It has been quite the year in the world of gaming. With the console wars raging on and people having accumulated hours being at home for reasons out of our control, for a lot of us, our biggest distraction has been playing games. Despite plenty of pushbacks and delays, developers have been fighting to move their content and get their games out. Since most of us have had a hard time snagging a new Xbox or PS5, many have moved into the realm of PC games. Now, not all PC games make it to a console version and vice versa, but isn’t it great when those developers decide to take that leap? It opens up a whole new market and an array of potential new fans. One of the latest games making its jump from PC to console is Beautiful Desolation by South African indie developer The Brotherhood.
Beautiful Desolation is the latest project by The Brotherhood having previously been known for their sci-fi horror game STASIS. In a similar fashion to its predecessor, Beautiful Desolation is in a 2.5D format with an isometric camera angle. This perspective allows the player a great opportunity to view their surroundings, which is extremely important to the core of the game. While most might assume this game is just another RPG in which you have to spend hours customizing your character, boosting stats, or getting unwanted combat, that’s not the case at all. Beautiful Desolation is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure in which the heart of it resides in choice and navigation of its unique and photorealistic settings.
The game revolves around two brothers; Mark and Don Leslie as they combat issues from their troublesome past and confront their new adult lives. The game opens with Mark and his fiancé Charlize driving down a rainy road in Cape Town, South Africa during the 1970s. It is apparent that Mark is having some issues regarding his brother whom they are traveling to bail out during the storm. Suddenly, a giant shockwave wipes out all the vehicles and their surroundings, injuring Mark and killing his fiancé. The cause of this shockwave is a giant alien ship called the Penrose which stays floating within the Earth’s atmosphere and apparently changes everything for the people below both technologically and literally.
The story then leaps 10 years later in which a grieving Mark searches for his brother who is now a helicopter tour guide. With some convincing, he manages to get Don to fly them up to the Penrose so that Mark could retrieve some classified data and find out the reason for its presence on Earth. Once aboard the ship, they happen to trigger a security system that beams them far into the future. The entire human race is now extinct and Earth is now inhabited by new biological and robotic societies. Both Mark and Don must now navigate this new world with the help of their robot “dog” named Pooch. The main goal of their mission is to find a way back home to the past.
Everything above happens within the first 15 minutes of the game leaving the player with more questions than answers. Much like Mark and his brother, you are quite literally thrown into this world with very little reference for guidance. You must rely on your abilities to survey your surroundings and pick up clues/solve puzzles to proceed. The game heavily relies on choice dialogue which is done by descriptive text within talk boxes but is also accompanied by some talented voice actors. Your decisions in dialogue reflect how your character will be perceived by others, especially within the trio itself. For example, if you are talking to Don, usually one out of the three response choices could be a bit rude. Your choices in conversation not only dictate particular endings but also the relationships with many of the characters you encounter. You might find yourself needing a particular item and having to side with a species that requires you to do a task in return. The idea of choice is a great component of this game and it adds a level of realism to your actions.
Since you are left to wander a post-apocalyptic South Africa, many of the locations could seem a bit identical or overbearing with vegetation and ruins blocking pathways. Much of the game requires you to travel back and forth between places in search of items to help you progress. It could be very frustrating at times and I believe this to be the one fault within the game because it disrupts the flow of progression at times. Many of the items you find could be used or combined as a component to something you need. To combine an item, press the button for “combine with’ and through a process of trial and error, place the object on the other that matches it. Also, in order to travel to particular places, you need to upgrade your ship. To do so you must trade items, especially gold in order to acquire those upgrades. One helpful tip is to be very wary of your spending and also try not to miss any NPCs that might help you attain more items for upgrades. The last thing you want is to be stuck repetitively traveling between places so you can move forward.
The controls are very easy to navigate especially on a console controller. Instead of having to click a location for Mark to run to, you can merely guide him using your left control stick. There is no control over the camera but you do have the option to zoom in or out which is very helpful when searching for items. At the very bottom of your screen, there is a display menu that allows you to check inventory, clues, pictures/drawings, and a walkie-talkie. If you are playing this game on a PS4 or 5 like I am, you can click on the touchpad to get item or location descriptions which is a useful addition. I also personally love that you can press the pause button and save the game at any time because this eliminates that pressure to find a save point.
The visuals are quite unique at times and I will say the commitment to detail is something this game does not shy away from. There are moments you actually feel consumed by the story’s narratives and all the species you come into contact with. As Mark and his brother search for a way to return they also learn a lot about this new Earth, themselves, and its inhabitants. One super-strong suit of the game is the cinematic animated cut scenes that make the story so much more involved than just talk boxes and traveling.
With an average playtime of about 15 to 20 hours, there is plenty of room for replay value and making different choices. I personally was never one to play this type of game, but I found myself having to step out of my usual comfort zone in doing so. I will say Beautiful Desolation is an excellent adventure for any sci-if thrill seeker, and you no longer need a gaming PC to go on this journey. Turn on your console, enter the future, and try to find your way back home.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Beautiful Desolation for PlayStation 4 provided by The Brotherhood and Untold Tales.