Review: Below (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Below
Format: PSN (3.55 GB)
Release Date: April 7, 2020
Publisher: Capybara Games
Developer: Capybara Games
Original MSRP: $24.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
There was a lot of excitement around Below when it was first announced. It released years later on Xbox and PC to mixed reviews. Now PlayStation 4 players get their chance to survive this dark beauty as originally designed or with a new mode.

The game was originally designed with one mode, Survival. This forced players to not only contend with the many dangers they would encounter along their journey, but also be constantly worried about hunger and thirst.

The new Explore mode makes a number of changes to make this (still difficult) adventure just a little easier for those who don’t want to worry that the next step could trigger a spike trap and be their last. A number of tweaks were made for the new mode, chief among them no hunger and thirst, and they removed one hit kills.

Below starts with a long cutscene, your character slowly headed toward shore. The player takes control once the character is on the beach. Nothing is explained and there is no waypoint to head towards.

Knowing very little about Below except that it could be difficult, I started off with Explore mode. I figured I would learn the basics without the harassment of the Survival mode. I was taken back by the lack of any sort of detail, hint, or instruction from the game. I wasted the only two arrows I started with trying to figure out how to aim and switch weapons.

I spent over half an hour wandering around the first area, which is not that big, looking for something or some path forward. The fact that the character walks a little too slow didn’t help.

After making my way into the cave system, I wondered some more. I wasn’t sure what to do but to keep exploring. One cavern led to the next and so on. Sometimes, I would take the wrong path and have to backtrack a little. After a while I entered a new cavern and saw a red sphere slowly ambling around. The color stood out among the shadows and I immediately headed towards it. As I approached, and more of the area was visible to me, suddenly there was a swarm of red spheres. As they turned their attention to me and charged, years of gaming kicked in and I started mashing the attack button.

Overall Explore mode felt a little aimless to me. Wandering from cavern to cavern; yes I am exploring but for what purpose? There are some branching paths and keys that need to be found to proceed but the cave system is not a complex maze and. There are no upgrades or new abilities, so you are basically exploring to keep exploring. There are some combat encounters along the way, but in my time with Below, the enemies and combat never changed.

Survival mode is all stick and no carrot. The constant need for water and food means the player is continuously looking for the next campfire and doesn’t have time to stop and smell the roses. And, what am I surviving for? To make it to the next cavern and to the next. Survival for the sake of survival quickly got old. Brutal difficulty, like an instant kill from a spike trap, is not new in games, but in the end there was no fun, grand adventure. The game never evolved into anything more.

Visuals:
Below‘s minimalist art style is beautiful and the darkness pulled me in. Unfortunately there aren’t many sources of light that don’t require resources like the lantern and crafted torches.

In the beginning area, once off the beach, there are grassy plains and steep cliffs. Sometimes two plains separated by a steep cliff would look like one big plain. It felt like I kept walking into invisible walls. It was a similar situation inside the cave caverns. I messed with brightness, contrast, and gamma settings a few times. This improved things, but the color was also a little washed out.

Audio:
The soundtrack matches the haunting yet beautiful art style. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time either confused or in a desperate dash and the soundtrack just faded into the background.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only, with no online component.

Conclusion:
Below is a striking game. A game I wished I had enjoyed more.

The game never clicked with me. There was needless withholding of some basic information, the brutal difficulty, and the repetitive and unrewarding nature of the game.

I have no doubt that Below will be some people’s favorite game of the year, but for most people it’s not a game I would recommend.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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