Underzone starts out fairly creepy with a mysterious attack and a high dose of radiation. You are tasked with burrowing underground, finding civilians and getting to the bedrock of the mystery underneath your feet. Does it stay grounded and true to its harsh atmosphere, or do those foundations crumble?
The main menu certainly sets a good atmosphere, especially with a pair of headphones plugged in. It features a movie trailer style anthemic string piece paired with army transmissions and police reports. It sets you up for something dark and then displaces this somewhat with its more arcadey gameplay and cinematics. Without any real fanfare, your mole mech is sent underground to do your bidding and you are let loose upon an unsuspecting world.
Don’t hate the player…
In a sense, I’m grateful for this. You’re able to get into the meat of the gameplay in mere minutes. Whilst the story is intriguing enough to mention, this is a roguelike, so story is rarely the star of the show. After an attack, unknown AI machines are located underground, and you must adventure under to save civilians and find out what’s going on. The gameplay is structured in a 2D plane with you moving up, down, left and right to navigate around. The whole “searching through rubble and robots underground” part of Underzone, naturally, equips you with a drill to make your way through each box-shaped room and you must plan your roots accordingly. You can use items to temporarily upgrade your drill to deal with a particularly strong piece of wall or to get a nice shortcut. This comes at the cost of that use and whatever salvage was used to purchase the drill.
The extra level of tactical thought brought up in these moment to moment decisions permeate the experience of Underzone. Your choice to use items can majorly affect each run and its upgrade systems often leave you wondering if you’ve made the right choice. You can use EXP, banked from saving civilians, to upgrade the options available to you in each successive run or salvage to upgrade systems within a run. Salvage cannot be brought across runs whereas exp is, leaving both long and short term goals available to you.
And another one
This is very important in the general replayability of Underzone, and the enemy system helps this somewhat. Enemies in Underzone are randomly generated, to an extent, as their stats, bodies, and moves are different throughout each run. This is a fascinating concept that doesn’t do much in the long run. Whilst it certainly has the opportunity to be great, there isn’t too much of a difference between each fight, mostly due to the relatively easy difficulty. Your mech tends to stick to surfaces rather than flying, and the dash mechanic gets you out of harms way quickly. This affords you the choice to run and gun your way through rooms. Enemies have a certain level of lock-on for your bullets, rewarding you shooting without precaution. This goes against the randomly generated nature of enemies as you don’t really tend to care what differences they have this time around. It shouldn’t take you too long to get to the bottom of a run, but finishing runs promises just a little bit more each time, encouraging you to go back down.
I think it’s important when looking at Underzone, to note it’s in early access and, for what it is, its a rather impressive release. There are some definite issues, but its base gameplay is rather fun, its ideas unique and story intriguing, if a little overdone. There is certainly enough here to be rather hopeful for its future. Like most roguelikes, if you enjoy that grind of slowly upgrading each run, there’s a lot to love here, but the promise of what it will be is perhaps a little greater than what it actually is
[Reviewed on PC]