From The Archive is a series that takes articles written by Jennifer McMurray in the past and presents them here on MIC News for a new audience.
The Beneath a Steel Sky Review was previously published on The Adventuress on October 15, 2015.
Beneath a Steel Sky is available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux on GOG.com. Beneath a Steel Sky Remastered is commercial software and can be purchased for iOS devices from the iTunes store.
Beneath a Steel Sky was Revolution’s second game, which was an improvement over the first in every area. Its fantastic story, memorable characters, and fun puzzles have made this game a cult classic.
Beneath a Steel Sky takes place in a future dystopia where there are large discrepancies between the people who live in a city run by an intelligent machine, and those who live outside it, with the latter looked down upon. The game follows Robert Foster, a man who was born in the city but was raised outside of it. He is kidnapped and taken into the city, and he has to find out why and then, ultimately, to escape.
All versions of the game have nice graphics for its time, that while pixellated today, still portray the coldness of the city quite well. The original CD version has digitized static illustrations by comic book artist Dave Gibbons to illustrate the intro, which explains how Robert got to be in the city. The Remastered version has new higher resolution illustrations for the intro. Both versions set up the story quite well. There is also a floppy version, which doesn’t have voice overs, so the static illustrations are not used, and a differently animated intro is used, which has a musical score to the intro that is exclusive to this version. The illustrations do a better job of framing the story, however, so the CD version or the Remastered version are the ones to play.
The game uses Revolution’s Virtual Theatre engine, which had a feature that allowed the non-player characters to perform daily routines to give the games an added sense of realism. Beneath a Steel Sky is Revolution’s second game to use this engine, and it is a much-improved experience. Finding the characters you need to interact with is no longer a chore. The game does well to let you know which character you need to speak with at which point and each character has a routine that is easy to see. You can also increase or decrease the speed of the game through the menu, which decreases the amount of time between the character’s movements. This helps a lot in easing any frustration over needing to wait for specific breaks in a routine.
The dialog is fantastic, framing a serious story with quite a few moments of dry humor throughout. Much of this humor comes from your sidekick Joey, a robot that Robert built himself. Joey will also serve in a helper role, which will help you get through many puzzles. In the CD and remastered versions, Joey is voiced excellently, as is Robert himself. Both get American accents, which help give them more of a feeling of being outsiders when contrasted with much of the rest of the cast who have a variety of British accents. The musical score is also fantastic, from happy up-tempo songs, to colder, stoic melodies, which help frame the atmosphere, bouncing from the happy utopia that the city tries to pretend it is, to the cold, heartless dystopia that is the actuality.
There are a few puzzles that have some weird logic, especially later in the game, but for the most part, they’re well done. The game has a number of puzzles in a computer world known as LINC space. These puzzles are much different than the rest of the game and take some getting used to. Once you know how the puzzles work, however, working out the solutions isn’t too difficult. There are moments in the game where you can die. Like the later Broken Sword, most of these deaths are foreshadowed beforehand, however, there is one part later on in the game where it is possible to die without warning, so it would be wise to save often.
Beneath a Steel Sky is regarded as a classic of the adventure genre, and it has surely earned that reputation. The story is fantastic, the characters are fun and memorable, the voice acting is excellent, and the music is atmospheric. In addition, the puzzles are, for the most part, quite fun. The CD version and floppy versions are now free to download. However, the Remastered version adds a new higher resolution intro by the artist of the original, Dave Gibbons, and adds modern features such as an in-game help when you get stuck. Both the CD and Remastered versions present the game in the best way, as the intro and voice-overs add a lot to the experience. You can’t go wrong with either version.
4½ out of 5