Game Review: Betrayer

Not sure who was betrayed, I never found out.

Developer: Blackpowder Games
Publisher: Blackpowder Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed)
Available on: Steam

It’s really unfortunate that I’ve had my fill after only 3.5 hours of playing Betrayer. It’s one of those games that opens up really strong with both a unique visual presentation as well as an intriguing setting. Lamentably, the game just can’t manage to keep what it promises in that first hour or so of playing.

You start out the game washed ashore in Colonial America sometime during the 17th century. With nothing to your person besides a knife, you start exploring the New World, first encountering a maiden clad in red as well as some none too friendly Conquistadors, which at first you get to take out with a bow and arrow and later on even with some era-appropriate firearms which obviously all only have a single shot in them at any given time with lengthy reload times.

All that manages to make Betrayer feel unique on a mechanical level and gives it a particular flavor that I personally haven’t seen before. Adding to that is the stark black and white color palette with which the game is rendered, broken up only by an intense red hue whenever you encounter enemies, the aforementioned maiden in red or other objects of interest. There is a setting in the options menu where you can actually introduce color into this world and even control how saturated you want it to be, in addition to controlling the brightness and darkness to set your own preferred contrast, but I wanted to experience it without color since that’s the intended look of the game.

To contrast the harsh brightness of the daytime levels, there’s also a mechanic which lets you switch into an alternate dark version of the game, not unlike Silent Hill, Zelda or any number of games. In this dark world, the regular Conquistadors and Native Americans that show up on later maps are replaced by skeletons and the dark world lets you interact with the souls of the people who died in order to solve a mystery.

All of this made the game really interesting to me, but if I don’t want to continue playing the game after barely 4 hours, you can guess what part of the game is the weakest: The gameplay. Now this is not to say that the combat interactions are bad overall, it’s only natural for the weapons you get in a 17th century setting to be of lower quality than modern weaponry. It has more to do with what you actually get to do in this world.

The problem the combat is that dealing with enemies isn’t all that interesting. The game has a strong focus on listening to your surroundings, since basically everything has a corresponding tone to it. If you’re near a Conquistador, you can hear his grunts. Native Americans cause birds to fly off so you’ll be alerted to their presence. Points of interest also make a unique sound and you can mask your own noises by only moving during gusts of wind, etc. And since I suck at stealth, I never even managed to get close to an enemy in order to attempt a backstab. And that’s when you find out that the regular combat also isn’t all that interesting. Enemy behavior is fairly predictable with most of them just running straight at you. Since they have the same amazing eye-sight as their cousins from the first FarCry game, they can spot you from halfway across the map and make a beeline towards you. So while they’re running towards you, you can pick them off with your bow or firearm and when they get closer, just bunnyhop out of their projectiles and head straight for them in order to kill them with your incredibly powerful melee attack. This also caused me to abandon all precautions with regards to my movement, and instead of taking it slow in order to not alert enemies, I just ran around these maps with reckless abandon and found that in spite of how large they may appear, you can still run from one and to the other in less than a minute and change, only stopping whenever I encountered an enemy, which can be a rare occurrence.

Collecting clues means that you’ll just be running across the length and breadth of any given map you get to explore. While doing that, you can find chests, graves, important objects, notes and letters as well as totem poles. The problem with this is that with every map you explore, you basically head towards the center of it where there’s some sort of village or outpost where you’ll find a merchant and a water barrel that lets you restore your health and after that, you’ll do a perimeter sweep by just picking a direction, and running around in a circle across the entire map in order to uncover everything. Then you enter the dark world by ringing a bell that can be found in every map – again at in the fort/outpost in the center of the map – and then you can do the entire thing again to cleanse objects from corruption by killing all the skeletons and interacting with the wraiths.

I guess my biggest problem with the repetition comes from the fact that you have to explore the same world twice. Almost every game I’ve played with that type of light world / dark world gimmick feels like the developers were too lazy to design a bunch of levels and thought they could stretch out their content by having the player traverse everything at least twice. Which is especially boring in cases where the switch changes basically nothing, as is the case with Betrayer, where only the enemies are different.

It’s rather unfortunate that a game that from the outset looked so interesting didn’t live up to what the beginning of the game managed to impress with. In fact, the visual presentation serves as a nice encapsulation of the problems Betrayer has: At first, it’s striking and it feels different to everything else, only to then devolve and feel utterly repetitive and monotonous.

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