PC gamers of the early 90’s are certainly no strangers to the wave of ‘adventure’ games that flooded the scene during that era. There were almost too many to keep up with. However, a few still hold ground as the ”forefathers” of the genre, and are considered favorites 20+ years later. Beneath A Steel Sky was undoubtedly one of them, and has maintained a positive fan-following still going strong to this day. After nearly two decades, a sequel to the cult classic; Beyond A Steel Sky, has finally made its way to Steam. Once again reigned by the creative minds who brought players the original game; Revolution Software have steered away from the ‘point and click’ formula they are best known for, and delivered a much more alive and functioning semi-open world concept.
The opening moments of this cyberpunk adventure play out like a comic book; re-introducing players to the infamous Robert Foster and his current state of life who’s living peacefully in the barren, desert wasteland better known as ‘The Gap.” Things take a turn for the worst almost immediately as a child from a local village is kidnapped by unknown abductors. Foster is determined to set out and bring them home. Without wasting time, our protagonist heads out into the wastelands eventually making his way back to Union City; a vast, enclosed metropolis where machines and humans co-exist and streets once flowed with economic corruption. Following the events of the games predecessor, the city was left in command with Foster’s right hand companion, Joey; an engineered A.I. who brought peace and stability to the city. Upon returning however, it’s apparent that things are not all they seem anymore, and a much larger scaled conspiracy begins to unfold.
As someone who played and thoroughly enjoyed the original game, seeing the transition from detailed hand-drawn backgrounds and pixelated characters to a colorful, blooming 3D futuristic environment, truly amped up the excitement and nostalgia factor. The art direction (which I should add was beautifully crafted by the talented Dave Gibbons) is nothing short of eye-catching; sticking to a more cartoon-like design, similar to what has been familiarized in titles like Borderlands or The Wolf Among us. A heavy amount of detail is injected into each area visited, especially when you finally enter Union City itself. From looming industrial skyscrapers plastered with digital billboards, to strings of transit lines wrapping around everything in sight, this futuristic city was breathing life everywhere I went. Most interactive areas were fairly linear, but still had a fulfilling amount of sights to take in.
I never came across any performance issues with the environments themselves, however the same could not be said about some of the in-game characters. Several times, especially during dialogue interactions, a few of the filler NPC’s would walk directly into my character thus not quite being able to continue on their programmed route. It certainly didn’t take away from the experience, but it made for a good laugh once in a while. Facial expressions seemed blurry at times as well and it was hard to determine whether it was due to the artwork or technical issues. Nonetheless, they were minor details in the larger scale of things.
Exploration, puzzles, and dialogue are what make up the gameplay in Beyond The Steel Sky and for the most part they stay on the same track as most traditional adventure games do. NPC’s populate the majority of the places you visit and can be interacted with as well. The hacking system implemented in the game presents itself as a ‘mix and match’ mini-game, swapping out computer chips between networks and machines in order to aid Foster in some situations. Very little effort was ever needed when solving the majority of these. Meanwhile, the dialogue system is where the game really shines. Feeling very familiar to what has been utilized in the Tell Tale games, a wheel of options appears with any interaction allowing Foster to pick and choose what to talk about. Exhausting the majority of the dialogue with the NPC’s felt rewarding and always aided in building up more backstory to the in-game world. There are moments where I found myself tracking back and forth between locations more than needed, but I never felt it was becoming a daunting task.
In game controls were responsive and fluent, and I never experienced any issues at all. Full controller support was a very welcoming option to see, and I utilized it for the majority of my playthrough mostly due to comfort level. Keyboard and mouse presented zero issues as well though and made navigating the in-game screens very easy. Lastly, the inventory system while basic, served its purpose well.
From start to end, Beyond A Steel Sky has this charismatic charm to it that kept me drawn in the entire time. Filled with memorable characters (both old and new), as well as an excellent story filled with conspiracy and humor, I can say that my expectations were surpassed in most aspects upon returning to Union City. I wish more area’s would have been available to explore, but some of that desire could be due to my initial enjoyment of seeing a return to a game that I truly enjoyed years ago. Sequels can be a bit a of risk; especially when a previous entry was fairly successful, but I feel Revolution nailed it this time around, capturing all of the emotion and atmosphere that made the original as enjoyable as it was. Evolving both visually and mechanically, this new adventure is one that shouldn’t be avoided, even if you are new to the series. The direction taken with the story narrating sets it up early on to be played as a stand-alone game as well, welcoming players unfamiliar to the first. It will surely become a staple in the genre. Worth it.