PAX East 2020: Cleaning Up in Going Under

The path from idea to reality is a difficult one, especially for businesses. First an entrepreneur needs to get money for the plan, then see it through to completion and after that it has to make money.  Silicon Valley is a graveyard of failed ideas, some good and others amazingly terrible, but the one thing they’ve got in common is that someone believed in them enough to turn the business plan into reality for a while.  On the plus side, each one that died is one less disruptive technology in business to buy and sell its user’s data while pushing cheap, overly-complicated systems that can be hacked by a curious three-year-old.  The downside is that someone needs to clean up after them, and in the case of Going Under that’s your job as an unappreciated intern.  Also, they’ve been overrun by joblins.

Going Under is a satirical roguelike set in the Silicon Valley-style city of Neo Cascadia.  Neo Cascadia is home to the world-spanning shipping company Cubicle, which owns the soft drink company Fizzle, for which you are an unpaid intern.  Money is overrated anyway, seeing as the real payoff is the experience of being completely expendable, so it’s off into the sunken depths where the remains of failed startups are infested by hostile monstrous former employees.  It would have been nice if Fizzle has sprung for any kind of weapon, but a thrifty hero understands the value of adaptive scavenging.

Which is a nice way to say that just about anything is a weapon.  Old broom, giant prop pencil, keyboard, electric guitar, body pillow and anything else you can pick up can come in handy, each with its own attack characteristics.  They generally don’t last more than a few hits, but each room has plenty of props so there’s no shortage of destructive options.  It’s just a matter of adapting on the fly, beating on former-employee-joblins with a stool instead of a club when necessary.  And because anything can be thrown, even the weak little items can come in handy for pinging away a (literal) boss’s health.

While Going Under is your standard semi-roguelike dungeon crawl, complete with new abilities to find, shops to spend any money you run across, and a big boss at the end of each floor/dungeon, what sets it apart is its colorful presentation and satirical tone.  Everything is super-cute, rendered in soft curves and colors that are almost but not quite pastel.  It’s a fun, unique look and does a nice job of taking the edge off the satirical parts.  It would be easy to be vicious to tech-bro culture while still being funny, but everything shown so far takes care to call out its habits without going for blood.

The PAX demo was pure action, diving into the dungeon and smacking monsters around, but there will be more to the game beyond this.  The intern has co-workers and doing tasks for them earns bonuses.  Other skills are found in the dungeon and using one often enough gets it added to as a permanent ability to choose before setting out on the next run.  Meanwhile there’s a story slowly being revealed about the mega-company Cubicle and its relationship to Fizzle, and with enough runs far into the depths you might even be able to save Fizzle from being consumed by its corporate overlord.  Currently there’s no indication as to whether that brings a salary and decent insurance package with it, but even in gaming the fantasy only extends so far.