BELOW (Xbox One) Review
Release Date: December 14, 2018
Publisher/Developer: Capy Games
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
Price: $24.99, available on Xbox Game Pass
I hate to say Below asks far too much of my time. Despite the beautiful atmosphere and haunting music that draws you in, from moment one the game presses a plodding speed on your shoulders, demanding for you to follow it's speed whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, what little story there may be is not enough for me to really push through.
The game begins zoomed out on a lonely sea, where a small speck at the center turns out to be your small boat pushing forward. The camera slowly pans inward until you see your boat landing. Whilst the music remains melancholy and definitely presses the atmosphere, the pan takes so long I attempted to move three times before I got there. With no tutorial and most in-game interactions represented by mystical icons instead of text I was left confused as to precisely how to go about doing much of anything. The vast landscape and dark caves you explore add to the feeling of desolation, but our heroes' plodding pace even while running force longer searches as you look for consumables, mystical items, and exits to the procedurally generated areas.
Combat is simple and boils down to a ranged bow or a sword and shield. Unfortunately in my time with the game I haven't found much variety and tend to stick with the easier sword. Enemies tend to rush, and at the beginning can be taken down in a hit or two. Some stronger enemies will require some skill but by and large I felt like there wasn't enough variety to require me to learn different combinations. You fight your way down into the depths, and you will die. A new adventurer shows up to head into the depths, and your previous adventurer's permanent choices may make it easier to get back to where they were.
Crafting is included, to create new weaponry, healing items, and foods. This is a trial and error game, and the minimalistic interface makes me feel again that I'm not sure whether to invest time in learning it's nuances. There are a few puzzles, namely opening doors and the like, but they fall to the minimal interface as well. I find something, and a ? appears. More often than not I have no idea what it means. It took an internet search to learn that making a campsite blue by spending in-game currency would allow me to teleport back down via a fire on the side of the beach you land on. It's imperative to find your old adventurer to locate a lantern that lights your way and helps solve some basic puzzles.
I don't find a lot of reason to keep going. There is no storyline for me to care why to go down into the caves, and the pace is far too plodding especially since you will be spending a lot of time retreading steps. Your tiny character in a top-down world makes most actions not feel rewarding. You don't see a result to your crafting short of a meter changing, the world's procedural generation makes for unique but bland areas, and combat does not offer enough to draw you in either. I absolutely love the atmosphere and do genuinely want to know more, but several times ran into brick walls. I ended up in a room with no idea where my exit was no matter how far I searched.
While Below's minimalism is it's main draw it is also it's main detriment. I'd love to see where it goes but plodding across a vast area to find nothing and have to saunter back with very basic combat and no real impetus to continue just makes me want to head back to more enjoyable games. The rogue-like element is pushed too far with the required finding of your easily killed previous corpse and no radars or locators on top of it's missing tutorial or basic labeling of interactions. Perhaps if there was a speed up option or a life system option to prevent the permadeath frustrations it would be more enjoyable, but I'd say you're better off getting Xbox Game Pass (which recently had a $1 first month sale and Below was on the game list from release date) to see what it's all about.
-Complete lack of tutorial and no labels on interactions in-game
-Slow, plodding motion
-Many different features, none done well enough to draw you back in
Thanks to Capy Games for providing a code for review.