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BELOW Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

For those who enjoy exploring, BELOW is a great addition to your game library, especially for those who enjoy atmospheric elements.

BELOW is an atmospheric adventure with rogue-lite proclivities between aspects of its death mechanics and some procedural generation. You'll want to check this one out if you like a dark and foreboding aesthetic, or a bit of a puzzle.

This release doesn’t offer much guidance. It doesn’t tell you where to go or why or what you should have with you when you go. It doesn’t inform you of your character’s origins or backstory, or even what your ultimate goal is; all the information you’re given is from what you see — that you’re stranded on what appears to be a deserted island. There isn’t even a crafting guide to assist you; you have to rely on experimentation when discovering what combinations produce what.

TRY AND TRY AGAIN

I think the idea that you have to rely on experimentation holds for a good deal of the game. Where you should go next isn’t always straightforward, but you’re at least given hints in the form of visual cues and what you can do with your lantern. You also have a map, which sometimes is cryptic or otherwise not what you might expect, but it becomes an informative tool to help you navigate. An oddity is that BELOW features procedural generation but also a “stable” map. There are reference maps online, should you find yourself lost or want to view a few maps side-by-side. (There’s one for each floor of the underground labyrinth, for instance.) What remains stable across runs are the connections between the rooms, floors, and so on. What changes are the details within the rooms. As death is perhaps common here, a sense of constancy helps keep you oriented and able to focus on progressing further and further in each run.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

Besides the rooms being procedurally generated, there’s another roguish aspect: you drop everything upon death, including your lantern. That you drop the lantern is troublesome, as sometimes you need it to progress. The other function the lantern serves is to light up the surrounding area, which is helpful, as some of those rooms are riddled with fog and darkness. The lantern relies on a limited resource that you might obtain after killing enemies, but the it does seem power-efficient. Besides illuminating potential spike-traps hidden on the floor (which is an instadeath), I didn’t find myself using the lantern much. In later floors, a source of light is more necessary to help you traverse thick fog, so you’re not navigating blindly.

If you find your corpse, you can retrieve lost items and your lantern. Although your inventory space is limited — and you’re likely to fill it quickly — dying and redoing areas is a viable way to obtain the items you want. As some on Steam have mentioned, BELOW is a game in which, just perhaps, it’s beneficial to die for precisely this reason.

NEEDS

Besides enemies to worry about, there is also hunger, thirst, and cold which you must keep in check. (Think of some of the survival aspects of a title like Don’t Starve.) So long as you find the proper items to keep yourself satiated and warm, they aren’t much of a worry. Items to keep these levels up were really the only items I ever used. The ability to craft arrows is handy, as is the ability to craft bandages. BELOW doesn’t offer a guide of already-discovered recipes, so relying on memory, experimentation, or a list of crafting recipes online is useful.

SAMENESS

A sense of monotony might set in quicker than one might expect. For me, this was primarily near the beginning, from seeing the same environments and wandering around while figuring out where to go. Backtracking and redoing sections after death to retrieve items from your corpse amplifies this issue the further on you get. Luckily, other environments and enemies emerge soon enough to alleviate the sameness. However, it’s because of this possible monotony that some players might not feel as compelled to explore further.

The camera is zoomed out, preventing you from enjoying certain details of the scenery and structures, but the atmospheric feel offsets this. The atmosphere is easily what I like the most, with its fog and darkness, adding only more mystery to your whereabouts. Perhaps the rationale behind enshrouding BELOW’s gameplay in mystery and obfuscation by not providing hardly any details at all (where to go, your origins and goal, the odd map layout) is to mirror the atmosphere. In which case, it’s executed well.

6

The Verdict: Good

For a majority of what BELOW sets out to accomplish, it does well. However, there are aspects which might deter: the potential monotony and a lack of a clear incentive to proceed further and see this story through. For those who enjoy exploring, BELOW is a great addition to your game library, especially for those who enjoy atmospheric elements.

Chris Hubbard
Written by
Monday, 04 February 2019 07:00
Published in Adventure

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A fan of RPGs above other genres, Chris has been playing video games for as long as he can remember. Some of the games that had the most influence on his gaming preferences have been the Final Fantasy and the Diablo series. More recently, most of Chris' gaming time has been going toward Gems of War and Clicker Heroes (give it a try, it can be addicting), along with open-world RPGs such as Skyrim and ESO. He's also dabbled with RPG Maker software, and it is a goal of his to someday create an RPG.

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