Would you look at that … Alex is about to review another rogue-lite! Yes, I am and I’m more than happy in my current cycle of dying, losing a bit of my sanity, starting over, and repeating ad-nauseam. I love this genre because it’s not about doing brilliantly, it’s about doing a little bit better each time. Eventually, you give up because your brain is bleeding or you actually get good. Very importantly, this isn’t Dark Souls “get good” when you suddenly develop an extra limb and eyes in the back of your head. This is a nice progression of getting steadily better at something until you master it and feel really good about yourself. Then show off to all your friends who don’t have the same level of insanity you do and therefore aren’t inspired to join the masochistic loop you’re living in. Today’s game is Beacon. Let’s see if it’s any good, shall we?
So, I was all for the game style here before I even launched the title. Roguelikes and rogue-lites are my jam and if the style is applied properly to the game and I’m given some fun new mechanics to play with I’m usually happy. Beacon is all about style and has a pretty unusual upgrade system so we’re off to a very good start. Let’s set this aside for the moment though and take a very brief look at the story.
In Beacon, you’ve crashed your ship on the side of an unexplored alien planet. Making this particularly bad experience worse is that you’ve been killed in the process. Or, should I say, the original version of you has been killed. What’s still intact and functional in all the smashed-up debris is the ship’s cloning chamber. Kindly, this device is more than willing to cough up another version of you after you expire so you’ll get plenty of chances to explore the highly dangerous alien-infested planet.
The locals absolutely aren’t friendly so if meeting psychopathic robots, killer plant life, and murderous fauna is your thing you’ll be in your element. All you need to do now is find and activate the ship’s beacon, which has been thrown somewhere from the crash site. Well, they aren’t going to make your job easy for you now are they?
On the surface, Beacon is a pretty simple top-down shooter. You’re running about from zone to zone blasting enemies to bits until you get to the aforementioned beacon at the end of the level. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the playstyle as this is something we’ve all encountered before. I don’t actually have a problem with this because that’s just the skeleton of the game and there’s loads of stuff on top of that making this title brilliant.
The first thing I noted actually, was the control system. I was expecting Beacon to be a twin-stick shooter, simply because there are a ridiculous number of roguelikes out there that use this format. It was actually nice to sit down without a controller and go a bit old-school with the keyboard and mouse for a change. The UI is perfectly responsive so I had absolutely no issues here.
The first thing that makes Beacon stand out as something a bit unusual is its upgrade system. This title is less about your gear and more about your character build and this is all done in quite an interesting way. Throughout your adventure, you’ll collect DNA strands from different enemies. You can then sequence these between runs to upgrade your character ready to go back into the fray. The very least you’ll get from each piece of DNA is an adjustment to your base stats, so you might get a speed boost at a little bit of a cost to your luck for instance.
After this, the DNA can mutate giving you some pretty awesome abilities. This is where your build is likely to come into play. My current character has an awesome flame dash ability which lets me tear through enemies leaving a streak of fire at my feet. This suits my playstyle very well because I never play melee builds in games such as this and want to be mobile. This being said I also have a mutation that’s given me tentacles perfect for up close and personal stuff that I’ll be looking to swap out later.
You keep your character build through every iteration of your clone so it’s about honing what you’ve collected into something that works for you. I love this idea because I don’t need to go back to the drawing board every time I die and I’m not fooling about with stat increments every five minutes. Everything feels smooth and progressive.
You find your gear as you go and there’s a lot of it. From weapons to auxiliaries, to passives there is a silly amount of stuff to arm yourself with. This is obviously is all being done to accentuate your build. You won’t be able to keep your kit between missions but in a fun twist, you’ll find augmented weapons that have been left behind by previous clones that will give you that much-needed leg-up. The feeling of continuity you get considering you’re playing something that changes with every new run is really something worth noting and something that keeps me wanting to come back for more.
There is so much to explore and find in Beacon and this is something that makes the game stand out for me. From weapons and mods to bits of lore there is an awful lot to get your hands on. The game doesn’t just give its secrets away either. You might get lucky and find a useful bit of kit just sitting in a box in a secret room but that’s a very big might. Some of the enemies in Beacon will absolutely flatten you and getting that wicked piece of loot might just spell and end for your run. I dropped into the game shop to see what they had for me only to be almost blown to bits by a rogue mech that just happened to be making its home there.
The level of unpredictability just adds to the excitement of playing and this all adds to the addictive nature of the experience. As a little side note, (but an important one,) you’ve also got the weather to consider while you’re running about. Different storm cells explode onto the planet’s surface. If you’re going toe to toe with a large nasty and it suddenly starts raining giant shards of ice you might have to rethink your strategy. Storms always seem to hit at the worst times and this is brilliant because it just turns up the action.
Lastly, I think the difficulty level of Beacon needs a quick mention. I’m noticing that a lot of rogue-style games out there seem to be difficult for the sake of it. Fans of the genre want a challenge, it’s definitely something we sign up for when we set out on any new game. The thing is, there’s a difference between needing a decent amount of skill to get by and just getting shot to bits all the time because the game has been made artificially difficult. Beacon is definitely a fast-paced, action-heavy game, your deaths don’t feel cheap though. You’ll feel rewarded as you plow through the waves of enemies and slipping up just makes you want to jump back into the fight. This, in my opinion, is commendable.
So does Beacon stand above the other rogue-lites out there on the market? I would think that this was a very subjective question, but I believe that it can definitely hold its own. There is enough there to warrant playing and it’s a very fun game. Is it the next Hades? No, it’s not. What makes Hades and games of its ilk stand out is the feeling of story progression you get between runs. The fact that Beacon makes you find lore as you go via log notes and the like means that there isn’t a constant background narrative. Personally, I like a lot of depth to my plot but then this is a different way of doing things and some players might find the learn as you go approach more to their taste. The top-down shooter is a tried and tested genre so if you’re looking for something completely individual that you’ve never seen before you won’t find that here either. What you will get is a very well-polished rogue-lite with some really fun mechanics. If you’re looking for a new adventure that’s absolutely above-average and does all it needs to do, Beacon might well be up your street.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A very respectable outing
Beacon does all the things it’s setting out to do very well. This is a tight, action-packed, rogue-lite with bags of replayability and style. It’s not a world-breaking entry into the hall of fame but there’s a huge amount here to love. This is a really good call for rogue-lite fans out there looking for a new thrill.