Below was a hard game to get into for a few reasons. The first being, as the IGN review said, it can’t decide if it wants to be a dungeon crawler or a survival sim. We also struggled with feeling like you were dropped into a brand new game with a brand new (and really not intuitive) system with no tutorial, no story, just your character and a dark, dark world to explore (and cut the grass with your sword).
That’s not to say this isn’t a cool little game that could be enjoyable with a few minor changes. We loved the art style, and the combat was just lovely and satisfying. If lite survival sims are your thing, you’d probably dig Below. If you enjoy dungeon crawlers, you’ll probably enjoy Below. If you are Deaf and looking for a story, Below might not be for you.
What kept us from being able to get into Below at all was the sound design and that it’s clear that this game was designed with hearing people in mind. SO much of the immersion and mood of the game comes from its sound design and there is no effort to convey this to Deaf and hoh players. There’s no dialogue, so naturally, no subtitles, but the game (and Deaf players) would greatly benefit from the brilliant sound design being given captions. The one and only time sound is conveyed visually in the game is when you’re not dungeon crawling and there’s lightening. On top of this, the visual cues were a bit confusing at times.
Let’s dig further into the deaf accessibility though:
The above image is of the starting area beach where you are left to figure out how to play. That little white dot you see on the center-right area is the glow of an object you can collect. When you get close enough to interact with it, it will change to an icon.
The above image is what you’ll see when you stop and light a campfire (other than cooking, we can’t actually tell you what purpose they serve because the game doesn’t actually state that explicitly and the UI and icons aren’t always intuitive.)
Above is one of the very few button tips you’ll get. Here you collect a lantern/shield type thingy that leads you to believe you’re supposed to do something with it in this area. It’s confusing. How? Well…
Earlier we said that at times, the visual cues are confusing. Given the experience in every other game we’ve played and the lack of captioning or written instructions, we assumed that these glowing blue lines that became visible after collecting the lantern meant we were supposed to do something in this area and couldn’t figure out what. Had there been captioning for sound effects, we wouldn’t have assumed we were supposed to do something because, as it turned out, these glowing blue lines didn’t want you to do anything, nor were they making any kind of magical noise that one might expect glowing blue lines to make. This is where sound design comes in. Hearing players likely wouldn’t have made the assumption we did because there was no special sound. But without that being communicated to Deaf players, it’s easy to assume things.
This image isn’t of anything in particular, it’s just one of the many very dark areas you’ll traverse in the game. We’ve included this image to illustrate again why captioning here would have gone a long way in making Below enjoyable. With no sound and no knowledge of the story, does this image make you eager to play the game? Not likely, because you can barely see anything. It’s the sound that makes this area intriguing, which again, is not visually conveyed at all.
Bottom line: Below is perfectly playable for Deaf and hoh players. You don’t need to hear to succeed at the game. However, you may come away feeling that it’s sorely lacking due to the bulk of the immersion and intrigue being conveyed through the sound.
(We have been told that for Deaf/
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