At the time of writing (30/04/18) this game was in Early Access. The final product is subject to change from what is written in this review.
Going solo can be a daunting task especially in the video game development world. With no artist, sound designer or anyone else on a team to help you it can certainly feel like the world is against you making a game. However as we’ve all seen from success stories such as Minecraft sometimes these projects can end up changing the gaming landscape forever. It Lurks Below comes to us from legendary developer David Brevik, creator of Hellgate: London and most famously the original Diablo. So will his latest solo entry be a match to his legacy? Time to find out!
The story of this game is… well there isn’t really one yet. David has mentioned how he plans for the game to have a story in the future but as it is now there is nothing for us to follow aside from our own goals. There are quests in the game however they function more as a type of tutorial/guide on getting you to the right path, that being mainly going downward. This title is very similar to Terraria (with David mentioning it as one of his inspirations) so as you might expect your objective is to dig downwards, find materials and treasure, fight monsters in dungeons and try and get to the bottom of the map. Aside from the quests given to you it’s essentially up to yourself to make up your own story, and this can of course lead to some wonderful moments such as getting killed in a dungeon and going on an epic adventure to recover your gear. So while there may not be a story for us currently the best kind of stories we can have are the ones we make for ourselves through gameplay.
The presentation for the game centers around looking, sounding and feeling like an old school 2D RPG experience. The graphics are very simialr to Terraria with a pixel-like aesthetic and low-res character models however where it differentiates is that the blocks of the world all seem ever so slightly 3D which is most visible when moving and looking at the side of the terrain. It makes it seem a bit more interesting than the other cookie cutter pixel graphic RPG games available and with the wide variety of environments on offer and nice looking overworld (including the ability to place blocks in the background!) it makes for a decent looking game, however it does seem a bit too block in certain places. The music is largely non-existant however when going through dungeons a layer or spooky/atmospheric tunes will play to get you in the mood for spelunking and every so often calm and jaunty tunes will play to make the game feel a bit friendlier. It most reminds me of Minecraft’s music where silence is used more to help build the atmosphere of the game and the music that is on offer is more relaxing than anything. If I am to say something negative about the presentation however it would have to be the UI which in places seems too small and far too clunky to be used effectively. This is most obvious in the crafting menu which while it can be broken up into sections consists of only a single bar that you must scroll through which makes navigating it a nightmare. Some bars and meters I think should also be more clearly labelled so as to know what they represent, such as the tiredness and hunger meters. Aside from those gripes though the game helps to build a moody and dark atmosphere that is different enough from games like Terraria to make it stand out in the genre.
The gameplay consists of a mix of base building, survival aspects and dungeon crawling very similar to that in Diablo. You start the game by picking a class (I of course chose a Necromancer) and then your objective is to build a base, find food, surivive the surface and clear the enemies from the land. After this point your objective is to head down, find better gear/materials and defeat several bosses that appear in dungeons. The core gameplay loop is very fun and while it may seem like a fantasy RPG to many people be aware that the combat actually centers around guns (or wands as they like to call them… sure don’t look like any Harry Potter macguffin I’ve ever seen).
The gameplay is much faster than other games in this genre and centers a lot around combat and survival. You are going to die in this game, a lot. Food is scarce and if you don’t start immediately farming you are going to suffer from lack of food for a lot of the game. Building a base/town isn’t really the main focus and instead most of your time will be spent in dungeons or caves fighting enemies. All of the items you come across have various stats and abilities that can lead to you getting your cravings of finding the next drop of loot to make yur character stronger. The gunplay feels good and is challenging enough to be provide satisfaction to those who want a true survival experience (there’s even a hardcore permadeath mode for all of you maniacs who hate fun). Your class also opens up the ability to use ‘Ancient Items’ which are essentially the replacement in this game for your typical RPG abilities. They sit on your action bar and as such require you to lose some space in your inventory to use them. As a Necromancer my first ability was to summon floating skulls who would follow me at the cost of some health. These items can also drop from treasure chests and enemies meaning you can get access to some really cool abilities that work together really well. If you’re a big RPG and Loot fanatic then you are going to love the core gameplay of this experience and with the choice to replay it with various other classes or even on a higher difficulty there are a lot of things that make this game extremely replayable.
Ultimately the only thing for me that brings this game down is at the current moment the lack of features that are prominent in a lot of other games that are similar to this at a cheaper cost. While a lot of these things will eventually be added (the creator even confirmed a lot of this stuff is coming) things like Multiplayer, a bigger world, alchemy and other such things are not present and thus the game feels very much like the in development experience that it is currently advertising itself as. Luckily the creator and his wife are both very active on the forums and with a new update coming practically every second day and with David being very much up for listening to the fans and changing things to make the game better I can see this game getting better and better as time goes on, maybe even rivalling the big hits in the genre.
Ultimately I have found myself really enjoying this game. The core loot-driven gameplay is extremely addicting and fun with a good amount of content and replayability to back it up. For a one person team this is an incredible achievement and I wish David the best of luck for the future and sincerely hope this project ends up being some truly special. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.