Intriguing is a good word to describe Betrayer. Played in stark black and white with only the occasional flash of crimson red, questions upon questions are piled before you from the offset. Who are you and why have you woken at the scene of a shipwreck? Why is the environment devoid of all life and colour, save for a mysterious girl in red, crazed soldiers and skull-faced wraiths? Where are the people at Fort Henry and who attacked them? This is creepy - can I go home yet?
Betrayer deals in cryptic snatches of information gleaned from the scattered clues of its open-environments. Set in the New World during 1604, the aim is to piece together a jigsaw that tells the fate of Fort Henry and its inhabitants. Clues consist of things such as Native American arrows found in the Fort's walls, knives picked up at a possible murder scene and goods found smuggled from Fort Henry. With each clue, another facet of the mystery is opened.
The main character's name and motive aren't revealed, and this uncertainty bleeds into the other aspects of the game. All the information you gather is inconclusive and the characters and enemies you meet remain quite intangible in nature - the Fort Henry ghosts are afraid of you and don't seem to be aware of where they are or why, the wraiths that attack you aren't explained in the alpha, and the crazed, snarling Spanish Conquistadors are simply described as 'more beast than man'.
Blackpowder Games, the developing team behind Betrayer, mainly consists of ex-Monolith Productions developers, including much of the creative force behind the original F.E.A.R. Fans of that game will be pleased to see similarly tense and eerie gameplay here - so much so, that what should be a first-person action adventure often feels closer to survival horror. The same vulnerability and suspiciousness of your surroundings that is felt in the best horror games is present here, and it's this blended with the open-world adventure and action aspects that gives Betrayer its unique allure.
It's the horror/supernatural elements that have really stuck Betrayer in my mind. It's creepy and tense, using the possibility of scares to keep you on edge while mainly sticking to its foundation in action. The Spaniards growl and moan like zombies or beasts as they attack, and that's often what reveals their presence. The wraiths apparate before you with a boom, followed by a foreboding shriek to announce their arrival. One of my favourite features is the town bell of Fort Henry - each time you ring it the entire landscape changes to black and you must follow the whispers of ghosts to find more clues.
The girl in red who guides your path fires messages attached to arrows for you to collect. Her role hasn't been explored in the alpha, so I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes. Along with her, the Conquistadors, clues, and interactable objects you find are also identifiable by a red shroud. The open-environment is visually impressive despite the black and white - the shrubs, grass and trees move in unison with gusts of wind, somehow adding to the sense of emptiness.
There's a small arsenal of early-seventeenth century weaponry to equip, such as long bows, muskets and pistols. The lack of variety and weapons at this stage of the alpha makes the combat uninspiring and a little bit boring. The Conquistadors will fell you in one blow if they get close, making your melee attack useless for anything but breaking open crates. There's the option to sneak, which is helpful when you can hear a Conquistador but you can't see them, but is often ineffective on the wide-open plains that take up much of the environment.
Still in early-alpha, there's only the short, linear tutorial area and one much larger and more explorable area available so far. The gameplay has you trotting about to find clues of your own accord - there's no 'go here' or 'do that', meaning it can be easy to get lost or feel stuck, particularly as you begin playing. There's a map which shows important locations and lets you fast-travel, but there's no marker to show your own location. Once you've gone around blindly searching for clues a couple of times, you'll begin to know your way around.
The unrelenting black and white is more than a little over-bearing. The setting can shift between squinting, headache-inducing whiteness, and inky murkiness in which it's near impossible to make anything out. Though you'll adjust after a while, this ensures you never really feel comfortable exploring the game's environments, which actually works to its advantage. It's a barren, dangerous landscape, and the black and white only adds weight to the heavy atmosphere draped around your neck.
If you have the patience to deal with the slow pace and lack of direction, Betrayer already promises to be a hugely captivating game. For a game still in such early-alpha, what's on display is very impressive - already Betrayer has its own, completely distinguishable identity. The black and white will certainly be its most divisive feature, but those who can get along with it will find themselves gradually pulled into its increasingly engrossing mystery. With content such as new weapons, enemies, characters and mechanics promised to come in regular patches, Betrayer is one to keep your eye on. I'm itching to see the next area and the secrets it holds.