Do you enjoy games that task you with wandering around a practically empty open-world forest, while mindlessly pressing the X button on your keyboard every five seconds? Well, lucky you, because Blackpowder Games has a game that should be right up your street.
Independent developer Blackpowder Games was founded by former Monolith developers, the team behind F.E.A.R., so considering its pedigree, Betrayer is a game that those in the know have been eagerly anticipating since its announcement last year. Betrayer’s been playable via Steam Early Access for a few months now, and initial reactions have been positive, but sampling an appetizer doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy the entirety of the main course. Unfortunately, this is the case with Betrayer.
Blackpowder Games stated that it wanted to create an explorative game with minimal hand-holding, and Betrayer was created out of this concept. Initial impressions are strong, as the game’s heavily-saturated, distinctive visual style is certainly eye-catching. Blending a monochromatic environment with occasional splashes of red, it strangely evokes memories of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, albeit with less Liam Neeson, Nazis, and Jews, and more possessed Spaniards, floating skulls, and semi-naked, arrow-firing lunatics. Its early 17th-century setting further adds to the intrigue, with it being a relatively under-explored period of history that, in theory, should lend itself way to the unsettling supernatural goings-on that the player-character is unsuspectingly thrust into.
Betrayer begins with you having sailed from England to Virginia in order to join a struggling colony along its coast. However, the colony is nowhere to be found, with only the aforementioned possessed or ‘corrupted,' and Spaniards for company, along with the ‘Maiden in Red,' a young woman in search of her twin sister. After you unlock the ability to switch from the real world to the ‘other world’ via the ring of a bell, you also find yourself being able to talk to the dead, who offer you clues and quests to help you continue on your path to discovering just what on Earth has happened to that bloody mysterious colony. You’re also confronted by new enemies in the other world, including skeleton archers and skull heads shrouded in coats of black mist, who bear a passing resemblance to the Pokémon Gastly.
Unfortunately, rather than opening itself up and becoming more engrossing as you venture further and further into its supernatural world, Betrayer instead becomes overwhelmingly dull. Betrayer is an action/adventure FPS with the adventure kept to a minimum. You’ll instead spend the majority of your time in the game on a tedious hunt for corrupted totems, each of which spawn a handful of ghostly enemies when you stand near them. Kill all of the enemies and the totem will be cleansed; cleanse all the totems and you will be given access to the next area.
Betrayer functions as a fairly standard FPS when it comes to the various showdowns with enemies, albeit with a few changes. For one, your arsenal of weaponry is specific to the time period, meaning that you’ll be equipped with pistols and muskets which need to be reloaded after every shot, bows and arrows which boast a higher fire rate in exchange for lower damage, and crossbows which impale enemies and send them hurtling backwards like ragdolls. They’re all fairly enjoyable to use, but it’s the half-hearted implementation of a few stealth mechanics that significantly dampens the fun.
Betrayer employs a nifty system which allows you to take down unsuspecting enemies with a well-placed headshot if they are unalerted to your presence. In theory, this should make for some nail-biting confrontations where you’re left crouching through the tall grass of your surroundings, positioning yourself behind trees while attempting to take down a batch of corrupted Spaniards/skeleton archers, but the reality is that so rarely are you afforded the opportunity to do so due to surrounding enemies practically standing side-by-side. You’ll often manage to knock one to the ground before all other enemies in the vicinity begin chasing you, and each confrontation therefore becomes identical to the last.
This isn’t helped by the fact that running is more or less a fruitless exercise, as the majority of enemies are faster than you are, meaning that being confronted by five or more of them at once is a death sentence. Taking into account that each of your weapons,excluding your bow, requires a lengthy reload after each shot, prepare to die a lot. When you die, you lose the majority of your weapons and coins, meaning that you need to return to the scene of the crime in order to retrieve them and, in all likelihood, you’ll die again. The system tried to be like Dark Souls, but it doesn't work.
The main issue with Betrayer, though, is Blackpowder Games’ alternative solution to holding your hand through its world. Rather than pointing you in the right direction, the game employs a ‘listen’ mechanic, where you press X on your keyboard and then follow the eerie noises it relays back to uncover your next clue. But you’ll often find yourself wandering around aimlessly as this audio cue isn’t very useful at successfully guiding you through the environment, and it often left me roaming around in circles desperately searching for the next piece of the puzzle needed to progress through the story. There’s an option to add a visual aid to your compass which you can use to hunt out clues alongside the audio cues, and it was with no small degree of hesitation that I eventually admitted defeat and turned it on.
Betrayer lets itself down at almost every corner. Its distinctive art style is wonderfully unusual when you first step foot in the game, but is underutilized in an environment filled with nothing other than trees and the occasional fort. Its enemies are initially intimidating, but when you come to realize that you’re fighting the same ones over and over again they lose their fear factor. Even the outstanding audio, which sees the enemies snarl and howl like deranged animals, and features the ambient, foreboding sounds of the Virginia forest in favor of a musical score, is almost rendered obsolete as you’ll spend the majority of the game doing the same things over and over again.
Betrayer is a game that suckered me in with its alluring visuals, but once it had me within its grasp it outright refused to let me enjoy myself. This is a game that is far below the standard of quality one would expect from the creators of F.E.A.R., and further proof, if we ever needed it, that presentation shouldn’t take precedence over gameplay.