Beautiful Desolation is a single-player, story-focused title in a captivating post-apocalyptic South Africa.
Many games can be seen as a retro throwback. The pixel art platforming of Shovel Knight or top-down turn-based RPGs such as the Divinity series are perfect examples of this, with one owning the identity entirely. Beautiful Desolation by The Brotherhood, however, is a different sort of callback. This single-player PS4 release draws inspiration from many different classic titles, borrowing ideas from PC greats such as the classic Fallout series to fuel this captivating take on a fictional South Africa.
You play as journalist Mark Leslie meeting up with his older brother Don after a long hiatus as a result of a car crash. The cause of this life-changing event was a huge alien aircraft appearing in the sky above them, which has since accelerated technology for all of mankind. Mark wants to investigate this giant craft, called the “Primrose,” using his brothers’ skill as a pilot. During the night, they make it onto the surface of the strange craft and cause an accident that changes their lives forever.
The world of Beautiful Desolation is presented in a beautiful hand-drawn, top-down manner. Each background, the overworld, and the UI elements all bring you into this strange version of South Africa. After the accident on the Primrose, you are confronted by a large mech who wants to see you incarcerated. These dialogue interactions happen in the classic “talking head” style of the original Interplay Fallout games. This mesh is eclectic and is a great way for the game to let the player get to know these lively characters. They are fully voiced and offer multiple dialogue options to nail home that classic RPG charm. The characters have thick accents and deliver dialogue that brings everyone to life, from your brother to the mechanized voices of the lively robots that inhabit the land. While the look and feel evokes the atmosphere of a classic PC-style isometric RPG, it proves to be only skin-deep.
Instead, Beautiful Desolation embraces a gameplay style that harkens back to original point-and-click adventure games. There are very few combat interactions and a dedication to storyline and worldbuilding. Each character you meet will offer insight into this new, post-apocalyptic world of sentient machinery. There are different customs, religions and laws in each of the zones you’ll visit in the vast re-imaging of South Africa, which you travel around in the same retro PC RPG stylings. The interactions with the NPCs are compelling, with fantastic voice acting and gripping writing that draws you into the world each time you meet someone new. Many well-laid twists keep you engaged and feel satisfying when they are discovered within the huge game world. When it’s paired with its sci-fi macabre visuals and atmosphere, the game serves as a fantastic guide through its lovingly crafted world.
Controlling it all, however, is nowhere near as satisfying as experiencing the story. You’ll move about the world with the left stick and generally interact with everything using the X button. The rest of the time you’ll be fumbling through menus using a bloated AI and controls that are mapped awkwardly on the PS4 gamepad. Each button is its menu, right down to the d-pad, which makes it hard to remember what everything does. It’s especially annoying to realize the d-pad can’t be used to select options in various menus you need to go through. Throw in some pathing issues and a ton of carelessly placed invisible walls, and Beautiful Desolation ends up with controls that make it feel as dated as the era it’s trying to evoke.
The game is just as cryptic as old-school adventure titles as well, which means each detail matters and very little direction is given. You’ll want to save often, hang on to items you collect and take note of as many important places and people as you can. This includes referencing your codex when you need to, where most of the information you learn on your journey is stored. While rewarding to uncover, it can be quite easy to make mistakes or find yourself at a dead-end in the huge world the game offers by missing a small detail. It’s a shame, since there are so many fun characters and places to discover.
Beautiful Desolation on the PS4 is a tough game to recommend. There is a lot to love in its fantastic story and worldbuilding. It also has some great visuals and fantastic voice acting to draw you into the strange world it creates. However, the controls are abysmal on the PS4 gamepad and do not work with the cryptic nature of the puzzle-solving. These elements take the fun away from experiencing the excellent story and captivating characters, as each satisfying encounter lies behind a ton of poor pathing and invisible walls. It’s a shame, since there is so much intrigue and inspiration within the story and world of Beautiful Desolation.
– Well-written story and characters
– Multiple endings
– Great voice acting
– Horrible controls
– Cryptic puzzles
3 out 5
Review code provided by Untold Tales. Beautiful Desolation is out now on PS4!