Due to release this week, Beacon Pines is a mystery game with an unusual past. Created by Hiding Spot Games, the title was initially pitched as a ‘cute and creepy adventure’ on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter. The project ran from February to March last year and raised nearly $85,000 against its goal of $30,000. This meant that not only was the project fully funded, it also managed to meet all of its stretch goals, promising extra content over what the developers had originally promised.
Needless to say, fans were excited about this game.
Now, over a year later, they’ll finally be able to explore the stunning mystery adventure that their support has helped to produce.
Beacon Pines will be available on PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch on September 22.
Story – An Unfolding Mystery
Beacon Pines is, in many ways, a game of contradictions. Despite looking like a children’s story – albeit a beautiful one – the game is quick to remind you that this isn’t that kind of tale.
The story starts with 12-year-old protagonist Luka alone at his father’s gravestone. You then learn that not only did his father die six years ago, Luka’s mother recently went mysteriously missing. With that somewhat inauspicious beginning laid out, the game progresses on lighter ground as Luka and his friend Rolo head off to start their summer by exploring a mysteriously glowing warehouse on the edge of town.
From there, the story unfolds with different branching paths to take depending on player choices. Over time you’ll start to uncover the secrets of your small town and get to know its residents in all their quirky glory.
Beacon Pines excels in a lot of ways, both in terms of gameplay and visual design. Still, it is the story that really sells it. The game is framed as a literal storybook, in which you can change specific words to bring about new outcomes. Investigating the different scenarios and watching how the characters react to them is a wonderful exploration of the world the developers have built and it is this that will keep players coming back hour after hour.
Gameplay – Choose Your Own Adventure
In terms of base mechanics, Beacon Pines starts off tremendously simple. Between arrow key or WASD movement and the spacebar to interact with things or jump, the game’s controls are so simple as to feel almost wasted on a computer keyboard. The lack of a mouse in particular feels initially very strange.
Where the game’s mechanics really shine, however, is in how they tell the story. Beacon Pines is a mystery game, where players have to make decisions in order to uncover truths about the town. These decisions take the form of ‘Charms’, or words, that can complete sentences in the story. In important moments, players are offered a choice of Charms they’ve found to decide how that moment will play out. Selecting one will move the player onto that particular ‘branch’ of the story.
Over time, however, you might come to decide that you made the wrong choice. That’s where the storybook comes in. With it, players are free to travel back to a previous choice they made and select a different charm. Doing so can entirely change the outcome of that scenario, as well as have knock-on effects all the way through the rest of the story.
This mechanic is somewhat basic from a gameplay perspective, but it adds such a unique twist to how the story is told that it remains engaging right to the end. Mystery stories in games often suffer by being unable to truly hide things from the player, due to needing to offer those details as dialogue options or mission objectives; Beacon Pines neatly sidesteps this issue by offering the player a multitude of options and letting them play out all of them to their conclusion. One choice might be objectively better than another, but choosing the wrong one has no downsides. If anything, it should be encouraged as it leads to more gameplay.
On a technical level, Beacon Pines is a very simple game. How it uses its mechanics, however, is absolutely brilliant.
Audio and Graphics – Cute Horrors
Alongside Beacon Pines’ unique mechanics, the game’s central appeal is going to be its art direction. Between stunning artistic visuals and a gentle, atmospheric soundtrack, just existing in this game’s world is a constant delight.
Visually, the game focuses on two core aspects: the small, self-contained ‘rooms’ you can explore, and the individual character portraits used during dialogue. Both are consistently fantastic. Following the storybook setting, every frame looks like a painting. Extreme detail has gone into designing the characters; each one is unique and visually striking in their own way, and a lot of their characterisation comes through in their portraits without the game explicitly needing to show it.
The map is similarly well put together. Rather than one large space to explore, the town and its buildings are spread across multiple small maps that float in colourful voids. The separation of these pieces can make the world feel slightly less cohesive than a single map might, but in turn it gave the developers ample opportunity to perfect each space. The town of Beacon Pines is not large, but the different parts all manage to feel unique and realistic. It becomes very easy to care about the town and its people very quickly.
The soundtrack is your constant companion as you explore the world. With no character voice acting outside of the narrator, the main audio in Beacon Pines is the backing music that follows you as you move through the story. Consequently, the developers have put a lot of time into making the music fit the scene. Gentle and quiet, while dipping occasionally into eerie, the music is the perfect representation of the early days of summer in a small town.
In total, while Beacon Pines is amply carried by its story, the art design of this game is phenomenal. It takes its lead in some ways from games such as A Night In The Woods, but at the same time manages to be a wholly unique experience that is very much worth trying for yourself.
Beacon Pines was played on Steam with a key provided by Double Jump Communications.