This title was reviewed on Xbox One, but is also available for PC.
The Rogue-like subgenre of games is certainly a popular one, and I’ve reviewed my fair share of them, such as the solid Polygod. Now, after six years in the making, Below has hit the Rogue-like scene, and is set to be a beautiful and difficult adventure. Is it so? Let’s delve right in.
If there’s one thing Below does to catch the players’ eyes, it’s the graphical style. Below looks absolutely fantastic. Despite the game being very zoomed out, there’s a ton of detail in the world. Grass sways and can get cut down by attacks, your main character is well animated, and there’s all sorts of subtle effects that make things stand out despite being so zoomed out, such as pick-ups having a white light emanating from them and enemies being bright red lights. The lighting in Below is also superb. With it being mostly underground, there’s very little light, and most of the area is a dark fog, encouraging the use of torches, bonfires and lanterns to see, and the lighting effects here are superb.
Below is an adventure game with Rogue-like and survival elements thrown in, so you know you’re gonna be tested as you play. Your main goal is basically to descend down the massive network of caves underneath the Isle you arrive on, fighting the horrors that lurk below and finding items to progress. The deeper you go, the deadlier things get in the cave. Luckily, you’re decently equipped for the adventure, with a sword and shield as well as a bow and arrows. Sadly though, combat is a little on the shallow side, with enemies that aren’t too exciting to fight, and I often just found myself mashing RT until nothing moved, with the very rare pull of LT to shield an attack. In fact, during my time I never died during combat, it was always due to the traps that littered the caves. This leads into another issue with the game, its pacing.
Below is a very slow paced game, which isn’t usually a problem, but it is in a Rogue-like. What keeps players coming back when playing a Rogue-like is that, despite death certainly being a harsh punishment, they’re easy to hop back into. Games like Doom RL and the aforementioned Polygod are Rogue-likes that are fast-paced enough to hop back into, as you’re usually back in action within a few seconds of dying and having to start again. Here though, this isn’t the case. When you die, you start back at the beach, and have to progress all the way back to the spot you died to pick up your loot and lantern. While some shortcuts do alleviate this somewhat, you’re discouraged from rushing, largely because you’re gonna want to loot anywhere you can to stock up as well as because those aforementioned traps can one-shot you if you rush through.
Speaking of survival elements, they’re actually decently done here. You have your standard hunger and thirst meters, which are replenished by eating and drinking. There’s also crafting which can be done at any time, and cooking that can be done at campfires. These are done well, as navigating your inventory and clicking on an item highlights others that can be combined with it to craft, meaning you’re not left in the dark here.
Just like the visuals, Below’s audio is absolutely superb. Sound effects are solid, and the music is incredible. It’s eerie and matches the dark atmosphere well. There are also unique pieces for things like your first death, and resting at a campfire has a very relaxing track that contrasts the spooky music from the rest of the game.
Below is a game that certainly looks and sounds phenomenal, but sadly it is only decent in terms of gameplay. While the survival and crafting elements are well done, the game is far too slow-paced for it being a Rogue-like, with you having long journeys to get back to where you were, and things like needing to loot and traps preventing you from rushing. Combat is also shallow, with boring enemies and simple controls. If the game played as good as it looked, it would have been fantastic, but sadly right now it’s only decent overall.