Let's get one thing clear right from the start: based solely on its own merits, Belief & Betrayal is a poor game. The bigger problem is that the latest adventure from Artematica owes so much to other influences, and yet suffers enormously from the very comparisons it inspires. It’s a fairly transparent attempt to crib from better tales of religious conspiracy; The Da Vinci Code and Broken Sword being the most obvious. Secret sects, ritual murders, conspiracies, ancient mechanisms, and of course the Knights Templar all make guest appearances. Unfortunately, the game plays out like the developers knew just enough about Dan Brown's bestseller and Revolution's classic series to understand their popular appeal, but not enough about how to emulate either successfully.
Our protagonist in this story is Jonathan Danter, a character meant to be so good they named the game after him, at least according to its in-game moniker “Jonathan Danter – Belief & Betrayal”. Unfortunately, Danter is about as lovable as a parking meter. I think he’s meant to be a kind of wise-cracking ladies man, but he simply grates right from the start, with his whiny voice and idiotic, poorly translated expressions frustrating the player, if not the other characters. To illustrate, you will hear the nonsense line “Sorry, I forgot my Swiss pocket knife at home” dozens of times, as it’s one of a tiny handful of stock responses he has for failed inventory combinations, delivered in a nasal drawl that only half-conveys sarcasm. And, unlike every other line of dialogue in the game, the “wrong combination” responses are, for some reason, unskippable.
Danter's story begins when he's informed his uncle has recently been murdered, which is a double shock as Jonathan thought he had died years previously. Instead, he was actually working undercover for the Vatican Secret Service, and so Danter is whisked away from his day job as a journalist to London to help the police with investigations. The opening is wall-to-wall exposition, the characters delivering terrible lines with poor voicework, especially the stilted phone conversation, which piles on the cringe-worthy plot details (“I’ll do this important interview with creepy cardinal Gregorio, and I’ll come back with a great story and the right pictures showing all his activities, whether they’re secret or not!!”) and squirmy character details (“And while you’re in Miami try not wasting time looking at girls in miniskirts and sexy tops!”)
Of course, we expect a rather heightened approach to reality with a conspiracy tale, but Belief & Betrayal stands out by being remarkably uneconomical; never have so many words been employed yet leave so many things unexplained or simply nonsensical. Whilst less annoying characters are later introduced, and the plot pacing slowed from its breakneck beginnings, it’s not enough to save the writing from being sub-Enid Blyton, with characters far too readily accepting every ludicrous set-up, and often doing really stupid, unconvincing things. Danter seems less like a hardened journalist than a little boy doing what he’s told with minimal questions asked. Right from the start, he accepts his summons to London without suspicion, absurdly concluding that the policeman can’t be an impostor because only a professional actor could sound so convincing.
Once in London, Danter finds himself in the center of an age-old conspiracy. It seems his uncle was murdered by powerful renegades within the Church, intent on finding a relic that will help unlock meaning of life, transcribed by Jesus as an act of love after Judas betrayed him. Naturally, Danter takes up his uncle’s mantle, helped by his new friends Kat and Damien, a female librarian and a computer geek, part of the Vatican network that knew his uncle. Between the three of them, time is spent in a variety of European locations, including Venice, Rome, and France, but you’ll still find yourself confined to a few small areas with a lot of re-tracing old ground. Damien and Kat are both playable characters and are far less grating than Jonathan. Damien is the most pleasant character of the three, but unfortunately you spend mere minutes controlling him. In fact, the multiple-player character idea is never really exploited, as the game keeps them separated and their different abilities under-utilized. You can switch between the characters, but there is no strategic point to this, although it does let you solve their sub-sections in the order you prefer.
Despite having three different characters to control, you'll spend a fair amount of time controlling none of them as you watch the frequent cutscenes in Belief & Betrayal. Dialogue trees are used for interacting with other characters, but only a few topics are ever presented, so the conversations feel largely non-interactive. This could be fine in a game with a better plot, but listening to these oddly voiced, barely lip-synched characters pour out still more exposition quickly starts to feel more like a punishment than a reward. This isn't helped by the poor translation from Italian – since when did “Cat’s whiskers!” become a common expression of dismay? – but I’m pretty sure the clumsy plot presentantion would have buried itself anyway. There is a nice post-ending twist; but by then it's too late and not nearly enough to save the story.Continued on the next page...