Review – Beautiful Desolation (Switch)
I had heard good things about Beautiful Desolation, a point-and-click adventure game released earlier last year for PC. It was released shortly after I had finished playing Disco Elysium, yet another game with a similar gameplay loop and mechanics. For reasons beyond me, I just didn’t play it at the time, even though it featured an interesting afrofuturistic aesthetic, downright gorgeous visuals, and most importantly, a soundtrack composed by the man, the legend, the one and only Mick Gordon, the composer behind Doom, Wolfenstein, and many other iconic soundtracks.
It took the developers a bit more than a year to port Beautiful Desolation to consoles, Switch included. I knew the game was somewhat demanding on computers due to its intricately detailed graphics, but I hoped that the system’s touchscreen support would somehow make the experience feel a bit more a proper PC adventure on-the-go. I have to say that some elements of this port impressed me a lot, but all in all, playing Beautiful Desolation on Nintendo’s handheld ended up being a beautiful disappointment.
Beautiful Desolation‘s initial premise reminded me a bit of Destiny and District 9. The game starts off with a mysterious alien entity arriving from out of nowhere in 1970’s South Africa, resulting in a quick technological boom for the country, akin to Destiny‘s Traveler. Protagonist Mark Leslie, a man who suffered a tragic accident when said entity first showed up, enlists his brother to help unfold secrets regarding the government’s plans with this alien technology. That is until they eventually get warped to an alternate dimension after meddling with what they shouldn’t. The idea of the game is simple: explore this brand new world, locate your missing brother, and find a way to get back to South Africa.
The game features a captivating story with some really interesting characters. Mark is just your average guy who goes out of his way to find out what the hell is going on with this gigantic monolith due to personal reasons. The game does a great job making you care for him and his family. The same cannot be said about some of the other supporting characters you’ll meet along the way, but they all feature decent voice acting and interesting lines of dialogue, so there’s not a lot to complain about Beautiful Desolation‘s storytelling. If anything, it was the main reason that made me want to keep playing it, as the gameplay surely wasn’t helping me out.
While Beautiful Desolation‘s pre-rendered backgrounds look as gorgeous on the Switch’s small screen as they did on PC, this is one tough game to play due to its really annoying controls. Even though this is your standard point-and-click adventure with items to collect and small puzzles to solve, it doesn’t feature touchscreen support or any kind of cursor to make movement and menu navigation less cumbersome.
Sadly, it forces you to move your character around with the analogue stick and access different menus and actions with other face buttons. In theory, that shouldn’t have been an issue, but controlling Mark around the map is easier said than done. You cannot properly control his running speed, so he’ll randomly decide to run like a cheetah or walk as slowly as a sloth. Each map is also littered with invisible walls, meaning that you’ll never properly know where you can or cannot walk through without a slow and painful dosage of trial and error. I can only assume that in the PC version all you needed to do was point where you wanted to go and the main character would figure out how to reach said spot without slamming on walls like a tremendous imbecile.
To add insult to injury, Beautiful Desolation features some really long loading times, not only when transitioning from one map to another, but even when talking to NPCs. The game features Fallout-esque dialogue windows with CGI portraits of each character you meet, and even these small gameplay elements take way longer to load than they should have ever had. In the end, everything about this particular port is sluggish and clunky.
I had high hopes for Beautiful Desolation, but this Switch version just doesn’t work very well at all. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, especially on a small screen, and its story is actually very compelling, but I felt I was struggling against its controls and egregious loading times throughout my entire time with it. I can see that there is a good game in here, however. If anything, this Switch port made me want to take a look at the much more intuitive PC version instead.
Beautiful Desolation‘s pre-rendered backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous to look at, especially in portable mode. The framerate is a tiny bit wonky, but considering the game’s lethargic pacing, that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
This game was meant to be played with a mouse. The analog stick movement feels erratic and the button mapping is confusing.
Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is decent, but far from iconic like his other work. Meanwhile, the voice acting is average for the most part. Not a single character stands out, but none of them sound terrible either.
Fun Factor: 5.5
There is a compelling story in here, but the really convoluted controls, long loading times and lack of touchscreen support make the Switch version of Beautiful Desolation feel like a massive disappointment.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Beautiful Desolation is available now on PS4, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Beautiful Desolation was provided by the publisher.