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Betrayer Hands On Preview

Early adopters looking to get in on the ground floor of something possibly amazing might want to check out this intriguing alpha by Blackpowder Games.

Like it or not, the Age of the Alpha Release is here.  Whether it’s Steam Early Access, or more humble releases like Sir, You Are Being Hunted, and Cube World, or even Bohemia’s Arma 3, alpha releases are everywhere these days.  It’s a controversial subject - some are complaining that companies are charging for incomplete products they may or may not finish, while others believe the process helps fund games that otherwise might never be developed.  It’s hard for me to find a suitable metaphor for this complex matter other than likening it to buying a fruit and waiting for it ripen. 

Betrayer is such a product. It exists currently in alpha state and is even more of an unrefined vision-in-progress than some of the aforementioned titles, which are nearly completed products. The developer, Blackpowder Games, isn’t just in the process of cleaning up enemy paths and finessing melee attacks – they’re actively still designing whole areas of the game that aren’t available yet to early adopters.  And like other alphas out there, you can expect placeholder GUI, rough sound effects, shaky enemy A.I., and poor collision detection, often leading to your character to get stuck on walls, slopes, and other objects. 

That being said, the game radiates potential, first with its unique setting (the savage environment of 17th century colonial Virginia), and second with its thick atmosphere, and risky art design – the game is in black and white, with splashes of red here and there.  This last detail of the almost monochromatic experience, is certainly striking, but is also off-putting, leading the developer (in one of its recent updates) to provide a slider where the player can adjust the color from the original stark grays to almost vintage Disney-like saturation.  I myself played in the default black and white mode out of respect for the original design of the auteur, and I like it that way, but I can appreciate that many do not, and I’m glad the developer is listening to its early adopters. 

The game itself is decidedly old school, with little exposition and less handholding, kind of like a Dark Souls FPS, though the results are mixed.  Trial and error will be your teacher here, as you explore this strange universe, and unlike most modern FPS experiences, there is no guiding character talking in your ear the whole time spelling out what to do.  Frankly, I’m glad, as I personally have had enough of the Cortana-ization of gaming, and I really did appreciate playing a game that was more about exploration than running through a corridor. 

You start the game alone on a beach, carrying only a knife and your wits.  The forest lining the shore beckons.  You might hesitate, but there is nothing else to do but brave the wood.  Upon doing so, a wind ripples through the trees and foliage, catching you off guard, and perhaps drawing a shiver from your wizened gaming muscles. 

Here I was reminded of DayZ, as well as Sir, You Are Being Hunted, both of which drop you in the middle of nothing but mystery and doom.  All of these games evoke the feeling that you’re being watched by unseen and unimaginable forces that might wish you luck – but probably only wish you harm. 

I don’t want to ruin any more of the story, other than to say that something has gone dreadfully wrong in the colony, and it’s up to you to solve it.  Along the way you will inevitably meet supernatural enemies that will kill you in a heartbeat if you’re not careful, but luckily you can pick up objects such as bows, muskets, and hatchets to help you along in your journey. 

I mentioned earlier that the game is similar to Dark Souls in some ways, and the developer has acknowledged that the game is difficult (there is no difficulty setting), and promised that the final game will be even more difficult.  You will probably die – a lot – especially as you first get the hang of the game and the variety of enemy attacks.  Afterwards you will of course spawn again, with most of your accomplishments intact, but like Dark Souls, your currency (gold coins and whatnot) will be lost, only to be recovered by returning to the scene of your last death. 

This is a big deal because ammo is in short supply in this game, replenished only by picking up scraps from dead enemies, or by purchasing it at the fort store.  You can sometimes collect arrows you shot at enemies, but usually you lose them for good.  When you respawn you have the same ammo you had when you died, but not your money, so it’s pretty easy to end up with no ammo and no money to buy any, leaving you only with the knife. 

To make matters worse, enemies also endlessly regenerate with your new lives.  So you’ll find yourself fighting the same bad guys over and over again to little gain. It’s a little masochistic, as the enemies are tough, and can see you from a hundred yards away, even while you’re supposedly "sneaking."  A few hits and you’re dead, and you’re back to square one.  I found it important to take enemies at a great distance with my bow, hoping not to alert others, but no matter what you do, it’s a dangerous business.  While you will get a hold of muskets and pistols, they are inaccurate unless used by the bad guys, and do less damage to them than you might think.  Blackpowder has stated though that they are still working on the enemies, and improvements will be made in accordance with player feedback. 

You’re not completely alone in the endeavors of Betrayer, as you will be helped by a number of mysterious entities, but most of the time you’re on your own.  I enjoyed this having grown up with such isolated experiences as Quake and Half-Life where non-player characters are sparse or non-existent.

Can I recommend Betrayer?  That depends.  It’s obviously and certainly a work in progress, with a long way to go until it’s a finished game, in fact, what’s currently available is just the first level.  But it’s still an interesting experience, though it’s very inconclusive in many aspects.  It’s more of a demonstration of a concept than anything else, and there’s very little resolution in what’s available now, which makes sense.  But some players might want a little more for their $15, especially for what you get for that price with other indie games these days. 

Mostly, I wish Blackpowder Games luck – I love the setting of Betrayer, I love the foreboding atmosphere, and I even love the black and white graphics, which render the wind-blown world into a ghastly nightmare.    I can still remember the first time the wind startled me in the game, and it’s not an experience I will soon forget. 

 


 

Comments

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

09/14/2013 at 12:41 PM

This sounds pretty cool! Even without the striking art style, the selected setting sounds worth the price. I'll have to keep an eye on this from now on.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/14/2013 at 03:00 PM

it IS pretty cool.  Just needs more time to bake. 

Indigo

09/15/2013 at 11:46 AM

This game looks dark, I dig it!

Hadn't heard about this project yet, curious if it will get more expensive with successive builds...

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/16/2013 at 04:47 PM

i don't know about that.  but if you buy it now, that's all you have to pay forever. It's a little under developed right now, but it has a lot of potential and I liked it. 

Blake Turner Staff Writer

09/16/2013 at 05:28 PM

I am glad they introduced a slider. As much as I dig the art style (and I really do think it's awesome) watching videos of it did make me feel a touch ill. Well, I might get into this game! Great preview Matt!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/17/2013 at 04:26 AM

thanks, Blake!

Joure

09/18/2013 at 12:43 AM

The issue I have with alpha's, and to an extend beta's perhaps is what can the player expect from the finished game? Certain issues or easthetics, sound design, buggy AI, anything, how does that relate to the final build?

Even for the project I'm working for, we're in early beta with only a hundred people, I find it disheartening sometimes to see a YouTube vid go live with the current bugs, that I know will be gone in the next update. I'm certainly not against Alpha's nor Beta's, but I wonder what players expect from them, and how do they feel when certain aspects of the game aren't what the gamer thought it would or should be from what he or she expected.

Does anyone here perhaps has some experience seeing a game being shaped from alpha to release and what their expectations where, and did the end game meet those expectations? 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/19/2013 at 01:33 AM

I can't really name any games I know that went from Alpha to final release that I have played....  the one that comes to mind most is Arma 3, but they haven't even released the single player campaign for that STILL.

I think since it's a very new development, we'll see it take shape in a myriad of ways before certain things become standard.  I too have mixed feelings about the whole thing, but on the other hand, I also see the benefits. 

Joure

09/19/2013 at 05:06 AM

That's right, I should've mention that of course the main reason for these beta's (and now also alpha's) is to gain input for the playerbase and improve these games. And it's incredibly valuable what kinds of bugs these gamers can find. They just do things that we, the designers, and even the playtesters, have never thought of. Using various exploits.

That being said, where does it end? Will developers try to go pre alpha in the future? Building a game from the ground up with input from players? When I look at games of old like Quake III Arena or Unreal Tournament, these games stand the test of time, and even with the exploits used they still remain highly playable. Sure the games are fundamentally very simplistic in nature. They don't use physics, bullet penetration and all that jazz. And perhaps that is something that should be taken into account. I'll drag the game I'm working on into the conversation once more to say that the complexity of our game is on a level that I think not going public with our beta would only hurt us in the long run, because they have showed us a number of exploits that we just never thought of.

I guess in the end what I'm trying to bring across is that I believe that a strong game design should come first and foremost before getting input from the community. It's fun to see games grow, but on the flip side it may taint a person's initial impression of a game. Which is a lot tougher to change then chaning the game itself. And that is where I think lies the true pitfalls of going aplha. When someone doesn't like something ,it's incredibly difficult to change their views even if you;d fix everything they complained about. But you can never satisfy everyone, Make a strong game, and then improve on it. It's been working for us and really well so far. :)

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