A bespoke table top adventure brought to digital life, Betrayal At Club Low is a surreal and fantastic experience. The Finger Guns Review.
After finishing Betrayal At Club Low [Steam Link] for the first time, I turned my thoughts to how on Earth I was going to write this review. This game is a difficult one to describe because it’s a quirky blend on a number of different genres – table top RPG, point and click, strategy, interactive fiction and roguelike.
So, let me put it to you like this. Imagine you’re invited around to a friend’s house to play a new table top game. Only, when you get there, you realise that your friend has created this game themselves. This game isn’t about saving the world or changing the course of history. It’s about something lowkey and unusual. Your friend is surrounded by part eaten pizza and they’ve got a wild look in their eye. You sit down to play this game in a one-on-one fashion, player vs dungeon master, rolling dice to see the outcome of every decision. It’s surreal and oddball. Bizarre, even. Between wrestling with bouncers, pickpocketing pepperoni out of someone’s pocket and becoming a dance floor legend, you realise you’re having an absolute blast. But then the dice turn on you. You lose your health or will or both and it’s ‘game over’. So you play again. And again. Then again. While the game’s structure stays the same, your path through it doesn’t need to. It’s different and absolutely glorious each time, even in failure.
That’s what it feels like to play Betrayal At Club Low and it’s brilliant.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Let’s set the stage: In Betrayal At Club Low, you play an ex-spy who has been brought back into the fold for one last mission. An old colleague had been sent into the titular Club Low (an ex-coffin factory turned nightclub) to investigate the shady leader of the joint, Big Mo. Your colleague has gone radio silent, presumed trapped inside. Dressed as a pizza delivery man, your aim is to infiltrate Club Low, find your pal, plan an extraction and execute it.
In more detail, this’ll involve talking/brawling/sneaking/climbing into club low, persuading/strong arming a number of characters, making stew, taking over as DJ for the night, pick pocketing a number of people, dancing like a legend and cooking a number of pizzas. It’s a peculiar, irreverent adventure that can be completed in a few different ways, the crux of which you’ll decide. You navigate this world like a point and click adventure, guiding your character where to walk and what to interact with in the hopes of finding you pal and getting them out.
In order to achieve all of this, you’ll have to make use of a particular set of skills. Like a table top game, these are stats that make up the build of your character and will determine how successful you will be at performing certain actions. These attributes are Athletics, Cooking, Deception, Music, Observation, Wisdom and Wit. When trying to perform any action, you’ll have to call on these stats to see if you’ll succeed.
Let the dice decide
Where Betrayal At Club Low differs from every table top adventure I’ve ever played is that rather than being a singular number, these attributes are actually made up of 6 numbers. These 6 numbers, starting at 0 and building to 10, form the 6 sides of the dice you’ll roll when attempting to do something.
For example, say you want to try to brawl with someone. This will involve using the Athletics skill. If this stat is 0-0-0-1-1-1 then that’s what the sides of the dice will say. 3 sides will say 0 and 3 sides will play 1. Before going into any action, you’ll get to see the dice against which you’re rolling (and hopefully beating). If the opposition dice skill is 2-2-2-3-3-3, in a pure roll off, you’re going to lose every time.
Using cash, you’ll be able to increase the stats and thus the numbers on the side of your dice. You’re given a budget at the start of the game to begin to specialise your character and as you fulfil objectives or win dice battles, you’ll earn cash too. The higher the stat you want to increase, the more it costs. As your progress through the game, you’ll come across people who have very high powered dice (10-9-9-9-8-8) for example. To best these in a pure dice battle, you’ll have to have been very specific with where you spend your money during a run.
The stat dice will be joined by a number of others throughout a run. The most influential of those are the Condition dice. These dice are ones that you’ll pick up temporarily based on how well you’re doing in the game. If you totally smash a few dice rolls on the trot, you might pick up a condition to say “All Fired up” which could offer a buff of +1, +2 or +3 to your Stat dice. Fail at a dice role (and you’ll get re-rolls depending on the difficulty you choose to try to avoid this) and you might pick up an “Injured” or “Embarrassed” condition which can result in a -1 to -3 reduction of your stat depending on the roll. Once you’ve rolled these Condition dice, this disappear, often replaced with another. You’ll almost always be carrying around some of these condition dice during a run at the game which ebb and flow between offering a helping hand or hindering your progress.
Pizza For Life
The condition dice also determined your enduring success. These condition dice often have a red or blue icon with a cross on them. These icons refer to your health and will points, two resources which will see you through the game. These condition dice can remove or add to your health and will power when you roll them and land on the corresponding side. If your health or will power decrease to zero, it’s game over. You’ll head to the start of the game (or your last save point if you’ve been smart to spot danger ahead of time).
To counter the health and will reductions of the Condition dice, Betrayal At Club Low introduces a Cosmo D game staple – Pizza. More accurately, Pizza Dice. Throughout the game you’ll get the opportunity to pick up pizza ingredients which can be used at three different pizza crafting stations in the game to build the sides of an additional dice to roll. These ingredients all have different effects, like restoring health or will, awarding you with more cash, allowing you to re-roll your opponent’s dice or even swapping with one of them. If you’re savvy with the way you approach the game, you can have three of these pizza dice in play pretty early on which will allow you to build up your stats quickly.
Reading the signs
Some of you might be thinking to yourself “This sounds really complicated”. I can’t deny that Betrayal At Club Low has a lot of moving parts and it’s mechanically unique. The way that the game makes all of this easily approachable and understandable is pretty miraculous however. A combination of easy to use menus, on-screen prompts, a decent tutorial and a steady difficulty curve make Betrayal At Club Low easy to learn and fast fun.
But, as the saying goes, Betrayal At Club Low is difficult to master. This is where the roguelike element comes in. You’ll likely fail on your first attempt at the game. I can almost guarantee it. The one thing you will have gained from that failure is knowledge. You’ll be a little wiser about which path to go and which stats you’ll need to focus on to succeed there. You’ll probably fail a few more times before you reach an ending. A run at the game can last anywhere between half an hour and an hour and a half depending on how well the dice treat you. If you’re mixing things up and trying new things, you’ll uncover a myriad of paths through the game to reach the 11 different endings.
If you’re struggling however, there’s a number of accessibility options and modes in Betrayal At Club Low that make the game easier. You can add a de-buff to (almost) every choice in the game, for example. To give you a bit of a head start, you can also increase your starting budget.
Those who start to find their feet and like a challenge can find it here too. There’s a number of modes that either make the game more testing or add random effects into the game play that you’ll have to respond too. Cosmo D have really made the most of these mechanics and have stretched them as far as they’ll go.
Betrayal? At Club Low?
My one complaint about Betrayal At Club Low is regarding the mid-game. The game does a particularly good job of guiding you through the early game path. A ‘To Do’ list keeps a track of what you need to do and these all naturally lead to more things to do. Around the mid point though, the game opens up and you’ll start to fulfill objectives and take opportunities which aim towards the numerous endings. This part of the game feels a little too unfocused. Don’t get me wrong – the freedom to pick and choose what to do here is refreshing. It’s just that you’ll sometimes fulfil dependencies towards an ending in the wrong order and it can be a touch confusing. This confusion doesn’t last long. After a few runs at the game, the narrative threads make sense and you can see the pattern emerge. For a few runs at the game though, you might feel a little lost.
In the context of how great everything else about Betrayal At Club Low is, that mid-game niggle is negligible. This game is a moreish, incredibly well designed jaunt through a quirky world of pizza, dancing, worker disputes, haunted cars and espionage. It’s visually unique, leaning into an oddball version of reality that’s channeling the spirit of 00’s point and click adventures. The music matches it in quality and tone. Of all the games I’ve played in 2022, Betrayal At Club Low is the most surprising and a dark horse for sleeper hit of the year. I implore you to give it a try.
A bespoke table top adventure brought to digital life, Betrayal At Club Low is incredibly well designed and a lot of quirky fun. Like a battle of whits against a dungeon master that’s determined to make you smile as much as they are to defeat you, Betrayal At Club Low is a dark horse for sleeper hit of the year.
Betrayal At Club Low launches on PC via Steam on September 9th, 2022.
Developer: Cosmo D Studios
Publisher: Cosmo D Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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