Beacon is Searching for the Right Formula

Published: March 2, 2019 2:00 PM /

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There's something romantic about the wild frontiers of space. Colonizing virgin worlds in the hopes of exploiting mineral resources or expanding territories is the subject of many science fiction works. Few games, however, have touched on the dangers of "going native," which is where Beacon steps in. After years in development, Monothetic's mutating roguelike looks set to land in Steam Early Access. With a hefty challenge and vast replay value, even an early look at Beacon shows the project has serious promise.

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Even in the future, elevators are still slow

Put mildly, Freja Akiyama is having a bad day. After crash landing from orbit above an alien world, her ship scatters fragments of her interstellar home across the landscape. When she awakens, the first thing she sees is her dismembered body. With her clone lab up and running, Freja must now traverse the planet in search of building materials and distress beacon parts while fighting against a world that is wholly against her presence.

Along the way, Freja hoards various guns, injects a whole lot of drugs she finds in the environment and picks up a lot of DNA from fallen enemies. After her clone inevitably kicks the bucket, you head back to the cloning bay to design your next iteration. Here, you use the acquired DNA to provide stat increases or decreases. These stats govern everything from health to critical hit resistance and will fluctuate wildly during your playtime. The four distinct types of DNA strands you acquire range in rarity, with rarer segments providing larger buffs or debuffs.

Combining your DNA with the local gene pool is a Very Good Idea™, especially because strands have a chance to mutate when sequencing your genome, depending on strand type. Volatile strands have the greatest chance to mutate, but also have the biggest stat debuffs. Fortified strands, conversely, provide more positive stat boosts, but have a much lower chance to mutate. Monothetic has thus designed a prisoner's dilemma: do you play it safe in terms of stats and mutation chance, or do you risk major stat decreases at the chance of a game-changing mutation? Thankfully mutations aren't permanent; if you don't like what you've got, then a clean slate is only a few deaths away.

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Nessie has seen better days

Mutations thoroughly invigorate Beacon in a myriad of ways. One of my favorite combinations so far gave me a robotic diamond head and electrified legs. The two mutations together more than doubled Freja's speed and made her immune to stuns. A different set of mutations chained an electric strike and a quill spray together every time I took damage, making returning fire a trivial task. I still died anyway. Beacon is by no means an overwhelmingly challenging game, but death comes quickly and frequently enough. Still, with the variety on offer, I treated every death as a new opportunity to see what new mutations I would encounter.

Mutations do more than just affect stats: they change flavor text of logs and objects discovered while exploring. Not much lore is here as of now, but what snippets you get feature commentary from Freja. In human form, she considers herself lucky to find a pristine jug of water. With a mutation that changes her feet into tree roots, she finds the same jug revolting. It's a small touch, certainly, but a memorable one. While I was unable to make any serious progress in the story, as I would typically die on the third or fourth level, it'd be interesting to see some of the later log entries and personal notes change depending on different mutations.

Visually, Beacon is a treat. Acid bugs glow sickly green, while the robotic populace smokes and sparks as it springs to life years after manufacture. Giant skeletons dot the landscape as huge pillbugs smash into walls, hoping to crush you. Beacon explodes with color, and the environments have a purpose beyond just being nice to look at. Much of the exploring is vertical rather than horizontal. You'll use clouds of noxious gas, geysers, and more to jump ever higher, and some of the best secrets I found came from stepping off of a ledge accidentally.

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Someone get Doomguy on the phone

Beacon also never bogs you down with numbers or weapon statistics, keeping the action flowing. While the gunplay may not be as frantic as, say, Enter the Gungeon, the design choice to limit all of the heavy stat optimization and number crunching to a screen only viewable after death means you're never left comparing stats for guns. I preferred to move fast and shoot on the move. Because of this, the starting pistol and many of the fast-loading machine guns and shotguns meshed well with my run-and-gun style. Still, for others who might appreciate a slower, more tactical approach, there's plenty of armaments suited for your needs.

If you're worried about Beacon's future as it navigates the trappings of Early Access, fear not. Monothetic has published a roadmap of forthcoming updates, which promise new enemies, weapons, music, and much more. These updates look to flesh out the existing level generation, which tends towards sprawling complexes and ship graveyards. As mentioned above, you'll constantly be rolling off of cliffs in order to navigate your environment. The persistent map means you're never totally at a loss for where to go next, or where the exit is.

From what we've seen so far, Beacon is proving to be an incredibly strong debut in a crowded field. After years of action roguelikes feeling out and refining the genre, Beacon feels like a natural progression of their work. With a no-frills attitude backed by a suitable challenge and immense replay value, there's a lot to like already in Beacon. I can't wait to die and die again.

TechRaptor previewed Beacon on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.

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Kyle Johnson
| Japanese Gaming Specialist

Professional painter. Semi-professional weeb. I've played hundreds of games, but finished very few. I speak Chinese and Minnesotan.