Games of the Year

Beautiful Desolation

Beautiful Desolation Screenshot 1
Beautiful Desolation Screenshot 2
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BEAUTIFUL DESOLATION is a 2D isometric adventure game set in the distant future. Explore a post-apocalyptic landscape, solve puzzles, meet new friends and make powerful enemies, mediate conflicts and fight for your life as you unravel the secrets of the world around you. FEATURING A story-driven adventure set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. A unique tribal punk aesthetic and 2D isometric rendered environments. Puzzles and classic adventure gameplay. Bizarre creatures, animals and vibrant characters await. Mark, a man out of time, searches for his lost brother Don, in a far-flung futuristic era ruled by highly advanced technologies which are both revered and reviled. 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 score is masterfully crafted by composer Mick Gordon, known for his work on Wolfenstein®, DOOM®, Prey®, Killer Instinct® and Need for Speed®. The inhabitants of this world will help and hinder you, as you make new discoveries and navigate the spectacular African-inspired landscape. Negotiate your passage with local leaders, healers and warriors, or find yourself embroiled in a battle against nanite swarms, enormous scorpions and rocket-equipped robots.
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Game Discussion

Review by Anonymous
Review from Steam

Beautiful Desolation is an isometric point&click adventure with a fascinating story, great world-building, mediocre puzzles, and a lot of aimless running around.
You play as a journalist in an alternate world where, in 1976, a strange object appeared in the sky and changed human civilization. During an attempt to investigate this object, you, your brother, and an intelligent robotic dog get flung into the far future, where the object still exists, but humanity has been reduced to small pockets in a barren wasteland. Your small group explores this land, trying to find a way back into your own time.
The setting is amazingly well designed, with about a dozen very different cultures, not all of which are human. While most of them play on various sci-fi tropes that fans of the genre will have seen before, the sheer diversity creates a setting that still feels refreshingly original. Unfortunately the presentation always remains a bit superficial (usually there are only 2-4 interactable characters per faction, and the conversations focus on the one or two quests that they have for you), but the ways how the factions interact, and how your decisions determine their future, nevertheless gives the impression of a complex, intricate design. Exploring this world piqued this old gamer's curiosity to a degree that few games do (Planescape: Torment and Star Control II come to mind, though they are both very different games).
The story starts a bit confusing, with two time jumps and very different settings before you finally arrive in the world that the game actually takes place in. Once you're there, you conveniently meet a character who immediately tells you how you can get back home, and which three items you need to repair the respective machine. The rest of the game revolves around getting these items - they are usually important for the civilization that holds them, so you have to complete a major feat before they are willing to let them go. In many cases, you have to take a side in a conflict between 2-4 factions, and whole civilizations will rise (or get destroyed) in the process. There are many alternate paths through the game, and your decisions are rarely just "good" or "evil" - all factions have understandable motivations, and all of them do things that can be seen as atrocious. I appreciate this "shades of grey" approach a lot, since it makes a story much more believable and meaningful for me. But be aware that you'll rarely feel like a shining hero, there's always some darkness involved.
While there is some linearity to the exploration (you have to complete quests in one given area to unlock others), you are otherwise mostly free to choose which tasks to pursue and when. Unfortunately the game is really bad at keeping track of the various quests that you'll be taking on. You do not even have a quest list. Instead, there's an auto-updating "ToDo"-list that's not only incomplete (lots of tasks simple don't appear there), it also just lists singular tasks with no context whatsoever. So you'll often see a task like "find item x", but you won't get a reminder of what you need that item for or which quest line it is relevant for. This is really bad for a game with so many contingencies. If you don't want to juggle with lots of information in your head all the time, or if you don't have the time to play without longer breaks, then I suggest taking notes. You _can_ blunder through without understanding the context, but then you're arguably skipping over the best things it has to offer.
Gameplay consists mostly of three elements: conversations, puzzle-solving, and exploration. The conversations are well-written, but the dialog choices are a bit bland. Very often they are just three different ways (friendly, rude, neutral) of saying the same thing, and while your tone does affect some things in the game, many conversations will lead to the same result regardless of your choices, and some of the will feel a bit forced. But apart from that, the dialog felt believable and I enjoyed it.
The puzzle design, which was already problematic in the developers' previous title (Stasis), is unfortunately even worse in this one. Usually you just need to find an item (which may just lie around somewhere on a wide-open map), and apply it at the location of the "puzzle". Sometimes you need a code (numerical or in symbols) to unlock something, and in one case there was a small logic puzzle. Generally, the puzzle design is fairly primitive, but this makes them also pretty easy, so they don't distract from the story.
Exploration is engaging at first, since the maps are varied and often have large features that are interesting to look at. However, you'll also walk circles across each map to find items, which are only shown when you're close to them. So the game will waste a _lot_ of your time while you're walking across every area, looking for potentially important items to pop up. You'll also often just move around aimlessly since the game does not give you directions, lacks proper quest tracking, and it's often unclear where or how a quest will continue. The game tries to "ping" areas for you that you should visit, but that does not work reliably - sometimes there wasn't anything to do in an area that got pinged, and sometimes a quest progressed in an area that didn't get pinged. So I ended up regularly trawling through all locations just in case I missed something, which cost a lot of time that I would have preferred to spend actually _interacting_ with something rather than just bumbling around.
A fourth gameplay aspect are two turn-based tactical minigames that you can play. One is a simple 1v1 fight with dice rolling, and one is a fairly involved 3v3 fight in which you build your team from various available units, which all have different values for hit chance, damage, armor, and health. Which units you can choose from, depends on the choices that you're making throughout the game, which is a neat idea. I like turn-based tactical gameplay, but the combat mechanics in this minigame were too simple to really make it enjoyable. There's no way to move, no stances like "defend" or "overwatch", no status effects, no synergies between units - you just take turns attacking each other until one squad is dead. It's not a _bad_ minigame, but it definitely dragged on for longer than I enjoyed it, especially since each attack involves a slow, unskippable animation, and every fight requires a repetitive, click-intensive "unit selection" phase. Thankfully it's optional - there are other ways to get the reward that it provides.
Graphics in this game are hand-drawn, varied, and often well-done, but also often look a bit blurry, as if the source image was drawn in a relatively low resolution. They also don't use shadows very well, which sometimes makes it difficult to understand the layout of the map and the "depth" of various sections at a glance. The pathing across a map (which sections are traversable and which are obstacles) is also often unclear, which creates some annoyances due to the size of the maps and the slow running speed of the character. Movement animations look a little dated (the torso remains unnaturally stiff during running), face animations during dialog seem hand-drawn with very few frames and no visible lips, but neither is really a problem. The music is very well done, it is very subdued and contributes to the atmosphere without ever pushing into the foreground.
... and here the dreaded character limit for reviews strikes again. ;) If you're interested in the rest of the review (with information about voice acting, usability features (including accessibility and UI), and the final verdict, please continue here:

Review from Steam

This is quite an odd game in a sense. It has so much going for it and yet it makes some really poor decisions and has some key weaknesses that stop it from becoming a classic. Such a shame. Here's an overview:
THE GOOD
- it has gorgeously designed locations with ridiculous amounts of detail
- the story is very original and well thought out
- the interface is clean and works well
- it's very polished and feels very solid
- the voice acting is pretty great with South African accents all over
THE BAD
- there's a lot of walking - a LOT of walking
- the puzzles are all simplistic - this is less a puzzle game and more a "find all objects" game.
THE UGLY
- the biggest flaw of the game, is how you can only spot items when they're up close. This is NOT a classic adventure game where your character is quite big and everything is within arms reach. You're tiny on the screen and you walk around huge difficult-to-navigate overgrown wastelands with items that are only visible within maybe two meters distance from you in areas spanning hundreds of meters ...
This problem is compounded by there not being any real direction to the game with you only being given basic tips. This is not unusual but the problem is that you basically have to crawl through large maps, walking over every inch to make sure you catch every clue or object. It's very easy to become stuck because you didn't find a clue or object this way ... meaning you'll have to go through every area you can visit and do it all over again.
They could have made the game a hell of a lot more fun if they had added more hints as to where certain items or hints could be found. The maps are difficult to navigate as-is but when you're going over them to find an item you may have missed ... well let's say you'll quickly turn to a walk-through guide because this is anything but fun.
Other than this, it's an incredibly beautiful game so if you're willing to cheat from time to time, you can enjoy a beautiful game.

Review from Steam

I don't regret buying this game, but in the hypothetical situation of a mad scientist offering to give me my money back but take the game and wipe my memory of it, I would consider it. Frankly the concept and a lot of the world is amazing, but the execution is a little off. The main issue of the game is the amount of time spent traveling between places and trying to figure out where you're supposed to go next, because the game isn't always very intuitive. I say I recommend the game, but it's more that I don't hate it enough to "not recommend" it; what I do recommend though, is buying it on sale.

Review from Steam

Absolutely beautiful visuals and sound design. Tepid game design, filled with essentially open world pixel hunting. I couldn't finish it. I'm only thumbing this game up because of the unique setting and South African influence.

Review from Steam

I mean, damn. This game is downright hautingly georgeous. The more you play, the better it gets and story towards the end is downright awesome.
If you do not mind older point and click adventure, this is a sure recommend. And as a bonus, there is way less of wierd item combining and random solutions to puzzles. Usually it is fairly logical as long as you pay attention. And hey, if you get yourself stuck, no need to feel bad for looking up a guide. It is worth finishing the journey and one helluva journey it is.
This ting is no kak brav, ja? Go and play it.

Review from Steam

Lekker bois!
This game is gold.
Very high quality in terms of graphics, sound, music, story and world-building,
especially considering the size of the team and the price.
As a South African myself, I really appreciated all the cultural references and it just reminded me again how culturally rich and diverse our country is.
The world of Beautiful Desolation comes across as a very gritty convincing reality wrapped in surrealism, another player described it as a massive acid trip.

My only wish was that it didn't have to end so soon, with so many stories still to tell...
But alas all things must come to an end eventually...

Review from Steam

Another great point and click from The Brotherhood. Beautiful, unique graphics in post-apocalypse Africa, interesting jrpg map travel system, and talking heads like in Fallout! Good game, can't wait for Stasis: Bone Totem!

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