Capybara Games' Below has a considerable story behind its development, baking in the oven for over half a decade. While formally announced at Microsoft's E3 2013 showcase before the Xbox One even hit store shelves, the game is still yet to ship, following a string of multiple delays. However, the small Toronto-based developer is still behind the project despite struggles, currently promising a 2018 debut.
While it has been some time since Below's first public appearance, the game remains among the most anticipated titles under Microsoft's ID@Xbox program. A lot has changed about this ambitious indie during this period, with promised improvements to mechanics, depth, and polish. With its long-awaited arrival seemingly closer than ever, we had the opportunity to spend some time with Below's opening minutes on Xbox One X.
The magic of mystery
Below is an experience defined by its ambiguity, from its five-year absence, while also translating to the gameplay itself. Washing up on a shadowy shore as a hooded, nameless protagonist, players are given little perspective for what lies ahead. Thrown in without guidance on controls and mechanics, you'll be left to investigate and find a place in this top-down world. Its intuitive fundamentals will get you quickly started, but the mystery of what lies onward never truly subsides.
It's the drive to continue exploring that's shaping up to be Below's big draw.
Roguelike mechanics form its foundation, encouraging players to venture into the unknown and experiment throughout its environments. The game rewards those who explore while a conflicting level of risk, permanent death, keeps you careful with your actions.
When first spawned, Below's hero starts defenseless, with no weapons or items to defend from the world's challenges. I found myself stumbling on some outstanding structures, eventually providing me with a light source, leading to the darker, hostile depths of its dungeons. Unexplained puzzles and obstacles are scattered throughout, indicative of places to revisit once better equipped Metroidvania-style. Other challenges, including extensive crafting, food and water systems, are all set to play a larger part in the experience as you advance too.
I felt a sense of progression on a smaller scale with my brief time, as well as how this may develop across the wider experience. In the short term, finding new gear and enduring the elements is crucial to survival. But the larger sense of progression comes from what you know as a player, by recognizing you'll be better strategized for the next encounter.
Like many roguelike titles, there's an incremental cycle of dying and taking findings forward, but Below's world does exceptionally well at accommodating this style of play. The ruthless nature of the unexplored means there's potential for danger around every corner – one mistake and you could lose everything. But it's the drive to continue simply exploring that's shaping up to be Below's big draw.
Although stakes define its gameplay, yet there's also an almost therapeutic aspect to the experience. Whether its clean visual style, wallpaper-worthy vistas or is smooth gameplay, its tone remains consistently tranquil. And that's not even touching on the atmospheric soundtrack, which is easily looking to be a memorable component of the final game. Balancing its harsh mechanics with eye-candy, I can't wait to continue exploring, even with the obstacles in the way.
What lies below
Below could be one of the most captivating indie titles in Xbox One history, with some unique components that stand out against the known ID@Xbox lineup. Promising concepts form the groundwork for an adventure driven by mystery and intrigue, with an unforgiving edge along the way. Provided it can give answers in the final experience through rewarding depth, the game might not only sit among the top games from Microsoft's indie program, but sit among the best the console has to offer in general.
Below is on track for an Xbox One and Steam PC release, currently slated for 2018. The game will also be enhanced for Microsoft's latest flagship console, Xbox One X, sporting 4K resolution and 60 frames per second gameplay. Let us know your thoughts on Below leading up to launch in the comments.