Before I went home for Christmas last year, I had two firm ideas about Below based on, admittedly, only about ten hours of playing it. The first idea was that the game was a bit of a well-intentioned botch. The second was that, combat and exploration aside, what Below was really concerned with was fostering the slow realisation in its players that game design itself is probably one big roguelike.
My argument for this second point went something like this. Roguelikes – and roguelites, if you’re willing to allow the term – are so good at creating stories because you have to commit. To play is to make decisions in a roguelike, and in a roguelike you have to live by those decisions to the very end. Below is definitely a roguelike (or maybe a roguelite, if you’re willing to allow the term). Anyway, it’s a dungeon-crawler: you wash up on an island, you mooch about in the beautiful pixel drizzle for a bit and then you discover a mountain with a very tall slot in it. It’s a negative-space Monolith, beckoning to you from some kind of elongated version of 2001 (a negative-space odyssey).
In you go, and sure enough there are themed levels of dungeon to explore as you go down, down, down, navigating procedural rooms and their increasingly tricksy beasties as you grapple with shield-heavy combat and typical survival stuff that sees you expiring, over time, through hunger, thirst and the cold unless you salvage the things you need to see this triple-threat off for the time being.
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