We have all heard horror stories from tech startups. Young workers being overworked and underpaid all on the promise of being “on the edge of innovation” — innovation that turns out either redundant or impossible, leaving dozens if not hundreds of workers burnt out and without hopes for the future.
Now that we remember that, Going Under is basically about that, but with more smacking monsters across the head.
If you’re a proper company, pay your interns
Going Under is a rogue-like dungeon crawler where the player takes the role of Jacqueline — the newest intern of Fizzle, recently acquired by giant, drone shipping corporation Cubicle (wink, wink) in the dystopian city of New Cascadia. Sadly, Jacqueline gets sent downstairs to deal with monsters of dead tech startups instead of developing her marketing experience.
During her time at the company, Jackie fights a bunch of goblins, demons and skeletons, learns new skills aiding her in kicking more butt, but also befriends other employees of Fizzle. All covered in a beautiful layer of satire and corporate spiel.
Once the player starts the game they are greeted by a promotional video of Cubicle created in that typical friendly brand way — flat, vibrant colors, rounded edges and trying to be as likeable as possible. Going Under manages to take that vibrant aesthetic and turn it 3D, with characters simplified as much as possible during the game, and showing off really pretty sprites during conversations.
But we’re here to fight! Each dungeon feels and looks different with distinct aesthetics, enemies and posters on the walls. The startups that Jackie has to go through are Joblin, a ride-sharing/food delivery app, Winkydink, a dating app where you only communicate through emojis, and Styxcoin, a long dead cryptocurrency.
And the audio is just as great — when in Fizzle the mood is kept with a music that one could hear in a company ad; but slide down that startup slide down to a dungeon and the mood changes, with distinct tracks for each company (and remixes for the inevitable return downstairs). They both work well as an energetic track to keep you pumped up, but also as an additional characterization of the companies.
And the kitchen sink
This is where the fun begins — quite literally, because the gameplay and mechanics of Going Under are incredibly satisfying. The fighting is very smooth, with weapons having a normal and a charged attack, and being throwable. Jackie can also focus on a single enemy — a mixture of unfocusing for crowd control with focusing for dodge-rolling big attacks is a recipe for success.
In addition, there are a lot of weapons to choose from — including everything in the offices smaller than a chair. You will find yourself stabbing a joblin with a pencil, throwing a chair at a slime or whacking skeletons with a cactus. Additionally, the weapons have different characteristics, being one-handed, long-distance or being able to shock enemies.
Other than weapons, on dungeon runs players will get skills — each useful in its own way, and each suggests a certain playstyle. Once upstairs you can also befriend your coworkers, and do tasks for them so they become your mentor. Each mentor gives you even better bonuses than skills, especially if you level them up to max. At a kiosk you can choose a mastered skill to start with, as well as change your mentorship.
Jackie’s adventures are not of her own volition though. Going Under hilariously satirizes all the wrongs of the current capitalist system — the monopoly of Cubicle completely turned to AI to make decisions. This means acquisitions such as Fizzle, or all startups that went under, but also marketing (to the dismay of the marketing department of Fizzle) and even hiring and internships.
It also pokes fun at startups and the techbros that run them. There are all of the obvious signs of the “fun” startup — a slide, open office space, a bacon table, and I could bet that they have pizza Fridays.
And through the story the cracks in the company shows up — the founder, blindly trusting the AI and generally being a clueless buffoon starts making enemies with the rest of the team while the project manager is looking to maximize production and productivity.
In a turn of events that I will not spoil some bad stuff happens, the founder turns out to be not as much of a jerk as previously thought, and Jackie has to go through the dungeons again, only this time they’re even more dangerous! But obviously no one cares since she’s an intern.
Every mentor is an interesting character with their own opinions on their coworkers and an outlook on life. Even the ones that might seem somewhat fishy at the beginning warm up and open up to you a bit. And there’s even a dog in the office.
Capitalism sucks. Unionize.
Going Under comes out on Thursday, 24th of September, and will be available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.