Beautiful Desolation is a District 9-like isometric Sci-fi RPG adventure that has made its way to consoles following its Steam release in 2020.
Trapped in an unknown world, you need to collect items and make tough decisions in an attempt to find your way back home. Initially without the resources and knowledge to do so, you’ll require the help of the planet’s eclectic inhabitants, with who you’ll communicate or threaten to achieve your goal. It’s these characters, and the choices that affect them, that make this a unique, if not under executed, game.
After the appearance of a UFO spacecraft named The Penrose a few years before, two brothers look to uncover the secret of why it came to earth and its purpose. Placed on maps with rudimentary RPG transaction-like gameplay, functionality is limited, with your character only able to run and initiate interactions. Interaction like in isometric adventures Disco Elysium and Desperados is noticeably absent and will likely leave you wanting. You do get a talking robot dog though, so it’s not all bad – even if you can’t pet it.
As you discover new areas, you acquire an airship and can use a hub map with areas you can access. This, plus smaller areas of exploration, focus more on the interactions between characters and allows the world to pulse with personality.
This isn’t how the game starts though, with a beginning that suffers from poor pacing and the game’s worst adventuring sections to the point that I would have given up if I wasn’t reviewing it.
Firstly, it’s not always immediately obvious what to do, which, while par the course for these types of games, is unaided by the game’s areas that are burdened with a design that makes its depth imperceptible – you can’t even tell if areas can be accessed directly in front of you.
Unfortunately, the controls haven’t been optimized for consoles, using the same collision detection for as the PC’s mouse point and click system, meaning that it will automatically try to run around an obstacle if it hits one. This makes sense if you are clicking further down the map using a mouse as you’d expect this delayed movement to automatically move around obstacles, but for a controller that requires immediate input/output, this makes the character movement unruly and takes unexpected detours when you make contact with the edge of the map – which is especially easy as you have no idea where they are. This is made worse by sluggish control response times and it results in a highly frustrating experience.
As mentioned before, however, when the story gets going the interactions between characters are amusing and memorable, providing mystery to the world. With a multiple-choice conversation system and choices with a great deal of gravitas, there is a real feeling that the game has something special – only for it to let itself down. As a big fan of being given choices with consequences, I was slightly disappointed by its implementation as time is spent creating a scenario with potential for tension and intrigue, only for the immediate consequence – the equivalent of a shrug – to drain all emotion from the situation and feeling like its inclusion was simply to set-up multiple endings.
If you can forgive these issues the voice acting is excellent and its profanity-filled convo choices are right up my street. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t tried to swear in a South African accent?
Ultimately beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in my mind, this title’s elements aren’t integrated nor interactive enough to fulfill the potential built by the story and the world and therefore is far from an essential purchase – it just feels too empty and void of gameplay. The lack of a consistent soundtrack that could’ve helped create more emotion and even minigames to assemble items or unrelated side missions that would delve more into the main character’s background would have added more variety missing from the final product.
Despite all this, Beautiful Desolation will appeal to an RPG fan looking for a short and unique adventure with some replayability, its just likely to come up short for everyone else.