It finally happened. I finally played Below. Even with the lofty expectations that I had for Capybara Games’ upcoming adventure game, after spending a couple of hours with the game, I am more excited than I ever have been before.
I played in total about two hours of Below, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with what it has to offer. For the uninitiated, Below puts you in the shoes of an adventurer who arrives on an island and begins journeying into its depths. The demo I played featured five different tiers to discover, but I only ever made it to the third. Below is difficult, but very fair.
In typical roguelike action, upon dying, the game starts again and you find yourselves in the shoes of a new adventurer arriving on the island. If you happen to find yourself in the same area where you last died, you can recover the items you were previously carrying on your past adventurer along with recovering your lantern, which is the most essential item in Below.
The Creative Director of Below, Kris Piotrowski, told me that the lantern is as crucial in this game as the Ocarina was in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Without it, it’s much harder to advance through the game’s levels and the game will outright prevent you from moving on at times without it. Whenever you die, retrieving the lantern should be your first objective as it helps you more easily clear the fog of war in each section of Below’s caves.
One of the things that I was quite hesitant on at first with Below but quickly found myself won over by was the randomly generated levels that happen everytime you re-enter the caverns. The layout of each area in the game changes every time you start over with a new character but they all seem similar to one another and consist of similar patterns. Because of this, every run feels fresh while also feeling eerily familiar.
Combat in Below is the one thing that I expected to be somewhat straightforward, but it’s anything but. While you can absolutely run around and swing your sword haphazardly, you’re better suited to learn all of the moves at your disposal and how to adequately make use of them to dispose of more challenging enemies. The longer I played Below, the more I began to understand the ins and outs of combat and started to see the surprising depth that it offered.
Piotrowski told me during our session that he likened the combat of Below to what is seen in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. After hearing about some of the items that you will be able to gain later on in the game, I think that combat is going to stand out considerably over the course of this adventure.
Out of everything I saw in Below, the one thing I cannot get over is the art style and aesthetic that it presents. The sound design and music are expertly crafted and enhance the experience significantly. Both of these things also add to the isolationist feel that the game is going for. I had major flashbacks to Hyper Light Drifter while playing Below, which is very high praise from me. This isolationist style of play is even further enhanced by the HUD, which is very minimalistic and allows the emphasis to be on the world and rather than your health bar or items.
This beauty of the world was made even better after seeing how gorgeous the game now looks running in 4K. PAX East was one of the first times that Capy Games has shown off Below running in 4K on an Xbox One X and, man, I am absolutely ecstatic that I purchased that console for myself after playing this game.
The amount of detail in every blade of grass to the small accessories that are upon your character stand out substantially and continue to add more style and life to this world. For a game that relies quite heavily upon its world and the design of it, this newly added 4K resolution brings so much more to the table that I was not initially expecting.
There is a litany of other elements in Below that I haven’t touched on but they all feel fleshed out and significantly enhance the experience. The crafting system seems simple yet effective; alternating between various weapons helps differentiate your playstyle and approach to enemies; the hunger and thirst meter add survival functions to Below that I didn’t even know I wanted. There’s a ton of gameplay systems and mechanics happening in Below but Capy’s ability to make them all feel cohesive might be their most significant achievement.
Below is simply a game that I cannot wait to sink my teeth into. While my time with it at PAX East was extremely positive, Below is something that I’m most looking forward to sitting on my couch with all of the lights off and playing in the dark for hours on end. Despite the overwhelming silence surrounding Below these past few years, Capy proved to me that the game is absolutely nearing completion and is no doubt worthy of your excitement and anticipation as we near its release later this year.