Betrayal At Club Low

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Cosmo D Studios
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2022


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PC Review - 'Betrayal at Club Low'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 27, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Tonight you're on a rescue mission, infiltrating a night club that was once a coffin factory. Will you succeed? Will you fail? Or will your night take an unexpected detour? Roll the Pizza Dice and find out!

If you're familiar with The Norwood Suite,Off-Peak or Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1, you already know about Cosmo D and what to expect from the developer's work. There's a compelling story in the game, but the real hook comes from the surreal atmosphere matched up with a cast of quirky characters, catchy music, and other oddities that are treated as normal things in the world. It isn't necessarily something for everyone, but those willing to accept a little bit of strangeness will be hooked and return for another playthrough since the games are short but very satisfying. Betrayal at Club Low is another game set in this odd universe, and while the play mechanics are different than the preceding games, it still retains an oddball charm.

The Circus, a spy agency in the world of Off-Peak, sent agent Gemini Jay to have a little conversation with the local criminal known as Big Mo. However, that little meeting has taken too long for the agency's liking. As another agent, you meet up with your handler Murial and get your next assignment: get into Club Low and get Gemini Jay out. You're given a fake ID and a pizza delivery outfit as your disguise, and what you do after that is up to you.

If you've never played a Cosmo D game before, you'll be surprised at the range of characters. From the bouncers to the managers to the DJ and even Big Mo himself, everyone may initially look strange, but they also all have their own issues and personalities that make them very relatable. From the cook who's stressing out about making the perfect flamingo thigh stew to the IT person looking to dip out early, there's no one who feels so quirky that you wouldn't be able to meet them in the real world — minus the fact that their skin isn't of a normal hue or they wear an animal skull mask on their face.

If you're a longtime fan of Cosmo D's previous work, Betrayal at Club Low isn't presented from a first-person perspective. What you have instead is a game taken from multiple angles, more akin to a point-and-click adventure. That comparison is made more apparent by the fact that the game can be completely controlled by a mouse; those who use a controller will find that the left analog stick controls movement, but you're still dependent on the right analog stick and triggers in place of your mouse. You'll interact with various people and objects by clicking on them, and you can choose the actions to undertake by doing so, but this is where the point-and-click style ends.

Depending on what or who you're dealing with, you're given some options based on seemingly random categories such as cooking, deception and observation. Choose your action, and with the exception of simply running away, you'll be asked to throw some dice while your opponent does the same. You might have rerolls in your arsenal to have another chance at changing the outcome, and you'll need them since your starting dice have nothing but 0s and 1s. Beating your opponent's total number or tying it will put things in your favor, while losing favors your opponent but gives you a chance to try again.

It might seem like a simple system, but it doesn't take long before the game adds a ton of depth . Those categories have a die of their own, and you can spend the cash to power up one side of a die or all sides in one category all at once. Despite being a six-sided die, each side can max out with a 10, and that becomes necessary once you get toward the end game. Winning or losing both get you conditional dice that only disappear on your next roll but add a variety of augments that include dice modifiers that add or subtract to your current die value. The conditional dice also include modifiers for both your nerve and health, two important factors that can end the game if either is depleted. Joining the conditional dice are pizza dice that you create yourself at a pizza oven once you get the appropriate ingredients together. Aside from replenishing either your nerve or health meters, they can give you more cash or do more exciting things, like swap dice with your opponent or get more rerolls. Unlike the conditional dice, these are permanently in your arsenal, so it doesn't take long before you'll have quite an arsenal of dice in your hand.

Betrayal at Club Low does do a fair bit to ease that pain of bad rolls. Before you commit to your decision, you can always do a dice check to see what your opponent has, so you can prepare accordingly. Unless you're playing at the hardest difficulty, you'll always have a reroll or two in case things go south. Losing a battle isn't ideal, but there are only a few cases where it completely shuts you out of other choices, and those moments are clearly labeled when you make a decision in situations. It seems complicated on paper, but it only takes a few rounds to finally get the gist of it.

Once you figure it out, you'll begin to appreciate the fact that the game has everything packed in what seems like a very small environment. It helps that there's more than one option available to deal with the characters and situations. For example, at the beginning of the game, you can try to wait in line at the front or convince the bouncer to let you in. You can decide to go to the alley and sneak in or convince the bouncer there to let you in. You can also forgo that and use the fire escape. The game is full of these various options, so it heavily encourages you to try everything to see what works. Even failure is seen as worthwhile, since that also leads to more options.

The only thing that might throw you off is how difficult the game is initially. You're woefully underpowered in the beginning, and unless you're committed to one path from the get-go, you'll lose everything in a few minutes because your dice rolls are too low, you have a streak of bad luck, or a combination of both. You'll rarely be able to brute-force your way through rolls unless you modified the difficulty heavily in your favor. Then again, the game is designed with that old-school mentality of constant failure leading to learning exactly what you need to do for success, so that quibble ends up being a minor occurrence before it all clicks.

The presentation is just as quirky as ever. The environments look like some experimental animation from the late 1990s/early 2000s, with dirty colors and dancing buildings coming together to create the strange world. The characters all look like mannequins, and their animation loops look silly no matter what they're doing. It's purposefully low-budget yet endearing. The soundtrack is where the game shines, as it is nothing but thumping beats that sound like they would be played in a club rather than something in this setting. It dominates the soundtrack, which is fine since the sound effects are minimal and there are no voices.

Steam Deck players will find that Betrayal at Club Low works quite well on the device. The game takes up the full 1280x800 screen resolution, while the simple interface means that it easily accommodates those who prefer the gamepad, touchpads, touchscreen, or any combination of interfaces. The game looks as good as it can with a steady 60fps; dips only occur when entering a new area. The battery life is roughly two hours from a full charge, but the game lacks options to extend the lifespan further. This means that you'll have bouts where the system fan kicks in at full blast, so if you want to squeeze more out of the battery, you'll need to tweak the Steam Deck settings.

Betrayal at Club Low may seem odd initially, but it works its magic on you. The dice mechanics can seem daunting, and the luck-based play might not be for everyone, but the game does more than enough to ease you into it, with some generous hint systems and a grace period before death. The freedom to do whatever hair-brained scheme you can think of and a cast of strange-looking but relatable characters are more than enough motivation to keep going. The 11 endings and the generally short playtime means that going for another run isn't too difficult. Unless you don't like adventure games, Betrayal at Club Low is well worth playing.

Score: 8.5/10

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