Review of Beautiful Desolation (PS4)
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The Review of Beautiful Desolation (PS4)
The very first images of Beautiful Desolation will either make you feel warm and fuzzy with nostalgia or make you think about why a game looks so archaic in 2021. Nicolas and Christopher Bischoff, the two brothers who founded the studio aptly named The Brotherhood, cannot deny their passion for the original Fallout games or Planescape: Torment. But why should we worry about a game built as a tribute to the old classics?
Beautiful Desolation visually brings us back to the pinnacle of isometric RPGs that so many of us have grown up up play. But the DNA of this game is a lot more complex as it inherits traits from the earlier games developed by the small studio. You’ll be able to recognize some of the elements drawn over the sci-fi horror, Stasis, but also a bit of Cayne. The result is a game with its own personality that, while it reminds us of arguably the best RPGs in history, remains pure point-and-click.
If you are an old rider like me, based on the info snippets above you will already get the feeling that this is a game for you. Adding in that the soundtrack was produced by Mick Gordon, who became famous for his work on Doom, the clues point to a hidden gem. If you’re still in doubt, because Beautiful Desolation didn’t show up up on your personal radar, your doubts will be overcome by the testimonials of countless PC gamers, who will confirm that this is an adventure you do not want to miss.
This is why I was so happy that the game was released on consoles as well. The unique atmosphere of the game is now available for those who prefer the comfort of a large screen tasted from a couch with a controller. The hand-drawn backgrounds, combined with the nostalgic isometric perspective, the dark humor embedded in a post-apocalyptic world full of bizarre creatures, spiced with the unmistakable accent of South African people results in a truly unique adventure game.
The surreal dark story that stays with you even after completing Beautiful Desolation begins in the 1970s in South Africa. We meet our main hero just as his life is turned upside down by the grandiose entry of an alien spaceship. Named Penrose, the object of unknown origin will take human technology to a level previously unimaginable.
The huge boost in robotics, cybernetics, medicine, gene therapy, space exploration and of course military technology makes people forget how and why they received such a gift. But our hero, Michael, driven by personal loss, makes it his life’s mission to discover the secrets of the Penrose.
Convinced that things aren’t as easy as they seem, he enlists the help of his brother, a helicopter pilot who earns his living using the Penrose as a tourist attraction for the wealthy. The brief expedition to collect evidence turns into a nightmare. After an inexplicable moment in the distant future, the brothers find themselves separated and confused. With the player’s guidance, Michael will have to find a way back to a normality that may no longer exist.
While the size of the game world may seem gargantuan at first, you’ll soon learn that the 100-plus locations are quite small, and often quite empty. The hand-drawn environments are beautiful and extremely detailed, but many seem to have been recorded as evidence of artistic mastery. There are locations that you can fully explore, but in reality you just visit them to choose from up one specific item. This is proof that the gameplay is more supportive to the beautiful scenes depicted throughout the game.
The gameplay mechanics are typical of any adventure game for the most part and involve collecting all the useless junk around you. You’re not sure where or how, but you know they’ll come in handy somehow. This feature forces you to explore every nook and cranny of the game, especially since not all interactive points are easy to see. Ultimately, this approach to game design leads to a bit of disappointment, when you realize how empty your environment is. They are indeed beautiful, but the number of interactions is extremely limited.
The second major part of the gameplay is much harder to explain or overlook. The combat system that is forced upon you at some key moments is the biggest flaw of the entire experience. While you can’t die no matter the circumstances or how stupidly you play, these occasions remain the main source of frustration throughout the game. The reason is that the outcome of the battles depends more on luck than on the useless skill system. In any case, you can save at any time by using one of the three available slots, so you can try again if the results are not to your liking.
You will meet many colorful characters, but you will only get to know your companions better. As with the empty environments, many of the NPCs seem to have been incorporated as building blocks for the game’s atmosphere. Despite the short encounters, the developers somehow managed to include a lot of heavy topics about morality, philosophy, religion, transhumanism and immortality.
I really liked the approach of bringing up the topics and questions, but let the players find their own answers. Being a dystopian world, the lines between good and evil have been completely blurred, the big picture presents not only a flawed society, but an extremely depressing one, stripped of all hope.
Visually you will love the game or you will hate it. It is a game that is clearly aimed at those who have not only lived through the golden days of the isometric perspective, but are also nostalgic about it. As mentioned several times, the visual style is beautiful, but the graphics are old-fashioned, pixelated, with dialogue presented in 4:3 aspect ratio. All these conscious choices contribute to building a peculiar atmosphere, also supported by the soundtrack.
This time Mick Gordon’s work is much less aggressive than we are used to from him, the artist mainly plays with almost tribal music mixed with natural sound effects. The only thing that brings down the acoustic experience is the voice acting. Despite the cool African accent, it ranges from spectacular to empty and fake.
Beautiful Desolation is an adult game for an adult audience. If you like dystopian stories, classic point-and-click adventures and miss the magic of hand-drawn environments, you’re in the right place up your alley. On the other hand, the younger audience will have a harder time with the game as it doesn’t provide instant gratification and the action sequences are completely useless. Beautiful Desolation raises many questions, but usually leaves the answers open. It’s an experience that makes you wonder about humanity and what the future holds. It’s only fun for those looking for in-depth experiences that will stay with you long after you finish the game.
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