Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X
September 22, 2022
Hiding Spot Games
Hiding Spot Games
When you imagine a quaint forest town with adorable animals, you know you are in for a fun story. Beacon Pines takes that expectation and treads the path less travelled. The story is still filled with cute charm, but you are quickly made aware that all is not what it seems. Despite the game’s short length, it manages to tell a branching story that encompasses several important themes.
Beacon Pines centres around a young deer named Luka VanHorn, whose father passed away and his mother is missing. Taking care of him is his grandmother, Juniper, who arrived six months before the game begins. The story takes place during summer, where Luka and his best friend Rolo are looking for something fun to do. Rolo suggests going to an abandoned warehouse to investigate, as he has spotted shining lights inside. Luka agrees to investigate, which starts a series of events that changes the titular town of Beacon Pines.
The artwork in Beacon Pines is expertly drawn, with the characters and environment looking cute and innocent. It lulls the player into a false sense of security, making them believe that this is just a child’s silly adventure. Despite the adorable exterior, it’s no secret that something’s not right within Beacon Pines, which is the game’s greatest strength.
The contrast between what you know and what you see conveys a sense of unease normally associated with horror. Rather than showing creepy imagery like dark corners or trap doors, the contrast comes from everything being fine. Even when serious events happen, no one seems to believe it is anything more than a minor inconvenience. By filling you with that sense of unease, Beacon Pines does an excellent job drawing you into the story. You dread it, but you want to find out what happens next, if only to calm your sense of discomfort.
While Beacon Pines is not a horror game, you can’t help but feel unsettled or creeped out as you play. Everyone acts like nothing is wrong, the environments remain innocent, and the characters remain adorable. But instead of throwing a jump scare at you, the story keeps trudging along. The sense of anxiety when creepy moments are glossed over is genuinely scary.
“Something isn’t right in Beacon Pines, but everyone’s indifference creates a harrowing sense of unease.”
This uneasy feeling is supported by the music, which rarely shifts into an ominous tone. It’s a peaceful, quiet, friendly soundtrack that you would expect of a town filled with cute animals. You can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong, but the music keeps telling you everything is fine. The story is narrated by a kind and soothing voice, which rarely changes even when the situation becomes dire. It’s rare to find a dissonance this jarring, but Beacon Pines pulls it off masterfully.
In a manner similar to the Zero Escape series, Beacon Pines has a branching storyline. The narrator provides a helpful tutorial about how the branches work. Throughout his adventure, Luka will come across Charms, which are phrases that can be used during certain events. These phrases can not only dictate Luka’s actions, but the actions of others and even environmental factors. These Charms will also be responsible for changing the story at pivotal moments, which create the branching story. Not all stories are available to you from the start, but will open up as you find more Charms.
It might feel weird to require Charms to get past some situations, but it gives valuable exposition to the player. You might be confused when some stories end, but you carry that knowledge with you when choosing a different branch. Telling the story through these branches helps explore different character motivations, as well as effectively set up side stories.
Beacon Pines is not a difficult game. Charms aren’t difficult to find. You will often find them while talking with other people or searching in places you had to search. You can always check what your next objective is, and you will always know if something can be interacted with. It is hard to get lost, and rooms are not large. If you have inspected everything, the game gives you signals that it is time to move on. There won’t be any hard challenges or difficult puzzles waiting for players. It’s easy to pick up and finish, with most of the gameplay involving movement to different places.
While the lack of difficulty is disappointing for point-and-click enthusiasts, the story focus works in the game’s favour. Beacon Pines prevents frustration from replacing the sense of unease, which is the dominant feeling you should have while playing. Feeling anything other than the sharp contrast between innocence and unease will dull the impact of the story. By making sure you rarely struggle, Beacon Pines ensures that your mind is glued to what the story has to offer.
“Even the other characters have their own problems, which are acknowledged and taken seriously.”
Despite the creepy feeling you get throughout the game, Beacon Pines isn’t just about mystery and intrigue. For example, Luka is still dealing with the loss of his parents even before the story starts. Other characters have their own problems, even those who aren’t heavily involved in the story. The main plotline gets most of the focus, but these side stories are also explored in-depth. These range from the stress of moving frequently or getting into a fight with your best friend.
Something is wrong with Beacon Pines, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s issues take a backseat. Instead of brushing them off, each side story gets a detailed look and proper attention.
Luka’s issues with his parents are always taken seriously, and he reacts as a regular child would. Doing his best to work with these issues with the help of others is a big part of his characterization. It would be easy for the game to ignore those issues in favour of the narrative. Instead, you get relatable experiences and wise knowledge that helps to endear you to the cast. Everything is more complex than it appears and acknowledging that reality helps each side story stand on its own.
The strength of the side stories helps to address the game’s short length. Beacon Pines can be completed within 2-3 hours, and the story isn’t complex enough to keep you thinking. But with the inclusion of the side stories, the depth of each narrative is fulfilling enough that you don’t mind. Every story branch and narrative has a resolution, and you never feel like the story overstayed its welcome. Some parts of the story can be confusing (especially if a branch isn’t finished), but it does wrap up its loose ends. You will always end the game with a sense of satisfaction equivalent to reading a good book.
- Excellent contrast between cute and creepy that keeps you hooked on the story
- Simple difficulty prevents frustration from ruining the narrative
- The game never overstays its welcome
- Lack of challenge can be disappointing for some
- Some game features seem unnecessary
Beacon Pines effectively creates an uneasy atmosphere through contrast. The branching story helps build the exposition as you peer into the lives of the other townspeople. It’s a simple game that is on the shorter side with a few seemingly unnecessary features, but all loose ends are wrapped up by the end, leaving an enjoyable story that doesn’t overstay its welcome.