Working Harder AND Smarter

HIGH A colorful, hilarious roguelike parody of startup culture.

LOW  The framerate can be rough, especially in later dungeons.

WTF I really need a job.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself increasingly anxious over the thought of finding a job in games media. Those anxieties have not gone away, as I tirelessly toil with the fear of not “making it” in an industry that doesn’t seem to want me. As silly as it sounds, I used to think that no one understood what the hell I was going through. Thankfully Going Under, an isometric third-person roguelike from Aggro Crab, managed to perfectly capture these feelings in their work.

Players control Jackie Fiasco, a bright-eyed and eager unpaid intern starting her very first day at Fizzle Beverages. This parody of modern start-ups that makes and distributes strange soda flavors. The Fizzle offices act as a hub that players navigate before going into one of three main dungeons where Jackie will be killing hordes of monsters. Each dungeon is themed around different apps. For example, Joblin is a parody of something like Indeed or LinkedIn run by over-caffeinated goblins.

Gameplay is a combination of beat-’em-up and a roguelike dungeon crawler. On a basic level, will players traverse randomly generated levels and try to get to the boss at the end, picking up different weapons and skills along the way. If they die, they’re kicked out and have to try the run again.

When in a dungeon, Jackie can carry three items and switch between them at will. Almost any item — from staplers to pencils, laptops to swords — can be picked up and used as a weapon, and most of the environments are destructible, so I learned how to make the most of anything I was given. I enjoyed seeing how well I could improvise in any situation, whether it was using a t-shirt cannon to take down brutish enemies or throwing office furniture at creatures flying around me.

Jackie also has skills that are unlocked in the hub and found in the dungeons, and like most good roguelikes, their effects stack as she collects more of them on a run. Effects range from having a slight chance of healing after defeating an enemy, or enlarging weapons to a ridiculous size. Once Jackie uses a skill enough, she’s able to equip one in the hub, prior to a run.

Aside from these skills, Jackie can also choose a “mentor”. Mentors are members of the Fizzle office, and they’ll lend Jackie certain effects after she’s completed sidequests for them. For example, Kara is a tech wizard who develops apps. Once I did some tasks for her (electrocute 5 enemies, kill 5 enemies with laptops, etc.) she enhanced Jackie’s abilities and an app store started showing up in dungeons.

In terms of difficulty, Going Under is hard but never truly frustrating. As someone who’s new to roguelikes, the idea of being forced to start a game over used to intimidate me. In Going Under, there have been plenty of times where I lost half an hour’s worth of progress and it was a little annoying, but I also used these as learning moments — sure, I got my ass handed to me, but I improved on every subsequent run.

While the gameplay is good, what makes Going Under special is the quality of the writing and characters. The story of an unpaid intern, hopeful in their chances to make it is both funny and something that hits close to home. Seeing Jackie deal with bullshit from higher-ups for the sake of possibly securing a job she might never get is all too relatable, and I can’t believe more games haven’t attempted to tackle these issues.

jackie’s coworkers are also delightful, with my favorite being Tappi, an accountant for Fizzle. Hearing her complain about her ex-girlfriend or give (awful) advice on saving money had me laughing out loud. The writing is exceptional and never gets too dark, but I appreciated how real it all felt.

Now, I know this is a game review but I need to get real for a second. Like I mentioned earlier, my anxieties surrounding finding work have been through the roof during the past few months. However, as I spent time at this fictional startup slaying monsters as Jackie, I saw myself working through hordes of my own fears. I saw someone else who was trying to succeed as they drowned in a sea of “just put out some more effort” and “someday you’ll make it” and I didn’t feel so alone.

Going Under  is one of the most important games I’ve played in 2020 and one I’ll keep playing for months on end, thanks to the meaningful writing and enjoyable dungeon crawling. For those looking for an accessible starting point in roguelikes, or those who just need some delightful takedowns of late-stage capitalism, this is it.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by Team17 and developed by AggroCrab.  It is available on PS4, PC, Switch and XBO. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 18 hours were spent in singleplayer and the game was not completed (still playing, dying and playing again). There is no multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Sexual Themes and Violence. The game is very stylized, using simplistic and bright colors that make the violence safe for younger children. I will say that the themes of unpaid labor, unfulfilled love and how awful capitalism is will go through most kids’ heads. I feel like older teens and adults will get more out of this game.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled and told through text bubbles. text cannot be resized. There are no audio cues necessary for play. The game is fully accessible. (See examples above.)

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable. The y-axis cannot be changed. There are also plenty of assist options to make the game easier for newcomers.

Cj Salcedo
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