The captain's dead and thing's aren't going well on your Arctic expedition in The Pale Beyond, a new hybrid of resource management, survival sim, and visual novel that's the debut title from Bellular Games, a studio based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The game's format is being pretty well-received on Steam, where it has so far met with 92% positive reviews.
You're given charge of an antarctic expedition following in the footsteps of another, previous failed expedition. That is to say, you're put in charge after the first captain goes missing and the ship gets stuck in the ice. That's just the first of your problem, as anyone familiar with historical arctic and antarctic expeditions can tell you: Things go very bad very fast once everything around you freezes to well below zero.
Your job is to manage the crew's resources, their safety, and their morale against the incredibly difficult choices required to survive the trek to absolute magnetic South. If you fail to balance their needs with the goals of the expedition, well, a mutiny or vote to oust you may well be in your future.
Which is the second half of the game, really. It's in many ways a visual novel of sorts, with a cast of characters to learn to love and hate all having their own needs and strange behaviors to attend to. In many ways that makes it something like The Banner Saga or Sunless Sea, where strange narrative choices will be forced on you at inopportune times.
Our Jody Macgregor spoke with the developers (opens in new tab) a few weeks ago about their game, including its superb tagline: "Every decision matters and the ice doesn't care."
"Every decision has a face," developer Thomas Hislop said at the time, "so we wanted to make sure you weren't making any decision that was affecting life or death without having to literally look the person in the eye, or have an actual person associated with the ramifications of the choice."
You may have heard of Bellular Studios' Thomas Hislop and Michael Bell before, as they were the guys who wanted to make that ambitious overhaul of World of Warcraft's quests (opens in new tab) that Blizzard shut down. They've since—clearly—decided to just make their own narrative games.
You can find The Pale Beyond on Steam (opens in new tab) and GOG (opens in new tab) and Epic (opens in new tab) for $20, 10% off until March 3. Have fun dying on the ice!