The two-man South African development house The Brotherhood is back with their second game Beautiful Desolation, and just like its forebear Stasis, it’s a richly detailed and gorgeously presented “old school” isometric Point and Click Adventure game. And like Stasis, Beautiful Desolation was funded by gamers via the Crowd-Funding platform Kickstarter. I am one of those gamers; I backed both Stasis and Beautiful Desolation and this review is based on my backer copy of the game, not review code supplied by the developer. While Beautiful Desolation shares a lot with Stasis, it is a very different experience. Where Stasis is cold, sterile, claustrophobic, and interspersed with moments of extreme horror and brutal violence, Beautiful Desolation is a much more colourful and open experience, but that being said it’s certainly not afraid to interject a little shock and gore at key moments.
Opening in rain-soaked Cape Town in 1976 we are introduced to Mark Leslie and his wife Charlize who are on their way to bail out Mark’s wayward brother Don from his latest brush with the law. But the sudden arrival of an alien spacecraft over the city unleashes a devastating shockwave that destroys their car and kills Charlize. This catastrophic and life-altering experience was not limited to Mark’s immediate family, just as his life was unalterably changed by the arrival of the alien visitors, so was all of mankind. A decade later, we find the world a very different place; unprecedented technological advancements have changed the face of the planet and reshaped society. Unable to reconcile the loss of his wife, and a bearing deep ceded distrust of their alien benefactors, Mark enlists Don’s help to investigate the craft, but soon after infiltrating the ship they are discovered and blasted into the distant future where human civilization has crumbled to dust, and strange new lifeforms and cultish societies have taken hold, leaving the brothers stranded in a world foreign yet familiar. Thus, they begin a journey to discover if somewhere in this fractured future lies a way back home.
What follows is an exceptionally realized and executed adventure game that is not afraid to embrace the legacy of thirty-plus years of graphic adventure games while also bringing in a modern sensibility and aesthetic. This, in my opinion, is what makes The Brotherhood’s games so great but could also be a serious sticking point for those less familiar with the genre or expecting a more casual or streamlined experience. Here there are puzzles to be solved, mysteries to be unravelled, conversation to be navigated, and many points to be clicked. Puzzles run from the mundane to the insane, but with a consistent internal logic to keep everything relatively grounded. Still, it does require you to pay attention, and you will need to consult your in-game codex from time to time in order to extrapolate a solution or recall a key piece of information that at first glance may not have seemed all that important.
The game will test you, and you may need to revisit some areas to search for an item you inadvertently overlooked, which was my only real frustration with the game as it at times feels a little bit like a much-maligned mainstay of 90’s adventure games – the hunt for the pixel that undermined many an adventure way back in the day. Thankfully these pixel hunts are few and far between, and those with keener eyes may not experience them at all. Experienced or observant adventurers should have all the tools they need to navigate the beautiful desolation and find a way forward. Other less experienced, or less patient adventurers could find things more difficult and may need to resort to some external assistance.
The world of Beautiful Desolation is nothing short of stunning, and this is not just in regard to the visual fidelity. The lush 2D environments depicting a far-future post-apocalyptic South Africa are at times jaw-dropping in their visual density and attention to detail, but it’s the unique interpretation of the post-apocalypse that really helps them stand out against the remnants of other post-apocalypses we’ve trekked through in the past three decades or so. The African landscapes transformed by technology, neglect, and countless years offer up a world strangely familiar yet completely alien and always visually striking.
The various characters you meet also share this unique vision of a fractured future, not only in their look and manner but also in how they talk and respond to you. Each feels like an actual person even when they’re no longer completely human, or never were. This is all punctuated and enhanced with a stellar soundtrack by Mick Gordon (of Doom and Doom Eternal fame) that infuses African instrumentation and moody atmospherics to create a soundscape as stunning and captivating as the twisted vistas displayed on screen.
All of this exceptional presentation, however, doesn’t really matter if the story can’t hold your attention, and on that front, The Brotherhood has exceeded my every expectation. Giving the game a broader emotional pallet and a larger world has allowed game designer and writer Chris Bischoff the space to build a narrative that is fascinating and at times horrific and utterly bizarre, but always very human. There is a depth of emotion with the characterization here that we only saw glimpses of in Stasis, This is a mature story that never feels convoluted, nor is ashamed of its unabashed sci-finess, managing to anchor proceeding in believable relationships and relatable themes despite the fantastical setting. There are surprising twists and turns throughout the game, all delivered via some impressive voice-acting and jaw-dropping cut-scenes that far exceed anything you would expect from a game with such a modest budget.
Like The Brotherhood’s previous game Stasis, Beautiful Desolation needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. If you have any interest in Point and Click Adventure games, then you need to buy this game, you need to play this game, and if you’ve not already you need to go and pick up Stasis, as well as soon as possible.
+ Stunning and occasionally amazingly grotesque visuals.
+ Exceptional music.
+ Great voice acting.
+ Fun but challenging puzzles.
+ Spectacular AAA level cut scenes.
+ Cheap as chips.
- Occasional pixel hunting for objects.
- Can feel a little clunky mechanically.
- As far as I can tell almost no one is talking about this great game.