Today I want to talk about a game that’s had a little time to improve. Going Under had its Work From Home update this year, adding a respectable amount of content, but it still seems to have flown under the radar a bit. Lest you think I’m judging, know that I’m part of the problem because I only just played it. And after playing it exclusively for about a week I’ve finished it and am left with almost nothing but positive thoughts. Grab a slot in your schedule, this performance review is going to end with a raise.
You could be forgiven for thinking Going Under‘s visuals were a gimmick. They’re certainly eye catching, with pastel colors and clean lines as far as the eye can see, but they’re also a vital piece of the game’s theming and they’re effective on both levels. The game adapts the flat Alegria art style that’s so omnipresent in the corporate world to 3D perfectly while also looking great in their intended 2D during conversations. In play it’s often visually busy, especially in the thick of the action, but thanks to its style it’s far more legible at any given moment than it otherwise would be. A win for looks, a win for usability, wins all around.
Everyone praised Hades for focusing on its story within a roguelike framework, which was only sort of effective but I won’t revisit that here. My point is that Going Under does not fuck around on that front. I -love- this game’s writing, every bit of it. It’s a rare example of successful satire in a video game as opposed to a miserable sarcastic slog. It criticizes startup culture, often bitingly, but it never fails to humanize its characters and make its world feel lived-in. Folks who have worked in tech, especially startup adjacent, are going to have some rough chuckles at certain points. GU isn’t satisfied with hitting close to home on the humor front, it kicks your door down and demands that you laugh. And it’s a credible threat.
The character design and writing in particular deserves special attention. I love all of them. -All- of them. Not a single one suffers from “same-voice”; they all have completely distinct personalities, needs, wants, desires, and problems. Fern is constantly developing and testing things regardless of how viable those things may actually be, but also struggling with having his creativity stifled in favor of following business trends. Kara in IT is perpetually frustrated because of course she is, she works in startup surveillance hell. Tappi the accountant is an accountant and I wouldn’t wish that life on anyone. Ray wants to be a startup bigshot and Marv is his sycophantic middle manager (appropriately the only coworker you can’t select as a mentor because middle managers have nothing to teach anyone), but there’s legitimate passion in their misguided attempts at improving Fizzle’s situation. Then there’s Swomp, the best beb. I will not elaborate further or permit any dissent on this.
So weapon degradation, right? That’s a topic a lot of people have strong opinions on. Not me though, not really. A game mechanism is only as good or as bad as its utilization in the game it’s in. There’s no such thing as universally good game design, only good and bad examples. And Going Under has good weapon degradation.
The reason GU‘s degredation works when it’s frustrating in other games is because its dungeons are entirely built around the concept. Weapons are everywhere, sometimes improvisational, sometimes actual. The latter tends to be better than the former but either way you find them all mid-run. There’s no wasting time hand-crafting a golf bag of artisanal weapons for a specific encounter, or farming up copies a particular weapon you like because you don’t want to use others, or running completely dry at an inopportune time. The flow of combat is tuned to facilitate scrambling for arms mid-fight, and 3 weapon slots often feels like too low of a number because there’s just that many useful murder sticks around. That’s a good problem to have! To summarize my point here: GU‘s degredation works because there’s never a moment where its tensions and challenges aren’t intentional, and it never wastes your time with busywork trying to circumvent its own system.
Combat is a constant. Most rooms in any given run will involve some amount of fighting. This largely consists of running, rolling, and rapid button mashing to smack the daylights out of everything around you. Holding attack will charge a heavy swing that behaves differently and hits harder. GU also features a lock on mechanic, called “focus”, that makes aiming melee and ranged attacks alike easier when just swinging into a crowd isn’t the answer. A flick of the right stick will switch targets which makes throwing things or popping off shots quick and easy, though it’s not perfect in particularly busy rooms and occasionally requires a few more flicks than I’d like. It’s a simple system and that’s for the best, because there’s well over 200 weapons that need to function when you panickily snatch them while backpedaling from a hunky demon swiping at your face.
But a roguelike lives and dies by how good its run-to-run play is. It needs growth, upgrades, a randomized route that’ll take you from zero to hero. GU handles this in two distinct ways: impactful skills and short runs. Not every skill you pick up will be equally powerful, but none of them are useless and some allow for truly busted combos. An infinite supply of low damage ping-pong balls when you’re out of items may sound boring, but what if you yeet them at mach 5 and they caught fire? How about a full-on charm offensive that let you run with a posse so big that you outnumber most enemy rooms? And of course you can just turn Jackie into a juggernaut. Whichever directions the game makes available, you’ll only be stuck with it for 10-15 minutes tops. Almost every dungeon in GU is 3 normal floors plus a boss, and the floors are kept consistently tight, so the aforementioned zero to hero pipeline accelerates at an incredible rate.
You also get the constant dopamine hit of progress between runs as you complete mentorship goals and earn skill endorsements. This is the “lite” part of the rogue equation, unlocking new passives and the ability to “pin” a skill that you’ve mastered by using it repeatedly over the course of multiple runs. Your chosen pinned skill helps you get a build going and that’s great, but the real star of the show is mentorship. Whoever you pick as your mentor gives you a bevy of benefits. It’s reminiscent of developing social links, via side objectives done for each coworker during runs and having conversations with them afterwards. They’re grounded in each character’s traits too: Kara goes all in on the consumable apps, Tappi loads you up with financial and material boons, Ray is a font of ideas with potential to backfire, Fern rejects apps entirely in favor of introducing an entire new consumable set in the form of Fizzle cans, and Swomp is the best. This is not a bit. I am 100% serious. We stan Swomp in this house.
Let me put my critic hat on for a few seconds and address a couple things that might frustrate. Invuln frames after a knockdown are fairly minimal, meaning sometimes you’ll get cornered and beaten to death by the dungeon’s denizens in record time. The solution to this problem is to just not let that happen but new players will have some runs end ignobly until they get the hang of it. There’s a difficulty jump roughly halfway through the game that could have been smoother, be ready for that. Fortunately the WFH update lets you ease things up a bit if you need to build your mentorships up. The endgame stretch has good checkpointing but does the “last boss introduces a new gimmick” thing that I’m rarely a fan of. Lastly, some runs will give you a harder time on the upgrade-front than others, not in terms of quantity but in terms of quality. That’s just a genre thing with roguelikes/lites though; sometimes you get the big boy combo, sometimes you get the sad boy nonbo. GU even heads this off at the pass by letting you pin a skill at the start of a run so you can guarantee a specialty. Oh no, the compliments are leaking in! The game is too good!
Look, I can’t help it. Going Under is so good that going out of my way to look for flaws feels like I’m doing it a disservice. It manages to be a perfect version of the game it aims to be, to stick the landing on every leap it takes. At every single point of my playthrough I was excited to see what was next. I enjoyed every challenge it put in front of me. And for me, 15 hours of a perfectly tuned roguelike followed by credits is better than 100+ of one that offers as much frustration as fun. I may go back to complete my rolodex, and maaaaybe I’ll do some more ranks in Imposter mode, but I’m so happy with the core experience that I’m more likely to just start a fresh file and enjoy it all over again.
I’d recommend Going Under above many of its ilk. Above Hades, especially for those who primarily played it for the dialog. Above Binding of Isaac, if only because I find GU‘s sense of humor consistently funny where Isaac‘s often feels pasted on. Maybe not above Dead Cells because that game’s really fucking good, but now I’m losing the thread of this paragraph. My point is that Going Under is a top notch roguelite, a best-in-class in every regard, and one of the most refreshing games I’ve played in recent memory. It’s hilarious, challenging, relentlessly charming, emotionally resonant, and possibly even a little bit prescient.
A Steam code was independently purchased for review.