The Pale Beyond is a survival simulation game that challenges players to lead a crew stranded in the Arctic tundra after their ship is stuck in a sheet of thick ice.
As the newly appointed captain of the crew, you must balance resources, keep the crew’s morale up, and find a way to survive until rescue arrives in approximately 35 weeks.
Developed by Bellular Studios and published by Fellow Traveller for PC and Mac, this game doesn’t just focus on the survival, as it also incorporates a story-driven experience that delves into the drama and despair of human endurance, inspired by the real historical experiences of polar explorers. I can already foresee the comparisons to FrostPunk, but both offer entirely unique experiences from one another for a multitude of reasons.
The game’s resource management system focuses on food rations and fuel for the generator, with each turn representing an in-game week. Assigning crew members to different jobs and making decisions about resource allocation can have consequences that impact crew morale and loyalty. The game’s characters are central to the experience, with players developing relationships with their crew members through dialogue choices and completing tasks, all while facing the possibility of losing them to harsh conditions or poor decisions.
Your adventure commences with an interview. As Robin Shaw, a sailor, you have been recruited as the First Mate for the Temperance, a ship tasked with finding its missing sister ship, the Viscount, in The Pale Passage. The initial weeks of the journey are uneventful, but one day, you awaken to discover the vessel trapped in thick ice, and the captain is nowhere to be found.
Stranded hundreds of miles from civilisation, you are suddenly thrust into the role of the Temperance‘s captain. Your mission is to maintain your resources, keep the crew’s morale high, and survive until rescue arrives, a daunting task that could take 35 weeks. Easy peasy, right?
As with any survival game, careful resource management is essential to ensuring your safe return. Food and fuel are the two essential categories throughout your gameplay experience. Initially, you’ll have an ample supply of both, but when the ship becomes trapped, you’ll need to strategically scrounge for resources.
The game uses ‘turns’, which equates to a week in-game, in which you’ll assign your crew to various tasks to try and keep your morale. At the end of the week, you’ll see the results of your choices in a lengthy and terrifying list. Some crew-mates will contract frostbite, some will starve, and some may even die, and all of that rests on your shoulders.
The game features a cast of underdog characters, each with their own unique personalities and flaws. As touched on earlier, the player’s interactions with them can impact the story, as well as the crew’s morale and loyalty to the player. These relationships are vital to the game’s success, as they can affect the outcome of difficult decisions that the player will face throughout the game.
For example, if a player must choose between two crew members to send to the doctor but only has resources for one, they may choose the crew member who is more loyal to them. However, this decision may have consequences for crew morale and loyalty down the line.
Building strong relationships with your crew is crucial. In the event of the captain’s disappearance, a vote was held to elect a new captain, and you narrowly won. This can be a stressful position to be in, considering not everyone voted in your favour.
Each of the eight core crew members has a loyalty scale, and their subordinates will follow their lead. By engaging in conversations, choosing the right dialogue options, fulfilling their requests, and doing them favours, you can gradually gain their loyalty points. However, if you upset them, they will lose loyalty.
It really made you second-guess every single decision you had to make throughout the entire experience, as every seemingly simple decision you made could have dire consequences for a number of crew.
It’s unfortunate that now we have to delve into what negatively impacted my time with The Pale Beyond – and that would be in its significant bug problems. Resource counts would constantly fluctuate, and some resources would even disappear entirely, leaving empty spaces in my inventory.
This issue was particularly frustrating in a game where even a single can of rations could mean the difference between life and death. What was more frustrating is these issues always seemed to pop-up when I was actually doing well, which would ruin the whole run. I sincerely hope that the developers can quickly fix these issues with a patch, as it will be a huge deterrent for people who put some time into the game
Despite these technical issues and rough edges, The Pale Beyond was a an incredibly unique and enjoyable experience.
Its unique blend of survival gameplay and moral decision-making made it stand out from other survival games in the genre, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of post-apocalyptic games. The moment these bugs are fixed, I really think this will be one of the indie gems of this year.