Capitalism sucks. It is a brutal economic system that is the source of poverty, war, famine, and the other two horsemen of the apocalypse. A new Steam, Xbox, PS4, and Switch rogue-like called Going Under takes all the dehumanizing and depressing bits of our current flavor of late stage capitalism, softens it with bright colors and clever jokes, then packages it in an addicting, little dungeon crawler that I am happy to spend hours on.
Before I state all the reasons why you should play Going Under, let me say that you should play it purely on the strength of developer Aggro Crab’s name and logo. I will always want to play whatever game made by people who represent themselves as an angry crustacean with a bowie knife.
In Going Under you play as Jackie, the newest marketing intern for the carbonated drink meal-replacement start-up, Fizzle. On her first day, instead of doing the job she was hired to do, she’s sent by her boss to the basement of the building to clear out hordes of demons, goblins, skeletons, and more. As Jackie navigates an ever-changing labyrinth of basements and sub-basements, she scrounges for weapons to defeat her enemies, sometimes turning every-day office objects like reams of paper and waste baskets into the only thing separating her from doom.
Jackie is not alone in her trials. She has the support of her mentors, who offer perks that make battling zombie crypto-bros and succubi disguised as girl bosses a little easier. Her phone is loaded with apps that can stun enemies or summon a TaskRabbit-like minion. She can deploy Fizzle’s flagship meal-replacement drinks like bombs that shock or freeze her foes. She even has a mentor who, when equipped, increases the amount of money earned from monster kills—a little cost of living raise that takes her from something like $1 per monster to $1.05.
Small jokes like that are what make Going Under charming despite its grim subject material. The loading screens display meaningless phrases like “scaling up” and “delivering deliverables” that are common in meetings that could have been an email. The characters are all cleverly written caricatures of millennial culture; the bootstrap-espousing CEO who only has a business because his parents gave him millions of dollars, the self-important middle manager who does no work, the overworked, underpaid, queer female assistant who should actually be running the company and then there’s you, the overworked, paid-in-experience intern who’s not actually getting any of the experience she signed up for. Going Under makes many jokes and references to the current plight of the millennial generation—from lack of healthcare, to avocado toast as the sole barrier to homeownership, to the cognitive dissonance that comes with hating the megacorporations that will eventually own every part of our lives while also wanting to work for them because of the boost it’ll provide to your career. Though the game is genuinely funny, when I laughed, it was less from a “that’s funny” emotion and more from a “I laugh to keep from crying” one.
Combat and progression are simple. You choose a perk you’ve earned, a mentor who offers unique benefits, and a dungeon and you get to work. Going Under assumes you have enough intuition to figure out what it’s asking you to do. While I appreciate the game’s lack of handholding and sometimes found it rewarding, it can be confusing. For example, I was given a quest to consume a toasted sandwich. Sandwiches are often bought in dungeon shops or dropped from defeated enemies. There are no special toasted sandwiches but there are often open flames in the dungeon. So I tossed a sandwich into a flame and was happily rewarded with a completed quest. However, after I later cleared the gig-worker themed dungeon, I was tasked with breaking up that dungeon’s union. I thought that meant clearing the dungeon again and perhaps facing a different or powered-up version of the boss I already beat. But after a second clearing, no quest notification popped. I still haven’t completed that quest, and so far haven’t found any in-game clues as to how I might do that.
In another instance I was later tasked with “going on a successful date”. Dates are dungeon where you have a choice of continuing on with no battle or swiping right with a demon of your choice to progresses to a fight. The game does not explain what a “successful date” entails, and I thought it simply meant fighting and beating one of those “date” rooms. After successfully completing multiple date rooms without getting a completed quest notification, I realized that a “successful” date meant one where I took one hit or less. Though I eventually figured it out, it is frustrating trying to tease meaning out of under-explained quests.
Like any rogue-lite, the dungeons are procedurally generated and filled with traps, weapons, and boss fights. The dungeons are also stuffed with jokes and references hidden in the tiny details like a on a white board or poster. The soundtrack is also excellent.
Going Under’s fun and funny writing translates into clever moments of gameplay. Some of Jackie’s mentors genuinely care about her. The head scientist who designs all of Fizzle’s flavors packs her a lunch, since she can’t afford to eat. That lunch becomes a weapon she can use in the dungeon, where beating enemies releases food Jackie can eat to regain health. There’s an office dog (who, I’m pleased to report you can pet!). You can take the dog on a walk in the dungeons, though it will slow your movement speed down but bark when you miss items. The perks you can earn are fun and varied. One of my favorites—“Pickup Artist”—gives you the chance to charm an enemy to fight for you on a critical hit. It also transforms your appearance, giving you a panty-dropping fedora to wear. My current build features a perk that gives me a chance to set enemies on fire when I lock on to them.
Protip: you want to lock on. A lot.
Playing Going Under made me make the connection that life is a lot like a roguelike. We work every day that we can (and even when we can’t), because, if we don’t, we don’t get paid, we don’t eat, and we die. Every day. Forever. Just like Jackie who goes to those dungeons killing the same demons in different ways every day. Forever. Until she dies. Though I am beyond lucky to be gainfully employed as I am right now, I understand that my life will be me doing the same things day in and day out to ultimately keep my dog and my flesh gundam alive. My mom used to have a saying she’d use whenever I told her she “had” to do something: “I don’t have to do anything but stay Black, pay taxes, and die.”—an African-American Vernacular English version of the popular idiom “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That’s all life is—death and taxes. Or just death if you’re the current American president.