Below, an upcoming roguelike hybrid fantasy game from Capybara Games, invokes a startling amount of atmosphere the instant you begin to play. But if you want to get at the real heart of the game, you’ll need a good chunk of time and a healthy dose of dedication.
In the short time that I had to play this game, I died a lot. I bled to death, mostly, though I also managed to walk right into a hidden spike trap which immediately skewered my entire tiny body. In classic roguelike fashion (roguelike is a fantasy RPG game genre), the game sends you back pretty darn far each time you die, demanding that you take more care and use more strategy.
There are a few cool details that complement this high level of difficultly and violence. For one, your avatar appears to be incredibly tiny on the screen. The emphasis is on the landscape, not the characteristics of your tiny, mysterious explorer. And that landscape is amazing. Darkness plays a major role in creating alluring, mysterious spaces. Areas often become illuminated only when you walk directly into them or when you light a torch. And there are tiny details and secrets hidden throughout for the most dedicated of players.
In addition to showcasing gorgeous landscapes, Below features a soundscape by Jim Guthrie, who did the enchanting score for Capy’s 2011 Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (one of my favorite games).
The audio and visual combination is almost hypnotic. I am, however, really pleased that the game came with a dash feature. (Walking long distances is nobody’s favorite part of a video game.)
The small avatar/giant landscape design also means that while it has violence and blood, Below is by no means gory. Your character is so small that you can barely even see his limbs, let alone his injuries after he’s attacked by a monster or shot by arrows. What you do see are puddles of blood, which you leave behind after you’ve been injured. You see, you continue to lose heath until you can apply a bandage. Healing yourself with food will only delay the effects of an injury. You must be proactive about your avatar’s health, especially since the consequences of death are so severe. I had to master the items menu before I could do almost anything in this game.
I have the distinct feeling that Below is a game that will take hundreds of hours to fully unpack. For now, I’ve only scratched the surface.