Beautiful Desolation Blends Old-School Gaming With Truly Fresh Sci-Fi | PC Game Review (Final)
Pros: Incredible art & music | Truly unique sci-fi setting | Decisions with consequences | Uses important words like “kak” and “lekker”.
Cons: Objectives often unclear | Lacks any sense of danger | Ending can go over your head | Could’ve used more engaging solutions
What is it? An isometric 2D/3D blend adventure title from The Brotherhood Games, the team that previously brought us Stasis (which I loved – read review here). Beautiful Desolation is set in far future, post-apocalyptic South Africa after a large mysterious object appears in the sky, and ultimately pulls the protagonist Mark (along with his brother and a robotic “Agnate” dog from 1980s Cape Town into a future where people, machines and cultures have all been blended together into something spectacularly different to anything you may have seen before.
Wakanda place is this?
Move aside Afrofuturism, District 9, Black Panther, Elysium, Chappie and all you other African takes on sci-fi, because one thing’s for sure… I can easily tell you that I’ve never seen anything quite like the world of Beautiful Desolation.
If you are South African like me, then you must already know that you’re gonna experience it in a slightly different way to the rest of the world and may get a kick out of various elements that feel familiar to home. Beautiful Desolation is without a doubt, a whole new bag of Simba chips. It launches you into a future so far ahead that the South Africa you might know (and the people who lived there) are completely unrecognisable. The more this story of crazy futures and prophecies unfolds, the more interesting it becomes.
Here’s what the official site had to say:
“Your surroundings hold echoes of a desolate past, and glimpses of a dark future that has yet to be written by your actions. Be prepared to face many tough choices that will shape this land long after you complete your journey”.
The base gameplay itself feels somewhat inspired by the original Fallout games, sci-fi point and click adventures like The Dig and some of the more notable RPGs like Baldur’s Gate. One big difference (but more like point and click adventures) being that it doesn’t contain a consistent combat mechanic inside the main world, and instead relies on exploration that might have you sometimes partake in combat at certain times.
Make no mistake though, none of Beautiful Desolation feels like you’re playing something borrowed from another game, or just some sort of spiritual remake. The gameplay actually feels slightly similar to Stasis and offers a slower, more patient adventuring experience and won’t be well suited for those looking for some sort of high-paced, sci-fi action extravaganza.
The way this game wants to be played can best be summed up by my very own approach to playing it on my PC: Laid back, with one hand on the mouse and the other helping me sip a hot cup of tea. It wants you to take a breath, immerse yourself in the familiar but alien world, and figure things out. Figuring those things can get a bit tough at times though, and I definitely struggled at some points to piece together what I had done and where I needed to go to find what I was looking for. You definitely need to pay attention to get an idea of where you’re going next, but for that you also thankfully have the ability to review all previous conversations and notifications.
It’s not for everyone, and definitely speaks more to those that have or took later interest in this specific kind of PC gaming from the 90s. So if you’re looking for a new Diablo, Quake or otherwise – you’re barking up the wrong Akacia tree.
Ripleys In Time
It’s immediate and clear that while Beautiful Desolation’s setting and concepts are incredibly unique, it’s one hell of a love letter to sci-fi and old-school PC gaming – complete with FMV cutscenes.
You might hear a reference here or there, but it’s within the style, the music provided by composer Mick Gordon (DOOM, Killer Instinct, Need for Speed and more) and the atmosphere that I constantly found myself tasting the flavours of sci-fi properties of the past and feeling strangely at home in this nostalgic mixing pot. It’s a very strange experience to feel like you’re both revisiting certain feelings while also experiencing something completely new. This feeling is very subjective however, and may really differ from player to player depending on your past experiences with sci-fi.
The music and sound really is a large part of the experience though, and when combined with the very South African accents heard throughout and the heavy layers of post-processing you get pulled into the world that much more. I particularly love the low-booming African-styled languages being spoken and traditional singing heard while moving through certain habitats.
Love, Death and Road trips
South Africa in the far future is very different, and despite the sci-fi and robots (not the traffic light kind), the world is littered with strange healers, tribal leaders and religious zealots. The areas are filled with interesting characters, strange languages, unique architecture and echoes of a past world. You need to explore large areas, and so travelling mostly gets done with the use of an old SADF “Buffalo” transport airship. You mostly get around by using a map to select locations that the Buffalo can fly to, and make use of “Wardens” which are a sort of blend between Stargates and Mass Effect Relays.
When at a location, you spend a lot of your time walking around small towns, bases and various other sites of interest, speaking with locals, finding items you need and figuring out what to do next. The locations themselves are something to behold though, and vary from tin shacks and various huts to grand structures and gorgeous, lush nature.
Characters you meet aren’t what you expect either, and range from sentient machines to people stripped of their parts and modified into something rather ghoulish.
Harkening back to old school PC gaming, you break away into a dedicated conversation screen whenever you speak with others. You have the option to choose from multiple lines of dialogue as you decided what to ask and whether or not you want to behave like a real
poe bad guy.
It’s made all the better for South African gamers when you’re able to tell someone in-game to “stop your kak”.
The more I expored this unrecognisable, post-apocalyptic South Africa, the more I was astonished by the original ideas injected into the story, visuals and setting.
It’s a rabbit hole that gripped me more and more the further down I dared to venture. I went from just being intrigued by the concept, to staying up later than I should because I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Considering its low price point ($20 at launch for the standard edition), Beautiful Desolation delivers a big adventure with lots of depth to the wild story and fascinating world.
If you’re into the joys of 90s PC gaming or far-out sci-fi concepts then you’re in for quite a treat.