The Binding of Isaac Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Generated level
  • (3 more, see all...)

The Binding of Isaac is a 2D action game which features generated levels. It takes its inspiration from a bunch of other games, released 15 years ago, but in the end it delivers an experience that surpasses the imagination of most gamers.

The game is developed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl, the first one best known for Super Meat Boy, and the other one for titles such as Triachnid and Coil. However, The Binding of Isaac turns out to be the biggest and most interesting game project than everything they’ve done before.

Installation

Being a game that costs money, there's no download links and no support in the official repositories of popular Linux distributions. If users will decide to buy the game, the developers offer quite a few options. The Binding of Isaac has several formats available, like archived binaries, Ubuntu and Debian files for 32-bit and 64-bit platforms and a 32-bit RPM file for Fedora and other similar RPM-based distros.

We've installed the game on Ubuntu 11.10. Forget about installing through Ubuntu Software Center because it won’t work. Users just need to run a simple command in a terminal, opened in the directory of the file. We had a version released on November 1st, so the command is this (but you can adjust it accordingly):

sudo dpkg -i binding-of-isaac_20111101_i386.deb

We haven’t encountered any problems or dependencies, but if you install the 64-bit version there are quite a lot of other dependency packages to install.

Story and Gameplay

Perhaps not many people are familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac from the Bible. To sum it up, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his only son in order to prove his love and devotion. Abraham almost goes through with the sacrifice, but is stopped in the last second by God, recognizing thusly the faith of his worshiper.

The game takes this story and twists it a little bit. In the game, the story is about a mother that is quite obsessed with religious television, and a normal child. The mother hears the voice of God who tells her that the soul of her son is corrupted and that it needs to be purified. First, she takes away his toys, but then God say it’s still corrupt. She locks him in a chamber, but still God is not happy.

Eventually He asks her to sacrifice him in order to prove that she is a true believer. She grabs a knife and rushes in the kid’s room, but Isaac sees her and escapes in the basement through a hatch in the floor.

If you think the plot is weird, then the basement will make you wonder what kind of a mind will think of stuff like this. There are six levels in total, each level being partitioned in several rooms. But here’s the kicker... every time you start a game, everything is randomly generated, so there are no similar games.

Isaac is constantly crying, so the projectiles he uses to destroy his enemies are actually tears. He encounters all sorts of creatures, mutated, scary and sometimes downright disturbing. Interestingly enough, the game has a cartoonish feel and the music is not that frightening, but somehow things get twisted out of proportions really fast.

The player starts out with three hearts and each time an enemy lands a successful hit, Isaac loses half a heart. Fortunately, the life can be replenished and even extended. Through his journey the character finds various items that most of the time enhances his abilities.

There are dozens of items to be found, but the most interesting we’ve seen so far are a Borg eye, a third eye that enables players to shoot three projectiles at a time, a dead bird which apparently doesn’t do anything, and a demon which shoots a laser beam from his mouth and which has to be charged.

There are other playable characters, which are unlocked when some achievements are complete. We only managed to unlock the little sister by collecting a card called The Whore of Babylon.

The levels are also filled with secret rooms that can be revealed either with the use of special items such as the X-ray goggles, or by pure chance. Also, some boulders have a slightly different color and can be blown up to reveal chests or other bonuses.

The list of weird stuff that can be done in this game can go on for a long time, but it also takes a long time to figure out everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that we only scratched the surface of the gameplay.

The Bad

There is only one major problem. The game is designed in flash and there's no gamepad support, which seems to be the best control method for this game. As the players have only one way to control the character, with the WASD keys, and fire with the arrows keys (the mouse can also be used to fire and seems a better alternative).

The game is hard, but not that hard. I mostly died because of the faulty control method. It’s a shame that a problem such as this almost ruins an amazing concept.

The Good

Although the graphics are not much to look at, the character only moves in four directions and the controls scheme is tiresome, at best, but the overall feeling of the game and the sheer number of combinations that can result from mixing intelligent level design and dozens of items, makes The Binding of Isaac a great game and a must have for people who experience melancholia overs the "good old days".

Conclusion

The Binding of Isaac is the conclusive proof that quality gaming is not all about graphics or who has the best console. It’s a game designed by gamers, for gamers, filling a void that was left by the apathy of the gaming industry of the last decade that churns out title after title with little to no emotional value. It’s a good game and you can’t be called a gamer until you die at least 20 times in The Binding of Isaac.



user interface 2
features 5
ease of use 2
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
NEXT REVIEW: calibre

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