Editor’s Notebook: Hands-On With The Spooky ‘Betrayer’ Alpha

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Combine the artistic style of Sin City, blended with the setting of Pocahontas, and add in the developers who made the original F.E.A.R., and you have Betrayer.

Founded by many ex-Monolith developers, Black Powder Games are right in the middle of developing Betrayer. After having pumped out F.E.A.R. in 2005, the team made a name for themselves with the game as players blasted their way through the paranormal experience.  Anyone who has played even just the first five minutes of F.E.A.R. can tell you that the game was an impressive achievement both technically, and atmospherically. Now, as their own studio, the pressure is on for Black Powder Games to live up to the legacy they built up nearly a decade ago and deliver fans the next great paranormal shooter.

After spending some time with the Alpha of Betrayer, I believe they are on the right track.

Betrayer takes place in 1604, on the Virginian coastline in North America. Colonial America is just starting to come alive and travelers from Europe are heading across the Atlantic to the New World to begin to settle the landscape and carve out a living for themselves and their families. The time period is one in which witch hunts and ghost stories thrived, and with anomalies like the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony a reality, there is a certain amount of uncertainty that galvanizes the mind and sets the roots for even more spooky tales.

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Eager to prove  that they are still the masters of the paranormal shooter, Black Powder Games have come up with a few gameplay elements to ensure that Betrayer is able to keep players on their toes without having to overly rely on cheap, loud jump-outs to rattle player’s nerves.

The most striking element comes in the artistic direction that the game is heading in. Betrayer is almost totally rendered in black and white. The color red is used to highlight things of importance, but other than that, it is all black and white. The decision for such a style came with the belief that players will not be able to see things as clearly and so will exercise more hesitation and caution, increasing the amount of tension present in the game at any given time. At this point in the game’s development, Black Powder Games is still “experimenting” with the color choice, using their time as one of Steam’s Early Access titles to collect player feedback on the design decision.

“While we knew this approach wouldn’t appeal to everyone, we felt its impact on the experience was too interesting not to pursue,” Black Powder Games said on their website. “And since we’re a small indie studio with an Early Access title, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to experiment with something different.”

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I found the black and white implementation to be great. I never had that much difficulty making things out, and as mentioned, anything I was supposed to be looking at was stained blood red. The black and white was never overwhelming, but the shadows were just deep enough to where I certainly had some blind spots, just as intended. However, the enemies I encountered out in the world were radiating with some red voodoo business that made spotting them about as easy as finding an elephant in a swimming pool. Only about the first hour of the game is available in the build, so I can’t speak for the entire game, but if the enemies are easily seen, that eliminates nearly all the tension that is supposedly Black Powder Games’ purpose for the use of black and white to begin with.

A recent patch updated the Alpha build and allows players to turn off the black and white filter. Personally, I prefer the black and white over the color, but you can decide for yourself as the option is now available.

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Betrayer dumps players out of a shipwreck at the beginning of the game. With hardly any supplies, and absolutely no recollection of what happened, players must set forth into the spooky forest and seek refuge at a nearby town. While trekking through the woods, a small figure cloaked in red appears and warns players of the dangers ahead. This Little Red Riding Hood cosplayer makes a few more mysterious appearances along the route, providing advice and information that generates even more questions. Eventually players get to their destination, only to find the town almost completely deserted. Even more unsettling, a few townsfolk are still present, but they are completely turned to ash, frozen in place.

Enemy Conquistadors, who seem to be brainwashed by some spell, patrol the open fields and forests surrounding the town that served as a quest hub. The NPC in the town, the ghost of a former inhabitant, can be questioned about what happened to the other villagers, but seems to have trouble remembering anything, and it falls to the player to set out and discover what happened to this ghost town.

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Players then must set forth into the wilderness and attempt to discover clues that will help them solve the mystery. Players can “listen” to the environment to hear an indication of what direction they should be heading in, a clever way to hand-hold lost players, and guide them back onto the right path. The listening mechanic is essentially a game of Marco Polo, where players hit X and the environment in the game emanates a haunting sound-effect that echoes across the landscape. Typically, characters in games and movies run away from the source of such sounds. Betrayer forces you towards them.

The gameplay I encountered in Betrayer will be familiar to anyone who regularly plays FPS games. The most unusual aspect of the gameplay comes in the form of having to use 17th Century weaponry, but even that is not too outlandish, —the bow has some drop to the shots and the muskets take a good chunk of time to reload. Muskets seem to do more damage than bows do but are much less accurate at range than the bows are.

I’m excited to see where Black Powder Games takes Betrayer. From what I experienced, the team that brought gamers F.E.A.R. has returned for an encore performance that promises to be a spooky romp through 17th Century Colonial America.

Check out Betrayer on Steam and follow the developers on Twitter.