It has been a long time since Capy Games released Super Time Force on Xbox One. Now the Toronto-based studio is back with Below, due to launch later this year on Xbox One and Steam. We played this dark Zelda-like adventure at PAX East and came away impressed. Read on for full impressions and video with interview and gameplay.
Alone on an island
Below begins with our hero, a young boy, awakening on the shore of an island. This solitary lad is an explorer, searching for something on a mysterious island. Below will feature a story told mostly through environmental details and clues, such as murals and brief events interspersed throughout. Capy wants players to mostly figure out and interpret the story on their own, similar to the way people interpret the mythology of the Dark Souls series — without the cryptic dialog.
After awakening, we walk across the beach and eventually encounter a walk to climb. The rain pours, but our hero perseveres. Stone steps at the top of the wall lead to a small hill with an ominous cave opening.
Inside, a dimly lit path leads to another opening, a tall door carved into the cave rock. Things look really dark inside (which applies to most areas of Below), but luckily we find a torch on the ground. You can lose your torch upon dying, but they are craftable.
Crafting and cooking
Below has a fairly elaborate crafting system in which players can make tools from objects found throughout the world. The hero can even make a variety of soups by cooking ingredients at campfires. These soups have different effects, like combating the cold. Yes, some places will be cold enough to kill you if you don't take measures to keep warm.
Inside the door, we descend several flights of carved staircases; we really are going below the surface of this dangerous world. Part of the staircase has crumbled, but our hero can climb the wall to continue.
Perhaps ten stories below the original cave opening, we finally emerge into a lush subterranean cavern. Here players can ignite a campfire, which serve several purposes in the game. When you die (at least in the demo), they act as checkpoints. Besides cooking soups at fires, you can also go to sleep and awaken in Below's hub area. There players will store weapons, torches, and other goods to keep them safe in the event of death.
Below plays like a mix of the original Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls. Exploration and combat feels a lot like Zelda. Our hero will hack away at monsters with a sword and other weapons, collecting gems from them when they die. But if he should fall, most of his belongings stay on his corpse.
You'll continue on as another adventurer in the same world, where you can choose to find the old hero's body and take his belongings. It feels more like Dark Souls' death penalty (having to retrieves your souls) than actual perma-death.
Below features another rogue-like element: randomized areas. Some parts of the game like dungeons have randomly-generated layouts. Yet others (such as the opening moments we described) are fixed in order to tailor the player's experience. Designing the backgrounds and environments for the randomized areas proved challenging for the game's art team, but the randomized elements should really boost replay value.
Preparing to go Below
Although I enjoyed playing the Below demo, I have two concerns. First, the camera is simply zoomed out too far. Capy tells me they choose this distant viewpoint in order to make the player feel more isolated and alone in a dangerous environment. The intention is good, but I'm positive the game will be difficult to play from couch distances for many people. A zoom option would be wise.
Second, the enemy design is a bit lackluster compared to the Zelda or Dark Souls games that Below otherwise resembles. The bad guys we've seen are all just shadowy black monsters with some red parts on their bodies. There's probably an in-world explanation for their uniformly black appearances. But Zelda and Dark Souls have such memorable monster designs. It's a shame that (based on the demo) Below can't say the same.
Below will launch as a timed exclusive on Xbox One and Steam this summer. After the exclusivity ends, it will likely arrive on PlayStation 4 as well. Are you excited that we'll get to go Below soon, dear readers?