Review: Coldly Make the Hard Decisions in The Pale Beyond
I have to admit that there was a moment there that I was obsessed with Arctic exploration, especially the expeditions looking for the Northern Passage—including Shackleton’s expedition, and Franklin’s Lost Expedition (which was fictionally portrayed with supernatural elements in the first season of The Terror. I thought, therefore, that The Pale Beyond would be the perfect game to let me test my decision making against the frozen north. But while it requires you to make the hard decisions, The Pale Beyond is more about intuition and social interaction than cold calculations.
The Pale Beyond is a survival game mixed with a visual novel. You have to manage resources to keep your crew alive, but you’ll also need to convince them that you’re the one making the best decisions—and then you’ll need to make the right decisions to see your crew back to safety. Locked in ice looking for a ship that met a similar fate, you’ll have to manage fuel to prevent your people from freezing, and food to stop them from starving.
Gameplay in The Pale Beyond consists mostly of dialogue choices, with some resource management. If by the end of any given week you’re low on fuel or food, your crew can be put into a perilous and often deadly predicament.
Despite its lack of robust media content, developer Bellular Studios somehow manages to use still images, music, and immersive sound to tell a harrowing and suspenseful tale of survival, with a mystery threaded throughout. However, I wasn’t a fan of its art style—while the hand drawn characters and scenes look great, they tend to veer a little too close to Disney or Dreamworks characters, just with grim expressions.
While The Pale Beyond takes place in a world that is slightly parallel to our own, it takes place in a time period that is reminiscent of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, which started around 1912, with a ship that became icebound, similar to the fate of The Pale Beyond’s crew. The Pale Beyond doesn’t try for historical accuracy, but nonetheless, it does a great job of portraying what arctic exploration was like over 110 years ago.
If you desire a game where you can take complete control of your expedition, The Pale Beyond isn’t it. Each pivotal gameplay moment usually ends up being a dialogue choice. Beyond those branching choices, you have little other control in how the narrative unfolds—beyond, that is, making decisions to how much of your resources to use when, and who to send out on potentially deadly expeditions to procure more.
While The Pale Beyond isn’t the artic exploration game I wanted, it definitely scratched that itch. At the heart of the game is a mystery, and how you proceed to unravel it is your choice—if you can get that far. However, despite multiple branching options, the story in The Pale Beyond feels linear and almost predetermined. While I enjoyed my time with The Pale Beyond, I don’t find myself wanting to get back into its freezing north anytime soon.
The Pale Beyond is available tomorrow for PC via Steam.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review