You find yourself washed up on an unfamiliar shore. You can hear the wind blowing, even see its effects, yet the world has been washed of all its color, save for the stain of red that is splashed over a few choice elements. You are alone in the New World, but some other world is encroaching and you must defend yourself against feral Spaniards and other creatures as you move between this strange place and a spiritual world to find out what has happened to this land.
Betrayer wants you to explore its bleak and expansive world with very little direction. It is yet another entry in the resurgence of games with little to no hand-holding. If you want a game with clearly defined goals, stop reading, as Betrayer clearly isn’t for you. If you want a unique experience that is, at times, frustrating due to its freedom, then Betrayer might just be for you.
Developer: Blackpowder Games
Publisher: Blackpowder Games
Release: March 24, 2014
Within the first few moments, you are given the bow and tomahawk that you will rely on throughout the game. You do get a few rifles, pistols, and other weapons, including more improved versions of everything, but I found myself constantly turning back to the bow. There isn’t a wide variety of enemies to test your skills on, but they are varied enough and introduced at a decent pace that I never felt bored by facing the next batch of Spaniards or skellingtons.
What did happen, which in most other games is not that great, was that the further I progressed, the more enemies were thrown at me. Every enemy has the ability to take you down in just a few hits, though the game didn’t get harder, instead it forced me to play smart. I couldn’t take the action approach, at least not with my level of shooter skill, so I had to look at the encounter strategically and not just try to put an arrow into every enemy’s eye socket.
If you’ve ever played Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, you will see the loot system in Betrayer as a familiar curse. For the most part, all of the items you collect will either be instantly turned into currency or will be equippable items that you probably have and will then turn into money. If you happen to die while exploring, you drop all of your money and have to make it back to the site of your death to get it back. After the first few areas, everything that you can buy gets far more expensive to the point where losing even a few coins hurts. I can name a few times where I lost at least two hundred accumulated loot and it severally hurt my progression. It also stopped me from running place to place like an idiot, so I can’t really blame the game, only my poor play style.
Where I did find trouble was figuring out exactly what I was supposed to be doing and, once I did, figuring out where that stuff was. The untamed American wilderness was fairly difficult to navigate with rough maps in the weird twilight of Betrayer’s world, but when you chime the bell and enter the spirit world, I struggled constantly. I think that both the standard black and white look and the black heavy permeation look fantastic, but the draw distance of the black heavy spirit world, coupled with the poor maps and navigation of the time period, made for an especially frustrating experience. It wasn’t until I turned on the on-screen cues for the listening mechanic did that feature even began to make sense and actually provide some direction.
I couldn’t bring myself to get invested in the story of Betrayer. The writing was decent, but the story was conveyed entirely through text boxes. I understand that voice-acting is very low on the to-do list for indie studios, but for a game with such excellent sound design that really gives the world a sense of atmosphere, limiting all story beats to a small text box detracted from it. Not caring about the plot didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game itself; in a sense, it made me focus more on playing the game itself and heightened my appreciation of the systems working within.
Betrayer is a far more interesting game than its art style alone. In spite of its rough edges, Betrayer manages to cram in enough interesting gameplay to entice you to discover its mystery. Its Demon Souls-esque loot system made me play smarter and, in turn, taught me to take advantage of the systems at play. Betrayer won’t soon leave my memory because of its fantastic art-style, but it proved to be a deep and fun enough experience I will remember far more than its art. You can bet I’ll be watching what Blackpowder Games does next.