It’s becoming increasingly difficult to stick out in the independent gaming scene. Between the massive number of cheap asset flips, an endless number of retro-styled titles and former developer stars going solo, independent games need something truly original to catch the public’s eye. Something daring and bold that will keep players coming back for more for months, if not years, to come. Unfortunately, It Lurks Below is not one of those games.
Coming from the mind of Diablo creator David Brevik, the official description for It Lurks Below reads: “an action-oriented, survival RPG in a randomly generated world. Fight through the massive underground dungeon, customize your character with random items and find out what lurks below!”. Based on that description alone, you may have a bit of a clue as to what went wrong here.
It Lurks Below doesn’t have so much a plot as it has a setup. An apparently nameless voice tells you that you have to fight demons and lo and behold, you’re dropped into the middle of a random field with no weapons and armor. You only have a quest list to give some idea as to what you’re supposed to do. After a relatively lengthy tutorial, you’re essentially told to go kill all the demons underground in a labyrinthian dungeon that gets deeper and deeper as you develop better weapons and armor and more effective means to kill and gather resources. And the whole thing can aptly be described as boring, tedious, mind-numbing and yet somehow oddly compelling.
The best comparison to It Lurks Below, surprisingly enough, is not a dungeon crawler iike Diablo but an odd combination of a farming simulator such as Stardew Valley and a survival game like Don’t Starve. The vast majority of your time is spent gathering resources for various endeavors. You need to farm and forage for food to keep your character from starving, and that remains a constant chore. You have to build additional buildings, workbenches and forges to create the items you need in order to explore and survive the monsters underground. This itself requires you to explore the underground for precious resources needed to craft additional materials so that you to stand a chance against the more powerful demons that, well, lurk below. The whole resource gathering aspect is about as dull as it is in similar games but almost as compelling as well.
The various actions of farming and exploration for resource gathering make up the majority of the game. Like the farming and resource gathering mechanics found in games like Don’t Starve and Stardew Valley, the actions themselves aren’t exactly fun. They’re tedious, repetitive, boring and it never feels like you’re actually making any real progress. And yet there is something oddly addictive and compelling about the process. You genuinely want to see your homestead grow and your weapons and armor improve so you can continue your battle. It’s a constant loop that never seems to end but it’s one that you’ll find yourself getting sucked into and will have a hard time stepping away once you get started. It’s just a shame that the rest of the game fails to give you a reason to stick around.
Sadly, the actual combat is rather boring. The majority of it involves pressing the left mouse button until the enemy is dead while dodging their attacks. It doesn’t really matter what class you decide you pick up as their combat is pretty similar with only a little variation. You can, of course, upgrade your weapons and armor and use runes to give yourself additional advantage over the enemy but the basics remain the same. The end result feels rather uninspired and more like another chore than the payoff for all of your efforts.
The biggest issue with It Lurks Below, however, is that despite being competently made, just about everything it has going for it directly draws from other, better games. The aesthetics almost remind a 2D Minecraft with its blocky graphics and constant destroying of the blocks that make up the ground. The constant resource loop, while compelling, is something that we’ve seen before in a million other survival games and farming simulators. Even the actual dungeon crawling feels like it comes from another gazillion games that have popped up in the indie market before and undoubtedly will a million times again. And without a compelling story to keep us invested, it’s a bit hard to think of a reason to stick around when there are hundreds of similar games to play.
In the end, It Lurks Below is not a bad effort but everything it offers we’ve seen numerous times before. There is nothing about it that is objectively bad but there isn’t anything that stands out either. It’s a perfectly serviceable indie title that just ends up reminding us of better and more original games out there. In the vast sea of independent games, that’s simply not enough.