Beacon Pines (2022)
Developer: Hiding Spot Games
Phew, this has been quite the last two weeks. As some of you may know, I recently made the move from Austin, Texas all the way to Colorado. It's been exciting and overwhelming, and I actually had to skip a week of reviews for the first time in a long time. Thankfully, I got to play a great game right before the move. I picked up Beacon Pines on day one because I happen to know someone in the (Austin-based) team and I wanted to support their new release. However, I was surprised how much I actually got hooked on this game right away. Beacon Pines is a branching storyline adventure game where you must figure out the true ending while solving the the town's mystery. Beacon Pines is a well-crafted story, both wholesome and spooky, that pulls you in with its twists and turns as well as its memorable characters.
Beacon Pines opens by opening a storybook while a voiced narrator tells you about history of Beacon Pines, where the game is set. You play as Luka, a young 12-year old (deer?) boy who has gone through some difficult moments. He lost his father as a young child and now his mother has gone missing. He's currently under the care of his grandma, with no clues as to where his mom might be. He and his best friend Rolo decide to investigate the strange happenings around town and stumble into something bigger than they expected. Along the way, you find "charms" of specific words that allow you to fill in the next word in the story, causing a timeline split based on that decision. The game is intended to be played through the different decisions after you find different charms. Many branches lead to dead ends - the narrator tells you adamantly that those can't be the true ending. You'll have to explore different branches to find the charms you need and figure out not only the true ending, but the mystery of what's happening in Beacon Pines. You'll sneak out late, explore secret parts of town, get in to trouble, and put talk to the townsfolk to find out what they know.
At first, I was unsure how I felt about Beacon Pines' art style. When playing on my TV, I felt that the actual environment and characters were really small compared to the storybook background. It kind of felt like a lot of space was wasted that you couldn't do anything with and Luka looked too small. However, after playing for some hours handheld on my Steam Deck this didn't affect me at all, and I was able to really appreciate the beautiful hand-painted looking environments. Also, nothing against furries, but the character art at times felt like it was catering strongly to people who like very anthropomorphic, curvy furry characters. However, for the most part I liked the character art and they did a good job of creating really animated expression for all the characters, especially the main kids. The music for Beacon Pines is really perfectly mysterious and spooky, and fits the storybook vibe. The overall sound and look of the game really reminded me of a mystery cartoon such as Gravity Falls, but a little serious in tone. The soundtrack stands alone really well and reminds you of the shifting moods of the story. There's one track - I won't say which - that makes me choke up a bit even now.
I was worried maps would be as tiny on the one of the left, but most were more like the one on the right.
Look, no shade here, but I've played a lot of games published by Fellow Traveller and it took this game to break my "eh" spell with them. I reviewed No Longer Home, Genesis Noir, The Stillness of the Wind, and I've felt a common thread with all of them - mostly decent, but kinda boring games. I worried Beacon Pines would fall into that category as well, but I was pleasantly surprised by its action-packed story and excellent characters. It kept kept me on my toes at all times, listening for every detail and trying to figure out the twists. I love that going back and trying different "responses" to big decision points is built into the story - you don't actually have to retread a bunch of story you've already seen to go back and try something different. It can perhaps get a little confusing what happened where, but the game does a good job of showing you a visual of the decision tree and what happens at each branch. It was really cool to be able to get some really good insights from a branch that ends up being a dead-end, because you can use that information for a different branch. Sometimes you have to try a specific approach even if you know it could be wrong, because you might still get a pretty funny ending out of it. It's probably one of the best and smoother executions I've seen of a "branching storyline" game. Even though it's part of the game's progression that you explore all of these branches, the order in which you try them is mostly up to you.
Beacon Pines had a complex, involved story, but more than that it had lovable characters (I especially liked Beck, she's such a little gremlin). Every character seems to have a history that you find out throughout your journey and is somehow tied to the events of the game. The story of Beacon Pines is much more complicated than I would've imagined, and although mostly fantastical I think it reflects some realities of small "company" towns and how they take advantage of people. The story made me cry, laugh, and feel invested in the characters' journeys. People and places were not at all what they first appeared to be, and a lot was revealed by taking the time to pay attention to details or go to specific areas of town again. There's good representation shown by same-gender parents for one of the main characters - these parents have their marital issues like everyone else and do their best with their child and the issues happening in the town. The narrator themself also feels like a character in the story, encouraging you forward and showing emotion through difficult parts. I think the parts where I got the least out of the storytelling was during Luka's "dream" scenes. During these, the screen would be completely dark and there would only be a dialogue bubble, with no narration voiceover. This seems like a lost opportunity, as either interesting visuals or the narrator's voice could've made these more weighty. They felt disconnected from the rest of the story and I wanted to push past them to get to the rest of the game. However, most of the game wasn't like this and it was fun to explore and get to know the different areas of Beacon Pines.
Beacon Pines was really different from anything I've played lately but it was the perfect fall "spooky" but cute story. For anyone who wants a little Halloween without too much scare, this is a really great game for that. I'd recommend this game to just about anyone, but especially anyone who likes mysteries and branching decision games. There's a lot to uncover and a reasonable amount of achievements to unlock - this was the right game for me to play when I needed something cozy and immersive during a somewhat-hectic time in my life.
Beacon Pines is available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Playtime: 6.5 hrs