The Going Under gameplay drips with wit and insightfulness. Even if the game possessed no redeeming features beyond its writing, Aggro Crab Games should still be applauded for the sheer density of jokes about corporations and tech startups that fit into the game. Fortunately, the game is so much more than a funny script.
Going Under is also more than a sum of its parts. While its gameplay, art direction, and writing could all thrive individually, were they parts of separate games with different premises, they blend together perfectly. Were that last sentence part of the game, I imagine “blend together” would be replaced with a term like “synergize.” This is because the developers really don’t miss an opportunity to employ corporate language whenever it’s appropriate. That fact becomes clear almost immediately, even if you somehow managed to overlook the wordplay present in the game’s title.
In Going Under, players take control of a spirited and unpaid intern named Jackie Fiasco. Jackie is quickly defined as someone who mostly plays nice, despite a palpable awareness of the borderline illogical and unfair practices of her employer. This should resonate with anybody who has had wear a performative smile and be positive at their place of work.
She is immediately tasked with clearing out a dungeon below the offices. Most of the absurdities portrayed in Going Under‘s gameplay can easily be traced back to a practice or idea in the real world, so the notion that characters in the game readily accept that failed businesses sink into the ground as a norm is particularly funny. It’s also a bit grim, because former employees of these businesses are doomed to roam the halls of their workplace in the form of creatures. Surely nobody aspires to become something like a “Joblin,” but in the world of Going Under, them’s the breaks.
The bulk of the game takes place in these dungeons, and players shouldn’t let themselves become disheartened by what will probably feel like a gauntlet of failures. This is part of the game’s grind, which is an obvious parallel to the “grind” people experience at work. But just in case it isn’t obvious, the metaphor is directly addressed via dialogue. And while Jackie would almost certainly feel the effects of it, what with the occasional immolation or stabbing, my frequent attempts to clear dungeons that I had consistently failed never gave way to tedium. This is because tying progress to failure is a hallmark of the roguelike genre and Going Under manages to execute on the concept in ways that feel satisfying.
Death after death doesn’t really bring Going Under gameplay to a halt, either. More dungeons can still unlock and story scenes sometimes follow failures. Jackie Fiasco also becomes stronger with successive runs which makes a lot of the challenging content far more approachable. Tasks given by NPCs can feel like real accomplishments, too. A large portion of the tasks are compelling undertakings which can be cleared with a relative quickness. Some of them require collecting items, but others can change the way players approach dungeons if they choose to pursue them. At one point, I was told to defeat three enemies without taking damage. I subsequently approached my fights very carefully until I achieved that goal.
The dungeon has randomized elements which keep attempts feeling fresh. Some of the randomness requires a bit of cost benefit analysis which feels both appropriate and exciting. For example, players might encounter a character called the Hauntrepreneur who is a vampire willing to reward the player with powerups if they agree to let him curse them with a random effect. These moments that focus on risk and choice are necessary since Jackie Fiasco’s move set is pretty limited. She can pick up a variety of weapons, some of which are very silly, and depending on their type can do melee or ranged attacks. She can also roll and throw, but that is practically it.
I emphatically and clearly recommend Going Under. There’s a definite catharsis in experiencing its thorough send up of an exhausting culture. You might even feel a sense of solidarity while playing it. The density of the jokes could potentially be construed as a weakness for some. While I will never condemn a game for commenting on real experiences I will say that Going Under almost too real at times. The grains of truth in the game come at you like a sandstorm, which could be grating depending on your mood. It would be understandable if these overwhelmingly frequent allusions to reality bred frustration. That said, I personally wouldn’t change it. The best jokes defuse the tension and the lightheartedness of the approach makes for a mostly positive experience. I’d be curious to find out what other people’s experiences were like in this regard.
Going Under is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows