Betrayal At Club Low is an RPG that actually respects your fleeting time on this earth
Fear of looming mortality? No problem, we've got coffins in the back
Confession time, everyone: I'm still only about 2.5 hours into Disco Elysium. Games journalism sin or what? Somehow, despite being primed by the excellent time I had with its demo five years ago, I just bounced off this one. I very quickly got stuck in a frustrating loop of fatally ballsing up no matter what I did - presumably I badly biffed my stats right out the gate to get soft-locked in the first area - and despite deciding I'd restart in a day or two, several years later my play-time hasn't extended past that first session. Sad times all round, I'm sure you'll agree, but what's it got to do with Betrayal At Club Low?
Well, when I picked up Betrayal At Club Low for the RPS Game Club this month, I was transported back to my abortive run at Disco Elysium. It's not that I've never played a stat-check-heavy RPG before. Far from it. But somehow, each game's presentation resonated together in my weird brain mush. It must have been something to do with the combination of a surreal, seedy, not-quite-our-world-but-still-very-recognisable setting, and the constant presence of numbers reminding me of my character's strengths stacked up against their many, many weaknesses.
One big reason I've never gone back to Disco Elysium is that it intimidates me now. It's a game that runs for a dense 30-odd hours — and that's presumably if you can manage not to foul up too often, or indeed can even get past the opening section. It's been literal years and I have yet to find myself in the headspace to face the deadening prospect of failing again, and having to start again. Even though I really want to play Disco Elysium and be able to talk to all my cool friends as an equal again.
But with Club Low's bite-sized run time of two to three hours, Cosmo D's latest actively encourages the kind of risky skill checks that had me cowering in fear in Disco Elysium. I could feel my confidence increasing over time as I realised that it's possible to come back from all but the biggest disasters with a little luck and creative thinking. In fact, by the end of my run, I was playing around and taking more risks than ever. It was encouraging to me that even the absolute worst-case scenario of starting from the beginning meant I was still (in theory) able to reach the endgame again within the span of time it'd take to give up and watch a film instead.
As a matter of fact, that worst case scenario never occurred, at least in my first playthrough. I ended up replaying the final section a few times (thanks to its generous manual save system, you love to see it) in order to explore some different outcomes. Only on my second of three eventual endings did I stumble into a game over. All in just under four hours of play time, according to my Steam stats.
Betrayal At Club Low proved to be a light snack that satisfied me immensely after I turned away queasy from the eight-course gourmet banquet that is Disco Elysium. Not that I wouldn't love to attend an eight-course gourmet banquet one day; it's just not something I can stomach at this exact moment in my life. And now, if you don't mind, I really need to go and order a pizza.