Betrayer PC Review
Taking one look at Betrayer and you will probably come to the conclusion that it’s a very unique looking game. This is a title that stood out on Steam’s Early Access to me, thanks to this incredibly strong first impression. It’s a look that speaks for itself, a world covered in monochrome, using various shades of black, white and grey to bring an eerie presentation. Red is the only colour that survives in this otherwise washed-out world, reminding me of a game like Madworld, but with a more subtle use of the distinctly bright red. Betrayer began its Early Access journey last August, and after a few months the developers, a team made up of ex-Monolith employees, who worked on such titles like F.E.A.R., are ready to release the finished version of Betrayer to the public. So begs the question, is Betrayer more than just a stylish looking indie game?
Betrayer begins by dropping the player on the coastal shore of Virginia in 1604’s America. There is no information available about what happened to the boat or why you are on this land, nor are you told what to do. With a path laid out between the wild growing grass, one figures out that they must walk forward on the trail ahead, which leads to the introduction of a woman dressed in red. This mysterious lady, who is mixing a cosmetic style that blends Robin Hood with Little Red Riding Hood, is not a talkative type, but does offer a little tip by shooting an arrow close to you with a letter attached to it warning you to turn around and go back. Who is this woman in red? And why is this area dangerous? That is the first of many questions that Betrayer will bring up, and the only way to solve these is to continue forward into the unexplored.
The best impressions of Betrayer come within the game’s first hour. After meeting with the woman in red, you soon acquire the use of a bow, found in front of a rack with a message from an unknown store keeper who is willing to help you tackle the wilderness with the use of his wares in exchange for coins. From here you plough on forward through the forest, taking part in a tutorial that introduces the controls, combat and the game’s red eyed possessed conquistadors. Soon after, you arrived at Fort Henry, which is completely deserted of life, but is inhabited by human shaped ash positioned in their last action before whatever dreadful event ended their life. Also lying around Fort Henry is a bell, which requires attaching to a rack. Once hanging, the player needs to ring it to transform the world into blackness, the otherworld, unlocking a new perspective that allows you to see the spirits of the dead – lost spirits who remain attached to the world due to their involvement in horrible events that are told through dialogue with them.
It’s from this point that the journey really begins. The unknown is laid in front of you, and with no hand fed objective, all you have to go on is what the spirits mumble and the vague hints that appear in the game’s journal menu. Betrayer leaves it up to you to figure out how to move on, letting you explore the wilderness to look for evidence or lost souls to figure out what happened. There’s a sense of eeriness when first exploring, especially more so in the otherworld, where the world is tuned more to the colour black, while the bell echoes in the background and skeletons and wraiths patrol the land. The question of the unknown, the unfamiliarity with the world and what’s going on is what makes the early part of the game very interesting, but as you progress further into the game, it becomes clear that Betrayer’s mechanics begin to spoil the game’s stimulating mystery voyage.
At first, it seems that Betrayer is an adventure game focusing more on exploring the land and creating a wonderful, tense atmosphere, but in reality, it doesn’t take the game long to turn its gameplay into a mixture of monotonous shooting and fetch questing. The problem begins with the enemies. The game wants the player to use its stealth mechanics to take down threatening conquistadors, but the concept around this is poorly implemented. A tip is given that explains that you should use the strong wind, simulated with a lovely visual effect of bending trees and furiously waving grass, in conjunction with crouching to make yourself a stealthy assassin, but in truth I just couldn’t seem to get this to work most of the time. Enemies have amazing hearing and visual senses that made them spot me – even when I was walking in the wind from behind – easily. It makes me wonder if these conquistadors have built in dog noses and were sniffing my scent through the wind, because they certainly shouldn’t have heard me coming during the noise of the blow.
The biggest disappointment lies with the combat and the artificial intelligence of opponents. Maybe I was expecting a bit too much when I heard that ex-monolith developers were working on the title, but just looking at the state of the combat and enemies, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they worked on F.E.A.R. because it’s extremely barebones in regards to both. I can understand that a musket isn’t exactly an assault rifle, and in all honesty the bow can be rather fun to use, but I was expecting more from the game’s small roaster of foes and combat mechanics.
Enemies can’t do anything but charge at you with a melee weapon or shoot from a distance with their bows or muskets. There’s no smartness behind their actions, for example, no ability for them to use cover. The same problems exist in the otherworld, where skeletons walk around until they detect you, then either run at you for a hit or launch a white bullet (bone?) for range attacks. There’s not enough variety in the game’s enemies and the combat ends up becoming repetitive and stale towards the back half of the game. Initially, the combat can seem challenging, as you lose large chunks of health with each hit. You also lack waterskins that recover health, but as you find more of them, which opens up more chances to recover health without having to run back to base to recover, along with learning how to defeat the same enemies and using improved gear, means combat becomes less scary and more tedious to participate in.
Repetition is something that leaks into the rest of the game’s design. The world of Betrayer is split into multiple small areas, separated by loading screens. There’s nothing distinctive to distinguish each area apart from the key settlement that you use to ring the bell to switch realms. Everything is all grass and trees, and this causes it all to blend into one. Each area consists of the same issues – find the settlement, attach the bell, and then explore around in both white and dark realms to find spirits or evidence to resolve what happened. These events cover a wide range of adult themes, such as murder, betrayal (heh) and even rape. A positive from this game’s tale is that it’s all handled very maturely, with nothing ever coming across for cheap shocks. It’s a story that is all done through text, but its atmosphere, impact and theme is still very much absorbing to read.
I started this review with a remark about Betrayer’s visuals, so you can gather that this game is rather impressive to view. The contrast between black and white works incredibly well to show a world covered in an elegant display that somehow manages to remain clear on the eyes while looking unique. An interesting note is that the game’s options allows for the white world to be flipped into colour, offering a beautiful look at the world in all its glory, which is a huge shift when instantly switched to black with a knock of the bell. The sound isn’t quite as focus as the graphics. The general background audio and ambient noises create a genuine creepy atmosphere, but this is spoilt by some bizarre sound effects from the enemies. There’s something very Acme about hitting an armoured soldier in the face and hearing a “clank.”
Sound is used as a way to communicate hints to the player by holding down the x key and listening to where the sound is coming from. It’s rather hard to tell with an open sound system, and even with a headset, I still had trouble deciphering where to go. Thankfully, there’s a nice option in the menu to show white indicators on the compass, which glows strongly when you’re facing the right direction – a very good and helpful inclusion to stop people becoming frustrated with the audio hints.
Betrayer absolutely excels at offering a mysterious and atmospheric world to explore, which is supported with a fantastic monochromatic art direction and strong ambient sounds. It’s just a shame that the combat, AI and structure of the game can become monotonous; losing its magic that it hit you full on at the start of the game. It’s worth sticking with Betrayer to see through the devilish tales told by the NPCs and watch the conclusion come to a puzzling end, but most might find the trip a sour sweet hidden by a sugar coating.