It has been just over a quarter of a century since the release of Beneath a Steel Sky and for fans of this amazing point and click adventure a sequel has finally been released. Twenty-six years is a long time between games, especially in the fast-paced world of modern game development, but it was worth the wait.
The More Things Change…
As was the trend in the ‘90s this game is set in a post-apocalypse world, but unlike Fallout or Wasteland, man has found a way to not only survive, but thrive. Union City, Australia is once again the setting, now a futuristic utopia after the events of the first game. Technologically advanced with a clear social ranking system based on QDOS points, Union City seems to be the perfect place to live. But just beneath the surface there is obviously something wrong and you are drawn back to this city from rustic villages of the Gap by a kidnapping.
You once again play Foster, the Australian with an American accent, who takes it upon himself to discover the whereabouts of the kidnaped and unravel the mystery of Union City. It’s ten years later and the more things change the more they have remained the same.
The ‘90s were a great time for gamers fond of oddball stories and who wanted time to think and puzzle their way through a game. The venerable adventure game quickly found its way into gamers hearts with quirky tales such as Maniac Mansion or new adventures of beloved film heroes like in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. The games followed the same path, take the characters into various situations and task the player with solving some fiendishly obtuse puzzles. Every fan has a tale of some completely obscure use this item with that item tale that would never ever make sense in the real world. One of the reasons these games were referred to as pixel hunt games was that if all else failed, spend time clicking on every single pixel in a screen to find that elusive item you need to solve a puzzle.
Thankfully Beyond a Steel Sky has updated the game away from the point and click pixel hunt to a more third person adventure control scheme. You navigate the world by moving Foster using WASD and as you approach interactable objects or NPCs a helpful little dot and label will appear and all you have to do is press the left mouse button to bring up the context menu. This takes a lot of guess work out of the game mechanics and thank goodness for that.
Of course, this does not mean that the puzzles are simple or quick to figure out they are just less of a hassle. I got stuck on a puzzle that required me to interact with two droids as well as a museum exhibit and these components were quite spaced out and did not make sense to think to use them together. Despite this hiccup, it did not impact on my enjoyment one bit, it just reminded me of the Good Ol’ Days and the hours I spent tearing my hair out on these games.
What a Character!
The second ingredient to making the perfect adventure game is the story and characters and Beyond a Steel Sky nails both. Foster’s mission is simple, find the kidnap victim and take him home, however this simple task leads him down the rabbit hole into a mystery of world changing proportions. Along the way he meets some odd ducks and shady characters all properly fleshed out with believable lives and motivations for everything they are doing. Songbird in particular starts off as a nasty social climber, but as you learn more about the city and QDOS system the more sympathetic she becomes, she truly is a product of Union City.
One odd aspect of the game is the fact that the fully voiced characters have a range of accents. For a game set in Australia I do not think I heard one Australian accent, but I did hear an American one and quite a few regional British accents. Besides that, issue the VO work is excellent, bringing the characters to life and immersing you in this world.
Do not expect over the top humour though, this isn’t Maniac Mansion or Monkey Island, but the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and remains fairly light while tackling a darker subject without getting lost in the darkness itself. I really enjoyed this narrative choice as it doesn’t become something heavy and difficult to play through, but still maintains a serious edge that pushes you along to the conclusion.
A Glitch in the System
As a game made in the mature Unreal Engine and one that is not particularly demanding in terms of reaction times, it runs well. Framerates on my desktop (Core i7-5820K and GTX1080) were predictably in the low 100s. However pre-large patch (14.3GB) the game did slow down to a slideshow a few times. As with my Mafia 3 review your mileage may vary based on your system spec.
There were also some control issues. Right clicking brings up your hacking tool, but I found it too sensitive and the character would bring the tool out and immediately put it away on more than one occasion. There were weird collision issues with the character getting stuck for a few seconds in the environment and on more than one occasion pressing one of the movement keys would not register so you would have to press it again to get Foster to move.
Graphically the bright almost cell shaded art style suits the game perfectly and makes Union City seem just that more inviting. There were some graphical issues, see the screenshot of two models occupying the same space and a few times my character would be blocked from going to something I clicked on, would stand an judder and then activate the machine or item from a couple of meters away.
I did experience, a couple of instances where a conversation or character wouldn’t trigger forcing a reload, but thankfully a generous autosave system and my own habit of saving often saved me from too much backtracking.
The Story Comes to an End
Beyond a Steel Sky as a great sequel that hasn’t been diminished by the twenty-six-year wait. It updates the game enough without alienating fans of the original and serves as a standalone story with enough information given to the player in game if they’ve forgotten or never played Beneath a Steel Sky.
If you’re a fan of the genre or the first game I can easily recommend this game and if you are someone who wants a good narrative to experience at your own pace with some entertaining puzzles thrown in then you too will find something to satisfy you here.
Beyond a Steel Sky is available on PC and Mobile Devices, this review is based on the PC version of the game which you can purchase here on Steam for £29.99.
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Beyond a Steel Sky
From Charles Cecil, creator of the Broken Sword series, with art direction by Dave Gibbons, legendary comic book artist behind ‘Watchmen’, comes ‘Beyond A Steel Sky’, the long awaited sequel to the cult classic ‘Beneath a Steel Sky’.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 29.99
Product In Stock: Not Available