Betrayer is the new horror game from Blackpowder Games that takes place at the dawn of the New World. Join Dave Cook as he gets lost in a colonial nightmare, and tussles with some rather angry Spaniards.
”Beyond the fort’s safe zone, you’re free to scout the landscape and it won’t take long before you hear the dreadful groaning of demonic creatures wandering aimlessly. This is when it all gets a little Far Cry 3.”
I was really fond of the first two F.E.A.R. games, so when I heard that a team largely made up of former Monolith Productions developers had flown the coop to work on a new horror IP, I simply had check it out. Although Betrayer is creepy, its scares resonate quietly but tangibly in the background, rather than relying on predictable jumpy moments and paddling pools filled with gore. Instead, it delivers a sense of isolation and despair that keeps your mind consistently teetering on a knife edge.
The game opens as you awaken on a beach off the Virginian coast in 1604. It’s a time where foreign settlers are travelling to America to claim the fertile land and its spoils, but as it happens, the last wave of explorers have unearthed more than they bargained for. There are pieces of ship wreckage all around, yet it’s unclear exactly what caused your vessel to become dashed on the rocks. Much is left to the imagination, and once your mind starts to wander you’ll start to feel even more unnerved. Ambiguity is most certainly the core of Betrayer’s sinister streak.
And that could pose a problem for those of you who don’t like twisting in the wind while a developer dispenses half-truths and red herrings all over the place. For this plucky explorer, I found the lack of clarity both tense and engrossing. As I left the beach and took my first steps into Betrayer’s monochrome sandbox I started to see little visual clues, such as stone totems and graves that suggested all was not as it seems. It’s only once I reached the game’s first colonial fort that Betrayer’s true nature became clear.
The Conquistadors who once lived in the wooden settlement are now gone, roaming the grassy plains and forests and mindless, blood-thirsty husks devoid of remorse or reason. There’s an untended shop in town that will -somehow – still buy any loot you find out on the plains, and a health pool that patches your survivor up with each gulp. Then there’s the alarm bell that, when rung, flips the game’s colour scheme and fills the ear with a disturbing, ethereal sound. It’s possible to press the ‘listen’ command to hear the faint whispers of ghosts. It’s both odd and chilling.
”Dying before you reclaim the goods is soul-crushing, but it reinforces the feeling that you’re constantly on the back-foot, just as any good survival horror game should.”
Beyond the fort’s safe zone, you’re free to scout the landscape and it won’t take long before you hear the dreadful groaning of demonic creatures wandering aimlessly. This is when it all gets a little Far Cry 3, as you really need to stay mindful of being spotted from a distance, while picking off isolated Conquistadors quietly with your bow and arrows. Taking on more than one of these beasts at a time can see you killed in moments, so the idea is to break up packs or avoid them altogether.
When your arrows won’t do, you can fall back on slower, much louder firearms such as the pistol and musket. These guns erupt with deafening force, alerting nearby enemies and putting you in dire risk. The fear of getting caught is just another layer to Betrayer’s horror cocktail, which is made harder to swallow thanks to the foul sound of enemies growling over the harsh winds. Speaking of which, you can also mask the sound of your footsteps using these sudden squalls, but they’re unpredictable. All it takes is one foot out of place and you’ll find a wall of wailing demons bearing down on you with force. That’s quite terrifying.
Or at least it would be if the stealth mechanic was a little clearer. At times I was able to sprint through an area swimming with threats, only to emerge at the other side without detection. On other occasions I’d hear a roar from afar and turn, only to see an enemy charging at me from miles away, unsure of how, exactly, he spotted me from such a great distance. The rules – like the plot and setting – are a little unclear, and that’s at odds against enemy attacking states, which see the low-level grunts charging at you like those suicide bombers in Serious Sam.
I get that they’re mindless beasts, but they run right at you in a line and can be taken down individually before they get within melee distance. Occasionally they’ll show a glimmer of intelligence and whip out their long range weapons, and at that point you can strafe around their incoming shots. I’m speaking purely of one-on-one battles against bog-standard footsoldiers here, because if you mistakenly whip a gang of enemies into a frenzy you’ll need a bloody miracle to survive. You’re severely under-powered here. Higher level foes start hurling rocks at your face. That’s not nice.
Matters are made worse by the fact that once you die, you have one chance to recover the loot dropped by your corpse or it’s gone. Resources are scare in Betrayer, so this also causes tensions to mount, especially if your felled body is holding a vast stash of loot. Dying before you reclaim the goods is soul-crushing, but it reinforces the feeling that you’re constantly on the back-foot, just as any good survival horror game should. Die often and your resources will suffer, keep dying and you might as well restart. You’ll get further each time, however, and that’s certainly gratifying if you’re willing to work for it.
Fast travel helps cool the rage that builds after each silly death and your Waterskin item lets you heal on the move, so there are definitely moments where the drudgery lifts and you start to feel somewhat stable. But then you die and repeat the process, chipping away at the world and its tale of sickness, ritual and death as you go. Blackpowder wants you to work for victory, and if you endure you might just find yourself getting lost in one of the most understated horror games I’ve ever played.
Disclosure: To assist with this piece, Blackpowder Games sent Dave a Betrayer Steam key.