Beautiful Desolation (Switch) Review
Beautiful Desolation may look like an isometric RPG in the vein of Wasteland. Throw such impressions away, because this is purely an adventure game, where you run around, get items, combine them, and talk to people to move the story forward. Beautiful Desolation is an original, sci-fi story that recalls something more like a stripped-down Fallout by way of District 9.
Set in South Africa, you play as Mike Leslie, a reporter initially keen on investigating a strange object that has appeared out of the sky and managed to shoot technology ahead by hundreds of years, known as The Penrose. It’s not long before Mike, his chopper pilot brother and a drone security dog are teleported far into the future, to a time when immortal, augmented beings eke out their existence in a dilapidated world. Your mission is simple: to get back to your time, preferably in one piece and with your own consciousness surviving.
As you explore the many (yes, beautifully desolate) locations, you’ll get drawn into the history, lore and political corners of the world. The somewhat sedate pacing and the way that there are only a few interactive elements in any one area makes Beautiful Desolation feel more like a visual novel than a game, which makes it quite refreshing. I found myself impressed by the confident writing and original situations, not the mention lightly amused by everyone having South African accents.
Each story scene is accompanied by short, animated movies that are obviously made on a small budget. However, the overall art design and clear passion in telling this story shines through and make them something to be admired. And, frankly, I think they suit the rest of the game. Everything is just as good as it needs to be. The creature designs are both horrifying and awesome, with machine/organic hybrids that exude sadness, pain and lost opportunity in a world that is aching to find meaning after The Penrose’s presence has caused the global collapse of society.
A soundtrack from Mick “Doom Soundtrack” Gordon murmurs in the background. It is quite sedate and never pushed through enough to remind me that it was from the same guy as Rip & Tear. Graphically, the game is a real pleasure to look at, even on the smaller Switch screen. Text is quite small, yet never feels unreadable, and although the controls are unique and need to be learned, I found them understandable after a couple of hours (there can be some confusion about how to use and/or combine items).
The way your character moves about feels somewhat removed, as he will automatically move around objects or sometimes have a delay in changing direction. I did also find it difficult at times to tell which parts of the map were traversable and which weren’t, as there is so much detail in the world that it can the textures may look like they can be walked on when in fact they can’t. I think that the control issues relate to this being a point-and-click on PC, whereas here you actively control the protagonist.
One other criticism is that this is a true adventure title, and as a result it requires specific methodology, location-hopping and item combinations in order to move the story forward. As you play, the location list grows quite a lot and there is no real objective marker, which created for me situations when I wasn’t sure where to go next, even if I kind of had a clue as to what it was I needed to be doing. I resorted to using an online guide, which is something I haven’t needed to do with a game in many years. It was still enjoyable to play, but I obviously wasn’t on the same logic wavelength as the developers.
If you’re in the mood to hunker down with an interesting story, off-beat characters and a sci-fi adventure across time and space, Beautiful Desolation fits the bill nicely. Just be sure to have a second screen handy with an online guide to smooth out the journey.
+ Original world and story
+ Great writing
+ Excellent creature design
- Obtuse missions with little guidance
- Confusing terrain at times
- Confusing controls and menu combinations