Adventure games have been an integral part of video game history. From early text adventure games, to point & click graphic adventures of the 90s, they have shaped the modern scene of the gaming industry. And yet, with the modern technology and graphical advances of action games, the adventure genre itself has been pushed to the sidelines.
Modern adventure games have told great stories for years, but there hasn’t been any innovation to push the genre forward. Beacon Pines, developed by Hiding Spot and published by Fellow Traveller, manages to stay true to the core of the adventure genre, and yet renovate and introduce new ideas that a modern adventure game truly deserves.
Beacon Pines tells the story of the adolescent boy, Luka, in the small town of Beacon Pines. Luka’s father passed away a few years ago after an incident with the town’s fertilizer factory, and his mother went missing a few months before the game begins. Luka now lives with his grandmother, and Beacon Pines game begins with him and his best friend Rolo, exploring and playing around the town, and getting into some mysterious trouble.
The first thing that catches the eye in Beacon Pines, is how stunningly beautiful the game looks. The town is divided into small sections, and each building and each part of town is like a detailed and gorgeous canvas for the game’s art. Exploring Beacon Pines‘s world, seeing the various characters, and discovering new locations, is visually exhilarating.
Beacon Pine‘s tale is like a choose-your-own-adventure book, and we actually see the book and the written form of the story when we begin a new chapter in the story. The characters themselves don’t have a voice-over, but the narration done by Kirsten Mize is a whimsical, emotional, and impactful addition to the game’s experience. Beacon Pine feels like playing in a children’s book, and the narration is a significant part of bringing the story to life.
We start the story when Luka is visiting his father’s grave, The young child has been through a lot, but his best friend, Rolo, is there for him from the beginning. Luka is the shy, introverted kid, and Rolo is the loud and funny part of the duo. Their friendship feels natural, and the characters are well designed and developed. This is something about Beacon Pines that keeps getting better as we play through the game. There are dozens of characters with big or small roles, but they all play their part in the story, they all feel unique and interesting, and this makes the game’s world especially fun to explore.
The town is relatively small, and there are only a handful of locations that we can visit in each chapter of the story. But interacting with each character at different times is such an enjoyable experience that I was never in a rush to get to the next chapter. I wanted to explore, see what everyone is doing, and hear what they have to say. The characters make the world of Beacon Pines engaging and fun.
While Beacon Pines is not technically a point & click game, the gameplay loop is very similar to this classic genre. We go around the different sections of the world, interacting with the characters, and using certain objects to progress the story. In the case of Beacon Pines, we don’t have an inventory or items to use, instead, we have charms. certain words that we can use to fill in the blanks in the book. These decisions that we make throughout the story, will set us on different paths, and each path can have its own ending. Some short, some tragic, and some not as satisfying as we would’ve hoped.
This is a better implementation of classic “puzzles” in adventure games. We are used to throwing everything we have at the problem until we find the correct answer. But Beacon Pines gives us limited options, and none of them are wrong answers. Each decision and its subsequent paths are part of a greater story and exploring each one is what the game wants us to do. We see the results of bad choices, but we don’t lose the game or lose progress because of it. Beacon Pines doesn’t punish bad decisions, it encourages them. And it’s the bad decisions that can lead to memorable and amazing stories.
This is the brilliance of Beacon Pines‘ narrative design. By seeing different endings and outcomes, we learn new clues or find out more about certain characters, and then we go back and choose a different path to see how that one will turn out. This mechanic demystifies the significance of a good ending and literally shows that it’s all about the journey. And yet, we see so many different outcomes of our decisions that when we get to the story’s actual ending, it’s even more satisfying.
Even in the fictional and quirky world and cast of characters in Beacon Pines, the story is really relatable. It’s about the trauma, friendship, and adventures of a young child, and it’s full of childlike fun and drama. One of the moments that still stand out to me, was when Luka had an intense fight with Rolo, and he spent the next day staying in his bed. That’s literally what that part of the game was. An angry, sad, and emotionally exhausted Luka stays in his room. He would go around the room, kicking a ball, thinking about the fight, and sleeping. This scene couldn’t have been longer than a few minutes, but it reminded me of my own childhood when I would have a fight with my friends or my sister and I would just lock myself in my room and sulk. The way that the scene could convey this emotion and feel with a simple element of interacting with a ball or the bed, was masterful.
Beacon Pines‘ story is not revolutionary. It’s a group of kids who get into mysterious and unlikely trouble. We’ve seen the likes of it in many works of fiction before, Stranger Things being one of the more recent and popular ones. It’s not the story that makes this game shine, it’s how it’s told. Beacon Pines is a choose-your-own-adventure story that uses every potential of the video game medium to its fullest.
It took me about eight hours to finish Beacon Pines, and I was so enraptured by the experience that I decided to wait a few days before writing the review. I thought that the emotional ending was the main reason that I thought the game seemed so perfect. But now, going back through my notes and recorded footage, I can’t seem to find one flaw or shortcoming that the game had. When it comes to a narrative adventure game, Beacon Pines has it all; Gorgeous visuals, amazing narration, an engaging story, fun and relatable characters, and a simple and smooth gameplay experience. A perfect experience from start to finish.
Nima played Beacon Pines on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.