The Binding of Isaac PC Review

I like The Binding of Isaac. I like that it plays like the bastard child of Zelda and Smash TV – two of my favourite games. I like the grotesque art style, which sees the tormented hero fighting off maggots, dead babies and sentient piles of rotting organs with his tears. I like the story, which addresses religion – or rather, religious fervour – in a much more mature way than is typical in video games. I wouldn’t say I enjoy playing it though. I’m not sure this is a game people are supposed to enjoy.The plot revolves around a young boy named Isaac who lives happily at home with his mother, until one day she hears a voice from on high warning that her son has been corrupted by Satan. Obeying the voice, she dutifully takes away all his things, locks him in his bedroom, and prepares to kill him as a demonstration of her faith. Isaac, unwilling to become a sacrificial offering, hatches a plot to escape via the basement and kill his overbearing mother.

If I were to describe my emotional response to this game in a single word, it would be ‘sorrow’. I find it difficult to feel enthusiastic about euthanising its deformed bosses, or walking into a room full of half-aborted embryos and finishing the job. Cut-scenes between each chapter of the game recount all manner of childhood abuses and shames heaped upon the hapless hero. Even victories feel quite horrible, as Isaac flagellates himself with special items and makes pacts with Satan to upgrade his abilities as he goes about his matricidal rampage.

That’s not to say this is a game to be taken literally. It’s clear that Isaac’s adventure is a fantasy story, scrawled out on scraps of paper as he cowers in the basement. I suppose that’s the key to making sense of this game – it’s about the revenge fantasies of a morbid young boy with a troubled past. The obsession with poo and wee and death and the occult, the slaughter of other children who are all depicted as bloodthirsty zombies, the kill-or-be-killed showdown against his seemingly omnipresent Mom… it’s a world seen through the eyes of a traumatised child, and I think it’s natural that this would feel uncomfortable for an adult.

Its randomly generated dungeons have been described as Roguelike, but I think it bears closer comparison with Left 4 Dead. It initially feels like a game with a heavy element of chance, but you’ll become less reliant on particular items as your knowledge of enemies and power-ups improves. The game does monitor you while you play, and its random elements are influenced by your behaviour, so you can’t blame all your woes on bad luck alone. As a final note: If you don’t like the keyboard controls, you should try using a program like JoyToKey to enable joypad support.

The Binding of Isaac is a game I would reccomend to anyone old enough to hold serious opinions on family planning. It is available on Steam for less than the price of a cinema ticket and it deserves your attention.

9/10

by

Version tested: PC

Developer: Edmund McMillen & Florian Himsl

Publisher: Edmund McMillen

Genre: Childhood Memories