BELOW Review

Richard Walker

You wash up on a beach in your boat, armed only with a sword and shield. Hitting the sand, you scamper towards a fire, light it, craft some food, then forge ahead into the dark caves. It's really, really dark. And gloomy, and damp. Maybe you should get back on your ship and sail somewhere else? Against your better judgement, you keep going, find a spear, spike some fish in the subterranean pools, craft a torch to light the way, and journey deeper and deeper into the bowels of the mysterious island. Then you step on a trap and die horribly. BELOW can be a right bastard.

From makers of Super Time Force, Capy Games, BELOW generates a genuinely oppressive and ominous atmosphere, its island hammered by driving rain when you're above ground, the impenetrable darkness beneath hiding ancient mechanisms, glowing artefacts and secret passages. While BELOW is a fairly conventional roguelike, it's one with a unique style that engenders an all-pervasive sense of dread with very little. Cold stone structures underground glow faintly with lines of blue light, some doors adorned with luminous runes opening with a beam of light from the unusual lantern you find early on. BELOW's appeal lies in you slowly uncovering the unknown.

Gathering resources as you go, like blood moss, shards of rock, sticks, mushrooms, meat, embers and string, staying alive is a constant concern in BELOW, your lone wanderer having to stop at campfires to rest and craft helpful items. You'll need to eat regularly, which means either eating raw foodstuffs or concocting a soup or elixir, while water to quench your thirst is fairly plentiful. As you progress, you'll eventually descend into icy caverns where you'll need to regulate your temperature too, stopping to light beacons to warm yourself, lest you freeze to death. Sometimes, it can all feel like a bit of a thankless slog, but then you'll happen upon something new, refreshing your zeal for exploration.

Locate 'The Pocket' and you can store items, while tiny crystals gathered from vanquished enemies can be used to power your lantern, transforming campfires into temporary teleportation points when your wanderer dies. When your wanderer does bite the dust, another ship will land at the same shore where you began, and a new wanderer emerges to continue the journey. Thing is, if you've already used a campfire to teleport back to a place near to where you last left off, you can use it again. But if you die twice in a row, it's right back to the beginning for you. After hours of gathering useful items and hard-fought progression, it's massively disheartening when this happens.

Anyone well-versed in playing roguelikes will already know the score when it comes to this sort of thing, but progress through BELOW's procedurally-generated dungeons can be so slow and laborious that losing it all might cause you to want to give up. It's only in the deepest parts of The Isle's caves that real danger lurks, and armed with your little sword and shield, your little bow and arrow, and other found weaponry, you'll do battle with red-eyed demons whose attacks are easy to telegraph. It's the other perils, hidden amid the fronds of grass, the threat of starvation, or extreme cold that pose the greatest danger. Which is good, since the combat is a bit perfunctory. Consequently, permadeath doesn't really work in BELOW since you don't learn or gain anything to encourage a different approach for your next run-through.

And while it's easy to cleave a path through smaller cave-dwelling minions, there's no point even engaging in a skirmish with larger enemies, as they can quickly tear you a new one, or at the very least leave you worse for wear. Ultimately, BELOW's roguelike fundamentals aren't all that rewarding, and death, though easily avoided if you're careful, brings with it penalties that are far too punishing. Yes, you can retrieve your lost stuff from the corpse of your dead wanderer, but why campfires don't serve as permanent checkpoints is beyond me. It turns an otherwise enjoyable exploration-based roguelike adventure into something that little bit more unpalatable.

Different routes through BELOW's labyrinthine caves make things slightly more interesting, and at the touch of a button you can consult the paths you've taken and chambers you've discovered thus far. Bodies of previous wanderers are also marked as red dots, so you can find your way back to recovering your lost items, but having to repeat the same journey back to where you died multiple times over, simply isn't fun. It's a chore. Usually, death in a roguelike is part of a learning process; your next attempt arming you with the knowledge to overcome whatever it was that impeded your progress. Not so in BELOW, and that's perhaps why Capy's dungeon crawler regrettably falls short.


BELOW evokes a fantastically ominous air of foreboding with its soundtrack, and its visual style is unquestionably superb, but as an example of the roguelike, Capy's game does nothing new. Perhaps it's intentionally pared-down, but the resulting game is enjoyable for an hour or two, and a relentless chore thereafter.

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An evocative score from Jim Guthrie and suitably creepy atmospheric sounds make for a pleasurable aural experience.


The imposing caverns and sprawling landscapes that surround you dwarf your wanderer, making him appear small and vulnerable. But the network of subterranean catacombs quickly become very samey.


There's not much to BELOW's combat, and exploration can be a real grind. Crafting is simple enough and the controls make sense, but as roguelikes go, this is fairly unremarkable.


Despite its procedurally-generated dungeons, BELOW becomes repetitive rather quickly. The few rooms that have something of interest are all too rare, and the mechanics don't provide enough impetus to keep plugging away.


Ten achievements, 100G apiece, all secret. Each provides nice punctuation for pivotal milestones, but overall, this is a flimsy, slightly lazy list.

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