Betrayer Preview (PC)

Before Warner Bros bought the studio and churned out the lacklustre F.E.A.R.2 and Condemned 2 Monolith was arguably my favourite developer. Blood 1 & 2, SHOGO, No-One Lives Forever 1 & 2, Tron 2.0, Aliens Vs Predator 2 (better than Rebellion’s, honest), F.E.A.R., Condemned... not necessarily the greatest shooters ever made but still some of the most fun, unique, and imaginative. Now the part of Monolith that broke off after the WB buyout, now christened Blackpowder Games, is back with first-person “explore-em-up” Betrayer. It’s up on Steam Early Access now, and we got an early look at this, erm, early access to see how it was shaping up.

It’s very black-and-white for starters, and I don’t mean that in a Good Vs Evil way. Betrayer is set in Colonial America around 1604, and this untamed wilderness is cloaked entirely in a creepy monochromatic view. There are occasional bits of red to make things stand out, like clues, enemies, or items, but otherwise the world is entirely black and white. And now and again it becomes white and black instead… but I won’t be spoiling that particular surprise any further. It’s both lovely and terrifying, making the whole game feel utterly dreamlike, and what’s even more astonishing is that Unreal Engine 3 is really chugging away hard behind the seemingly simplistic visuals. Occasionally a wind will blow and shake trees, bushes, and grass over the entire landscape, and the weird blur effects that coat the edges of the distant landscape amplify the ominous feel the world has. Make no mistake, just having three colours doesn’t mean Betrayer won’t tax your PCs on higher graphics settings. Only Metro: Last Light has ever made my PC make worrying noises like that.

This... is the Evergreen Forest. Quiet, peaceful, serene

Apart from interesting visuals Betrayer is all about mysteries, and solving them through exploration. After surviving a shipwreck and seeing the culprits sail away you make your way up a hill to a small fort. You catch a glimpse of a strange girl in a red cloak who sends you cryptic messages by arrow, and after picking up your own bow you discover that the Spanish Conquistadors in the area have been driven mad by something unearthly. Red smoke pours out of them and they won’t hesitate to attack you. Reaching the fort, Fort Henry, you find it abandoned apart from a barrel of water (that allows you to recover health), a bell, a slightly illusion-shattering box-store where you can purchase weapons, and people who have been turned into ash like they were caught in a volcanic eruption. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when you ring the bell...

In terms of gameplay Betrayer isn’t so much a first-person shooter as it is an explorer, despite the occasional bit of combat which may or may not involve a gun. Apart from a rather vague map and a compass there are no markers or missions and only a few subtle paths. It’s up to you to look around, examine clues and notes, use the “listen” button to direct you, find places of interest and generally work out what happened to this world. There are missions to find although they’re generally quite subtle, and if you want to move on to another area you have to find a way to remove the weird “corruption” on the South Gate. I’m being deliberately vague because it’s the finding out part that’s most fun about Betrayer, so I don’t want to spoil any more than I have to. Let’s just say that ringing that bell has surprising consequences and that the corrupted Spaniards aren’t the only enemies.

This isn’t going to end well. For me

Wandering around the environment you’ll quickly find those corrupted Conquistadors who’ll either run at you with swords or hang back and shoot at you with muskets or arrows, leading to the combat. You start off with a basic knife that can kill in one hit but you have to be particularly quick or good at dodging to avoid getting killed yourself first. Other weapons can either be bought at Fort Henry’s store or scavenged from Conquistadors. The throwable Tomahawk proved most useful as like the knife it kills in one hit, although you can only carry one of them so have to recover it. Arrows and even Muskets don’t necessarily kill in one shot, with the extra downside of Muskets being that they take ages to reload. Combat is a necessity for survival rather than a game focus, and it is possible to sneak up on a scary Spaniard and knife him in the back (if a little bit buggy right now).

Currently the Early Access only gives access to Fort Henry and the surrounding areas, which is quite a decent open area although I had it pretty well combed (if not fully explored I admit) in about an hour and a half. Further areas will unlock for free as the game continues development of course, and Fort Henry is only the tiniest part of the main overworld map so Betrayer should be a pretty sizeable game once it’s finished. It’s rather exciting watching a game get created in front of your eyes, knowing that I shouldn’t uninstall it because a whole new land could open up at any time. It’s like a Kickstarter where you actually get to play the game instantly.

Oh boy

The thing I want to underline before I go is the creepiness of Betrayer. It’s not like F.E.A.R. which relied on shocks but still gave you lots of guns. It really is an oppressive, unnerving game, somehow evoking the sense in me of being both claustrophobic and isolated. You’re vulnerable, you’re alone, you’re surrounded by hostile ghosts in an unfamiliar land and time, and if you don’t solve the mysteries of the game you might never escape the nightmare. Which would be hell in real life, but in a game is absolute bliss! Just goes to show what weirdoes us gamers really are. There’s definitely a STALKER vibe with the semi-open world combined with the idea that something nasty could be around the next corner, except you’re even more at risk here. Yowch.

Betrayer is a Steam Early Access title so it’s available for you to buy and play right now on PC for £11.99/$14.99. While there’s not much game right now what’s there is very promising and it’ll be exciting to see it grow, plus of course that price gets you the whole game as it’s built and polished. I’m already hanging out on the forum talking about what people have discovered and surprising myself with the many things I missed. Betrayer is creepy, mysterious, and engaging, and if you like the idea of solving mysteries in a scary world without waypoint indicators and only a little guidance then this may well be the game for you. Just try not to fall out of your chair when you ring that bell.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Answering the mysteries and travelling to new locations. It’s like playing a game while it’s still being built! Y’know, in a good way.

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By Mindrax (SI Core) on Aug 20, 2013
Strange game, i want it :)
Love the strange black/white themed graphics.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Aug 21, 2013
This one has intrigued me as well, have to ask how it feels to play in black and white - it doesn't look like colourless TV shows from when one was a kid - it is much sharper contrasted black and white so any dizziness, eyestrain etc from playing?
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Aug 21, 2013
Had absolutely no problem playing. It made it a little difficult to see things sometimes, but no dizziness, eyestrain or anything like that. It was very dream-like.
By Mindrax (SI Core) on Aug 21, 2013
Like comics or something, looks kinda cool :
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Aug 22, 2013
Cool, so this is from now on my wish-list! Nice to see someone taking a new twist to things :)
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Aug 23, 2013
You guys should try Miasmata. It is an incredible experience once you get the hang of it.
By Mindrax (SI Core) on Aug 23, 2013
Miasmata looks awesome for being a two man project.
I am going to check it out.