Anyone who knows even a little bit about me knows that I’m pretty fierce in my anti-capitalist stance on the world. A view like this, however, is often not reflected in video games with the medium rarely even loosely mentioning the topic for fear of upsetting “The Gamers” with their politics. So when I head about an anti-capitalist rogue lite from Laura Kate Dale and Conrad Zimmerman, I absolutely had to give it a try.
In Going Under, we join the marketing intern Jacqueline as she joins the team of Fizzle, a carbonated drinks start-up business that has recently been bought out by a big conglomerate. There she discovers that her role will, in fact, involve no marketing at all, despite her degree in the subject, and will instead see her diving into the offices of previous failed start-ups below the Fizzle office to kill the monsters down there instead. Internships, am I right?
The central gameplay loop of Going Under falls pretty firmly within the rogue lite genre. As Jacqueline, you jump into themed dungeons, using randomised weapons and skills, and navigating the procedurally generated maps to fight your way to the boss of each of the dungeons. If you fall at any point in the dungeon, you lose most of your progress and are thrown back to the Fizzle office, meaning you have to tackle the dungeon from the beginning.
The combat is largely simplistic with a basic attack string for each weapon type, ability to throw items, and a dodge roll. This translates into isolated combat scenarios in the isometric rooms, with enemies appearing as you step into each open-plan office space. It might be pretty standard fare mechanically, but Going Under has a satisfying weight to the combat resulting in frenetic but manageable encounters.
Where the game deviates from the rogue lite formula is in the minutiae of how the rogue lite elements work in an office setting. The weapons not only take the forms of classic equipment like swords and spears, but you can find tablet pens and staplers to use to dispatch foes. All weapons break, because that’s a thing that happens now in games. But other weapons are absolutely everywhere, with laptops, keyboards, potted plants and even chairs able to be picked up, so you’re never far from your next weapon.
Some rooms will contain a job to do, such as dispatching a room of enemies quickly, on which you are graded on your performance because of cause you would be as an intern. Then continuing this shrewd commentary on modern business practices, defeated enemies will occasionally drop phone apps that can be used to grant little bonuses for the dungeons. These phone apps can instantly turn the tide of a run, giving Jacqueline access to an instant supply drop by drone, among other things.
Also, as I mentioned briefly earlier, you don’t lose all of the progress you make in the run. The credits you obtain for completing tasks are lost upon death and can only be spent during the run in the workplace café or other such location. You do however retain one particular currency that you can use to purchase new skills that you can find in the dungeons when you get back to the Fizzle office. These abilities are found in rooms during the runs with a choice of two at each time, augmenting Jacqueline’s abilities and giving you a constantly evolving load-out each time.
The mentor system will also change your run strategies, allowing you to complete missions for your colleagues in the office while in the dungeons to unlock them as mentors. You can equip these before runs to give different boons to your gameplay; such as a company credit care for making purchases or allowing you to run two apps at the same time. Talking to them and completing more tasks will then level up the mentor to grant even better bonuses for your runs.
Finally, and last but not least, you can go home! That’s right, it’s not all work for Jacqueline and you can go back to her flat to get some R&R. Albeit all you can do here is listen to the soundtrack for the game at the laptop in the in corner of the room, and change outfits. It’s not much, but honestly this also ties quite well into being an intern because you simply don’t spend enough time at home to justify having actual activities you can do there.
There’s a certain sense of humour with Going Under that permeates every aspect of the aesthetic of the game. The visuals are bright with heavily saturated colours, the animations are joyously bouncy, and the character designs are goofy in a very endearing way. The music then reflects this bouncy and goofy feel with some fantastic little earwigs that you’ll be humming for some time after you stop playing.
I wouldn’t normally mention this, but the dialogue is so well written. It bolsters the humour in the visuals with some of the funniest swipes at capitalism I’ve seen in a game, made even more funny by some shrewd observations of companies and organisations in the business machine. Oh, and the fact that you simply wouldn’t see this kind of thing outside the indie game scene. After all, let’s be honest, if EA did this it would be wild hypocrisy.
If you are looking for a satisfying gameplay loop, weighty combat, gloriously goofy visuals, and some excellent satirical humour, you’re onto a win here. For those into this sort of game, Going Under successfully scratches that rogue lite itch whilst not dipping into the frustration that often comes with the genre. Furthermore, if you needed any more reason to give it a try, it’s also on the Xbox through GamePass. What are you waiting for? Get out there and do your bit to help Fizzle become a successful business.