Be­low

Capy gives new mean­ing to the pen-and-pa­per RPG

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, Xbox One

We’re bleed­ing. Our avatar might only be a tiny pres­ence on­screen, but it’s pretty ob­vi­ous we’ve been cut. There’s the trail of blood, for one thing, which has al­ready been set upon by a group of leeches. Be­low’s UI is sparse by de­sign – in­vis­i­ble, in fact, un­less there’s some­thing you need to see – so there’s no ig­nor­ing the sud­den ap­pear­ance of a heart slowly be­ing drained of its ruby-red hue ei­ther. We should prob­a­bly do some­thing about this.

We bring up the menu. On it, we see all the items we’ve gath­ered so far: car­rots, fish, sticks and strips of cloth. We look for a recipe of some kind – per­haps we can make a po­tion to staunch the flow and top up our health, or cob­ble some­thing to­gether to patch us up. All those things are pos­si­ble – and in our cur­rent state, highly ad­vis­able – but there’s no recipe menu or auto-craft­ing op­tion. All we can do is experiment, us­ing or com­bin­ing our mea­gre wares in the hope of find­ing an an­swer be­fore we bleed out.

When we find a rem­edy, no short­cuts or mem­ory aids are logged – we’ll sim­ply have to re­mem­ber it for next time. The same goes for soups, brewed at firepits and used for heal­ing, cur­ing sta­tus ef­fects and be­stow­ing buffs. “There’s a hint sys­tem for those pay­ing close at­ten­tion, but a lot of it is just trial and er­ror, fig­ur­ing it out,” Capy pres­i­dent Nathan Vella ex­plains. “It’s very much about play­ers dis­cov­er­ing these things for them­selves.”

FromSoft­ware’s games are a key ref­er­ence point for Capy, and this craft­ing sys­tem is a nat­u­ral, el­e­gant fit for the ethos. Much like Dark Souls, death sees you respawn with your earn­ings left on your for­mer body, those gains dis­ap­pear­ing for­ever if you fail to reach it

dur­ing your next life. Here, as in Dark Souls, the only thing that per­sists is what you learn along the way. When Be­low is fi­nally re­leased – an­nounced at E3 2013, Capy is tar­get­ing a launch late this year or early in 2016 – you’ll want to play it with a pen and pa­per to hand.

There are nods to FromSoft­ware in the com­bat, too, al­beit fewer of them than when we pre­vi­ously checked in on the game. An early dodge-roll has been re­placed with a dash, largely for aes­thetic rea­sons; a stamina sys­tem that caused you to tire af­ter a hand­ful of dodges has been aban­doned be­cause Capy felt it was too puni­tive. Fight­ing is weighty, de­lib­er­ate and uses both sticks, the right one ro­tat­ing your char­ac­ter when their shield is raised. In ad­di­tion to the tra­di­tional suite of light and heavy weaponry – only one item of which can be car­ried at a time, cho­sen when you spawn and with you un­til you die – your bow and ar­rows pro­vide a ranged op­tion, a line show­ing a shot’s tra­jec­tory ex­tend­ing the longer you hold your aim. But while com­bat may be steadily paced, your char­ac­ter never feels forcibly slowed down. “You’re sup­posed to be nim­ble, for sure, but ev­ery [in­di­vid­ual] move­ment should not feel quick,” Vella says. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing bal­ance, and I think partly that comes from hav­ing time with the game to fig­ure that out.”

In­deed, ap­pro­pri­ately given the sub­ject mat­ter, Vella and Capy have worked on Be­low in the shad­ows, shy­ing away from the expo cir­cuit in a bid to en­sure the stu­dio’s big­gest, most com­plex game to date achieves its po­ten­tial. “The same thing has hap­pened with a bunch of our games,” Vella says. “We re­ally love it for the first 30 to 60 min­utes, then we find that love de­creases and we re­alise we have to fig­ure out, ‘How do you make a game that isn’t just fun in demo form?’ We had to do that on Su­per Time Force, we had to do that on Su­per­broth­ers: Swords & Sworcery, and now it’s just part of the way we build our games.”

The ma­jor change that the past 12 months of si­lence has brought is a lan­tern. It’s not the only por­ta­ble light source in the game – you can craft torches – but it’s cer­tainly the most im­por­tant, not only il­lu­mi­nat­ing the world but also re­veal­ing its se­crets. With it in hand, a glow­ing sig­nal ap­pears on the ground to alert us to a trip­wire; later, a mys­te­ri­ous cave draw­ing ap­pears on a wall. While death means a new hero with their own sword and shield, there will be only one lan­tern in the en­tire game – a point re­in­forced when Vella, with lan­tern equipped, brings up a de­bug menu, level-skips to some cat­a­combs, dies, and then apolo­get­i­cally hands us the con­troller.

Shortly af­ter, we’re lin­ing up an arrow shot when our avatar is sur­rounded by bats. We can kill them for meat, use their wings to craft ar­rows, or leave them be, just as we could have ig­nored the fact we were bleed­ing ear­lier on, just as we could play the whole game with­out the lan­tern’s mag­i­cal as­sis­tance. As Vella puts it: “Ev­ery­thing can be used for some­thing, but you don’t need to use any of it.”

For all the el­e­gant in­tri­cacy of Be­low’s sys­tems, many of them will be missed, or can be ig­nored; it’s an un­com­monly re­strained line of think­ing at a time when so many games ap­pear ter­ri­fied of you miss­ing a trick. When it was first re­vealed, Be­low was the stand­out of a slen­der lineup of in­die games on Xbox One. Those ranks have swelled dur­ing Capy’s time in the shad­ows, but it re­mains, whether lit by lan­tern or not, one of the con­sole’s bright­est prospects.

“Ev­ery­thing can be used for some­thing, but you don’t need to use any of it”

While you can only brew soups at firepits, other forms of craft­ing can be per­formed any­where in the world. It’s a nec­es­sary con­ces­sion, given the bleed­ing sys­tem and the need to top up ammo sup­plies while on the go

Capy pres­i­dent Nathan Vella

The land­scape is pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated anew ev­ery time you die, although the over­all shape of the world is per­sis­tent and cer­tain key land­marks stay in place. If head­ing down, left and down from the start takes you to a washed-up shipwreck on one life, then the same will ap­ply when you respawn

De­spite the small size of your avatar, the ac­tion is clearly read­able both in and out of com­bat. Clear­ing the screen of clut­ter, with a UI that only ap­pears when you need it, fur­ther re­in­forces the sense of be­ing lost in a vast, fore­bod­ing world

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