Impressions: Betrayer

Betrayer1Without a proper introduction, Betrayer dumps you on the shores of a beach, 50 feet from two ships: one sinks, the other flees as fast as the winds can carry a 16th century vessel. Your stomach lurches as your eyes revolt, desperately attempting to process a high-contrast, monochromatic world with no balancing greys. Your senses slowly recover but they never grow accustomed to the uncomfortable hue of the island. Before the real trouble begins, it’s hard to shake the notion that this seemingly ethereal plane of existence treats you with active disdain and loathing.

Thankfully, you aren’t left entirely to your own devices; further up the path is a female archer cloaked in crimson red, the only color breaching this monochromatic madness. She acts as a protector of sorts, arming you with your first bow and offering sparse words of advice. Though she offers her help and sets you on the right path, “friend” seems like a premature judgment; she never explains her generosity, and it can only be assumed that there are a few unseen strings attached.

At the heart of Betrayer lies a seemingly simple question: what happened here? Neutral spirits from yet another plane are willing to communicate, but they don’t seem keen on telling the whole story. Coaxing answers out of the stubborn sprites involves searching scenes of suspicious significance throughout the wooded land while wearing your detective hat, discovering clues and marking their significance in a notebook. Dead bodies and ambushed campsites further complicate the colonial mystery, but they also provide you with ammunition when questioning the ghosts; they don’t know where you found the clues, and if their story doesn’t match up, there might be a way to bring them to justice….

Betrayer2Decidedly unfriendly ghosts resembling ancient Spanish soldiers often litter the path between your “safe haven” town and the next area of investigation. The bow, pistol and tomahawk may seem like a sufficient cache to fight off these unfriendly monsters, but your armaments aren’t particularly powerful or quick, ramping up the challenge in an otherwise-familiar FPS mold. These demons won’t wait for your arrows to notch or your powder to fill, and handling more than one at a time without absolute control over the situation is an easy way to take a quick dirt nap. Unfortunately, there are times when standing toe-to-toe with a group is simply unavoidable, and the oppressive sense of dread evaporates into frustration as they crowd around and go to town on your vulnerable husk.

Losing your life sends you back to the nearest safe haven, and in a twist clearly inspired by Dark Souls, your cash is dropped right where you fell. Cash is important- it’s used to buy better weapons and more ammunition from an unseen merchant and his chest- and unless you grab it before you’re downed a second time, the money vanishes into the ether. Death needs to feel consequential in order to maintain tension and horror, though a few hundred dollars seems like a small price to pay (hah!) for infinite lives.

The one tool worth trusting above all else is your hearing. By hitting the appropriate key, you “listen” to the world and rely on its whispers as a compass, locating your next bed of clues by the direction and volume of the audio cue. Guttural groans also provide ample warning when Spaniards are near, and making it easier to sneak your way through the woods and bypass the tedious battles. You never quite get a sense for how much noise you’re making, though, so it’s all too easy to accidentally set their alarms off and draw yourself into a decidedly unwanted firefight.

Betrayer3Since this is an Early Access release on Steam, Betrayer is still in an unfinished state. Players only get access to the first stretch of the island, and bugs have been known to pop up from time to time. However, the content that IS there is easily strong enough to tide you over until the developers decide to open new zones for exploration. Blackpowder Games are also frequently tweaking and modifying the game, adding features and fixing exploits. Though they’re committed to seeing their vision through (don’t count on other colors breaching the game anytime soon), their welcoming attitude toward criticism and suggestions on the Steam forums is admirable. The level of open communication between the developers and their players makes Betrayer a sterling example of the Early Access program.

If buying into an unfinished alpha is as frightening as a horde of angry Spanish ghosts, you’re better off waiting for a full, polished version. Otherwise, $15 seems like a small price to pay in order to witness the growth of a striking new game. Though my progress was wiped with the last update, I’m itching to wash back onto the island that loathes me.

Disclaimer: An Early Access code was provided by Blackpowder Games.