Beyond A Steel Sky

Beyond A Steel Sky

Don't worry, there are no goat puzzles.

beyond a steel sky

I’m well aware that there will be a number of you reading this that have no idea that Beyond A Steel Sky is a sequel, as it’s been 27 years since the first traditional point and click adventure was released.  Coming from Revolution Software back in 1994, Beneath A Steel Sky was an intriguing take on a dystopian future that set the template for what the studio were all about – poignant stories that contained more than enough humour to lighten the darkest of material.  With the developers being more widely known for the Broken Sword series, Beneath ended up becoming more of a cult hit and found a bigger audience once the source code was released back in the early 2000’s.  It’s had enough attention over the years though, and that prompted Charles Cecil and his team to work on a follow up story that made it to PC back in 2020, and now it’s arrived on consoles.  For those not familiar with the original story, is there enough here to get you up to speed?  And more importantly, how has the point and click style evolved to give it a more modern feel?

Beyond A Steel Sky opens in a very similar way to its predecessor – with a kidnapping in the desert.  After an apocalyptic event, humanity is either living in walled off towns in a degree of comfort, or scratching an existence in the wasteland known as The Gap.  It’s here where our hero Robert Foster has been residing for the decade since he changed the regime in Union City and left his best friend Joey in charge.  Being an AI, Joey was set to run Union City and provide the inhabitants with everything they’d need for a luxurious life, and Robert would spend his days roaming The Gap fixing things and enjoying its simple trappings.  That is until one day androids show up and take Milo, a child Foster is fond of.  Repaying the kindness of the community he’s been staying with, he decides to set off in pursuit and bring Milo back.  His journey leads him back to Union City to reunite with his old friend and discover what’s happened over the last 10 years, and uncover a dark conspiracy that’s right at home in a cyberpunk thriller.  Fortunately, most of the world seems to have kept up with sardonic wit, so at least the tone is light and breezy.

In over nearly three decades of game development, graphics and processing power have progressed significantly, as have iterations in the genre style, and Beyond A Steel Sky embraces where the point and click adventure has moved on to.  Utilising full 3D environments the story and puzzle nature are given a greater scope and make the adventure feel more immersive and engaging.  Very much like the offerings of Telltale Games, this is about helping the player absorb as much info as possible through the look and feel of the world, and the characters that inhabit it.  It’s an impressive design, especially the first few moments getting into Union City and realising the size, though it’s not overwhelming.  With only a few key locations to focus on there’s a good balance between depth of detail and play area, and there aren’t too many fetch quest activities that force running between places to find answers.  In fact, the puzzle nature is effectively split into two: the traditional “use an object in a place” type, and a more interesting hacking/logic puzzle mechanic.

Scouring the environment is always key in these types of games, and making a mental note of what Robert comments on, as well as the turn of phrase used, will help you follow breadcrumb trail clues to get to a solution.  The first one that leaves its mark is in the opening section of entering the city, and Robert needs to gain an ID chip to access the city info, as well as find transport in through the service gate.  It serves as Beyond A Steel Sky’s tutorial and introduces the main ways of playing, but there are enough high level visual clues going on that within seconds you’ll have worked out a rough solution, yet will still need to chat and cajole the NPCs into revealing the finer points that drop into the plan.  Conversations aren’t branching, though there’s a lot of info that can be pulled out from most characters, whether that’s world building or vital knowledge; and using their chatty nature to progress feels natural and nicely satisfying.  Object interactions are kept quite simple, and there aren’t really any mad logic leaps that need making that have been staples in the past.  Most of the brain work is thinking sensibly about what Robert can see and touch, and how to make what’s in your head happen.

Beyond A Steel Sky’s hacking mini-game (if you can call it that), is a really nice idea.  By using a tool that’s always available, wandering in range of a compatible electronic device lets Foster view the logic running the machine, and swap blocks around to change the controls.  For example, if you’re using a soda machine and your free allowance for the day has run out, what not change it so it dispenses if you’re not entitled instead?  It’s easy to learn because it’s so simply presented – grab the grey bits that are the same shapes and swap them, then apply the actions.  Its use does ramp up as the game gets near the finale, and you find yourself with multiple devices to swap commands between, and even using some of them purely as carriers to move a command from one location to another.  Of course, it’s also possible just to dick around with them and cause mischief, which the team have obviously anticipated given some of the character reactions.  Having two distinctly different approaches to the puzzles, and combining them as well, makes for enough variables to leave you scratching your head before things click.  Sometimes trial and error is best just to see what works, and whether that provides any inspiration.

What’s immediately noticeable is the sense of humour built into the game, and the love of not only its source material, but every other Revolution Software game… and more than enough pop culture references too.  The voice cast do a great job of making each character distinct, and if you pick the British English option you’ll be treated to accents from all around the UK that bring a surprisingly diverse appeal, as well as a feeling that the remnants of all societies have ended up in this small part of Australia.  It has an innocent air to it all as well, with nothing intended to cause offence or land a joke at the expense of someone or something else.  The pieces that make you smile are in the characterisations of the main NPCs or the homages you stumble across, so it feels gentle in its tone, even if some of the puzzles aren’t going to let you off that easily.  Technically it’s decent as well, with only a few character model glitches in moments when you’re talking to them, or the odd occasion of the camera getting stuck.  In fact, the only bit I came across that doesn’t land right is the interaction icon.  With no mouse control there’s a lot of having to properly align Foster to make sure clicking the dots to open the menu will work, and it’s a bit floaty in that respect which can cause some frustration when dealing with some of the time sensitive solutions.

All in all though, Beyond A Steel Sky is a great example of how to make an engaging point and click adventure from the masters of the art.  Had this not delivered the experience it does I think the entire community would have been surprised, and Revolution would be highly unlikely to put out something that would disappoint.  With 10 hours or so of gameplay, and alternate outcomes available in a couple of areas to prompt a replay, there’s a good amount to get stuck into.  If puzzle games strike you with the fear of just not being able to figure them out, there’s a comprehensive hint system that reveals just as much as you need without spoiling things, yet never leaves you hanging if you’re truly stuck.  Those with a familiarity of the first game will enjoy a visit to Union City again and catching back up with Joey, and those who’ve never been before won’t be left feeling on the outside.

A PS4 review copy of Beyond A Steel Sky was provided by Revolution Software’s PR team, and the game is available now digitally on PlayStation, Xbox and PC, and will be arriving in retail form on 7th December for around £40 depending on version and platform.

The Verdict

8Great

The Good: Well realised world | Lots of Easter eggs and fan service

The Bad: Ropey interaction points | Some clipping of models

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Matt

Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, amateur DJ (out of practice), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

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