Beacon – a review

Hello friends. Today we review “Beacon”, a top-down sci-fi action rogue-like where death is not the ending but another chance to find your Beacon. Released on Dec 2021 by Monothetic LLC after 7 years of development, this is already well-received and highly regarded. Let’s see why!

Developer: Monothetic LLC
Publisher: Monothetic LLC
Genre: Roguelike, Action, Bullet-Hell, Indie
Release Date: 15 Dec 2021
Reviewed on: PC/Windows
Available on: PC/Windows
Link: Steam
Gameplay video: Youtube
Copy was provided by the developer.

You are Freja Akiyama, an interstellar mercenary, stuck in an endless quest for her distress beacon after crash landing on Kovus-18. Despite this mishap, your “Clone Bay” is stuck in an automatic printing cycle and thus every death means you’re “printed” back but with the added benefit of keeping any scavenged weapons and using the collected DNA from the enemies you defeat to alter you genome allowing you to change your statistics and gain mutations for your next life. During the time you search for your beacon, you will get to question how many times did this loop repeat, and will there be any humanity in Freja left after all those mutations?

The gameplay loop consists of you stepping out of your clone bay, checking the map for points of interest (On your map, you will get marks for ship munitions, DNA caches, ship, native equipment, and other things to gather to complete the level) and proceed to explore them all while trying to find the beacon on each of the game’s 6 levels – During your search you will gather weapons (over 75 in full release), items such as boots, projectiles, grenades (over 125 items spread in 4 categories) and scraps that will help you in your quest and to defeat a great selection of enemies. There’s always the chance that a dropped item is of no use to you so there’s always the option to “scrap” it and use the acquired scraps to buy something better in the Master Scavenger Shop or use the scraps to exchange for access to closed doors and barriers.

Aside from the gathering of material goods, and the main twist from the typical roguelike bullet-hell games is that you will get to collect alien DNA strands dropped from enemies which you then use in your sequencer to alter your current base stats as you slot them in and out of your genome/body – stats include health, stamina, speed, resistance, luck, and crit chance. Your genome has 5 DNA slots each with a single DNA mod slot and its own chance to mutate further (over 75 mutations on release). DNA types include “volatile” which offers polarizing stats with a high mutation chance, while “Fortified” offers more positive stats with a lower mutation chance – that means that volatile types offer larger benefits while usually including a reducer of a stat to balance things out. Additionally, you will gather mods – DNA mods are special strands that modify existing pieces of DNA. There’s also the notion of “Bonus” if you use a stack a faction pair – such as a “Prism”, similarly to what other games do with Set bonuses to acquire benefits of adding more to your stats.

When you finish selecting your desired strands, you can hit SEQUENCE to finalize and roll for mutations. Mutations might occur and you will get a stat boost after fulfilling a requirement – for example in the “Pyro Hologram” mutation, you will gain +40 Speed when burning or in “Jolted Veins” you gain a chance for Melee attacks to shock the enemy but at the same time reduce your Critical hit chance by 10% – there are drops that can remove mutations as well if you get a particularly bad one and want to get it rid off. You can always “Hard Reset” to clear all mutations, DNA, and mods from your genome but be careful as this cannot be undone. This combination of DNA/mutations/bonus/etc. mechanic along with the weapons and items you gather is what allows the player to exercise strategy and alter the way he tackles challenges as it really affects gameplay. This game makes sure that no run is the same as the one before it, and also makes sure you change how you play depending on RNG!

During your ventures, you will meet a large collection of enemies (fitting to the biome of the level you’re into) as well as environmental hazards such as “Rotvine” that will slow movement down as its branches reach and hold your legs – better avoid it as you usually need to move fast to avoid enemy fire in true bullet-hell fashion. There’s also many secrets peppered throughout the map as well as plenty of “lore” items, and at the end of the level after you get to the beacon, you will get a summary screen that describes how shows how many secrets have been discovered, DNA found, enemies killed, etc.

As the game consists of 6 randomly generated levels, to keep the interest up and make the player come back, a set of Weekly and Daily Challenges are added by the developer. These challenges will have certain parameters that mix things up (such as certain mutations, or limitations on what weapons are available) and each player gets one chance to upload their best score upon completion of the run – the higher the score the more research points you’ll get!

The game’s visuals consist of a top-down perspective which brings up the gorgeous looking low-poly artwork – there are heaps of detail in the well-designed levels (each with a different biome and unique weather effects) and a great character design – mutations alter the physical appearance of Freja, so depending on the mutation you might see the affected body part change – often disfiguring the character, which is a very interesting feature and another nice detail as you will often end up with a monster-looking Freja near the end of the game! The weapon effects are very distinct and impressively looking – you need to check the Tesla SMG electricity effect! The game makes good use of shadows and lighting with a colorful palette.

The top-down perspective has its problems too – you get to fall a lot between platforms and the perspective can be confusing in figuring out how platforms are connected to each other and how to reach them. It is also not very easy to detect elevation between platforms so sometimes you get to shoot an enemy but the bullets hit a bump on the map which is not clearly visible, especially on the Y-axis.

On the sound front, the soundtrack is pretty good with music changing depending on the action and nice sound effects that add to the experience.

Usability wise, there are 4 levels of difficulty if you find the game too easy or too hard, and the keybinds are pretty standard – WASD to move, SPACE to dodge roll (which has a cooldown and can be changed to a Dash if you get a mutation), G for grenades, Left-Mouse-Click to shoot the current weapon, Right-Mouse-Click for melee, Q for missile barrage, E to use items/open chests, etc. While a controller is recommended according to the game, you’ll feel right at home using a keyboard/mouse combination.

Overall the game is smooth (I never really got any noticeable frame drops in my mid-end PC), looks great, and has a good feel to it.

The game has been in early access for almost 2 years and has recently been released fully. During the EA period, we’ve noticed the developer really listened to the community and actually responded with improvements in the game’s quality even after the release of the game in Steam’s forums and the game’s Discord. This is very welcome and shows that great care, and love has been poured over the game. This game is constantly updated and feedback is always taken when bugs are reported and suggestions are made.

To sum this up, Beacon is a great game that was really taken care of by the developers – the game is smooth, looks great, and plays even better with the main twist of the game (its DNA mechanic) offering great replayability and multiple options for every run – you will really get your money’s worth in gameplay here.

Graphics: 8,5
Sound: 7,5
Gameplay: 9
Fun Factor: 8,5
Final Verdict/Overall: 8,6

Time to beat: 4-5 hours to complete a run, but replayability is high since every run is different.

This post was first published on overage-gaming by static. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitter and YouTube as well.

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