It’s rare that games think of truly putting a historic theme into their actual design. In the first-person shooter Betrayer, however, players are limited to the constraints of technology at the time, not only in their tools, but also in the core interface of the game. While this threaded ambiguity may leave many of its wanderers lost, this eerie and atmospheric title with mystic overtones does grasp a solid understanding of how to combine elements into a captivating journey for a while.
Springing to the eye immediately, the main draw for Betrayer is its black and white aesthetics, enveloping the world in a conflict between light and dark. Only sporadic elements are filtered with red, to note their importance. Anything else, from the rocks, trees and towns, are void of color and spirit. Minimalist noise further plunges players into this duality of darkness, with only sporadic eerie drones to be heard. Any consoling noise will most likely be attributed to fierce enemies panting in the distance, quickly closing in, which isn’t any solace at all. Only listening to the winds can even be seen as comforting, but their high pitched wails are solely meant to drive players further into danger.
Getting to terms with the omnipresent threat may take some time. Ghostly Spaniards roam the land and hack away large chunks of health at a time. Furthermore, getting detected often sets forth a chain reaction of nearby soldiers flocking to that location. Staying stealthy is prudent, but even there a risk exists that enemies will see a slain comrade, which makes them rush the woods for investigation.
To know exactly what’s going on in this strange and somber forestland, players are bound to their wits. Cryptic clues are shot in arrow form in nearby locations or some items may hold a few scribbles. What this all means can be hard to decipher. Making things tougher still, certain spirits are linked outside of the realm of logic, so investigating this scene isn’t simply a matter of tying historic facts together; there are also ghosts afloat.
To fully dive into the mystical part of this universe, it’s possible to change night into day, which radically alters how the environment looks and works. Soldiers are replaced for ghouls, ghosts appear for a casual chat and strange disturbances are placed in the form of a totem pole. It’s these troubles in the land that block the way ahead.
Finding out how to tackle these issues comes with its own limitations. As Betrayer is set in the colonial era, there is no such thing as a map display, tracking the player’s movement through the landscape. Instead, a map crudely depicts a general area, but nothing more. Luckily, an overhead compass helps steer the way to noted points of interest, but compasses were around at the time. It doesn’t exactly note a player’s position and that combined with the black and white tone sets the right amount of confusion.
In that extent, ammunition and equipment is kept to a lenient yet minimal degree. A bow or crude firearm can be carried with just enough ammo to survive a run through the wilderness. Additionally, a tomahawk can be used in a pinch, but just one of these throwing weapons is available and missing a target sends the weapon flying into the horizon. Fixing up more ammunition can be done by finding loot or buying at the store. However, death leaves loot lying where the fatal blow happened and there’s only one shot to go pick it back up. Being bound to this state of affairs drives up tension, since enemies are fierce and player capabilities are not as fierce. Again, not fully going for the confrontational take would be wise.
Strangely enough though, one of Betrayer’s strongest points, which is its ability to let any explanation happen organically, is also one of its risks, so far. Some of the cryptic messages or puzzles may appear too ethereal and solving anything has a fair share of just wandering around tied to it. While exploration is entertaining for a while, the game’s auxiliary elements aren’t fleshed out yet to keep an interest in venturing out and collecting loot. Its roof for rewards in activity is pretty low right now, with just a few weapons and nearly no character development.
To make sure this sense of getting lost stays appealing, more will need to be done to keep the person into the game with incentives. A classic leveling system might do, but also many more weapon tiers, optional activities on the island, random events and so forth. It needs something to bulk up the now straightforward yet obtuse progression in the game.
For those looking for an adventure into the wilderness with a different style, Betrayer is something to keep watching. With its black and white universe immersed into ghastly events, this open world drops players into utter literal and proverbial darkness. It’s going to be a chore to try and get out, but then that’s what makes it surviving an event and not merely living through it.