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E3 Hands-On: The Binding Of Isaac Rebirth

E3 Hands-On: The Binding Of Isaac Rebirth

Filed inside: News

If you haven’t been able to satisfy you’re…freakishly macabre needs on The Binding of Isaac, you’re really missing out.

Despite a few technical flaws, the game has remained one of the mainstays in the gaming community, and a remake—The Binding of Isaac Rebirth—is in the works. I think the game has generated more pain than even the ultra-hyped Metal Gear Solid V.

Binding of Isaac Rebirth Dr Fetus Technology

I had caught wind that The Binding of Isaac Rebirth would be on the show floor at E3, and subsequently found it hard to contain myself upon reaching the floor. After some searching, I stumbled upon the game in the Sony booth, running the PlayStation Vita version of the game on the new PlayStation TV box.

The original game was plagued with technical issues and framerate problems. The game was built in Flash, which in itself was the source of many of the hiccups the game suffered from. Even on fairly advanced hardware, having more than five enemies on screen would lag the game horrifically. The game would hang on loading screens with depressing regularity.

Similarly, it wasn’t long before bugs in the code for the game become painfully obvious: some items in the Wrath of the Lamb expansion introduced gamebreaking combinations into the game, while others, quite literally, did nothing.

That being said, the game is the one in my Steam library with the most hours in it (by far), and is pretty much single-handedly responsible for my introduction and subsequent addiction to the roguelike genre, and holds a place among my coveted top five favorite games.

The Binding of Isaac Rebirth Set Dressing

At its most succinct, the game plays like an ultra-morbid version of the original Legend of Zelda. The game is filled with the trademark imagery of creator Edmund McMillen: everything is unsettlingly disgusting, but symbolic in some way of some of the darkest aspects of the human condition.

The Binding of Isaac, and its remake personify the Procedural Death Labyrinth (PDL), you move through a series of rooms on a randomly generated floor, collecting a variety of items and fighting a boss on each floor, in order to reach the bottom of the dungeon and defeat your mother.

Let me explain. The basic story is like this: Isaac lived alone with his mother. One day, she began to hear the voice of God speak, telling her she had to prove her Isaac had become corrupted by sin. She ended up locking Isaac in his room, away from the evils of the world. But still, the voice of God demanded that Isaac’s mother prove her love and devotion, this time by offering Isaac as a sacrifice. In a rush to find safety, Isaac finds a trapdoor and flings himself down into the unknown.

The Binding of Isaac Rebirth Spiders

The basement is filled with grotesque creatures, all representative of varying levels of grim decay and of Isaac’s discarded siblings. The items in the game are also all symbolic in some way of the game’s lore: an old coat hangar, a belt or a wooden spoon, a fetus named “brother Bobby”, or the mark of Satan.

Everything is procedurally generated, so the level layouts are never the same (only following some basic rules to ensure the game doesn’t create a layout that prevents success), the items you get are similarly always different and interact with each other in a variety of ways to increase your combat effectiveness and survivability.

The remake does little to change what’s already in the game, aside from some balancing changes to items. In terms of the lore, there will be more to discover—Ed has let on that there will be some new bosses and endings that shine a bit more light onto what’s happening, though the game is pretty into the idea of letting the players determine what these things mean without being so in-your-face about it.

Rebirth is bringing lots of new items into the mix in order to make an already intensely diverse game even deeper. Some are pretty drastic, such as the Ludovico Technique which changes your traditional attack method of “shooting” tears bow-and-arrow style to having a large tear that is manually controlled with the traditional attack keys, or the Tiny Planet that makes tears orbit around your character until they reach their attack range limit.

Other items that didn’t previously interact have new synergies might now produce impressive results. Item rarity has been adjusted to prevent players from constantly getting game-winning combinations. Some items that had been miscoded have been corrected to prevent the popular trend of people breaking the game by obtaining particular sets of items.

The Binding of Isaac Rebirth Co-op Baby

The sheer amount of new content has practically doubled the size of the game. More than 150 new items have been added, bringing the total to over 300. Three new characters have been confirmed to be added (could be more, Ed is pretty sneaky). There are a load of new enemies and bosses to be added. We encountered a few in the second set of stages that clung to the walls behind pits and relentlessly hounded us with tears.

While in the original, rooms were limited to a particular size, there can now be rooms that have considerably more enemies and can be (that we saw) up to four times the size of basic rooms. New challenge run options will give players more to fight for, and Ed has confirmed that a new higher-difficulty mode will be included to appeal to veteran players and will allow for more (maybe faster) unlocks of items.

Considering that I haven’t even unlocked everything in the game quite yet and I’m approaching my 300th hour of gameplay means that there’s plenty to keep coming back for when Rebirth finally hits. The whole game has been balanced for runs to move more quickly, allowing for easier pickup in busy moments.

All this content is supported by a new retro-inspired look that, while met with considerable backlash when it was first displayed, has grown on the community in a big way, once it was seen in motion. Since the game is no longer made in Flash, it had to be redone from the bottom up. The results, however, really must be played to be properly appreciated.

While the GIFs that have been trickling out can give a better idea of the animations and any new major graphical changes, I was struck by just how smoothly everything melded together. The game runs on a very nice framerate, even under circumstances that would far outstrip the original game’s technical limits. There is more variety room-to-room, with little details adding a lot of personality to the game. Some rooms in the basement are filled with nonviolent bugs or worms that squish beneath your feet, stages in the caves might have water dripping from the ceiling.

One of the biggest changes being made to the game is the inclusion of a co-op mode, which we were able to try out on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. At any time, a second player can essentially steal a whole heart container and become an independently-controlled baby familiar that duplicates the item set of the main player. The essential tradeoff is that if the first player perishes, the game is still over (if the second player dies, the container is returned to the first player, though it will be empty), and removing a heart container can greatly increase the chances of death. Similarly, the first player still determines when items are used, and the effects can (sometimes dangerously) be duplicated on the baby, as well.

True to form, the baby you play as as the second player is randomized, some have unique properties: love baby might heal the player when it dies and the bloat baby likely spawns attack flies, for example. To balance that, there are cursed forms of the babies, as well, like one that might drop dangerous troll bombs every few minutes without any control.

The Binding of Isaac Rebirth Ludovico Plus Brimstone

Just visit the subreddit for The Binding of Isaac and you’ll see how intensely the community is taking this wait. We’re all very happy that Ed has taken the opposite view that Gabe Newell is taking with Half-Life 3 (which is to say nothing ever), instead opting to constantly tease and release a steady stream of new information. At the same time this is building a heavy hype train, causing enough emotional strife that I fear it may be manifesting as physical pain for some of these people.

The game is being released for PC through Steam, and is egregiously avoiding any kind of early demo, even opting to skip the growing Early Access trend altogether. Much to the joy of the players, there is also a PlayStation 4 and Vita version of the game to be released (and I’m really looking forward to being able to play this game wherever I go on my Vita).

The release date for the game is only loosely confirmed to be this year, with Ed saying it will be released when it’s done, and giving no other information. It was recently confirmed, at least, that the game is content complete, and is undergoing polish as we speak. You can keep up to date by checking out the official Rebirth page that Ed set up.

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Written by Ray Allaire -The Reasonable Gamer

Writer, game designer, and gaming analyst. Practitioner of all nerdy arts: Games, tabletop, TCG, and all. Twitter: @mateusrayje

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