I didn’t know a single detail about Below when I started, so the first few minutes were spent trying to figure out exactly what kind of game Below is. There is no tutorial or anything even slightly resembling it so it is completely up to the player to learn the ins and outs of the game. It wasn’t until I had gotten my character down into the depths and died for the first time that I had an epiphany about what kind of game this is. Upon my death, Below informed that my traveler had died, but another one had arrived. I then took control of the new traveler, and set off to retrieve the important items from the corpse of my first attempt, the most important of which is your lantern. It was then that I realized that in a sense, Below is an endless dungeon crawler, however it has some light survival mechanics incorporated that can make the game seem unforgiving at times.
Right out of the gate you recognize something that Below got very right, and that is the foreboding ambiance created by the amazing sound and art direction. Below gives off an aura not unlike that put off by Inside, offering up a dark and mysterious environment that’s as much haunting as it is beautiful.
It’s really the atmosphere that Below creates that really got me excited about the game, you see, I fucking love Inside, and the dark grittiness of Below reminded me of just that. However, even with an atmosphere reminiscent of one of my favorite one ever created in a game, Below struggles to rise to greatness through questionable design decisions. For example, your lantern is your lifeline in below, it lights your way and reveals traps, but each time you die, your lantern stays with your body no matter how far into the depths you may be. A good number of my deaths came about as a result of stepping on a trap on my way to get my fucking lantern so I could see the fucking traps.
Gathering resources as you go, staying alive is a constant concern in BELOW, your lone wanderer having to stop at campfires to rest and craft helpful items. Water is quite plentiful to keep you hydrated but you’ll need to eat regularly, either eating raw foods or crafting something for nourishment. You’ll eventually reach icy caverns and at that point you will have to take steps to keep from freezing to death like stopping to light beacons to warm yourself.
Anyone familiar with the roguelike genre (or sub-genre, whatever) will a know whats up 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.