Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Going Under Review: Not Quite Worth The Investment

The business world is about as cutthroat as it gets. Going Under imagines a reality where it gets even more cutthroat by having its employees literally cut throats. It places the player in the unenviable position of an unpaid intern forced to fight to the death for the opportunity to receive a weekly paycheck and health insurance. It’s an amusing concept and Going Under almost backs up it with a fun roguelike gameplay loop, but there are a few issues that hold it back from getting a satisfactory performance review.

Gotta Spend Money To Make Money!

You play as Jackie Fiasco, a recent college graduate who’s landed herself a marketing internship with Fizzle, a tech start-up that sells a sparkling meal-replacement beverage. As an unpaid intern, you’re forced to perform various thankless tasks for your coworkers such as getting lunch, taking calls, and traveling to the underground dungeon to exterminate monsters in order to retrieve ancient relics. You’ll soon discover that there’s more to your workplace than meets the eye, and you’ll have to contend with the corporate overlords over at Cubicle, the Amazon-esque company that owns everything.

For the most part, Going Under’s riffs on the business world are fairly entertaining. I’ve never worked for a fledging start-up company, but I was able to relate to many of the struggles that Jackie was forced to endure (minus the whole fighting baddies with oversized pencils aspect.) Marv, the smug, douchey manager who overworks his employees while dangling the carrot of a potential promotion in front of them seemed like someone plucked from my own past work experiences.

The game also makes fun of the dumb companies created by pretentious Silicon Valley-types. These take the form of the dungeons you’ll traverse. There’s an odd jobs app called Joblin which is inhabited by goblins. There’s a dating app called Winkydink where potential suitors can only communicate through emoji (an idea so stupid I’m surprised it doesn’t exist in the real world.) That area is full of literal slimeballs and creepy demons wielding anime body pillows.

While not every gag works – one of the areas is all about mocking cryptocurrency, although I feel like that’s enough of a joke on its own – Going Under has a solid sense of humor. The dialogue is fun and the characters are likable with the exception of the ones you’re supposed to hate. The story itself has some solid twists and turns. If anything, the way that the plot unfolds was one of the key factors that kept me playing.

That’s Coming Out Of The Budget

Going Under is a third-person action roguelike where you can use almost any part of the scenery as a weapon. You can utilize traditional weapons like swords and spears, or more unconventional objects like a giant tablet pen or a t-shirt cannon. You go through the dungeons by fighting your way to a gate that opens up the next floor. When you reach the bottom you have to fight the boss who, in this case, is actually the boss, as they’re the ones in charge of the day-to-day operations of that particular dungeon.

The dungeon layouts are similar to roguelikes like The Binding Of Isaac. Each room is chock full of enemies to defeat before you head to the next area. There are special rooms like shops, challenge areas, storage closets where you can select a perk that gives you a buff or ability, and curse rooms where you can choose to be hampered with a debilitating curse in exchange for extra items. Your coworkers can be equipped as Mentors who give you tasks to complete. Doing these tasks unlock abilities with each Mentor such as being able to buy an item from a shop with the company credit card or gaining access to someone’s Cubicle Prime account.

However, there are some issues that make it difficult to fully enjoy Going Under’s gameplay. The combat is fast-paced and exciting, but it lacks variety. After a while, it started to feel repetitive going through each room and scrambling to survive. All you can really do is mash the attack button and dodge-roll. Occasionally you’ll get guns or projectiles to throw, but it starts to get old about halfway through your intern adventure.

Many of the rooms are too small and cramped. There’s a lot of random crap lying about that can make it hard to maneuver around. Sometimes the rooms can be jam-packed with both furniture and bad guys making it easy to accidentally dodge-roll into a shelf or desk instead of out of harm’s way. The camera also tends to stay on Jackie meaning that off-screen enemies with long-range or area-of-effect attacks can suddenly appear out of nowhere leaving you almost no time to react. You can target enemies to make it easier to see them coming, but being hit without warning can occur a bit too frequently.

If you’re someone who played The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and hated the weapon degradation system, then you’re going to have a rough time with this one. Weapons break all the time in Going Under. Some items only last for a hit or two before they shatter. You can hold up to three weapons in your inventory, but it’s common to find yourself struggling for something to whack skeletons with. Jackie will automatically pick up objects when she has an empty slot, which can be helpful, although it can also mean you’ll be stuck using a plastic knife or candle during a tense encounter.

While I enjoy this game’s zaniness the humor can be detrimental at times. There were some perks that had funny descriptions but they didn’t tell me what they did. There’s one perk called Yeet and its description is, “That’s all she yote.” What does that mean? I assume it has something to do with throwing items but it’s not properly explained. As much as I like amusing item descriptions you got to tell me what the thing does.

It may not stand out from a gameplay perspective, but Going Under certainly has a distinctive look.  It employs a unique art style with a vibrant palette of solid colors and characters that look like they would fit in with the cast of The Muppets. They’re all made up of geometric shapes, tubes for arms, oval heads, etc. It makes for a silly, surreal setting that contrasts with the dystopian, staid corporate culture that the game is rallying against. The music is also very atmospheric and soothing. It sounds like something you would hear playing in a coffee shop where creative, wannabe entrepreneurs work on their laptops trying to come up with the next big idea.

Can I See You In My Office?

I was charmed by Going Under’s send-up of start-up culture and the “idea-men” that tend to somehow find themselves in charge. The kind of people who can invent apps and businesses that sound good on paper, yet have no actual strategy for being profitable. The only real plan most of these numbskulls have is to get bought out by a bigger corporation and rely on a golden parachute when things go south. Meanwhile, everyone else is lucky if they even get severance pay.

It’s a relevant topic that deserves mockery, but the gameplay itself isn’t quite as fleshed out as the story and the wisecracks. While I got some enjoyment out of the combat, it doesn’t offer enough variation and isn’t as polished as other titans of the roguelike genre like Dead Cells or Hades. Running through the dungeons began to feel like genuine work, which is suitable considering the subject matter but not what I want from a game.

We’ll definitely keep Going Under’s resume on file, but when it comes to roguelikes, we’ve decided to go in a different direction.

A PC copy of Going Under was provided to TheGamer for this review. Going Under is available on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

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