Beneath a Steel Sky is a 1994 cyberpunk science fiction point-and-click adventure game developed by British developer Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment for MS-DOS and Amiga home computers. The game was made available as freeware (download at GOG.com) – and with the source code released – for PC platforms in 2003.
Set in a dystopian future, the player assumes the role of Robert Foster, who was stranded in a wasteland known as “the Gap” as a child and adopted by a group of local Aboriginals, gradually adjusting to his life in the wilderness. After many years, armed security officers arrive, killing the locals and taking Robert back to Union City. He escapes and soon uncovers the corruption which lies at the heart of society.
Dave Gibbons collaborated on the artwork for this game, which explains why the intro sequence is so visually stunning. Having been a huge fan of the Watchmen trade paperback when I was younger, seeing the same style translated directly into an adventure game made this an instant classic for me.
You start the game following a helicopter crash in a factory. You have a circuit board in your inventory and only two real options for interacting with the world: “move” or “interact”. These options are presented via an arrow cursor on the screen that will show a label if you hover over a hot spot you can interact with. There are very few actionable areas per screen you can interact with, but it doesn’t make the game feel limited as nothing really seems to be there to act as “filler”.
When you encounter other characters they can be interacted with via a typical dialogue menu. Each character has limited topics they can discuss, with certain options only being unlocked after you’ve either talked to another character or interacted with something else on the same screen. As there aren’t that many characters to engage with, everyone you do talk to tends to actually share something useful and helps advance the plot.
The story is clearly inspired by Neuromancer as you have to get the main character fitted with a port so they can physically interface with a machine and enter into a virtual world. This is the human/computer interface you’d expect in a cyberpunk-type game, and when you’re in this world you can access data files and unlock more information.
Foster is followed around throughout the game by a robot sidekick called Joey. When the game begins your only item is Joey’s circuit board, which you can plug into various robot shells throughout the game to give Joey additional capabilities. The first shell allows Joey to interface with various machines using a probe, as well as fly down from high places using a helicopter like rotor. Later he gets into a welder robot so can cut things with a torch.
Talking to Joey can can give you additional information about the current situation you’re in, or you can give him instructions. Joey’s responses can be pretty funny as Joey clearly has a personality and is not just a bland robotic assistant. The torch allows him to separate certain background items so you can pick them up, which is needed as there are some basic inventory management tasks needed to complete this game.
Unlike a lot of adventure games, there really aren’t a lot of items you need to pick up and use in Beneath a Steel Sky. Throughout the entire game you maybe get a dozen unique items, and each is required to advance the plot. Some items such as the pipe and the wrench actually get used in multiple puzzles.
This game clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the LucasArts games, though you are able to make mistakes that result in Foster’s death. The artwork is beautiful and the background music and sound effects really enhance the experience and ambiance. Since I played through the game using ScummVM I also grabbed a copy of James Woodcock’s Enhanced Soundtrack which makes a great soundtrack even better!
Overall the story is compelling, the game play is intuitive and progresses naturally without feeling artificially stretched out. I enjoy a good “Blade Runner”-esque store, which Beneath a Steel sky definitely is. If you’re looking for a game to help introduce you to adventure games in general this would be a good choice.
|Game||Beneath a Steel Sky|
|Publisher||Virgin Interactive Entertainment|
|Release Date||March, 1994|
|Systems||DOS, Amiga, Amiga CD32, Atari ST, iOS|
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