- Developer: The Brotherhood
- Publisher: Untold Tales
- Release date: 28/5/2021
- Price: £17.99 / $39.99
- Review code provided by Untold Tales
Introducing: Beautiful Desolation Review
Beautiful Desolation is not the kind of game that I normally would have gone for, that’s just a fact. However the great thing about writing reviews is that it affords me the opportunity to play games that I normally would never have tried out. That’s led me to find some real gems of games sometimes, so I always like to hold out hope for titles that might not have been my interest, since those are the ones that have the biggest chance to surprise me. So, I offered to review Beautiful Desolation in the hopes that it might be one of those lovely little surprises. Let’s see if it got there.
Simple Made Complex
Beautiful Desolation is a science fiction story, so it has a little bit more of a complicated setup. While on a drive in the car, deep in discussion about some family problems, something strange falls from the sky. It crashs down to the earth some distance in front of you, the impact is felt even where you are. We hard cut to several years later. It turns out that what fell from the sky is a strange structure that’s become known as the Penrose. The technology that it carried has sped up the country’s technological progress nearly overnight and a few years later, you’re living in a world where the Penrose is strictly protected by the military and the automatons that have come from its blessings. However, you play as Mark, a man who believes there is more to this thing than meets the eye. That something about the Penrose is being hidden from the average person. So, with the help of your brother Don, you take a helicopter out to the thing in order to find the truth, whatever that may be. Just as it feels that you’re starting to get some answers, the Penrose strangely activates and you are flung forward in time to a day and age where that advancement has vanished and the land is now wasteland. You’re quickly separated from Don and it becomes a mission to find him and find a way back home.
The setup is complicated, but the premise is simple. Worldbuilding is what is really on display here and it takes a little getting used to as some terms will just be thrown out there and it is up to you to figure things out mostly from context. Given that the game takes place in South Africa (which I was delighted by since that’s a fairly rare setting for games), there were times where I couldn’t tell if something was a slang term or if it was sci-fi jargon. It didn’t make much of a difference, though as a lot of them were things that I was able to figure out with the context clues in the dialog so I was very rarely lost. There’s just some really cool tidbits sprinkled in as well. Such as the fact that the automaton dog that travels with you, Pooch, is explicitly stated to have emotions programmed in because they help with creative decision making. I just think that’s neat!
What’s also neat is the dialog options that you have available to you. While there is the normal fare of being curious about the world or asking people things nicely, you have the ability to be a real jerk to people if you want to. You can tell robots that you’re going to turn them to scrap if they don’t give you answers, tell Pooch “attack mode” if someone is annoying you. It makes the option to be kind more meaningful if I know that I can be completely awful as well, and I know it is the nature of people that there will be those who do entire runs of the game just being as horrible as possible to people. I personally liked that the way the game reacts to your behavior does not come from big obvious moments of choice, but little ones that you make along the way. This seems to be the new way of doing things for some of these smaller titles, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the changes that brings in the medium.
Explore to your Heart’s Content
Beautiful Desolation is borrowing a lot from the point-and-click genre, but I hesitate to call it one since you’re moving around an isometric world and interacting in other ways. It certainly carries the spirit, though, especially in the way that it can be a little obtuse and clunky. Beautiful Desolation is not interested in holding your hand or helping you along in any way. It throws you into the deep end and expects you to figure things out yourself. While this can be good for making you really explore the environments, it also means that if you miss the small prompts in an areas, you can find yourself running in circles for a long time. The view of the game is quite zoomed out so you and everything that you interact with can be very small and when an item to pick up is just a little sparkle on the ground, it can be easy for things to slip under the radar, so to speak. It doesn’t help that the world is filled to the brim with invisible walls that aren’t always very clear and might take some figuring out to either get around or work with. There were plenty of times where I was rubbing my character up and down on a spot, just to see if there was any way into what looked like an explorable space.
It doesn’t help that the movement in this game, plain and simple, does not feel good. When you are moving around, your movement will start slow and then gain some level of momentum as you really get going. However, you can lose that momentum out of nowhere and end up slowing down to a snail’s pace. A slight change in your course might get you up to speed again, but I don’t really know why because I don’t know what was slowing me up in the first place. Turning runs the risk of losing that momentum, but beyond that, turning is slippery and can take a little while, sometimes not even taking you the direction that you intended to go at all. It ends up feeling messy and sloppy to move, which is a huge downside for a game where most of what you are doing is exploring.
Brown and Gray?
It was the visuals that initially put me off Beautiful Desolation. When I was taking a peek at the eshop page to know what to expect, it looked to me like it was going to be a lot of browns and grays, which I usually don’t like to see dominating a game’s color palette as it can make the whole thing feel somewhat bland. However, I am please to report that once you actually get into the game, there is a decent amount of variation and the visuals actually do pop on screen. That being said, I think the perspective is a bit too zoomed out. Like I mentioned before, this can make it hard to find the objects that are just a little sparkle on the ground. It also makes playing it on the tv a little harder as when it’s on a screen across the room, rather than handheld. Your character can sometimes get a little lost in the elaborate background.
The voice acting is really aided along by the full screen nature of the conversations, where we are treated to a zoomed in image of the character we are speaking with. This gives a lot more life to them than the tiny model on the screen. I personally found some to be perhaps a little too over-designed, but that’s just my preferences and they work quite well in the context that the game establishes. The way the dialog is delivered is very naturalistic and I never got the impression that things were being overexaggerated and overacted. In fact, I absolutely loved Pooch’s delivery whenever I got to talk to them. That being said, I did find Mark to be rather bland in comparison to all the others. Maybe that’s just a side effect of him being the everyman in a world gone wild, though.
No Problems Here, Boss
I never ran into any bugs of glitches while I was playing Beautiful Desolation for review. I still to recommend playing this one handheld, though, for the ease of being able to see things better as some elements can be a touch small on the screen. That includes text which lets you know what buttons do in menus. Not to mention this makes for a good one to play at the end of the day while laying on the couch or in bed.
I Want to go Home
I didn’t really have fun personally with Beautiful Desolation. There was just something about it that never quite hooked me. That’s not to say that it won’t catch your interest, though. If the plot sounds interesting, I think it is worth giving a shot, but if it doesn’t grab you, the presentation issues are likely to drive you further away.
- Good voice acting
- Interesting Sci-fi concepts
- Varied and detailed background visuals
- Movement simply does not feel good, which is a problem in an exploration game
- Frequent and long load times
- Zoomed out perspective makes things hard to see