A few weeks after arriving in South Korea to begin teaching, my brother pointed me to the Youtube feed of a guy who he listened to a lot – Northernlion. In the absence of typically hearing a western voice over here outside of work, he’d become quite accustomed to watching his videos and wanted to share them with me, notably Northernlion’s The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth series. Though skeptical at first, I was soon hooked and downloading it myself. Here I am 8 months later having put 200 hours into the game myself, and the latest DLC – Afterbirth – has a lot of great stuff to throw into an already hectic mix.
The game is a dark yet comical room-by-room dungeon trawler with heavy rogue-like elements and a plethora of synergistic items at your disposal. The gameplay revolves around your character, various incarnations of a boy named Isaac who is fleeing the supernatural delusions of his mother, fighting ever deeper into his nightmare. You fire ‘tears’ – simple projectiles – which can be improved, buffed and made quite frankly bizarre by a variety of items throughout your journey. Runs are seeded, so each one is different, and each one offers the chance to experience a unique combination of the whacky effects that The Binding of Isaac has to offer.
Of primary interest here are the crux of the game – the items. Some passive, others active, you must pick and choose whether to pick up what the RNG Gods decide to lay at your feet – some items are a guaranteed beneficiary, while some carry notable side effects which could either help or hinder. Thrown into the melting pot are a variety of tear effects, on-contact effects and orbitals (minions which circle your character). As well as new items, there are also new transformations – changes in appearance and stats which occur when you pick up a certain number of specific items.
Previously there were only two transformations – becoming Isaac’s dead cat Guppy when you picked up three cat items, or Lord of the Flies when you picked up three of the fly-related items. Now there are several, each with their own unique effects. The Mom transformation occurs when (you guessed it) you pick up enough Mom items giving you a trailing knife, while my personal favorite, The Leviathan transformation, happens when you pick up a number of items from your devil room deals, transforming you into an envoy of Cthulhu.
Afterbirth introduced some new concepts to the well-grounded rhetoric of running through random seeds as the character of your choice – notably through Greed Mode; a mode which lets you pay for your items by earning coins. Defeat wave after wave of enemy before engaging two boss waves and a final double boss wave, granting you access to your deal with the devil. If you survive the gauntlet, you’re pitted against Ultra Greed, patriarch of the Greed clan and owner of some of the most well-defined buttcheeks in video gaming history.
I personally really enjoy Greed Mode, if nothing else to break up the monotony of running seeds over and over. I speak not as someone bored of the game, but someone who has done a lot of runs in Rebirth, much like many other players, and has sought something beyond new challenge modes or pre-meditated seeds. Some have complained that it gets boring quickly, but I can’t honestly describe it as a factor of the game that runs in opposition to the status quo – if you enjoy the premise of The Binding of Isaac, is Greed Mode really such an anomaly?
Lilith is a new character in the series, and is the only character to start without tears. Bandaged across the eyes, she fires her tears from her Incubus companion instead – a new item in Afterbirth. Lilith also starts with Box of Friends – yet another new installment – which doubles your familiars on a room. If you’ve got a suite of orbitals and minions already, Box of Friends can skyrocket your damage potential greatly, especially if you have access to batteries through items like Spider-Mod or Sack Head. Battery items like Car Battery can also synergise well, meaning you can defeat Ultra Greed like I did last night with all manner of shit flying across your screen. It’s really nice when that shit belongs to you.
The new daily run feature is also a change of pace, allowing you to run a predefined seed against your own score and see how you mark up against your Steam friends and, ultimately, the entire leaderboard. Some days you’ll get absolutely dicked – nasty Judas and Lost seeds particularly flash across my memory – but with a lot of nuance to the way the seeds work with item generation, there’s a lot of room for maneuver and theorycrafting on the fly.
Another new feature is the Hush – a titanic blue behemoth of a boss which is accessible when you beat Mom’s Heart within 30 minutes. Entering the chamber before his room grants you four golden chests, two item rooms with a choice of two items in each, and a shop. Once you’ve equipped yourself, you can enter and face Blue Baby before his final form reveals itself. As one would expect, this boss is tanky as all hell – Mega Satan would fall to dust with the right measure of damage, but the Hush will do no such thing. It’s believed that the Blue Baby fight allows the game to calculate the boss’ health, so regardless of how powerful you are, you will face a tough fight. Make sure you have capped heart containers too, lest you be shredded towards the arse-end of the fight by the nasty continuum shots.
A final mention of merit would be the price – the Rebirth and Afterbirth bundle is £18.98 on Steam. Compared to a lot of the AAA’s that are out there right now, this is a pretty acceptable price for hours of great fun. It even has a co-op feature, so if you have friends or significant others who would like to join in on the fun, the mechanics are in place.
A game which serves as a non-invasive timesink is a gift these days – Fallout 4 has claimed my life thus far and I still feel as though what I’ve done needs further fixing. I had the same feeling with Destiny and even Fallout’s previous iteration. The Binding of Isaac is a different kind of game, but it’s far more polished and community driven than others like it, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend making it a part of your steam library.