Beyond a Steel Sky (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 13.07.2020

Review for Beyond a Steel Sky on PC

There are few games around synonymous with what are considered the true beginnings of classic PC gaming. Point-and-click adventure game Beneath a Steel Sky from Revolution Software, which was released back in 1994, is certainly one of them. With art direction from the legendary figure behind the Watchmen graphic novel series, Dave Gibbons, this cyberpunk dystopian title saw protagonist Robert Foster make his way from the fallout wastes of the 'Gap,' to the inner heart of metropolis Union City, in order to uncover a plot designed by a sinister AI network. If it sounds like a classic science-fiction tale then that is because it is. Becoming a true cult-classic - indeed so popular it is now distributed freely for all to experience - the game combined puzzle solving alongside a compelling story and wicked sense of humour in the dialogue. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, a sequel named Beyond a Steel Sky was greenlit, still under the direction of Charles Cecil and Dave Gibbons. After a release on Apple Arcade last month, it now comes to Steam on 16 July 2020.

Picking up ten years after Robert Foster left his AI pal Joey to guide Union City as the new AI leader, Beyond a Steel Sky sees things kick off with Robert out in the villages of the Gap. While a young boy, Milo, gets kidnapped by a mysterious robotic machine, leading Robert back to Union City to try and track him down. It is the classic set up for any good story, and without going into spoilers for how things develop, diving into the recesses of Union City soon sees the shiny exterior of what appears to be a well-run utopia suddenly exposed.

There are a real eclectic set of characters here firstly, which do a marvellous job of harking back to the memorable personalities of the original. From Madame Songbird, to Chipworth the robotic butler, it is clear the writer Charles Cecil has not lost his touch over the years in creating funny characters to drive the plot along. That's a good thing too, because unlike the original which could be beaten in a few hours, Beneath a Steel Sky is many times that length, and has a much deeper sense of cinematic quality. While at its heart this is still a point-and-click adventure, wisely developer Revolution Studios has moved with the times and turned gameplay into something more akin to the Telltale Games style.

Screenshot for Beyond a Steel Sky on PC

There are conversations to be had, and dialogue to be navigated. Alongside that is a wide variety of puzzles using items. What keeps those puzzles fresh with a neat twist is the use of the 'MINOS Scanner.' 'MINOS' is the network that links all the technology in this world together. The scanner allows the player to manipulate this in all sorts of unique ways, with an intuitive drag & drop system which was clearly designed with iOS in mind. It's a fascinating tool for mixing up puzzles. For example in one puzzle, using the scanner, Robert can mess with the settings on a water dispenser and a cleaning robot. Doing so allows him to solve one of the moments that will see a young girl saved from danger. In another, he uses it to alter a recycling conveyor belt, trapping a robot in order to steal its power core.

It is brilliant to see an attempt at trying to introduce some variety into the puzzle-solving. Solving the puzzles also takes on a narrative form as well, through conversation with other characters throughout the world. What the writing here does so well is first to make these conversations feel organic. Repeating prompts, for example, doesn't always lead to the same robotic delivery of dialogue - it can also tease out other answers, some of which can drive the plot forward.

It is also helped by the dialogue being so sharp and witty. It is very much an old-school Monkey Island, and other classic adventure game style, with a real sarcastic and British sense of dry humour at times, while being whimsical at others. In addition, the puzzle-solving itself generally strikes a good balance in terms of difficulty and reward. Usually with a bit of experimentation things become obvious, and there aren't too many occasions in which the use of an item is so outlandish as to render it improbable. Things generally make logical sense. Included is also a useful hints system, although anyone looking for a challenge would be best to avoid it.

Screenshot for Beyond a Steel Sky on PC

With a bit of running around usually involved, movement isn't as slick and hassle-free as it could be, with Robert sometimes getting caught in the environment, or not able to go somewhere where it looks like he should be able to. Generally this isn't too big of an issue, and the environments are usually self-contained enough that puzzles won't require massive treks back and forth. Sadly, while so many of the characters are memorable, it's actually a tad disappointing that protagonist Robert Foster is probably one of the more… cookie-cutter types. He's very much the sort of bland and "vanilla" hero, and it probably doesn't help that he has a rather throwaway voice that doesn't exactly exude personality - although interestingly it does rather fit in with his narrative style in the original game.

Despite that small failing, generally, Beyond a Steel Sky captures that very grand cinematic quality that anyone interested in this genre is looking for. Union City is incredibly detailed in lots of different ways - from the futuristic skyscrapers, to the "helpful" holographic AI companions dotted around to the corporate faces that make up the Council structure. It is easy to tell a lot of work and design went into ensuring everything was as authentically sci-fi as possible. The plot is also nicely paced and structured, with, again, a real cinematic quality in how things gradually move from a simple missing child case into something much deeper, encompassing a big conspiracy at the heart of the city.

Screenshot for Beyond a Steel Sky on PC

The payoff in the end is certainly worth the journey, and there are a few good surprises as well as a number of familiar faces for long-time fans thrown in as well. Special mention for the music design on top of that. It is so important in an experience like this that the music is top-notch, and that is certainly the case here. From the gentle mundane moments, to the sweeping score as the camera pans across the city, there is real light-and shade here that taps into and enhances the cut-scenes. Speaking of which, and generally, about the art style, it has to be said it is very impressive. On a technical level, sure, this probably isn't filled with lighting effects and all sorts of realistic high-end details, but for the style of experience it is, it works perfectly.

It is clear Dave Gibbons had a real grasp on this side of things, with a distinct comic book shading throughout. There are a few more messy side textures when it comes to environments, with things like grass and bushes not exactly the best. However, character design is on point, and provides the cast with engaging visuals to match their equally engaging personalities. It is a slight shame that on occasion there are a few visual bugs, with characters getting stuck on one another, or how in cut-scenes the camera gets caught in a wall. These, however, are few and far between and don't detract much.

Screenshot for Beyond a Steel Sky on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Beyond a Steel Sky brings old school point-and-click adventure into the 21st century, with an action, and humour-packed plot, and a compelling sense of character. Puzzle-solving strikes that nice balance between satisfying, but not too complicated as to force the player to be bogged down at the expense of the story. The story itself at around 10-hours long or so, is a classic science-fiction adventure, and it hits all the right notes of action and emotion, despite Robert Foster not being exactly the most compelling character out there. While there are a few bugs and little niggles as far as movement animation being a bit stiff, these are cancelled out by what the game does well, which is in its high octane cinematic narrative quality.


Revolution Software







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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