Outside of playing video games, I have many other hobbies, and one of my favorite ways to escape from reality is reading a good piece of fiction. The one difficulty I have is finding novels that are well written and, unfortunately, a lot of the best-sellers lack the wit, complexity, and composition that you find within classic literature. I don’t mean to bash the contemporary writing style, but in my opinion, it’s rare to find literature that reads beyond the sixth-grade level. Coming back to the topic of today’s review, the same principles apply to story-rich video games, which I have always loved. This being said I am always a bit cautious when approaching a new game, especially one of the more popular ones for the exact set of reasons that I’ve just mentioned. When I launched The Pale Beyond on my computer, I wondered what journey lay before me and if my intrigue would be satiated.
The Pale Beyond is a survival game where you and your crew embark on a voyage to reach the Pale Passage in search of a lost ship called The Viscount, facing difficult choices as you navigate through the bitter cold and harshness of the ocean. After the captain disappears, it is your responsibility to keep everyone safe, manage resources, and maintain morale.
As soon as I understood the premise of the game, I recognized a resemblance to a very real event in history: Ernest Shackleton’s expedition. Sure enough, the creators of The Pale Beyond used this account as inspiration for developing this polar adventure. It’s a small detail but it really makes a huge impact and adds to the realism of the game. Right from the beginning, The Pale Beyond pulls you in with a strong narrative and immersive first-person dialogue. Unlike some choice-based games, there isn’t a time limit when selecting an option, and I appreciated that I could take things at my own pace. Learning how to manage your crew and resources isn’t difficult either. There are a lot of working parts but everything is arranged in a way that is easy to navigate so I never felt overwhelmed when learning the initial gameplay mechanics.
I love how the NPCs aren’t just a part of the crew. They have unique backstories, personalities, and opinions, and contribute to the group in different ways. How you interact with each person can change the entire trajectory of the voyage, sometimes resulting in devastating outcomes. If you really like animals, dogs especially, there are moments in this game that might be a punch to the gut. You have been warned.
Another reason I was quickly invested in the game was its wonderful atmosphere. Bellular Studios does an amazing job of incorporating music and sound effects as you interact with the crew, adding to the bleakness of the Antarctic climate. Sometimes the melodies are somber, mirroring the vibe of the icy desolation, but other times they are more dramatic as you build momentum and near your destination. Pair this with some of the most beautiful visuals I have seen in a game and it’s really hard to find anything to critique.
I suppose one area where The Pale Beyond could improve is the pace. There were times when I felt like a choice I needed to make was urgent, but there was no real sense of urgency. When there’s a life-or-death scenario, I want to feel like there are consequences if I don’t make a choice quickly enough, like in games such as OXENFREE. I believe Bellular Studios aimed for a more minimalist approach to the overall design of the game, but I think a few areas could be tweaked to add a bit more depth.
Does this mean that The Pale Beyond isn’t worth your time? Absolutely not! It’s an adventure that’s both beautiful and agonizing as you face difficult decisions. It’s a fairly quick game but because there are different endings it has a lot of playability and is a game that I will certainly revisit. The Pale Beyond is available on Steam, waiting for you to choose your own icy adventure.
The Pale Beyond
+ chill atmosphere mixed with a variety of choices and survival management challenges
+ gorgeous visuals and soundtrack
+ richly developed characters and narrative
– pace of the game is somewhat slow
– lack of voice actors make characters less lifelike
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