Beacon Pines | game review
A cute exterior hiding an often dark core - much like the town itself.
Game summary: Something strange is happening at the old warehouse, and Luka and his friends seem to be the only ones taking notice. (Xbox.com)
I didn't really know what to expect from Beacon Pines, having heard very little about it other than it being quite highly-rated by those who had played. Having beaten it myself - and going back to collect all the achievements to boot - I can absolutely understand why as there's a really good story with some surprisingly dark moments for what appears on the surface to be a very child-friendly game.
It never gets too dark though, pulling back just when you start thinking "are they really going to go there?", but that's no bad thing as I think that would've really been a major mistake. The story also makes use of multiple timelines too, so you can see how events play out if you take one choice over another, with most of these branches having pretty bad endings.
As much as I did enjoy Beacon Pines, how dark it got and being able to see how bad things could go really made me want to see a more serious game involving time travel using the same gameplay mechanics of Charms - words you can collect and use at certain points to take the story in the direction you want. Just to be clear, there isn't any time travel in this game, the alternate routes are merely showing the 'what if?' scenarios.
Saying that, some of the branches are actually necessary to play through as they're occasionally the only way to pick up the Charms you need to unlock options on other branches. It's another layer of enjoyment seeing how different decisions can have such huge effects, although I will say that a couple did seem to have very arbitrary endings just to get you off a branch and back on track with the 'correct' version of the story.
I say 'correct' because everything is leading you towards the end in Beacon Pines anyway - the only way the game can end is by either completing the story or stopping playing. There's no real threat or challenge here, so it is a case of just keeping on going and you'll eventually see the proper ending - which was fine with me, because I was enjoying myself so much.
In addition to a twisting, turning plot that would feel incredibly out of place for such a cute game, the many characters you meet are all really well-written, with distinctive personalities that make each of them memorable to some degree. There are a crowd scenes late on and it's surprisingly easy to be able to identify everyone who appears while remembering what makes them unique.
You can use a keyboard or controller to move around, and I'd advise picking whichever you're most comfortable with because there's nothing requiring quick reflexes or even any precision control. The controls are mostly limited to just what you need, so you won't even end up using a lot of the buttons a controller - I say 'mostly' because the button you use to interact with things also acts as a way to jump, but there's nothing in the game that requires a jump, so I don't know why it's even in the game!
I would highly recommend playing Beacon Pines as it's a game that everyone can play with relative ease, has a story and characters written well enough to keep you interested until the end and it's not even that long either. I had been planning to play an hour a day or so to get through it, but was enjoying it so much that I finished it in two days, with it taking me just under six hours to see every branch to its conclusion and gain every achievement on top.
Beacon Pines is a very cutesy game that uses the kid-friendly looks to hide some really dark moments, although it never gets too dark. It does genuinely look very good though, from the excellent locations and the brilliant character designs making practically every scene worthy of a screenshot and the writing is just as good. Not one for those seeking a challenge though, as it's effectively impossible to fail.