Developer: Capybara Games
Publisher: Capybara Games
Genre: Action / Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 07/04/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
What Lies Below
I’ll be honest with you. I’m a bit of a PlayStation fanboy. I’ve never owned an Xbox and I occasionally find myself viewing their exclusive titles with covetous eyes: Below was one of those titles. Like a P.E teacher I used to have, this game has a reputation of being incredibly hard and unforgiving. I am by no means a glutton for punishment kind of player, but I itched to pit myself against the perilous and mysterious depths of Below.
Finally, in April of 2020, Below stepped foot on PlayStation shores. This release not only offered all the original Xbox content in the form of survival mode but also brought a new and more forgiving explore mode to the game. We will get to the new addition, but first let’s take a look at the original game in the form of survival mode.
Let’s just start by saying the obvious, Below is HARD! The game’s overall visual style is superb and actually is oddly cute, like an early Zelda game if Link was having a major emo phase, but don’t let that deceive you. This game is merciless and will punish you over and over again.
The game’s premise is simple. You are a nameless explorer landing on the shore of a foreboding and mysterious island. The island has a number of strange monuments on it and a deep and winding network of perilous caves beneath. It’s up to you to explore and unravel the mystery contained within.
Challenge or Chore?
I think calling the original game mode ‘survival’ must be an ironic title because you will not survive, you have no chance of making it through in one life on a first play. The survival mechanics are the standard water, food and warmth gauges, and must be kept topped up or your little explorer will start to rapidly lose precious health.
On top of that you obviously have enemies and combat. The levels of Below are crawling with a wide range of creepy critters, monstrous abominations and a shadowy presence that attempts to end your life at every opportunity. Combat is satisfying and fun, but also often frustratingly brutal and merciless.
Oh and did I mention all the dark depths of Below are rigged with more rickety traps than the whole Indiana Jones franchise? Almost everywhere you turn there is a trip wire, or a set of spring loaded spikes, or a suspended blade ready to swing round and slice the head off any explorer bumbling around in the dark. Survival mode is not for the quitters, it’s for those gamers among us that look at Dark Souls and see relaxing down time.
A Lighter Shade Of Punishment
Explore mode definitely attempts to make the game more accessible and appealing to casual players, but it’s still a hard and arduous journey through the depths of the mysterious isle. A lot of changes have been made including: the food and water survival gauges being removed completely, a new bleeding mechanic that has been added (instead of the instant damage of survival), traps and enemy damage have been reduced, and resources increased.
These changes are as close to help as you are ever going to get from Below. It gives absolutely no direction, tips, or tutorials at any point along the way. I have bought flat pack furniture that had a setup guide in Chinese that still gave more instruction than Below.
The game opens with a long and foreboding sequence that reminds me of the opening to The Shining; it sets the tone perfectly. This game never holds your hand or spells anything out, doesn’t explain the mundanities of a crafting system or map. Every little aspect and discovery becomes a part of the journey and exploration of Below. I can see the point and how it fits wonderfully with the themes of the game, but it is certainly a solid barrier for a lot of players. Below knows its audience and caters for them pretty perfectly but for everyone else, it’s pretty hard to get on-board.
A Tough Journey Awaits Below
I respect and appreciate the boldness of this game. It knows what it is and sticks to it every step of the way. It’s just such a hard game to love and embrace as it makes no attempt at all to hook you. Even the thinnest of storylines would have given me the drive to push deeper into the game and unearth just what is going on.
Like the very depths under the mysterious isle of Below, the game is dark, foreboding and rather inaccessible. There is undoubtedly an intriguing mystery lurking in the dark and perilous caves. But I doubt I’ll ever have the skill and perseverance to uncover it myself. For what it’s worth, my guess is something to do with crab-people.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase below now on the PlayStation Store.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.