push the player out of it. Activities that somehow rob time and attention to what Below does best, the feeling of being unraveling the mysteries hidden in the darkness.

You can also read this review in Portuguese at Meus Jogos.