In 1994 the award-winning comic book artist David Gibbons helped create a game, all with a budget of £40,000 in place. That game was Beneath A Steel Sky, released on the PC and Amiga, striking a balance between the madcap worlds of LucasArts games of the time and the more serious tone of Sierra point and clickers. I remember playing the game back in the day, amazed by the brilliant cyberpunk world and great narrative-led point and click adventure. Now though we have a sequel as Beyond a Steel Sky releases nearly 30 years later. I was curious to see if it stood up to my modern-day expectations.
Revolutions Software has developed Beyond a Steel Sky and it is they who have had a decent track record with narrative adventures in years gone by, with the Broken Sword series of games a highlight. Beyond A Steel Sky is set ten years after the first game and once again you play the part of Robert Foster. He has now been exiled from Union City and has found a good life in the Gaplands (a sort of desert wasteland). He lives with a local tribe yet one day a machine arrives and kidnaps a host of children. It’s then left for Foster to once again head off to Union City, all in order to track down the kids and revisit his past…
The world-building and writing of Beyond a Steel Sky are both top-notch and brilliantly realised. It’s strange going back to a world more than quarter of a century later, mostly as memories of those times are hazy at best. But I don’t think this matters as the story can be played by newcomers with ease, and it works neatly as an extra bonus for those who remember the first. The dialogue itself has a comical tone, mixed with some heavy subject matter, as serious themes of class structure, slavery, and AI manipulation all become heavily involved.
The gameplay has moved on from the traditional 2D point-and-click adventure setting of the past to a fully 3D world. Here you control Foster fully, walking around the environments as he goes where he wants and is given the opportunity to take in everything around him. It’s here where you and Foster can go about collecting items, storing them in an inventory as normal and using these objects with others like the adventures of old. Chatting to characters along the way will help you, if only as they provide fetch quests which help progress the story at hand.
Beyond a Steel Sky comes with a nice new feature that works very well; one that is intriguing to use. You see, very early on in the game you get access to a scanner that is capable of hacking and with a touch of the RB button this device comes into play, letting you delve into the diagnostics of every machine or robot in the area. Here you are presented with the workings of the machines via code, enabling you the chance to swap things up, changing how they work. For example, you may see a conveyor belt delivering boxes – next to it is a smasher, destroying waste. By hacking into both machines you will discover that they have “gentle” in the command line for the treadmill and “aggressive” in that of the smasher. Swapping these two around will see the treadmill shooting out boxes at a high rate – whilst I won’t reveal the exact effect, it’s safe to say you may be able to use this for the solving of a puzzle. There are numerous uses for this gameplay device and it’s certainly one of the highlights of the new additions.
That said, I do think the puzzles in Beyond a Steel Sky become a bit complicated at times, and you’ll certainly end up walking around a lot, trying this and that in order to solve things. It’s not helped by the camera and movement systems which occasionally verge on the annoying – I’d much prefer them to be more accurate.
Visually though and Beyond a Steel Sky does a great job of updating the original world and turning it into a modern-day game. It has a great colour palette in play, one that reminds a little of the Borderlands universe, especially in terms of character animations and faces. It’s a very clean system in regards the UI and menu allocation as well. What I very much like are the little details spread around the world – the holo adverts and posters are brilliant – whilst some museum exhibits are fantastic.
The soundtrack is pretty impressive too, with some good atmospheric music throughout. That’s helped along by some voice work which is constantly good; it works especially well with some great performances that give the characters life and dimension.
It’s nice to come back to the Steel Sky world after so many years and Beyond a Steel Sky verges on the impressive. However, the puzzles can occasionally feel over-complicated at times and there are moments where the game does get a bit saggy narrative-wise; especially in the middle section. But the new 3D world, the great visuals, and the new hacking mechanics certainly make up for some of the negatives.
Beyond a Steel Sky is available from the Xbox Store from 7th Dec 2021
- Hacking mechanics
- Looks great
- Voiceover work
- Some glitches in the visuals
- Puzzles can feel hard
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Microids
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date -7 Dec 2021
- Launch price from - £TBC