A lot of fun can be had in forgetting to switch off your voice recorder while you’re trying a game out. It would have meant that I missed out on the Beacon devs whispering that I wasn’t quite playing their game quite right, with the game’s Roguelite gameplay revolving around dying in order to upgrade your character. The problem was that I wasn’t dying. Luckily I eventually did, which meant that not only did I realise my mistake, I also captured their little cheer to celebrate. Whether playing it wrong or not though, Beacon has all the hallmarks of being a future Roguelite champion, though you’ll have to forgo your humanity to get there.
DNA lies at the heart of Beacon’s futuristic gameplay. As you despatch the varied collection of sci-fi enemies you’re able to collect strands of DNA from them which, when you die or complete a section, you’re able to splice with your own genetic make-up. As you get further and find more exotic examples they’ll cause your body to mutate, so you might find that you’ve grown a horn or in my case have your nose replaced with squid-like tentacles. It’s unlikely you’re going to come out of it prettier than you went in.
You might well start to feel a creeping sense of regret for central character Freja Akiyama, as it soon becomes apparent that you’ve been at this for some time. The game’s narrative is doled out to you by finding written logs around the world, giving you the chance to piece things together for yourself. The fact that much of this information has been left by previous versions of yourself is sobering, and as you punctuate Freja’s attempts to find her Beacon with yet more deaths, and yet more mutations, there’s more emotional impact here than you’ll find in most Roguelitea.
You’ve crashed on Kovus-18, an inhospitable setting that’s populated by various toxic bugs, killer robots and tentacled plants, and the only upside to all of this is the chance to steal their DNA. They’re generally set on killing you, so you’re not likely to feel too much remorse when you’re filling them full of hot lead or plasma, and Beacon’s ranged twin-stick shooting mechanics manage to feel different enough to maintain some degree of freshness to a well-worn mechanic.
The game makes sure that you’ve got plenty of ways to get rid of your arrayed nemeses, and this being a Roguelite there’s little surprise that you’ll be looting boxes and the occasional fallen enemy to collect things. In the game’s current First Access state there’s over fifty weapons and more than eighty items for you to delve into, with more promised upon its final release. There’s plenty on hand that feel sufficiently different to keep things interesting, and players will no doubt find their favourite set-ups.
Besides your weaponry, the other items are spread across different grenade types, single use pickups, auxiliaries that cooldown after use, and passive upgrades that give you different kinds of permanent boosts. Across my run I built up a nice little arsenal including a super slow laser cannon, a reusable health pack and a personal shield, all of which helped me to feel far more empowered than I did at the outset.
To feel truly powerful you’ll need to get tinkering with that DNA, and you’re given five slots to drag and drop different strands into before you try sequencing them together. Each one will generally carry at least one positive attribute and one negative, so while you might gain speed you’ll also lose health, for example, and the trick is in building an improved clone by balancing out the positives and negatives across them all. It’s a fun little metagame, and I can see players getting deeply embroiled in the possible builds.
Each of the DNA strands you grab only has three uses as well, so you’ll constantly be looking to find new and improved material to keep your clone competitive as the challenge deepens. At this early stage I think that’s the only question mark remaining, as I was able to manage fairly well without pushing too hard into the cloning mechanic. Hopefully the final release will either tighten up the difficulty level or give players a choice of settings.
What doesn’t need improving is the game’s visuals. Beacon offers a retro-futurist comic book aesthetic that is utterly striking, with the concept artwork bringing to mind artists like Terry Dodson and Chris Bachalo. The levels are partially procedural, with hand designed hubs interconnected by randomised pathways and sections, and while there’s a ‘golden route’ to make your way through each of them, you’ll be rewarded for exploring every last inch of the world, not just in loot, but in building a broader picture of this world you’re stuck on.
As far as Roguelite mechanics go, Beacon has the genre nailed, with the DNA splicing fitting incredibly well into the sci-fi setting and the genre’s penchant for repeated runs. Combining it with some truly lovely visuals is really just the icing on the alien-clone-tentacle cake, and despite whatever that sounds like, it’s genuinely looking delicious.
Beacon is currently available on itch.io in First Access, with Early Access on Steam the next stop on their schedule before making their way to console next year.