Sunday, December 29, 2019

Retro Review - Beneath A Steel Sky [1994]

One game that sadly never got a proper remaster treatment [save a quasi-'remastered' IOS port] was Revolution (Broken Sword) Software's Beneath A Steel Sky, a 25 year old point and click adventure with a dystopian/cyberpunk sci-fi setting and a cult following to this day. I said it would be nice to sample a short adventure game for a change and as BASS has been freeware since 2003, and delivered free with GOG accounts, there was no reason not to.

As Robert Foster, stranded in an irradiated desolate wasteland outside the city walls as a child you are found by theatrically evil security forces and returned to the Union City. Foster soon escapes from his predicament and begins to uncover corruption and conspiracy around every corner - much of which as he discovered is all about someone important called Obermann - but is Foster Obermann himself?!!! 

One of the principal draws of the game however is the collaborative effort of famous comic book creator Dave (2000AD/Watchmen) Gibbons on the game. Gibbons was responsible for the character designs as well as the backgrounds and had an extraordinary level of input including a graphic-novel style intro and finale.

It wasn't quite as slapstick as Lucasarts' point and click efforts but it was certainly more tongue-in-cheek than Sierra's offerings from the period. I would compare it far more to the Star Trek 25th Anniversary/Judgement Rights games in tone. While the plot is certainly dramatic and dark, the interactions and dialogue is absolutely fucking hilarious and delivered with just as hilarious voice acting - including a turn from a young Jason Issacs.

Puzzle wise, there were a few quite less than obvious solutions that I'll admit needing a walk-through for, and each time I'd admit I'd likely never have tried that as a solution to the pending issue, but there are not many of these situations. Most puzzles/solutions are revealed by carefully moving your mouse around at anything that might look like it's vaguely interactive and most of the time it is, and there is a palpable sense of accomplishment when you do figure it out for yourself.

Beneath A Steel Sky sports an exceedingly simple control system - you can select everything from right or left click and F5 brings up the save/load/quit menu, and that's it! It's certainly easier to play than any other point and click and that simplicity made it a more immersive experience. In fact when coupled with Gibbons' influence it was almost more like reading a comic book for seven hours than playing a game.

This year, Revolution announced a sequel: Beyond A Steel Sky, was in development. It is again in collaboration  with Gibbons and is expected to release in 2020.

Beneath a Steel Sky is free on GOG.