Beneath a Steel Sky was a dystopian point and click adventure released way back in 1994 and featured Robert Foster, a man who was brought up by local tribesmen after he was stranded in the desert wilderness known as “The Gap” as a child. Years later his tribe was murdered and he was taken to Union City where he discovers all is not well.
Beyond a Steel Sky picks up a decade after the end of the first game with you as Foster, once again living in “The Gap” after leaving your robot friend Joey in charge of Union City. It’s not calm for long as during the game’s introduction the village is once again attacked and this time Milo, the child of one of Foster’s friends is taken in the belly of a walking vehicle and it’s up to Foster to return to Union City and rescue him.
The new game, which sees Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen fame) return to give the game his unique visual style, has transitioned from the traditional 2D of the original to using Unreal Engine 4. Visually the game looks fantastic with sweeping vistas and a style that manages to capture the gritty dystopian look of the original.
Once Foster arrives in the now utopian-seeming Union City, he finds out that Joey is no longer in charge, that he seemingly just walked away into “The Gap” after leaving the democratic Council in charge. The Council is split into five departments, The Ministries of Plenty, Safety, Aspiration, Comfort and Wellbeing. Each working in concert to make every citizen happy. As the search for Milo continues, Foster realises that something much more sinister is bubbling away under the surface…
Gameplay-wise as you’d expect you now walk around fully 3D environments collecting items, talking to everyone you see and piecing together how to progress. Rather than relying on inventory puzzles like its ancestor’s Beyond features a hacking concept which is used for the vast majority of puzzles in the game. At the press of a button you can see technology in the world you can manipulate the logic of, whether that be actions or the conditions within them.
These manifest as simple logic diagrams with swappable parts clearly marked. For example, you might be standing next to a shower and a bidet, hitting the hack button you’d see that you can swap things around so that when a citizen presses the bidet button the shower turns on. These puzzles start out simply but as you approach the end they get a little more complex involving you to hack two or three items at the same time in multiple places.
On its own merits it’s a fun adventure with some fun and interesting characters, the father and daughter in the Museum of New History and Foster’s interactions with the Greta AI stand out as far as dialogue goes. There is some really well-written humour here and whilst it won’t be winning any awards for it, it at least got a chuckle out of me.
The plot has a few twists and turns and shines a spotlight on examining what it really means to be happy in a world full of well-meaning but flawed design. It doesn’t get too existential but is thought-provoking and balances it well with the humorous tone. It helps that the world is fun to be lost in, as mentioned above it evokes the original game with surprising aplomb, with a number of little nods and winks for those who’ve played Beneath a Steel Sky without needing you to have played it to enjoy this one.
Technically the game is overall pretty solid although I did have a few niggly issues during my playthrough. The MINOS terminals which you interact with a few times had an issue where an option would be selected and me moving the analogue stick wouldn’t override it until I moved the mouse around (like both control methods were interfering). I also had an issue where audio wasn’t playing when it seemed like it should. Hopefully these issues will be sorted out soon after launch.
These things didn’t detract too much from the game itself however and I should point out the really well thought out hint system in the game, reminiscent of the later Infocom text adventures (I know, I know… I’m old!), you can keep asking for hints which will gently nudge you towards what you should be doing, eventually it will flat out tell you but it gives you just enough in the hints that you can hit that eureka moment on your own.
This is a hugely welcome feature that helps those who need a little bit of guidance without ever getting in the way for those who don’t. Combined with how streamlined the interface for actually talking is, with little notifications on the chat options letting you know if something new has just appeared to talk about or whether you’ve exhausted all dialogue. The game is full of little modern touches that really help.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Beyond a Steel Sky, it was nice revisiting characters I haven’t seen in a long time. I hope we don’t have to wait another 25-plus years before we get to see Foster again.
Beyond a Steel Sky (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A fantastic adventure with some at-times brain bending puzzles that stays remarkably true to the original game. Some minor technical issues mar the experience slightly but it’s a great return for Foster and Joey.