Isaac cowers in fear from the lurking monstrosities Isaac cowers in fear from the lurking monstrosities
Isaac had no idea that Abraham intended him as a sacrifice to God when he was following his father up the mountain. In fact Isaac had no power in that entire incident. Either God was testing Abraham's faith, or Abraham was testing God's benevolence. Issac was just the object of a dare.

In The Binding of Isaac, developed by Austrian-born Florian Himsl and Edmund McMillan (of American indie developer Team Meat), Isaac takes centre stage. In this game, it's Isaac's mother who causes the ordeal after hearing a televangelist voice demanding that she sacrifice her only son. Isaac then flees into the basement, where he faces grotesque monstrosities and flashes of his troubled innocent life.

As a game, The Binding of Isaac plays as a traditional twin-stick shooter. Moving and shooting are the core gameplay inputs, mapped to WASD and the arrow keys respectively. Level design consists of a half dozen floors of randomly generated dungeons, loot, and bosses, which guarantees that no two attempts are identical. The aesthetics will also be immediately familiar to anyone who remembers last year's stellar Super Meat Boy (also by Edmund McMillen). And to further that particular connection, composer Danny Baranowsky returns for the soundtrack as well.

On paper, then, The Binding of Isaac should work: tried and true art direction teamed with refined retro gameplay. Sadly, while all the individual elements would certainly work well independent of each other, they're a frustrating mess when combined. Being able to shoot effectively only at rigid 90 degree angles clashes with the ability to move in any direction at any gradient. Where a high degree of difficulty demands a well balanced progression, randomized loot and level design quickly boils matters down to luck. And finally, recontextualizing a weighty biblical story with coarse aesthetics, no matter how indicative of the artist's style, just comes off as tasteless.

While there are interesting elements contained within The Binding of Isaac, so much of the game is a product of misplaced energies that it becomes nearly hideous to behold. There was potential here for an imaginative and thoughtful reinterpretation of Abraham's near sacrifice of his son in accordance with God's will, but The Binding of Isaac becomes mired in a polarizing art direction before being buried with frustrating gameplay. God wouldn't think twice about asking for The Binding of Isaac as a sacrifice, and Abraham would deliver it whether God changed his mind or not.

The Binding of Isaac is available for download on Windows PC and Mac OS X

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: This game should've been slaughtered on the mountain
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