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Saturday 21 September 2019

Below - impressive despite the relentless grind

Game review - Below (PC/Xbox One): 6/10

Below is an impressive marriage of elegance and frustration.
Below is an impressive marriage of elegance and frustration.

Chris Hayes

Below is an impressive marriage of elegance and frustration, its often genius moments and design choices undermined and highlighted regularly by baffling decisions of equivalent stature.

From the artwork to the pervading eerieness and tremendous sound design, Below immediately presents itself as a title that wants its concept to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, there are simply too many needlessly frustrating mechanics and silly quirks for this title's execution to match its ambition.

Flittering between a rewarding dungeon crawler and a teeth-grittingly difficult - and often unfair - survival game, Below exposes its first and arguably largest flaw. An identity crisis is the quickest way to cripple a game's execution and Below has a big one.

The lure of Below's dungeons is ever-present, with the art design and sheer variety of environments constantly beckoning us into the depths of the game.

The hunger bar, however, is constantly taunting us - reminding the player that he/she must set aside any explorative ambitions in the game and forage for mushrooms in order to restore the absolutely arbitrary hunger meter before continuing.

It seems so pointless a decision that you cannot help but wonder if the developers didn't somehow feel like they had to shoehorn it into the game due to how vogue the survival genre is at the moment.

The tedious grind that goes along with feeding yourself in Below is only topped by the lantern mechanic. While it does genuinely offer a depth of mechanics to the game, the difficulty tradeoff with this introduction is ludicrous.

The lantern requires fuel to shine and many levels in the game contain doors and traps that can only be opened and revealed by the lantern.

The only problem is, should you die in a particularly difficult room, you will drop your lantern and must go back for it to pick it up. Honestly, if you are having trouble with a room while aided by the lantern, just imagine how hard it is without it. A mechanic that sounds brilliant on paper until you realise that you are literally rewarding players for being constantly anxious and on edge for exactly 100% of the game time.

Below is absolutely gorgeous and has an extremely impressive variety of enemies to battle in its roughly 30-hour playtime. If it weren't for the relentless grinding and back-tracking, it would have been a hell of a game.

Wexford People

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