Colonial Film Noir Shooter Breaks Ground

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Have you ever wanted to play a game set in colonial Virginia? What if that game was also black and white? Do you really hate Spaniards who have been possessed by an unknown evil force? If so, then Betrayer is the game for you! Created by several of the key developers behind F.E.A.R. and No One Lives Forever, Betrayer is a unique first person adventure experience, no small thanks to its unique use of a black and white aesthetic.

The visuals are probably the first thing that’ll leap out at a player when starting up Betrayer for the first time. Black and white visuals aren’t very common, and the appearance of red on the possessed enemies or points of interest really pop, lending well to a creepy/horror type of feel. The noisy textures tend to reduce the effectiveness of the visuals, however, but in one of the latest updates players can change the white and black levels (or even add color) to better suit their own eyes, whereas this originally was not the case. Adding color, however, completely changes the feel of the game, so those who prefer to play the game as initially intended should probably just play with the black and white sliders and then those who may find the game too scary can switch to the colored graphics scheme.

Betrayer doesn’t participate in hand-holding and also doesn’t tolerate guidance: The player has access to a basic compass and a map with locations to which you can fast travel once you unlock them, but outside of that you’re left to wander around and explore, for better or worse. Waypoints, quest markers and similar mechanics simply don’t have a place in Betrayer, so players who like to go from one quest to another without wasting time might be better served trying a different video game. Wandering around performing exploration is one of the major lynchpins of what makes Betrayer unique as a first-person game, having a lot more adventure going on instead of just shooting. Rather than being given objective markers, the player has to try listening to the spirits around them that make a noise when in close proximity of a clue, which is an aid to progress through the game, but more by trial-and-error.

Betrayer isn’t even truly a horror game, either. For the most part players will wander around from location to location, collecting clues about what transpired while being guided by a red-hooded friendly. The story of Betrayer is told by collecting clues: Arrows fired into the pillar of an outpost, clearly meant for a sentry’s head, engravings scrawled on tombstones and notes scattered across the surreal landscape are the vehicles for the plot of this game. For the most part, players who enjoy exploring will rejoice when they find the next piece of the puzzle that triggers the, "Something has changed in the darkness" message, while other players may find it an endless frustration because they’re not told where to go next.

Scouring the map for extra items, unfortunately, is a mostly fruitless venture. The world provided is huge, but there’s extremely little that actually takes place in between locations from which the player searches for clues and notes. Outside of finding the occasional pack of rabid Spaniards or burning, running corpses, there’s not a whole lot going on in what appears at first glance to be an extremely open-world environment. There’s no wildlife for the player to observe, and apart from the randomly placed enemies there’s nothing to hold player attention outside of places of interest. While this may be an attempt to induct a sense of solitary progression, that you, aside from your occasionally helpful little red riding hood friend and a couple of others who appear for a moment, it can’t be helped but seen as silly when there’s not even anyone around to mind the in-game store.

A brief tangent about that: No joke, when the player peruses the shop’s wares for the first time, a letter is left for the player that essentially reads, "I’m not here right now, take what you want and leave money for it." Given that everyone in the fort where the shop is has turned to statues of ash, and one of them has the visage of a ghost, it leaves absolutely no room for repercussion should the player just take what he or she needs. Of course, your character wholeheartedly abides by the honor system, abstaining from grabbing a legitimately better weapon and other equipment to defend himself from ghastly horrors that lurk immediately outside of the fort after ringing the bell (thereby making him the most honest character in practically any video game). It’s one of those weird, niggling things that completely breaks a player’s suspension of disbelief, due in no small part to the fact that the game takes itself so seriously yet implemented something that slipshod and awkward. There could have been another ghostly character left behind from the events that the player is trying to uncover who sends legions of ghastly wights after the player should he or she steal something, but instead a note gets left and the most awkward route possible was taken.

That aside, one interesting mechanic is that the players can access a dark world variation of the environment by ringing a bell, creating an inversion of the game’s black and white color scheme (this sounds like it doesn’t make any sense, but one of the screenshots will make this more abundantly clear). This inversion, one of the game’s most immediate attempts to shock the player, also adds in new locations to discover and changes the enemies that appear, making wraiths and other ghastly specters come out in force and reinforces the sense of mystery concerning just what exactly happened in this colonial area as listening in the dark world plays a pretty big role in progressing forward.

Another thing that, one would imagine, is supposed to add to the mystery is the inherent lack of any music. Those who just viewed the trailer may be disappointed that outside of a whistling noise to signify wind, there’s nothing outside of sound effects to please an audiophile’s ear. Of course, the chirping of insects and the rustling of the leaves on trees does lend quite well to the overall creepy mood of the game, so this could definitely be a, "Your mileage may vary" moment.

For the most part, combat is extremely simple in Betrayer. Players engage foes with muskets, bows and knives, but for the most part the weapon play is pretty barebones compared to how bow and arrows work in, say, FarCry3. Using a bow is lightweight with a little gravity affecting the arrows as they fly and drop, but melee attacks are pretty weak and basically used in emergencies only. As it currently stands, the mystery of how the story is presented is definitely more of an allure than the gunplay, though that could change as more updates go live for the alpha. There’s always the option to partake in the game’s completely unexplained stealth gameplay, as sneaking up behind a conquistador and stabbing them from behind will result in a one-hit kill, but for the most part ranged attacks with bows and a tomahawk seems more reliable until the stealth system gets a little bit more fleshed out.

That’s another thing to note: Betrayer isn’t finished yet. Currently the game is in alpha, so the $15 spent on it is mostly for early access. The updates have been huge, however. A significant number of bugs have been patched since the initial early access release (disappearing equipment, never being able to purchase arrows, etc.), as well as the previously mentioned contrast and color sliders to help players more adequately find a visual appearance that more suits their own personal tastes. Also included in one of the early updates was controller support, though there are still some kinks to work out since menus can’t be navigated with the controller for some strange reason, requiring those who would prefer to play on Steam Big Picture with a controller to keep a mouse around in case they need to adjust settings or exchange current equipment.

To summarize: Betrayer is not a finished game. It’s currently in early access alpha for $15. Those who enjoy receiving clear-cut instructions or waypoints on how to progress through a video game should steer clear of Betrayer, while those seeking a more organic experience may be pleasantly surprised by the game’s lack of hand-holding, unique visuals and mystery. The game has loads of potential, but as it stands it’s extremely barebones which is to be expected of an alpha: Combat is somewhat dull because there are very few tools at the player’s disposal beyond, "Get a better bow, kill things faster." The visuals are fantastic and can really create a unique sense of immersion, but unfortunately those only carry a game so far and that’s the largest drawing factor for Betrayer right now. The actual story isn’t completely fleshed out at this moment, either, so as it stands, the full release of Betrayer could wind up being a completely different beast than what is being shown here in the alpha.

If you’re wanting to jump right in and experience Betrayer right now, buying the early access release on Steam will net you the full game when it comes out, making this a playable pre-order. This can’t be reiterated enough: Do not expect a full game from Betrayer if you do decide to jump in on it, as there are numerous bugs, empty locations as well as the need to restart repeatedly as the game gets updated (this occurred while in the process of doing this preview). For the most part, those on the fence wouldn’t be hurting themselves by waiting to see if the combat, stealth and the plot in the official release are worth your dollars.

Betrayer is definitely an interesting excursion with a lot of good ideas, and each update has been relatively quick, adding a good amount of needed functionality that will eventually shape the full game. A full review will be done on the game once the game’s official release comes out. But perhaps this has wet your whistle if you are looking to try something new.

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