I’ve said before that I find multi-genre games tend to bear with them a slew of problems along the way. The biggest hurdle that these types of games have to overcome is mixing all the parts together into a strong, coherent whole that’s passably good at several different things, which seems to give developers a tougher time than honing in on one idea that they can work on refining and doing very well. Betrayer has elements of exploration, FPS, stealth, and a few other things mixed in for good measure, and I think that ultimately, there’s some shortcomings that crop up as a result of the lack of focus. That said, there are some really great high points, and a ton of stylistic greatness to uncover.
First, let’s take a look at how the game begins. The scene opens on a shipwreck-strewn beach, and you’re given little to no direction; there’s no lengthy tutorial section, no “training” in how to use the controls that most of us, as gamers, are already familiar with. Look and shoot with the mouse, move with WASD, interact with F, sprint with left-shift, and so forth. It actually works pretty well, and there are a few tips along the way to help make sure you’ve got your bearings before you’re presented with enemies, so it’s not entirely casting you to the winds and letting you puzzle out every single key without some assistance; it comes together pretty nicely and organically, introducing elements one at a time to help you get a handle on the adventure you’re about to embark on without holding back from getting to it. I’m a pretty big fan of the toggle-run, too, which is easier on me than the more-common ‘hold to run’ method, and since you’re not contending with a stamina meter, you’re free to make pretty hasty movement across the beautiful black and white world.
It’s shortly after this little bit of introduction that things start to turn. I mentioned that Betrayer packs in a lot of different genre elements, and here’s where it really starts to show through – and where the problems arise. The biggest one, I think, is that combat seems heavily geared towards a stealth-game style approach; more than once, you’re given tips on how to best sneak up on foes and how to take them out without being seen – which all sounds great, and probably would be if not for a pretty fatal flaw in the game’s stealth system: there isn’t one. There’s no mechanic for really being hidden, and once you’ve fired at an enemy – any enemy – every other enemy in the area knows your precise location, and you can’t sneak back off to hide. This wouldn’t be so bad an oversight, maybe, if the FPS aspect was a bit more geared towards being able to handle multiple foes at once, but it’s very easy to get overwhelmed, and the choice of archery, flintlock pistols, and muskets doesn’t lend itself well to a frantic pace.
As far as the exploration aspect goes, Betrayer almost nails it. It’s a lot of fun to run or creep along the relatively-open space, and there’s a lot to see and discover. The only failing here, really, is that it’s a bit too loose; there’s no real sense of direction or nudge towards a goal at any time. I spent several hours roaming haphazardly around, both within the eventually-colorful “real”(?) world, and the plot-heavy “otherworld” that plays a big role in making progress, simply searching for something that I could accomplish to move the story along. There’s a good mix of action and clue-discovery to keep things from getting too stale, but at some point it gets frustrating that you’re left to wonder not just where you need to go, but what you need to do in the most basic of senses. The steps to open up the next area for travel may or may not be anything like the prior ones, and you’re never given a real indication of what you might be looking for – or which version of reality it might be hiding in, which effectively doubles the time you spend blindly scouring the rich terrain for anything of value or importance.
All told, there’s a lot of great stuff piled in to Betrayer. The graphics, story tone, setting, and quite a few elements of the FPS mechanics – reload time on the musket, for one – are pretty fantastic, and definitely can pull you in, but the game’s lack of focus is an ultimate downfall that ends up turning what could be a really intriguing exploration and survival experience into a meandering , confused journey that loses appeal somewhere along the way. That said, Blackpowder Games is asking for a very reasonable $19.99 on Steam, and I think there’s more than enough content here to justify the price, especially with how great it all looks. If they could find a way to bolt on a fully-realized stealth system, then I’d be even more enthusiastic here; as it stands, though, there’s just a few too many gaps for me to give it the solid recommendation I kind of wish that I could.
[+Stunning visuals] [+Intriguing story elements] [+Great exploration and discovery pieces] [-Desperately needs a stealth mechanic] [-Combat gets too frantic for the provided arsenal] [-Confusing lack of direction]