Monolith made some of my favorite first-person shooters of years gone by -- Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, No-One Lives Forever, F.E.A.R. -- so the news that a studio made up of ex-Monolithers is working on a brand new game is very exciting.
The new game's called Betrayer; the new studio's called Blackpowder Games. Rather than being a straight first-person shooter, it's described as a "first-person action adventure" that appears to include an emphasis on the latter element, along with just a pinch or two of Silent Hill-style psychological horror. Sounds good to me.
In Betrayer, you take on the role of a settler of the New World at the turn of the 17th century. When you arrive at your new home -- a colony on the coast of Virginia -- you discover that it's been completely drained of life and color. There's no signs of the settlers, nor the native tribes, and it's clear that Something Awful Has Happened. Naturally, it's up to you to determine what's up while ensuring you don't meet the same fate in the process.
The most striking thing about Betrayer is its stark black-and-white presentation, the only color being occasional flashes of red -- be it blood, the fletchings of your arrows, or the mysterious woman in red who helps you on your quest from a distance. It's an immensely effective look that manages to make things look creepy while simultaneously not relying on the usual horror game thing of simply making everything really dark.
The developers note that "Betrayer focuses on exploration and discovery with minimal explanation or guidance" and that they "don't want to over-explain or spell things out." This is a tricky balance to strike in a story-based game -- too much information and you run the risk of spoon-feeding the player information that would be more striking if they figured it out for themselves; not enough information, meanwhile, and the game carries the risk of being bland and losing players' interest. As such, the team at Blackpowder is keen to get this right, and as such has opened up the first part of the game through Steam's Early Access program.
"We want to know what you are enjoying, frustrated or confused by, wishing for, failing to notice or apathetic to," reads the Early Access information on the game's Steam page. "We plan to evaluate new features or content based on your feedback, so please let us know what you think."
This is an interesting approach; many Early Access games on Steam (and distributed via other means, for that matter) tend to be less story-heavy and more mechanics-focused, and consequently lend themselves a little more to allowing people to play early versions. Feedback for these mechanic-heavy types of games tends to come in the form of balancing and bug fix requests; Betrayer marks one of the first examples I've seen where community feedback on the narrative aspect of the game is being specifically sought. Hopefully it's an experiment that will pay off in the long term, and allow Blackpowder to release a product that strikes that difficult balance between telling the player just enough information to get them on their way, and allowing them to figure the details out for themselves.
If you want to get involved, you can pre-order the game and get immediate Early Access for $13.49 via Steam. Find out more here.