Beautiful Desolation Review: District Pooch

An alternate 80s South Africa, courtesy of the Penrose, means a bleak, desolate environment that is equally beautiful. Beautiful Desolation for the PS4.

To say Beautiful Desolation is beautiful is mandatory and in no way lazy just because of the title. If you’re of a certain age, some of the gameplay mechanics will reignite fond memories covering so many genres.

I’m looking back at the 90s mostly, at titles such as Dune 2Commandos, the Sierra big box adventures and anything with a half-decent cutscene to help unravel a story without resorting to FMV.

Beautiful Desolation, from Untold Tales and The Brotherhood, mimics so many elements from these games indirectly, yet it feels like there’s no other game like it. On first inspection, this resembles a remastered classic, but other than the earlier PC release in 2020, this PS4 review is brand spanking new.

Beautiful Desolation Review – PS4

Set in 70s South Africa, a couple go to pick up the male’s brother. You get the impression that he’s a bit of a dick and the black sheep for a good reason based on the subtleties in the conversation between the three.

Beautiful Desolation PS4 Review - Jump!
Jump! Source: PR

All of a sudden, an Independence Day event happens, and things go batshit crazy. The car is overturned, and the woman, Charlize, is killed. Fast-forward to the 80s, and you play the brother I assumed was the one being picked up, when in fact, it’s the widow, Mark – or Markie.

Set in an alternate 80s universe, those Independence Day things are shrouded in conspiracy theories: Mark has to get up to the Penrose. This structure hovers above the ocean, using Don’s help, who has security clearance and a nearby chopper.

Upon arrival, Mark finds the evidence he requires, but things kick off even further when a robotic security dog locates them, a brief bloom, and then all of a sudden, the Penrose has transformed, and they’ve somehow teleported into the future.

Dystopia? You Got It

Dystopian landscapes in gaming are dominated by evil corporations and cyberpunk. In Beautiful Desolation, it’s a barren land that resembles The Last Of Us, only from an isometric viewpoint and all threats removed.

The goal is to reunite with Mark’s brother Don with the help of the security dog that discovered you, Pooch, and somehow return to the present

This looks like an RPG, but it’s not. Though you control Mark directly with the controller, Beautiful Desolation is effectively a point and click adventure with a District 9 flavour (not just because of the South Africa connection), but from that isometric stance, and aside from the menu’s, no cursor.

It’s such an unusual game as there are so many hallmarks from other genres, but it isn’t some messy mashup. In terms of presentation, it’s very very good. The UI is clunky, but in an 80s way – like it should be. We feel as out of place in this parallel future as Mark’s mullet.

Lore You In

Beautiful Desolation PS4 Review - Jarek
It’s Jarek! Source: PR

Beautiful Desolation feels incredibly deep – like there’s so much crammed into this one game that it can be as overwhelming as some of the dialects. That’s no slur of the voice talent – they’re spot-on, and having minimal knowledge of South African culture, the slang and dialogue pieces were a real highlight. 

Some of the bots you encounter are a bit hard to understand – reading the text didn’t help much either, but I got the gist of it. The issue, if that’s even the right word, is learning or remembering names as if watching a Star Wars film for the first time. Jedi? Padawan? Tatooine (that’s also as far as my Star Wars knowledge goes too).

There isn’t enough opportunity to learn more about the world other than the ‘tooltips’ found throughout that are toggled on and off with the touchpad. To be fair, I liked this approach as you can move Mark about while reading facts without it slowing you down/getting in the way.

On that note, there’s no need to fear enemy encounters or anything like that. Besides some mini-games, Beautiful Desolation is a safe bet in terms of danger – the only real danger comes from your problem-solving skills and ability to navigate the environment.

Rocky Road

Between the world maps, navigated with an aircraft called Buffalo and additional regions unlocked with Stargate like Wardens, the bulk of the game takes place from a Commandos/Partisans 1941 viewpoint. You’ll walk around, find some codex to decipher, NPCs and the odd bit of gold to melt down to earn credits.

Beautiful Desolation PS4 Review - The floor is lava
The floor is lava. Source: PR

The biggest highlight to the game is the slightly ambiguous storytelling (lore stuff), interactions with NPCs and cutscenes

My initial battle was working out where I could go. If behind an object, you’ll appear as a green cutout so you can see where you’re going, but sometimes it isn’t always clear where you can go, such as through that truck, or over some vines. It all looks great and all, but you will encounter some invisible walls in Beautiful Desolation.

The voice talent here is brilliant, and when engaging in a chinwag, the screen shifts to a 4:3 ratio with optional dialogue paths. 

These paths are often very funny, and I’d be lying if I haven’t been saying fok or fokken around the house. Actually, these elements were my reward: locate an item, solve an alien puzzle, then a cutscene would follow or a scene with some pseudo-human that wouldn’t be out of place in Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Action! Cut! Action! Cut!

For some, cutscenes and endless dialogue scenes can be offputting, but for those of us of a certain age, this is what we grew up with. As much as Command & Conquer was a great game, it was always enjoyable to see an FMV sequence or CG rendered story element. Those were our trophies/achievements of the day.

With Beautiful Desolation, from my perspective, it has that same nostalgia, and when a cutscene would kick in, I’d be in my element and keen on the latest reveal or seeing more of the scenery. That might not be for everyone, and I’ll admit that some of the wandering around and backtracking did grate on me a little.

    Point and click would be a good way to categorise this game, but it’s nothing like a conventional game like Maniac Mansion or Leisure Suit Larry. As I said, Beautiful Desolation is a compilation of a variety of genres/sub-genres without it feeling messy. Familiar territory, yet a unique experience.

    Beautiful Desolation PS4 Review Summary

    Can I recommend this game? Absolutely. The issue is determining who it’s for. The consensus would be that this is a gorgeous game, and while there isn’t an issue with walls of text or overwhelming codex, some may find the cutscenes and interactions a bit of an interruption. But remember, this is quite common in the genre, and despite it following a lot of the ‘rules’, Beautiful Desolation is a title I’d recommend seeking out.


    • Fantastic character designs and intriguing story.
    • Dialogue with NPCs and cutscenes a highlight.
    • Brilliant voice acting.
    • ‘Safe’ environment without combat.


    • A few invisible walls and unclear paths.
    • Lots of backtracking to decipher puzzles.
    • Once interacted with an NPC, can’t repeat the dialogue.