Betrayal At Club Low Review (PC)

Betrayal At Club Low Review 

Betrayal At Club Low Review

 

“Weird” is a word much overused in the parlance of media criticism these days. It’s used to describe games or movies that are merely unconventional or unorthodox when it should be reserved to describe something genuinely unearthly and out there. Cosmo D’s games truly earn the distinction of being weird. Tales From Off-Peak City came out in 2020, creating a wonderful world of sentient buildings and people who talk through music, providing players with a genuine work of surrealist art in interactive form. Now Betrayal at Club Low takes us back to this groovy world once more.

Proceedings start off with a faceless, silvery protagonist entering the frame down a warped and geometrically uncanny street. A strange woman named Muriel hands him a fake ID and instructs the protagonist to complete a mission for her shadowy organization by rescuing a man named Gemini Jay from the notorious Club Low. The club is well guarded and full of suspicious characters but the protagonist has an ace card up his sleeve: he’s a pizza delivery man.

 

 

The first thing I noticed when playing was the dramatic change in genre and perspective from Tales From Off Peak City, which was a first-person walking simulator, whereas Betrayal at Club Low is a third-person point n’ click adventure. I was expecting to be finding items to combine with other items to solve puzzles in the standard point n’ click fashion, but problem-solving turned out to be something far more original. The central mechanic in Club Low is dice battles. These battles can be against people or, amusingly, inanimate objects. Before rolling your six-sided die against your opponent, you receive a preview of the potential rolls both you and your adversary can get. The key to each battle is not to leave your fate to chance, but to stack the odds in your favor.

The protagonist has seven skills to overcome his hurdles: cooking, deception, music, observation, physique, wisdom and wit. Trying to throw a bouncer to the ground to force entry into the club would pit your physique skill die against the bouncer’s combat prowess. Lying to a bouncer about a pizza being ordered by the club’s star DJ is another way to gain entry and this will pit your deception skill die against the bouncer’s vulnerability. You’ll find money throughout your mission, which can be used to upgrade each side of a skill dice from 1 through to 6, increasing the chances of a good roll.

 

 

What makes things interesting are the mood dice, which are applied after each roll. For example, if the protagonist fails to pick a lock, he might gain the “frustrated” mood. This will add an extra die to the next challenge involving a linked skill. Rolling this die could result in a negative modifier to the main skill dice or even cause psyche damage to the protagonist. Since there’s only five points of health and psyche before it’s game over, it can be a risky proposition to try and retry challenges where damage can be taken.

However, there are positive or neutral moods as well, which can give bonus modifiers or even regenerate the protagonist’s health and psyche. Interestingly, there’s also interesting moods in-between like “stubborn”, which can either inflict positive or negative modifiers. It is possible to inflict moods on other characters as well such as telling a joke to club owner Big Mo, making him like you, and giving him penalty dice for future rolls he makes against you.

This is where the strategy comes in, because you have a better chance of succeeding at some more difficult rolls when the protagonist is in a positive mood. Since moods, positive or negative, disperse after one roll involving them, it can be handy to get rid of negative effects on less important challenges and save the positive effects for more important ones.

 

 

There’s an even deeper layer of strategy involved with the pizza dice. You can collect up to three pizza dice and when you find a pizza oven, you can “top” each side of the dice with ingredients you find around. For example you can top one pizza with “mozzarella”, which gives you an extra $4 if rolled. If you roll “basil” on another die then that will multiply the cash earned on the other dice by two, giving you a chance to earn more money.

There are even particularly powerful pizza ingredients that allow you to swap your roll with your opponent’s or force your opponent to reroll one of their dice. It’s exciting to choose which dice to reroll to try and achieve the best result because there are so many variables and it adds a surprisingly addictive gameplay loop to the usually ponderous point n’ click genre. It really made me want to scour every area to find all the cash and pizza ingredients.

Not only do the pizza dice provide the perfect proverbial topping to the deep dish of strategy, they also integrate Cosmo D’s love of pizza into the game in a way that highlights this world’s gleeful absurdity.

The entire ambience is just sublime. Much like in Tales of Off Peak City with its focus on beautifully basy Jazz tunes, the music is a particular highlight. This go around, the emphasis is appropriately on eerie, otherwordly electronica and everywhere you explore in the club, there’s guaranteed to be an appropriate tune. 

 

 

The various characters are all colourful and artfully absurd, looking like a mishmash of aesthetically incoherent Create-a-Wrestlers I made in the early WWE Smackdown games during my teenage years. When some characters are barring entry to the protagonist’s next objective and they are convinced to leave, they’ll rocket inexplicably into the air with their middle fingers raised or sink into the floor, emitting a flurry of bubbles. The protagonist can distract and entrance people with violent dancing, twisting his limbs in ways that violate the usual laws of human anatomy. What’s unique about Cosmo D’s games is that all the randomness actually crystallizes into a really unique and distinctive style of its very own. 

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to nitpick this awesome adventure then I’d reluctantly have to point out that the playtime is pretty brisk at around 3 hours. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of replayability on offer with 14 potential endings and different challenge modes to unlock, giving a reason for multiple playthroughs. Hidden secrets that could be missed on the first go around are plentiful and uncovering them is always mad and usually hilarious.

 

 

Betrayal at Club Low is a masterclass in artful innovation. It gives the player a lot more interactivity and agency than its predecessor, Tales From Off Peak City, and in the process totally re-invents the entire point n’ click adventure genre. Trying out such a bold new gameplay style was a big gamble, but it’s a roll of the dice that’s won big.

 

 


Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Cosmo D Studios; Developer: Cosmo D Studios; Players: 1; Released: 9th September 2022

Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Betrayal At Club Low provided by the publisher.

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Jonathan is HeyPoorPlayer's token British person, so expect him to thoroughly exploit this by quoting Monty Python and saying things like "Pip, pip, toodly-whotsit!" for the delight of American readers. He likes artsy-fartsy games, RPGs and RPG-Hybrids (which means pretty much everything at this point). He used to write for Sumonix.com. He's also just realised how much fun it is to refer to himself in the third person like he's The Rock or something.

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