The Pale Beyond is one of the few games that got me intrigued as soon as I read its pitch on the Steam store. It got me so interested in the game that I got in touch with the developers and told them I was interested in reviewing their game.
Now you know how rare it is I pay attention to review indies, much less go out of my way to ask to review one.
That alone should give you an inkling how interested I was.
Lo and behold, the developers chucked me a Steam key and here I am, reviewing the game after playing.
Was it worth it?
What is The Pale Beyond?
The Pale Beyond is a narrative driven game with consequences and events that reflect your decisions. It’s developed by Bellular Studios, and published by Fellow Traveller. It is currently only available for the PC.
Our copy was gifted to us by Bellular Studios. Thanks a ton for the code!
As always, we’re using our PC review rig to play the game.
For the review, we were running a rig off these specs:
– MSI B550M Mortar
– AMD Ryzen 9 5900X with NZXT Kraken X73 RGB Liquid Cooler
– MSI GeForce RTX 3080Ti Suprim X 12GB
– 64GB DDR4 RAM (Teamgroup T-Force Dark Z 16GB x 4 @ 3600MHz)
– Samsung 980 PRO 2TB SSD
Settings were all set to the maximum, at 4K resolution.
A side mention; both our motherboard and GPU were awesomely sponsored by the great folks at MSI. I can honestly say the MSI GeForce RTX 3080Ti Suprim X 12GB is a hell of a GPU and more than worth its asking price. Great performance in games, looks damn cool with its RGB stylings too!
Thanks to MSI and their kind generosity, we’ll be reviewing more PC games now since we have the hardware to deliver a quality review experience.
In actuality, playing The Pale Beyond with our rig is akin to killing an ant by using a Death Star. It’s pure overkill. Even a potato PC can run The Pale Beyond with its meagre requirements.
The Pale Beyond puts you in the soggy boots of First Officer Shaw, the second-in-command of the Temperance. You’ve been hired to find the Temperance’s sister ship, the Viscount, which went missing 5 years ago in a remote (and very frozen) location.
Things soon start to go awry as the Temperance gets herself lodged in some ice.
Before you know it, the Captain goes missing, some of the crew go AWOL and you’re short on supplies. Oh…need to survive for 35 weeks before any rescue can get to you. Yeah, it really sucks to be you…especially with the decisions that the game will chuck at you.
Do you spend dwindling resources to keep morale up? Or should you ration and try to make things last as long as you can? Is keeping warm a high priority? Should you be wasting so much fuel? Freezing a bit to prolong survival can’t be wrong, right? How should you punish those who don’t follow your orders? Whose advice should you take? What type of leader do you want to be?
Decisions upon decisions upon decisions will descend on you and it’s all up to you on how you navigate them. There are no clear cut answers, nothing that’s outright right or wrong.
…and that makes the game one of the hardest I’ve ever played.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the moral quagmires and various quandaries you have to mull over. Your crew literally lives or dies on what you choose to do. Some decisions will really give you pause on what you should do and even when you think you’ve made the best one, it usually isn’t.
Suffice to say, your actions have very really and consequences. Some of them aren’t apparent early on, but you can be sure they’ll bite you in the butt somehow later.
Having to assign crewmembers to undertake your orders and seeing them get hurt or killed really is sobering. Just as it’s sobering when you realize that you’re probably going to have to sacrifice lives for the greater good.
On top of making the hard choices, you’ll also have to balance the needs of the crew. If they’re sick, you have to take care of them. If they’re demoralized, raise their spirits. You might be the Captain, but you don’t exist in a vacuum. Plus, you need the crew to be healthy to do tasks and remain loyal. After all, you can’t be doing anything if you don’t have followers.
The game makes your decisions even more hard hitting with its writing. The characters all have their own personalities and you’ll grow to love (and hate) some of them. It hits you right in the feels when a favourite of your dies because of something you did (or didn’t) do.
I just wish the game gave players more opportunity to interact with the crew. You’ll barely have gotten to meet some of them before the crap hits the fan and from then out, there’s not much time for niceties as you try to survive. As a result, some are given more characterization than others.
As you’d probably suspect by now, there’s very little in the way of cutting edge visual effects in the game. In fact, you’ll be reading a lot more than actually playing. You’re mostly navigating static screens by clicking on waypoints (you can use a mouse or a controller to play the game) or interactive with objects that appear on the map.
Essential interactions are highlighted in gold, so won’t inadvertently progress the story without checking out the optional interactions first. Playing on a controller is a bit tricky because there’s no warning (or pause) to when choices appear.
Many, MANY times, I was hitting A thinking I was progressing the text only to mistakenly select the first response during decision making. A pause, or making decisions use the X button instead of A (I’m using an Xbox controller) to select would’ve gone a long way.
I doubt mouse users have the same issues though.
The Pale Beyond also has great art design.
It’s nothing too outlandish, but rooted enough in reality with its obvious 18th/ early 19th century fashion inspirations. It’s like one of those Jules Verne-sy art you’d associate with pulp novels and old school fiction.
There’s a grimy nature to the style that I absolutely love.
The Bottom Line.
There’s no doubts in my mind that The Pale Beyond is simply one of the best indie games I’ve played this year. It doesn’t have fancy visuals or killer music but it’s riveting gameplay and delicate balancing act of the trials and tribulations of command makes it stand above the rest.
If there’s a downside to the game, it’s that I was there was more of it.
Hard as hell but satisfying.
- Decisions matter.
- Great writing.
- Awesome art style.
- Could be lengthier.
- Using a controller can lead to mistakenly picking a choice without you realizing.
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