Betrayer Preview: A Mystery Wrapped In A Massacre

At the heart of every moment of Betrayer is mystery, starting with your first tentative steps onto the shore of the New World.

It’s 1604, and your ship is a wrecked hulk, smashed against the rocks just off shore. As you watch during the opening moments of the game, a Spanish galleon glides by as if to savor its victory. There’s nothing around, save a few boxes and barrels inside which you can find a few coins, and maybe some musket shot. You’ve come to the Americas to join a colony in Virginia, but there’s no indication of where it is, where you are, other than a small path. And nearly everything, everywhere, is rendered in high-contrast, over-exposed black and white tones.

The world is eerie, and you don’t know why.

Betrayer puts you in a first-person view armed with only a dagger, but it’s not long before you come across a bow, gifted to you by a strange woman wearing red – the game’s only real color – who communicates with you using notes tied to arrows. “I don’t know if I can trust you,” she says. But she warns you of the Spanish conquistadors who roam the area, oozing with strange red smoke and sporting glowing red eyes, and seemingly monstrous in their grunts and attacks.

Taking out the conquistadors from a distance is your only real defense, and they charge you with hatchets and muskets with seemingly no regard for their own lives. What has happened to these men is another mystery, and the land surrounding the colony is full of them. It’s not long before you find a small fort with a town inside – deserted. In a few places, standing frozen, are ashen statues of people, almost all of which seem to be twisted in fear.

Though Betrayer is a first-person game that has players exploring large swathes of open land, similar to games such as Miasmata or even Far Cry 3, it’s the mystery that plays a central role. You’re soon gathering notes and clues about the inhabitants of the fort, trying to puzzle out their fates. Before long, it starts to become apparent that the game’s title might refer to someone in the colony who turned on the others, and the woman in red tells players that whoever is guilty must answer for his or her sins. But it’s when you find the fort’s bell and remount it in the center of town that things get even stranger.

Ringing the bell carries players into a strange, dark world, where the black and white colors are reversed and the ringing of the bell can be heard echoing endlessly. It’s as if time has been slowed almost to the point of stopping, and you’ll find ghosts in the darkness. Talking to them gives more clues about what happened at the fort, and the ability to “listen” with the X key. The sounds of whispers carried on the wind begin to drive the player around the area, finding clues to the stories of the colonists, and sometimes, their spirits and bones.

There seemingly aren’t any missions in Betrayer, and even playing it in early access now might not turn up much in the way of goals for players. The listening mechanic turns up things like a rusted pistol and an identifying necklace next to the skeleton of a murdered woman, or a supply chest that it seems was being hoarded away from the other colonists. Ringing and un-ringing the bell allows players to shift between the dark world and the light, and the two places have both their own properties and their own dangers. In the light world, the conquistadors mill about in different areas; in the dark are totems that seethe with some kind of corruption. Touching them brings strange floating wraiths to attack the player, but they’re vulnerable to arrows and other weapons like their armored counterparts in the light world.

Traveling between both worlds turns up different clues, information and goals. You’ll find skulls in the dark world that have been moved from their graves and ask for assistance, and you can return them to complete objectives. There’s also an inventory management system that will keep players busy: you’ll discover different weapons to use, like tomahawks, muskets and different kinds of bows. They come in various states and conditions, though, and a small chest allows you to buy and sell items to get better equipment and clear out space. Managing your ammunition is key, and the game’s built-in compass does players the favor of marking where nearby loot and, most essentially, arrows can be found, even the ones you’ve fired. You’ll also discover various charms that you can equip – three at a time – that confer passive buffs like increasing your bow range or allowing for faster musket reloads.

Betrayer is still in early access, so obviously, it’s far from a complete game. But so far, it is unfurling itself slowly, forcing players to ask questions and hunt for their answers, without ever really tipping its hand. Why is the landscape rendered only in black, white and red? What happened to the colonists, and for that matter, the conquistadors? Who is the woman in red? And what is the shadow world and the corruption it seems to create?

The answers don’t seem to be available yet, but hopefully they’re coming. In the meantime, Betrayer is a solitary and foreboding world to explore, with many secrets to be uncovered. The combination of a its many unanswered questions, and a feeling of loneliness augmented by the wind constantly rustling the trees and grass, looks like it’ll make Betrayer quite a mystery to solve.

Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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