Robert Steinman
E3 2014: Below Preview
What lies in the dungeons below?
06.19.14 - 6:51 PM

Below was easily my game of the show at this year's E3. As many all of our podcast listeners know, I love it when a game backs up and lets me discover all of its mechanics and intricacies on my own. Running around Below, bleeding after a shadowy monster's attack had me panicking in a way few modern titles can create. "You have to use fire to cauterize the wound," Nathan Vella from Capybara Games told me, though this information came just a bit too late for my hero.

Below tasks players with exploring a cave on a faraway island. There really isn't much more to the game in terms of narrative at this point; you just explore and try your best to stay alive and find out more about his mysterious landscape. The sense of scale is what draws you into Below initially. The designers wanted to create single-screen dungeons, making the player extremely small in comparison to most other video game avatars. The cave and dungeons feel huge as a result of this simple choice, which is what attracted me to the title during its Microsoft unveiling last year. There's a real weight to the proceedings when it takes you some time to fully traverse a world, making Below feel like something other than a video game. It's deeply immersive despite the top down view and painterly look.

Combat works as a mix of twin-stick shooter controls and, you guessed it, Dark Souls. You get a sword and shield to start your adventure, and players must point their shield in the direction of oncoming attacks using the right analog stick. It allows for tremendous freedom of movement, and when the stakes are so high, you need to have complete control of your character and confidence in the systems at play. One hit causes your character to bleed out, forcing you to find a fire source and use your heated sword to close the wound. I could feel the adrenaline pumping each time I found a new enemy, but the high risk and reward system worked quite well at drawing me into the experience. There's a great deal of depth in the relatively simple appearance.

Below features a crafting system derived from the current influx of rogue-like elements in many of today's indie titles. Picking up various bits of the environment like grass and water will enhance your chances of survival, though I didn't have a lot of time to see it all in full effect. The cave's grass, for example, would stop my character's bleeding for a few precious seconds. I found a bow with ten arrows in the quiver late into my travels, and Nathan tells me you can recover spent ammunition from fallen enemies.

I have so many questions leaving E3 about how deep this particular rabbit hole goes. Will we see bosses? What other types of equipment will players find? Where exactly does the cave finally lead to? This procedurally-generated dungeon crawler also features unique environments, so think of it like an enigmatic journey to key points and places. With both handcrafted and player unique places to explore, Below could be a critical darling whenever we see it finally released. Nathan was unfortunately very coy about a release date, but I will wait patiently for another chance to explore and die in my journey down to whatever lies below.