Should I Buy? – Beneath A Steel Sky

After the LEGO Harry Potter and Assassin’s Creed reviews being rather mainstream I feel I’ve earned myself a chance to talk about something off the beaten track, as it were. And I’ve chosen a personal favourite, Revolutions Software’s 1994 Beneath A Steel Sky. Don’t worry, this doesn’t break my golden rules of being both cheap and simple to obtain.

Beneath A Steel Sky is a point-n-click adventure game made by the same studio that created the Broken Sword series that proved to be a critical success but somewhat of a commercial failure. It did spawn a whole cult following though, one that held it up to very high standards that I encountered for years. For example, while at univeristy I read a book on videogame writing from an industry expert, and he constantly referred to the game’s humour and pacing as examples throughout his work.

Fortunately, the ScummVM (a collection of game engines developed by the Scumm team, on which many classic adventure games were built) was made freeware a full ten years ago now, and with it Revolution Software released the source code for it. This made it legally ‘freeware’, as in anybody can download it at no cost with no legality issues so long as they keep it for personal use.

Anyway, onto what the game itself is like. Beneath A Steel Sky is a science fiction point-n-click game which falls under the sub-genre of ‘cyberpunk’ quite nicely. You play as Robert Foster, a young man from the ‘Gap’ which is a post apocalyptic wasteland. You’re abducted from your tribe by the security forces of the nearby Union City for some strange and nefarious purpose. Upon escaping, discovering both this and escaping the city are your primary goals.

Unfortunately the game’s fairly short, what with this being from the days when games came on floppy disks. Depending on how good you are at solving the puzzles however, this game can stretch up to eight hours worth of play time quite easily.

[EDITOR: I would like to interject that my puzzle-mastermind-cousin and I struggled with the levels. They’re fantastically challenging but not overly-challenging in a way that makes you want to throw your mouse across the room; most of the time.]

There are a few problems with the fairly low graphical quality sometimes obstructing you from seeing tiny objects that may well prove vital. These aren’t too bad and on the remastered iPhone port the pixels aren’t quite as stretched, so the problem dissipates even further. That being said, this is a game with an excellent design aesthetic.

Visually you can see the strong influence from works like Blade Runnner and Metropolis. Thematically the game also raises questions and introduces many topics that likewise harken back to the classic intellectual science fiction. The dystopian city calls up issues of personal liberty, the measure of human life, the possible superiority of robots, the existence of a virtual world inside computers and more. Some of these are only going on in the background, tangential to the game’s plot.

If these themes interest you after playing the game, then you should read works like 1984, Brave New World, Neuromancer, I Robot, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Johnny Mnemonic as well as watch the films I mentioned above. These guys obviously have.

But even if ruminating over the intellectual themes or enjoying the game’s puzzles aren’t really your thing then you should at least try the game for its humour. Classic adventure games are known for their wacky, sometimes surreal comedy styles but Beneath A Steel Sky infuses it with a macabre sensibility and plenty of double entendres. I defy you to listen to Lamb’s speech about the importance of the pipe factory without cracking up.

[Editor: There are so many hilarious and obvious innuendos that I almost can’t tell if they’re deliberate or not. I adore the humour and the voice acting is to die for; they execute their lines amazingly.]

The music isn’t as varied however. There’s only a handful of tracks and while they’re perfectly serviceable, it’s pretty much 50/50 if you’ll grow to hate them or they’ll get in your skull and never leave. Possibly both.

All in all, the only real flaws with this game are things either inherent to the genre or to the limitations of technology at the time of its creation.

[Editor: I actually found that a slightly more significant flaw is that if you are attempting a puzzle that requires being done in a certain order, it cannot be redone if you get it wrong. This, for the most, only occurs with dialogue options as the same conversation cannot be initiated twice. Save frequently. Don’t be put off by this, however. It’s a marvelous and hilarious game, especially when shared with a friend.]

You can pick this game up for free just by making an account at Good Old Games, and the iPhone port is only a few pounds.

You owe it to yourselves to try this, and check out Good old Games while you’re there, it’s got an impressive library of classic games. While you’re there, try out the Broken Sword games for something similar.

Price: iPhone: £1.79 Free


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Fall over your Harry Potter feet – A tribute | buythatgame
  2. Mitch Allan
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 00:20:48

    Everyone should try this game at least once, even if it’s not their genre. If nothing else, it’s a brilliant example of creativity in older games.
    And I’d like second that on the dialogue being HILARIOUS. And more than a little chilling. Joey is quite possibly the greatest sidekick in a video game ever. Ever.
    I think what I liked about the game was that though I found the puzzles maddeningly challenging, it wasn’t something stupid like ‘you didn’t click on this totally random thing and spin on your head three times on a Tuesday’ to make it finally work.
    Although I did get to the part mentioned by Willow in her comments – where I had exhausted the dialogue options with a character and couldn’t re-initiate the conversation, so had to reload an old save. (But, of course, I didn’t have an old save so I had to reload from the beginning, which was badtimes – but a vital lesson in playing point and click).
    Aaaand, if you’re a buffoon like me and struggle for hours on certain levels, that fantastic soundtrack will get very awful very very quickly.
    But justjustjust…GET THIS GAME. Good.


    • jackcalico
      Aug 03, 2011 @ 00:26:50

      I did wonder how long it’d take you to weigh in on this one 😛 My favourite part of the writing is a news story that says food production is down dramatically, so lower class citizens have a 40% rations cut and the executive lounges no longer stock croutons.


  3. Trackback: Should I Buy? – Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars | buythatgame
  4. Trackback: Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror « buythatgame

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