There’s a good reason why, in my breakdown of the aspects of games, I use the term “aesthetics” as opposed to something like “visuals.” Aesthetics concerns itself with “the nature of beauty, art, & taste & with the creation & appreciation of beauty.” It goes beyond graphical fidelity. It incorporates all the senses. It’s the artistic direction of a game, & takes into consideration the choices made in the entire presentation, from art style to sound. Shooters may be evolving toward photorealism, but I don’t find that interesting to look at. I know what reality looks like; I’d much rather look at something unique or interesting. Of course, this is a subjective idea, & what appeals to one person might not appeal to all. But can a game stand on presentation alone?
Betrayer takes place in 1604, where you play as an unnamed colonist who set sail from England to Virginia, only to find the colonists have disappeared & the entire landscape drained of life (& color). As you venture in, you’ll find yourself beset by crazed Conquistadors & wrathful Natives. And a mysterious Woman in Red, the only survivor but lacking memories of who she even is, beckons you to put the lost souls of the dead to rest.
Betrayer is a first-person action/adventure game. One of the unique features is the ability to travel between two worlds: the normal world & a dark, sinister spirit world with the simple ring of a bell. In order to progress through the regions, you must survive both, finding clues about what happened to the colony & helping the dead remember their fates. The second unique features is the combat, specifically the stealth aspects. Stealth is more based on sound than on sight, allowing players to do things like use the wind to mask their footsteps, or use noise to locate clues & enemies.
Narrative: Initially, the mystery of the colony was interesting enough to propel me through the game. But looking back now that it’s over, I realize most of it was pointless. The parts of the story actually related to the overall plot don’t show up until the last quarter of the game. And while I can’t fault the game for world-building, it ultimately feels like I could’ve plowed through most of the areas, only doing what was necessary to unlock the next stage, & not missed out on anything plot-wise. The deal with the crazy Conquistadors is never explained, & they fall out of the plot about the same time the pertinent backstory picks up. And I hated history, but even I understand that the colonist didn’t get on with the Native Americans. They didn’t need to spend so much time establishing that. Though to their credit, they did at least show how both sides were in the wrong without it seeming heavy-handed. And the ending… eh. It’s a fine line between leaving a game open to interpretation & poor storytelling. I was fully prepared for the entire game to be about the PC being stuck in Limbo, what with the world swapping, but then the devs pulled a twist at the very end & just left it. After solving the mystery of the encroaching darkness & helping the Woman in Red restore peace, she apologizes, you ask why, & Bam! Giant shadow-wraith things, then credits. It felt like there was no closure. I suppose you could argue she betrays you in the end, as that is the title of the game, but there was a lot of betrayal going on. I’ve seen some interesting theories, but honestly the game doesn’t present itself as being deeper than what’s already been stated. It doesn’t set itself up for a cryptic ending. So overall, I felt the story could’ve been tighter & better paced, & the ending could’ve been handled a lot better. Score: 2
Mechanics: Two of the best features in the game in terms of mechanics are the combat/stealth & the exploration. While the combat itself is nothing new, I appreciated the period accurate weapons. Flintlock pistols & black powder muskets make for tense combat, as I spent a lot of time running around like a loon while reloading my guns. Because of this, stealthily taking out enemies is the best option. Betrayer is the only game I can think of that incorporates sound into its stealth. Enemies are more likely to hear you than see you. I loved the ability to use the wind to cover my footsteps & creep closer to enemies. It felt very realistic & made me feel immersed in the world. However, it seemed to vary just how far away enemies could see me, & they had the advantage of homing shots, especially the skeletons. Exploration was also fun, & finding the clues & chests were rewarding. You can locate all of these by sound alone, meaning you never have to use your map if you don’t want. Unfortunately, the rest of the gameplay gets a bit repetitive. You follow the same pattern in each level. There’s no reason to locate all the chests expect to get the gold to buy weapons & ammo, which you don’t even need to do because the best weapons are all found by digging. And while we’re on the subject, why, in a colony composed of farmers & builders, is there only one shovel in the entire state? The only time the game shakes up its formula is at the very end, & then it’s just backtracking. Overall, the combat, stealth & exploration are fun, but I can see a lot of people getting bored with the repetitive nature a few levels in. Score: 3
Aesthetics: Definitely Betrayer’s greatest strength. The art style was what attracted me to the title in the first place. The stark black & white world, with bright bits of red to indicate targets (enemies or items) is very eye-catching. The lighting is also quite exceptional, especially in the dark world. It fits the mood of the game perfectly, making you feel tense. The game can be played in color by simply adjusting the color saturation levels, but I feel that goes against what the devs were trying to create. The game looks good, either way, though I do think some of the lighting effects look odd in color. Here are some comparison shots.
The sound is also stellar, as expected given how important it is to the mechanics. There’s no music, allowing you to become immersed in the wild world. This is especially important for locating when enemies are near. Overall, it’s a perfect example of a game’s style supporting its mechanics. Score: 5
Replay Value: Low. I don’t see much reason in playing a second time, & you can continue to explore after the credits in case you want to unlock the achievements. It’s not a long game, either. Depending on how thorough you explore, it’ll take about 8 hours. Score: 2
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Betrayer excells in its presentation, creating an eerie atmosphere with its unique art style & marrying aesthetics with mechanics, but can become a bit repetitive & lacks a memorable story unless you count confusion. Personally, I recommend it for its uniqueness alone if you can get it on the cheap.
– GamerDameTitle: Betrayer
Developer: Blackpowder Games
Publisher: Blackpowder Games Release Date: March 24, 2014