FBT is in the monochrome colonies

In 17th century colonial times, all is not well in Virginia. The undead, made up of Spanish Conquistadors and Native Americans patrol the wilds, while ghosts of the Settlers are roaming about the empty forts. More shocking than that, we seem to be suffering from an extreme case of Achromatopsia (total colour-blindness, google it).

The first thing you notice about Betrayer is, obviously, the colour-scheme. Looking at the world in this monochrome way is incredibly surreal and unsettling. Of course, you can do this with any game; just turn the contrast down, but then you’d not see the bad guys coming.

As you wander the fields, the undead will make a beeline for you, firing arrows, muskets, pistols, throwing rocks and melee’ing. They give off flashes of red as they go, giving you a marginal edge in spotting them coming, or letting you get in a stealth-kill. It’s striking and makes you hyper vigilant, staring intently at the world looking for a glimpse of red.

So it turns out the Captain of the settlers got wind of some scared land, and ignoring the Native American guides, sets off to settle it – and never returns. Soon after, people start dying, and their spirits are trapped. Guess who has to resolve their issues and guide them into the afterlife? I think it’s me?

I have no issue with a game keeping its secrets, but for the first hour I’m not sure if I’ve accidently wandered into some new Fortnite map. I just walk about, getting attacked randomly. You spend most of the time picking up indiscriminate items like I have OCD and the game goes ‘you have found all the clues’ - yeah but I have no idea what I’m cluing here.

Eventually I realise I have to ring a bell in each area’s fort, which turns the black and white world to a white and black one, where the Conquistadors and Native Americans swap for skeletons which erupt from the earth to scratch you and fire energy balls like skeletal Doom Imps. In this environment you can interact with the Shadows of the settlers to learn more of their story, then go talk to the Wraiths and get clues to where you need to go to find an item and piece together their fate.

The first problem is we have a map and a compass. Great, but they don’t work in tandem. The compass can tell you where an errant arrow landed or fast travel point, but it doesn’t show the clues, graves, Wraiths etc which are all detailed by dots on the map – how can I have a map that reveals the location of every clue before I even know I need the clue, but it’s not show on the compass? It just ruins the feel, endlessly looking at the map, going ‘Right, north west’ then you strike out north west, and then flip between map and compass going ‘missed it’ and turning around and ‘missed it’ again, while also trying to see a tiny black and white object in a black and white world that is flashing black and white.

Sound is another strong gameplay mechanic, and alongside the visual design, they combine to create an amazing headache. A wind constantly blows across the land, and you can use its gusts to manoeuvre around the creatures, hiding your footsteps, which is great - but the soundscape escalates when you’re near something of interest/threat like a kind of listening-detective mode until all the sounds rise until only dogs can hear it. It all creates this consistent ringing in the background, like the way the world sounds the morning after an Iron Maiden concert. It’s not haunting or ethereal, its like an advert for a tinnitus cure. You know that thing people do where they run their finger around the top of a wine glass to create the high pitched sound of you yelling at them to stop it? It’s that, for hours. After I finished playing I could still hear it.

You’re sort-of helped by a woman, the Maiden, who has lost her memory but recalls she has a twin sister she’s looking for. She pops up in each region, claims not to see the Wraiths, undead or anything untoward (not even the ashen bodies lying about) and then kinda does nothing. You can offer her the trinkets you find as if we’re building a relationship but it doesn’t go anywhere, and for the most part neither does the game.

Once you’ve resolved all the Wraith’s issues, another region opens, and it’s the same thing again; I really enjoyed the first area, but once I realised it was more of the same, clearing out enemies while following small, not particularly compelling stories, I started to lose interest, and it’s the same for the next regions. Worse, each region introduces a new kind of undead with less red to spot until you’re squinting at the screen trying to work out if its an undead or a twig, and not caring. It becomes an over-exposed slog, like when you turn the light on in the morning.

Eventually it all comes together in a plot that sort-of reminded me of the first F.E.A.R – in fact, indie developers Blackpowder were made up from ex-FEAR devs. I loved FEAR, and every other game they did – Blood, NOLF… but this? I’m not really sure what the point of all this was. It does have to be acknowledged for doing something different, but it doesn’t know what to do with the different. The monochrome doesn’t mean anything, we don’t learn to use it or gain powers that put us on an even keel with the undead, the world doesn’t return to Technicolor once we’ve bested a region, we’re just wandering through a basic Far Cry setting in black and white, doing side missions before a confused main plot resolves itself.

It is a masterclass in style over substance. At first, I’m amazed at the look and sound, how I have to completely change my FPS approach, but quickly it gets maddening. It’s a shame because it's so remarkably different and original at first, but really it's like a nightmare level in another game, a brief twist on the usual gameplay - stretched out for hours.

The thing that scared me the most during Betrayer was worrying if it’s damaging my monitor. It’s dismissive to say this is just a basic free-roam shooter with the contrast messed up, but it is exactly that, and when you realise you can adjust it to normal settings, it just becomes a gimmick. Once you see it for what it is, it’s just a bit of an eye and ear sore.