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'Below' Mixes Survival And Exploration In A Procedurally-Generated World

Capybara Games’ Below has been in development for some time (I first saw it two years ago at PAX East), but its presence at the Xbox Spring Showcase could be an indication that the game is almost done.

The Darkness Within

You play as an unnamed character who is stranded on a deserted island that contains an unexplored cave. Armed with a sword and shield, you venture into the cave and discover its many secrets.

The first thing you’ll notice about Below is its lack of a heads-up display. Any information that is displayed will only appear when you’re in danger. If you are hit by a poisonous weapon, a heart will appear above your character’s head, and the shaded area inside the heart will continue to decrease to signify health loss. Other indicators that eventually appear are signs of hunger or thirst or the need for warmth. You’ll need to keep track of these needs as you descend further into the cave.

With each level, you encounter a series of creatures that seem harmless at first, but they actually deal a significant amount of damage. If you’re lucky, you’ll survive the first one or two encounters, but at some point you’ll die, and you get to see Below’s true nature. With each death, you return to a certain bonfire and have to go through Levels 1, 2 and so on. However, each level will be different every time as it’s procedurally generated.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the game is completely unfair to you. Other bonfires will appear throughout the game and serve as checkpoints of sorts so you don’t have to start all the way back at the beginning. Think of it as a variation of the Souls series due to its death and rebirth cycle. However, Below might be more difficult due to its random levels.

Discovery

Even though a majority of the game is randomly generated, there are a few consistent levels that serve some purpose. Capybara Games’ creative director Kris Piotrowski told me that these staples are actually hidden areas that you have to find if you want to learn more about the lore of the island.

You’ll also scavenge for various items such as logs, stone and cloth throughout each level. You can use these materials to craft better items such as bandages, torches and arrows. The actual crafting method is interesting, as well: You can use three components only to make a new item, and audio cues throughout the process can help you decide if the combination of materials will yield a result.

You can also find consumable items in each area. This will keep the need for food at bay, but there could be a few consequences with some of the local delicacies. A certain mushroom could provide a significant boost to health, but it could prove to be a deadly, poisonous dish after some time. Combat scenarios might leave you bleeding out, but you can light a cauldron of fire in some areas to apply heat to your sword and use it to cauterize the wound. To sum it up, you’ll have to find a way to survive the hurdles of every level, or you’ll die and go through a new, random set of areas in the pursuit of discovering the secret of the cave.

Almost There

Piotrowski didn’t provide an exact release date for the game, but he did say that the goal was to publish the title sometime this year. Most of the game seems to be finished, but Piotrowski said that that the team is still adding more content for each level.

It seems, then, that we only scratched the surface of Below. If you are able to survive starvation, thirst and a horde of enemies, you’ll learn more about the world around you, and uncover the secrets within the cave. We’ll undoubtedly see more of the game at other gaming shows, but at least fans have a better idea of what to expect with Capybara Games' latest project.

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