In the first few moments of your job at “Fizzle” in Going Under, your manager tells you that they’re “like a family here.” Then he orders you (the new marketing intern) to travel into the deep depths of the startup underworld and endlessly slay monsters for free while he sips a latte in the comfort of his open concept office. Almost immediately Going Under reveals itself as a cheeky, wonderfully stylized dungeon crawler that successfully satirizes modern day office culture. It also lets you beat up tech bro demons with a cactus, which is a great bonus.
Your name is Jackie, and this job really isn’t what you were expecting. You thought you were going to be designing labels and ads for a soft drink company, but now you have to learn how to dodge roll.
There are three main dungeons you have travel to on your corporate quest (all of which are also failing companies): Joblin, where goblins meet gig workers; WinkyDink, the emoji-filled dating app hell; and Styxcoin, a defunct cryptocurrency spot run by trendy skeletons. Styxcoin is the most impressive of the stages. Entering this dungeon you’re transported into a subterranean land of streetwear skeletons with a “never stop the grind” mentality, and walls plastered with predatory posters that ask things like “Is Your Afterlife Secure?” Styxcoin’s whole thing is that they mine for cryptocurrency, like literally; enemies hold pickaxes to chip away at crypto-rocks (and you), minecarts are plentiful, and torches light up stock tickers scrolling on screens next to stalactites. Unfortunately, their company has gone under. There wasn’t a solid work/afterlife balance, and now Styxcoin’s undead legion of bucket hat wearing hackers, motivational speakers, and miners have decided to take it out on you.
The business fantasy vibe is executed earnestly. I’ve worked in cubicles, at a sketchy tech startup, and an unpaid internship, and Going Under creatively realizes the annoying day to day startup stressors with a revitalizing reverse magical realism. It’s easy to make tired jokes with these concepts, but this game stays enthusiastic with its zingers from start to finish. It feels smart and parodic from the solid set decoration to enemies and weapons that are themed to the area. Fighting sentient emojis in the dating app dungeon or equipping a tablet pen to electrocute enemies with your jab combo is always a blast. It’s enthusiastic in a way that’s sort of infectious, making you want to explore extra rooms to find more motivational poster jokes or learn more about the world from a hipster goblin barista running the item shop. Going Under excels because it builds a distinct personality for each dungeon, and the prolonged commitment to each gag makes it a cultural critique that’s also very fun to play.
Fights are chaotic, close quarters battles where you’re mostly repurposing office supplies as weapons to take down your enemies. A lot of the junk you pick up is themed to the office dungeon you’re in; stapler guns, computer monitors, and giant coffee pots are just some of the equipment you can fight with. All weapons have durability, and even the most heroic ones will break after a few whacks on your foes, so you’ll find yourself in a loop of hitting, breaking, and scavenging for better things to hit with throughout a run. Enemies have better weapons than you most of the time, and all have different quirks and attack patterns you’ll have to be patient with in order to come out alive.
The battles feel grueling, but rewarding. Luckily you never have to go at it alone, though. At the start of a run you can endorse skills like “People Person” which gives you bonus strength when there are more foes around you; “Fail Forward,” which brings you back to life after you die; or my personal favourite, “Clap Back,” which delivers a shock wave back at opponents who hit you. You can also find skills in dungeons and they shake up the experience a lot. I could not stop giggling whenever I used “Clap Back” because it’s basically a defensive mechanism doing a sick Twitter dunk to damage every opponent in the room. There are an abundance of these quirky powers, and even after completing the game I unlocked a lot more that significantly changed the gameplay.
You can select a coworker to mentor you throughout the dungeon, and they’ll give you buffs, items, or cash bonuses which morph the way you play. For example, Ray, the conceited CEO who has no idea what he’s doing, can grant you the ability to use his company card so you can buy stuff you can’t afford from merchants. One that I used a lot was Swomp, a barista and brand ambassador for Fizzle that lets you rob a random item from the shop and also makes it so that bootleg versions of top tier weapons show up randomly in the dungeons.
Along with skills and mentorship, there is a man who will offer you a bittersweet curse in his Lamborghini garage. If you accept his curse (which could be anything from making all gold freeze you momentarily for the next five rooms, to setting you on fire so you can’t stop running for the next five rooms) then you’ll be granted three random riches.
The breadth of those options makes each run an exciting, different time, and makes Going Under a highly replayable roguelike that you shouldn’t miss.
When you’re away from the keyboard for a second your character throws her weapon away, sits down, and starts scrolling on her phone. If I was bored in a dungeon, I would do the same thing! Little moments like that are found throughout the game, and showcase that Going Under is plugged in and timely. A lot of the early game is goofs and fighting, but as you progress deeper through the dungeons it becomes an inspiring story about fighting back, unionization, and solidarity. These days it’s way too easy to get down in the dumps, doom scroll, and instantly complain about anything online; this game distracted me from that. It made me laugh, transporting my mind into a world where evil sentient emojis run a corrupt dating app, skeletons are motivational speakers, and goblins drink coffee from a pot. It gave me hope, and made me more optimistic at the prospect of real change, which can only happen when people respect each other, work together and rip it out of clutches of a CEO after slaying them with a giant sword.
Going Under was developed by Aggro Crab and published by Team17 Digital. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available for the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Funké Joseph is a non-binary black writer and artist. Check out their goofs @funkefly.