Donning your pizzaboy outfit, you prepare to leave the apartment. Glancing out the door, you evaluate your options: running crazily down the stairs or slowly waiting for the elevator to come. But, alas, the stairs are blocked by a muscular guard dressed in black. Checking your wit stats, you decide to try and distract him by conjuring up existential dread out of the gray wallpaper of the corridor. Wiping the sweat from your brow, you begin rolling the dice, while you can feel the pizza in your bag getting hotter and hotter… And the night has just begun.
On a mission from a secret agency, our objective to rescue an agent being kept prisoner in the exclusive Club Low. If you’ve played any of Cosmo D’s previous games then Betrayal At Club Low will be instantly familiar, both for its topics and graphics. There’s something about its abundance of peculiar assets and off-beat colors that never leaves you, even a good while after the game is turned off. But while The Norwood Suite was all about exploration and conversations, Betrayal at Club Low’ focus seems to be on RPG mechanics, while addressing a specific complaint about Cosmo’s other games: lack of interactivity.
Betrayal can effectively be described as a dice-rolling adventure RPG, as all interactions are ruled by dice rolls and our stats. Want to convince someone to let you in the club? Roll the bones. Convince a chef that your pizza is the best in the city? ROLL EM. You get the idea. There’s a few inventory-related puzzles, but 90% of encounters will need you to roll a higher number than your opponent. Winning earns you money, basically points that can be used to upgrade your stats. Lose and you might end up sacrificing life and mana (if one of those runs out, it is game over) and getting a negative condition.
There are seven different stats to upgrade, like wit, physique and music (knowledge), but that’s not all. Since we’re all about that circular slice of Italian goodness, pizza can be used to add a bonus die to our roll. There’s money, heart and mind points in those precious dough beasts, along with several useful skills like re-rolling the opponent’s dice or switching it with ours. The game also seems to push the player towards grinding, as having to go back and exhaust all interactions (even those that don’t seem to do much, like interacting with the bouncer while having already entered the club) is required in the long run. Not having enough money to level up will mean losing harder challenges.
While there are positive conditions, the negative ones when we lose (or roll the same number as our opponent) seem to be a bit too much, as trying to shake them off is easier said than done. Basically if you’re on a roll of positive conditions, then hurry up and go try some of the harder challenges. Also, have I mentioned that it is possible to custom make our pizzas/bonus dice rolls? There is definitely a lot going on gameplaywise, and Cosmo D does provide options to personalize the experience, so it might be possible to just forego the bones altogether.
But here is my main gripe with Betrayal at Club Low: as opposed to Cosmo’s previous outlandish Lynch-ian trips, this one seems to offer little beside dice rolls. Sure, its narrative features a rich tapestry of weirdness: skyrocketing chefs, subplots about an insecure DJ and his mom, skull-shaped cars and spiky pizza fruits. The sound design is also nothing short of genius. But the narrative does end up feeling like a bit of an afterthought, as the developer seemed to be focused on balancing the complex gameplay mechanics. The locations, story and characters end up coming in second place.
With the entire game being about exploring the club, if one takes away the gameplay mechanics, there seems to be little left to enjoy. Going for the easiest difficulty does not really make these issues any lighter. Betrayal at Club Low is definitely a smaller scope title, as compared to Cosmo’s previous outings like The Norwood Suite and its continuous joyous discovery of surreal nonsense.
For better and worse, Betrayal at Club Low is the more accessible game that the indie developer has released thus far. Yes, despite its complex gameplay layers, this is one that feels actually more fun to play, than just be along for the ride. Definitely good news for players who were turned off by the walking simulator-like gameplay, not so much for anyone who appreciated the offbeat stories and freedom in exploring otherworldly places.
Our Betrayal at Club Low review was created with a key made available by the developer. Betrayal At Club Low is available on Steam and Itch.io
Platform : [PC]
Developer: Cosmo D
Genre: Adventure RPG
Release Date: September 2022
Betrayal At Club Low: While offering overall satisfactory gameplay mechanics, Betrayal at Club Low's limited exploration and repetitive challenges partially fail in delivering the true Cosmo D's off-beat surreal experience. – Damiano