Monday, October 5, 2020

Going Under (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Let's start this week with the first review of October. It's for a game that is now available on all major platforms, and it's a developer's first game. It's Aggro Crab's satirical take on corporate work culture, Going Under.

Bashing your way up and down the corporate ladder

The Roguelike is a genre that is no doubt no stranger to indies. In a month where Supergiant Games' Hades has taken up most of the attention (arguably for all the right reasons due to its high quality), it can be hard to differentiate one's game among the countless horde of indie Roguelikes. Newcomer Aggro Crab, however, does just this with Going Under, a game where the dungeons take place in failed startup companies and appropriately satirizes capitalism and startup culture itself with a smart combination of humor and sass. It mostly--and forgive the unforced play-on words--"works" well, offering a fresh take on a well-worn genre of game.

Right as the game clocks in, it delivers the satire in abundance. You play as Jackie Fiasco, an unpaid intern for a flavored soda meal replacement company known as Fizzle. This company is owned by conglomerate Cubicle, which houses multiple startups underneath its corporate umbrella. Tasked by your boss, Marv, Jackie is sent to the underground to defeat literal bosses of failed startups that have also in a literal and figurative sense "gone under". Between the characters, the dialogue, and the setup, Going Under's story almost hits too close to home with its take on unpaid internships, corporations, startup culture, and capitalism, but it does it all mostly in a clever way. I say "mostly" because some of the writing whiffs on the humor with dated references and obnoxious writing.

The face of someone who just realized their internship is unpaid.

Going Under sees players entering three unique main dungeons, fighting their way deeper into each four-floor-deep dungeon using objects and weapons alike to eliminate enemies and clear rooms. Essentially anything and everything that isn't tied down can be used as a weapon in the game. Each object used has its own degradation where it breaks after several uses. While a computer monitor and plastic knife breaks after a couple of attacks, something heartier like a sword or axe will last for a while. You can hold three objects in your inventory at a time, and with the weapon degradation, you'll obviously be switching weapons in and out consistently. That said, combat itself in Going Under is a touch messy and sloppy, not having the kind of tightness or level of precise control I would like, but overall, it works as needed. 

Clear the room of all enemies to move on. Rinse and repeat. An intern's job is never done.

That said, the enemy variety is high, and the numerous different objects used in battle each have their own level of power, depending on what is used. A rolling move gives you a narrow window of invincibility to evade attacks, and your own attacks can be charged to unleash more devastating amounts of damage. Objects can be thrown, as well, when all else fails.

Each procedurally generated dungeon has its own clever theme to it, including enemies inhabiting them and objects found. Each floor features a randomly located shop and other notable rooms, such as one that grants a choice between two Skills and one that rewards several item freebies with the cost of bestowing your character with a curse of some kind. There are also various optional challenges to take on, each different depending on the dungeon. From the Tinder-like company Winkydink, where levels feature the ability to "date" or recruit a fellow enemy as long as you defeat it without taking too much damage, or mining the titular Styxcoin in the startup of the same name, as you rush through the room collecting coins before time runs out, these challenges give worthwhile rewards for completing them. 

These foes look light on their feet, so Jackie is going to have them take a seat.

While there are only three main dungeons that you routinely return to, there is plenty of replay value to be found in this otherwise 5-10 hour adventure. You can assign a Mentor to your character, giving them bonuses inside dungeons, such as entering each floor with helper characters or lowering the cost of items at shops. New Mentor abilities are unlocked by completing in-dungeon tasks, like destroying 15 laptops, setting a certain objects ablaze, or defeating enemies with only your fists. 

The Skills I mentioned briefly come into play when they are discovered in dungeons. They are temporarily equipped to your character as you find them in dungeons, and they bestow varying effects. Some add an extra heart to your health, others can instantly ignite enemies when you target them, and then there are those Skills that increase your attack power briefly at the start of a battle. As you play through the dungeons with these equipped, you earn experience for them that is tallied up at the end of each run. If a Skill reaches 100% experience, you can choose to start with that Skill for use in dungeons. Pick wisely, though, as only one Skill can be equipped for use in dungeons at once. These Skills offer a great chance to experiment and find the one that matches either your play style or the dungeon you're about to enter.

The boss of Joblin is large and in charge, the hyped up Caffiend.

Going Under, like many of the games in its genre, is no pushover. You'll be working overtime to complete it, as it can be quite the difficult game. Fortunately, developer Aggro Crab realized it--heck, they even state the game can be a difficult one in the game itself--and has provided several options to assist players in more easily beating the game. These include adding more hearts to your health at the start of dungeons, making objects heartier so they won't break so easily, and even widening the window of invincibility when Jackie rolls. Many of these options have sliders so you can set the level of help to exactly what you need and desire, and they can be turned on or off each time you resume your save file.

Unlike actual internships, I enjoyed my time at Fizzle. Combat is a bit loose and clunky, lacking a lot of variety that will keep most players from coming to back to the game, but Going Under otherwise keeps an elevated level of quality throughout its relatively short campaign. The optional added accessibility and assist options makes for a game that while still challenging, offers a game that can be custom tailored to a given player's skill level. Thus, anyone with a love for Roguelikes but not necessarily a love for their general difficulty can enjoy this game. Overall, Aggro Crab has done a good job with their first game.

[SPC Says: B-]

A Nintendo Switch code was provided to SPC by the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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