Developer: Blackpowder Games
Released: March 2014
Played: complete in 5h:42min
You've washed up on shore in colonial Virginia in the 1600s. The colony is deserted; the only people you see are animalistic Spanish conquistadors who attack on sight and a mysterious woman in red who warns you away. As you explore you discover hints of a supernatural force, evil spirits, a shadow world, and the wraiths of the colonists who will slowly lead you to piece together what happened to the colony.
Betrayer earned average review scores of 62%. Reviewers enjoyed the visuals and atmosphere, but most felt that the gameplay was repetitive and lacking, or that the game was a little too long.
Several updates have been released to add a few minor new features (enemy type, consumable weapon, new hazard), tweak enemy vision balance, improve gamepad support, add more options, fix bugs, and add language support.
The first thing you'll notice about Betrayer is the colour scheme - or rather, lack thereof. The entire game is rendered in high-contrast black and white, except for important objects and enemies that have a red tint. The style is immediately distinctive and makes the game look a lot better and more interesting than it might otherwise have been. The downside is that it makes most of the areas look the same even when geography and vegetation varies. The other world is even more visually effective - the darkness and the shorter vision distance make it feel murky and oppressive and spooky, which works well with the creepy-looking spirits and wraiths.
Betrayer's story is darker and more complex than it might appear at first glance. Well, actually, it's pretty dark at first glance, too. It's worth finding all the information you can because a lot happened before you arrived.
The process of discovering what happened to the colony involves a lot of exploring and dealing with spirits. A big part of finding the people and places you need to visit is with an "auditory compass": you press a button to listen, and you'll hear ghostly whispers from the direction you need to travel. The whispers are more intense the closer your facing and distance are to the objective. I really enjoyed this type of exploration when the objectives weren't marked on the map, but even if they are, you can choose to disable map markers.
Speaking of markers, Betrayer doesn't feature a quest log or objective markers of any kind, so you have to poke around on your own. Everything you find is extensively documented in your journal so you can go back and look at your notes, but figuring out what to do is largely up to you.
I enjoyed the exploration and piecing together the mystery of the colony's doom, but I do wish the environments were a little more fleshed out with geographical landmarks for important locations. I don't expect every event to have taken place at a distinctive rock or tree - that would make things too easy - but maybe a little bit more detail than just trees and grass. The hill in the Fort Henry area is a good example of what I'd like more of - a natural feature that's recognizable without looking at the map.
I did find that gameplay got a bit repetitive. After you're introduced to the mechanics in the first open zone, you know how the entire game will play. Not enough is done mechanically to keep play feeling fresh and engaging, and part of that is down to the visual similarity of all the zones - I've played games without significant gameplay variation that keep me engaged as I see new sights and discover new environments, but that doesn't really happen here.
The finale of the game, including the Forbidden Woods area and the conclusion of the story, are remarkably creepy - even more so than the rest of the game. The Forbidden Woods force you into the dark world without ringing a bell like everywhere else, so automatically you have a cue that something is different here, there's a power in the woods. The audio cues are also especially unsettling with occasional loud cracking as if something huge is breaking thick branches, and a maybe-it's-breathing-but-it's-probably-wind moaning. There's also no wind like in the other areas. Great region.
In the end the story turns out to be more tragic than outright horror, but again, you don't get the whole picture unless you've found a lot of journal scraps and pieced events together. I won't spoil what happened, but let's just say it's not the happiest of endings and it's an apt fit with the atmosphere and tone of the rest of the game.
Betrayer is a solid game with its own unique style and a storytelling structure I really enjoy. While it is a little lacking in some areas, it lets you discover its story on its own, and the quality of that story kept me engaged.