Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita
I’d heard a lot about The Binding Of Isaac over the last few years. From what I understood, it was a top down twin-stick shooter with some provoking imagery and a very dark tone. It sounded interesting, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Last November, I downloaded the game’s remake (of sorts) free from Sony’s Playstation Plus service, to see just what the fuss was all about. And wow, was I blown away.
Let’s get back to basics. The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth concerns a young boy named Isaac and his strictly religious mother, living their day to day, normal life. Until one day, Isaac’s mother hears a voice, one she believes to be god himself. God makes it clear to her that her son has become ‘impure’, and that she must solve this problem any way she knows how. When fleeing from his mother, Isaac discovers a trap door in his bedroom, and hastily jumps in. Inside, he discovers all manner of monstrous creatures, and a few things that might just give you the creeps. From here is where the adventure begins.
Right off the bat, the game is eerily beautiful. Adopting a retro 16 bit style, the design of each area and enemy is superb, with each disturbing detail an obvious dedication from the art team. The monsters ooze disgust and bile, and some still manage to turn my stomach despite a lengthy amount of time with the game. The game is a Johen Vasquez inspired nightmare. However, be warned. This is NOT a game for those with a weak stomach, or any younger players. I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but this is one even I would hasten to let children anywhere near. For those able to enjoy the more adult oriented approach the game takes, the visuals are a treat, with a fantastic soundtrack to accompany them. Very few games manage to get by with three or four tracks and not get dull, and this is one of them. You’ll find yourself humming that Basement theme for days.
Whilst the controls are tight and responsive, they can take some getting used to. As mentioned previously, the game is a top down twin-stick shooter, but those playing on a PS4 or Vita can use the face buttons to shoot instead if desired. You can only shoot in four directions, with diagonals being thrown out the door. This can be frustrating, but this is when the game’s multitude of power ups and stat changers come into play. Taking the form of many different items (some mundane, some disgusting, and some sort of adorable), these items can affect your characters abilities and power. Couple these many randomiseed power ups with the ability to choose from several different character classes once certain criteria are met, and you have a recipe for a very addictive experience. In my playthroughs, I rarely encountered the same item twice, keeping it fresh and challenging. Vanquishing enemies is immensely satisfying, echoing calls of Dark Souls and Hotline Miami in it’s tough-but-fair difficulty. There really isn’t a feeling that could compare to finishing the game’s first 40 – 50 minute playthrough. And believe me, there are a LOT of post-game treats for those willing to find them. The game is packed to the gills with content, making it hard to believe I’ll ever have the same experience again.
The game can be very frustrating at times. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been having a great run through the game, and encountered an item that killed me upon picking it up, or pushed my health down to a single unit. Whilst this can be a very exhillerating element to the game, it can become bothersome on long sessions with it. However, the game is fortunate in that it feels great to play. Despite getting my ass kicked nearly every time, I’d always go back for more.
In a time of AAA titles dominating the mainstream media, it’s great to see that indie titles are getting the push they deserve on some of the home consoles. As I write this, I’m making my way through Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Outlast: Whistleblower (even if I’m a bit late to the party!). With upcoming releases like Shovel Knight and the recent re-release of Thomas Was Alone, the PS4 is quickly becoming the place to play cherry picked indie darlings from Steam and other online marketplaces. Games like The Binding Of Isaac: Rebirth give me immense hope in the future of downloadable gaming, as the experience I had with it is on par with (if not better) than most other, big name titles I’ve played this year.