Washed ashore onto a Virginian shore in Colonial America in 1604, you quickly find your way to a fort, expecting to join a struggling colony. Instead you find the fort abandoned, haunted by ghosts and followed by a mysterious woman in red. The setting is the best part of the game: exploring a chunk of history that has rarely, if ever, been explored by games. Religious conflicts, the Spanish fighting the Englishmen, it’s a mildly interesting historical exploration mixed with fantasy/horror elements, but it’s not as engaging as it should be. The overall arc of the plot is quite dull and not nearly as interesting as the setting allows it to be. There is small beauty in the side stories, robust ideals of horror mixed with fantasy, presented in small bite sized pieces; the side quests are easily the best part of Betrayer. Branching out and exploring the world really opens up some interesting theories and lets you figure out what happened on your own, while giving you just the right amount of details. Mixing 17th century New World Era with a horror fantasy element was a bold move, and while it doesn’t execute well over the arc of the main story, it’s the finer elements that make it memorable.
Right off the bat, Betrayer looks impressive as hell in the visuals department. Utilising a wonderful monochromatic scheme with splashes of red; it’s Schindler’s List in a 17th century mystical survival era. The black and white scheme is chosen on default, and it is possible to bump up the saturation up to the point where it looks completely the opposite; where colour bursts through and looks both powerful and impressive. The forest looks equally beautiful and menacing, and the foliage and scenery really create a sense of atmosphere. Unfortunately, bumping up the colour scheme kind of kills the nature that Betrayer tries to go for, and leaving it completely in black and white can be a bit wearing to look at, as some textures and environments look quite bland and unspectacular. Adding the colour looks better, but it kills the mysterious vibe and doesn’t feel as tense.
The music (or lack of) and audio absolutely kills it here. The ominous sounds the ‘other’ world makes, the eerily quiet forests, the gusts of wind that mask your steps, it all comes together to produce a wonderfully tense and atmospheric experience. It really helps the ‘horror’ experience Betrayer tries to sell, and the feeling that you’re being stalked is only intensified when you hear a breeze go by that feels so authentic that you can almost feel it.
The monster designs are unfortunately quite uninspired and don’t lend much to a horror look, with repetitive enemies which you’ll probably get sick of by the time you’re a couple of hours in. It’s a shame, because these enemies need to carry the bulk of the horror/action part of the game, and it’s something they just cannot do. Not on a presentation point, nor in a gameplay perspective.
Betrayer is a typical FPS/survival game, utilizing tried and true mechanics that don’t feel original, nor fun. The 17th century setting leads to some unique weapons, as you are limited to a bow, a pistol, a musket and most useful, a tomahawk. Using the firearms is painfully slow and unwieldy, as you spend ages reloading your weapon, forcing you to use them sparingly. In open combat, the bow is next to useless, with arrows bouncing off the armour of the enemy Spaniards, requiring half a dozen to put them down when you already carry so few. As part of the pseudo-RPG elements, you can wear 3 charms on yourself to boost characteristics such as reload speed or damage threshold, but you can easily get by without using a single one, and the ones that you can buy cost a disproportionate amount whilst only boosting a small factor.
The game emphasizes a stealth mechanic, especially given the wind system that masks your approach, but it’s very glitchy and executed poorly. The AI can spot you from far away at seemingly random times, and the tough difficulty means you’ll be dying quite often. Betrayer rips a page right out of Dark Souls by introducing the mechanic of losing your loot when you die, forcing you to come back and pick it up or lose it entirely. But unlike in Dark Souls, the sloppy mechanics and strange AI behaviour inspires frustration rather than determination. Betrayer does let you turn off this option though. Most like Dark Souls is the lack of hand holding. Betrayer has a unique sound mechanic, where you must press a button that sounds an audio cue that lets you work out where to go. A very interesting mechanic indeed, but the sounds are too ambiguous and not focused enough to really pinpoint your next destination. Add to that the weak journal system and the lack of being able to mark custom waypoints on the map and you’ll quickly find yourself spending hours just adrift in the world, which while beautiful to look at, doesn’t hide the boredom that creeps in. Finally, the gameplay simply feels weak: shooting an arrow doesn’t feel as strong as it should be, nor does firing any of the weapons. The developer hailed from Monolith, creators of horror games such as Condemned and F.E.A.R, the latter having really captured the essence of melee combat; here the combat feels unsatisfying and difficult for the wrong reasons.