This article contains coverage of a preview build of Betrayer. The opinions expressed below pertain to a piece of software in Alpha (alpha build 2709 / Version 0.3) state, and may deal with features which are in an incomplete or prototype form. The coverage below is intended to provide a general impression of the game in its present state, and may or may not apply to the finished game.
Alluring is a word I stamped on Betrayer at the onset of seeing it for the first time. That extremely contrasted art style is similar to Mad World for the Wii and outside of that, I’m drawing a blank trying to think of any other games that have gone this route. What’s interesting in the version that I’m playing is the ability to mess around with the color saturation in the menu settings. Apparently this has been a requested feature and I’m kind of torn on the idea. Ultimately, I am a fan of options, the inclusion of this setting is a net-win but I can’t help feel that the designers are capitulating to feedback at the expense of their initial vision. In any event, the game defaults to the zero color saturation settings, so long as you don’t touch that, you’re going to experience what was intended. To give an idea on the difference, you can check the GIF below:
But how do I know that the designers actually cared about this vision? Here is a direct ‘about-the-game’ from the Steam page, but highlighted by me:
Betrayer is a first person action adventure game that takes you to the New World at the turn of the 17th century.
The year is 1604. You sailed from England expecting to join a struggling colony on the coast of Virginia. Instead, you find only ghosts and mysteries. What catastrophe blighted the land and drained it of color and life? Where are the settlers and tribes who lived here? And who is the strange, silent woman in red who aids you from afar?
Clue by clue, you must piece together the story of what befell this doomed settlement and find a way to set things right. You will be hunted by corrupted Conquistadors and ravening shadows as you explore an expansive wilderness in order to trace the brief, tragic history of the colony and search for survivors.
The game is meant to be played black-and-white with a dash of red. Again, options are always great and in fact I’ll always push for rather than against but this option directly impacts the game’s philosophy. I hope you can understand why I’m torn on this subject.
While Betrayer’s visual treatment is excellent, even managing to feel like Skyrim (especially with that compass at the top), the audio needs some serious work. Again, this is still in alpha so they still have a ways to go yet, but the audio department needs a major boost. From the Conquistadors that have the most generic alert sound in video game history to the complete lack of proper ambiance in most places, it feels very much like the team at Blackpowder Games tagged the more important sound events and left everything else empty.
You know, I may as well lump up the rest of the negatives in this paragraph before going into the part’s that I like. I feel kind of foolish listing my grievances because the game isn’t finished but when the game goes gold I’ll look back at these notes when it’s time to review the game proper. For whatever reason, there are bird shadows underneath the tree leaves and yet no birds in sight. Click on the picture below to enlarge and then look directly above my red-dot crosshair. You will see a bird shadow outline. It’s not too obvious in a picture, but if you seen it in motion, it’s just perplexing.
There is also a merchant of sorts in the game. In the version I’m playing it’s just an empty stand that takes my money. I’d really much prefer some actual living or dead person I’m doing business with because I don’t know why I wouldn’t just rob the empty stand blind. That’s just really weird. Another niggle is the font used on the notes/UI/dialog that appears in game. Outside of just weird things happening, I do have some concerns with some game mechanics that I hope get worked on.
The pathfinding for NPCs is a little weird. It’s definitely trying to find a straight line towards me but sometimes they will just veer off-course and take a really dumb roundabout (though in a straight line) way to get to me. Lastly, there is the listen mode. I anticipate this ‘mode’ will have interesting ramifications towards the plot of the game but I’m completely befuddled on how to use it. I understand that Blackpower Games doesn’t want to over-explain things, but I don’t know if Listen-Mode is a toggle switch or if I need to hold the button down. I get an audio cue when I press the button, but I don’t know how long it’s activated for nor do I have any indication of when I should be doing it in the first place. I have a general clue but for the life of me, I’m not picking up the bread crumbs. I really wish there was a visual element in listen mode that would help me better grasp that I am at least IN that mode.
Outside of those areas, Betrayer is actually kind of neat and during my play-through I think the devs really nailed the exploration part of the game. How notes and clues are jotted down within your inventory screen is actually pretty awesome. There is a very interesting onion-y type of feel, like you’re peeling through layers of events that have happened when you initially discover something. For instance, when you come across a grave site, you’ll notice that it’s been tampered with and as you explore the nearby area, you’ll find pieces of the puzzle that will tell you the rest of the story.
The compass and the map offer a few conveniences like finding items or fast-travel respectively. The compass alone is worth it’s weight in gold because of the interesting system that’s used for the projectile weapons. Essentially, with regard to arrows and the tomahawk, different materials act different to projectile weapons. As an example, when you throw your tomahawk at the floor vs a wooden post, it will bounce mostly realistically in the correct manner. Whereas if you throw it at a wooden post, it will thud quite nicely into it. Thankfully the compass alerts you towards these items with different markers. Generally, the triangle markers represent items to be picked up and this accelerates the process of finding things.
Overall, I’m actually quite impressed with Betrayer so far. Even at this early stage, the general idea and feel of the game is pretty solid. Betrayer practically forces me to play in a stealth-type of style because of the weapons available to me and how keen your enemies are at finding you. Firing a musket, breaking boxes and sprinting are all pretty huge alerts to your enemies even at great distances. When you start to realize this, you start to get away from the main roads and paths and while you’re trying to be stealthy you will be forced into exploring the area. Which is where another excellent part of the game comes in with these red blooms of twisting ether that alert you to an area on the screen.
It’s this one-two-punch of game design that establishes the combat mechanics of the game and yet enhances the exploration part of Betrayer. Even considering the other available weapons like the musket and when’s the most opportune time to use them. I mean, loading a musket after firing takes a considerable amount of time. Ideally, you’d like to have your musket primed, follow up with your bow and arrow, save your tomahawk when things are getting too close and then finally use your blade as a last resort. These mechanics are engineering this sense of required stealth to survive. And while you’re doing that, you’re also playing detective looking for clues and making these decisions of exposing yourself.
TL;DR: Betrayer is still an early alpha game that needs a lot more polish but its genius is plainly visible. It manages to force you down a narrow path but does it so well as to make you think you’d chosen it all along. Coupled with that fact is a rewarding clue-management system that effortlessly catalyzes the intrigue of the plot and, at least for me, quickly gets you up to speed all-the-while being as near transparent as possible. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on Betrayer and follow-up when things are close to finished.