The Binding of Isaac

I'm about to die! :(
Items currently found: a shroud of flies, chocolate milk, the still-beating heart of a boss, and (not visible) my mother’s underpants.

So here we have a current high-profile indie game (let’s be honest – the only kind of indie game I’m likely to hear about). Is it good? That’s a hard question because I’m really not sure myself.

The premise is a modern retelling of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, where god tells Abraham to sacrifice his son only to be told seconds before he punctures the child’s throat that it was only a test all along, after which they presumably share a good laugh, a lesson on why it’s a good thing to blindly obey voices in your head, and an awkward dinner. In this contemporary retelling, the mother is the knife-wielding disciple of god, and the eponymous Isaac is not content to simply lay down on a stone slab and await divine mandate; instead the game is predicated on you finding your freedom by escaping through the basement and caverns that oddly enough lie beneath your house. Is there a last minute reprieve from the almighty, just as in the Biblical story? I don’t know, because the damn game is damn hard. Unless you are an insane ninja, you’ll be seeing this screen an awful lot:

I may just be terrible though, as is the case with many games.

Stylistically, the game has much in common with Super Meat Boy (no big surprise there, right?), except that the grotesqueness factor is turned up to 11. Most enemies are disgusting versions of yourself (zombified, afflicted with an elephant-man-like affliction, headless, and numerous others), as well as flies, maggots, and other lovely things. You yourself go from an innocent little pink blob to a deranged killing machine with fangs, flies swarming around you, organs strapped to your body, coat-hangers sticking out of your face, eyes in the back of your head, and wearing high-heels. To defeat your enemies you must become them? Perhaps. Even the weapons are horrible – the basic attack is your tears; you can find an item called “little brother” which is basically a floating aborted foetus which gives you extra attacks, you can use your mothers used sanitary pad as an area of affect secondary attack – in stark contrast to relatively normal items like bombs or temporary invincibility.

Having said that, the game only makes me think whilst I’m not actively playing it. The little tableaus which occur between every level are pretty depressing in their twee way, but once you’ve landed on that floor the only thing on your mind is “where is the loot? where is the boss?”. A game to interpret after playing then, rather than have it give you some kind of revelation during the time you spend with it.

 

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