The Binding of Isaac: A New Generation Horror Game

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By: Emilia Azure <3

The Binding of Isaac was released a few weeks ago and its popularity has been growing ever since. It’s a small indie game by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl that gained notoriety by being part of the Humble Indie Bundles. Since then, it’s created a thriving wiki and attracted horror lovers from all-around.

The cover art for The Binding of Isaac's soundtrack

You see this? It Gets Worse.

The plot is really simple. Isaac’s mother gets a call from God to kill her son. He then drops through a trapdoor to the basement and goes through a set of nightmarish, hellish dungeons. That’s all you need to know; that’s really all you ever know. The game is tight-lipped about what it may possibly mean and it’s proud of it. The Binding of Isaac has one of those stories that just begs for players to think about the game hours after they finish playing.

The game’s controls are the standard WASD and arrow keys, though they offer joystick controls and an AZERTY keybinding for those who prefer them. Its display, control, and music output controls are varied and are incredibly accommodating for every computer setup. And speaking of displays and music: the graphics are stylized to be gritty, bare, and simultaneously cute and hellish; the soundtrack energizes you, mellows you out, and terrifies you — sometimes all at the same time — and the music always changes, depending on what room you happen to occupy.

These controls are very deceptively simple; the game itself is hard in the old-school sense, unlike many mainstream games out currently. You will die and you will die often. It takes a ridiculous amount of concentration and dexterity to get good enough at the game to make it past the first two basement floors. But then again, that’s what makes The Binding of Isaac memorable: you actually feel proud whenever you reach a new milestone: when you beat Mom, when you conquer her womb and beat her heart, etc.

…I swear, that sentence will make sense once you start playing. The enemies are fast, furious, and disturbing to look at. Even worse, they become more and more gruesome as Isaac goes farther down the dungeons. This makes the psychological and gruesome horror that the game beget a separate hurdle to overcome.

As to the necessary appeals to authority: Metacritic gives it an 83 of 100 (77 by the fans) and the Indie Game Magazine gives it an 85. I would personally rate it at the low nineties, but that’s my own opinion. Take it or leave it as you wish.

There are very few flaws with the game. The controls get glitchy while pulling off more complicated moves. The game has a perma-death system: die and you start over with none of your items; the game also has a ginormous learning curve. But then again… those can also be perks if you’re a thrill-seeker.

The other notable pothole would come in if you believe strongly in one of the Abrahamic faiths. The Binding of Isaac makes many references to biblical aspects and religious ‘pop culture’: the seven deadly sins and the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the headless horseman are all bosses to fight; the bible is a weapon in the game that kills Mom and her heart in one shot; pentagrams, pacts with the devil, the book of sins, brimstone all make you stronger; references to Isaac’s abusive and traumatizing childhood abound. It’s not a game for those bothered by religious criticism or those who are triggered by depictions of abuse.

All in all, the game is five bucks on Steam. It doesn’t promise anything but a thrilling and terrifying game experience and it definitely delivers. For an indie game, it’s beautifully done and that’s saying something. Give it a try and let your dark side come out. I’ll see you in the dungeons~

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