|We built this city on pipes and smooooooOOOOke
- Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
- Developer: Revolution Software
- Publisher: Revolution Software
- Release Date: 11 April 1994
- Time played: 7 hours
What is it
By the late 80s, point 'n' click adventures were already being pumped out by the likes of Lucasarts and Sierra On-Line but this is when British-based adventure game developer Revolution Software decided to have a go at making their own, back in 1989. Their first game, a fantasy-inspired point 'n' click adventure game called Lure of the Temptress was released in 1992 and was a critical and commercial success. This was then followed by the 1994 release of their second point 'n' click adventure game, Beneath a Steel Sky but instead of it being set in a fantasy realm, the game is set in a dystopian, cyberpunk version of Australia. Playing the role of a man named Robert Foster, you're abducted from the Outback by security forces and taken to the smoggy metropolis of Union City which is run by a supercomputer named LINC (Logical Inter-Neural Connection). The helicopter malfunctions and crash lands but you manage to survive and escape into a nearby factory with a computer chip containing the personality of your robot companion, Joey. As you explore Union City, you'll learn more about your past and how you're LINCed (see what I did there?) to the city's future.
Like its predecessor, Beneath a Steel Sky was a critical and commercial success, earning itself many awards including "Best Adventure" at the 1995 Golden Joystick Awards and selling at least 300,000 copies. The game was eventually made freeware in 2003 and is now available from sites such as GOG.com.
Revolution Software would go on to make more point 'n' click adventures and are perhaps best known nowadays for the Broken Sword series of adventure games. This year marked a special year for Beneath a Steel Sky fans though as more than 15 years after the release of the original game, they now get to play its sequel, Beyond a Steel Sky.
How I got it
GOG offers a whole bunch of free games and one of their earliest offerings was Beneath a Steel Sky; in fact it was the second game I acquired off GOG back in March 2010 (can you believe that's 10 years ago now?)! I've heard a lot of good things about this classic point 'n' click adventure by Revolution Software and you couldn't argue with the price so that's how it ended up in my games library.
I only decided to play it recently though once I heard that the sequel's release was imminent.
|Australia still uses incandescent light globes in the future
What I like:
Set in Australia
It's rare to find games that are actually set in Australia, especially when it's by a non-Australian developer. However, this isn't the Australia that you know but a weird, dystopian future version of the nation we proudly call home… one where Aussies drink Foster's Lager (DO NOT WANT!) Okay but seriously, in the future we're apparently still using Video Cassette Recorders and incandescent light globes, so something's obviously gone wrong. What I do like about this dystopian future though (and this applies to the cyberpunk genre in general) is it showcases what happens when neo-liberal hypercapitalism runs rampant to the point where "unions" aren't really unions any more and have little regard for worker rights (but ironically, "corporations" seem to be the good guys).
What I also like about the game is that you can draw conclusions of which Australian cities each of these so-called fictional cities are based off, such as when you notice the old subway stations of Union City having the same names as real-life Sydney stations or reading the manual reveals that Union City assimilated Asio-City, and that ASIO is an acronym for Australian Security Intelligence Organisation which happens to be based in Canberra, the nation's capital.
Your companion throughout the game is a wisecracking robot called Joey who brings a lot of comic relief to the game (although that's not to say the game would be humourless without him either). You're also able to install his personality chip into a multitude of shells meaning not only is it funny to hear him trash talk with Foster, he's actually critical to solving many of the game's puzzles.
Mostly logical puzzles
The puzzles in the game are quite logical by point 'n' click adventure game standards and I didn't encounter any dead ends either, which makes the game much more forgiving than its Sierra contemporaries and quite accessible for modern audiences too.
|My favourite line in the game
What I dislike:
Yes, the game was released in the early 1990s so technology wasn't as good as it is now, especially when it came to the media to store games: space was at a premium which usually meant although you could have music and audio in your game, if you wanted it to be more accessible to the masses, you had to make sacrifices in quality. There was an attempt at enhancing the audio in the game but alas, it seems to have never come to fruition.
Towards the end of the game the voice acting started to sound a bit hammy, although maybe it only seemed that way since the ending is basically the only serious part of the game with the rest of the game being quite irreverent to the usual dark tone associated with the cyberpunk genre (the ending also felt a bit rushed to be honest).
Joey is slow
Joey takes a very long time to travel across the screen which becomes annoying when you actually need him to solve puzzles. If you're impatient you'll find yourself walking into the next screen only to realise Joey isn't there, meaning you have to backtrack to the previous screen and wait until he's close enough to the edge of the screen to follow you.
Speaking of backtracking, there is a lot of that occurring in this game. While this might be considered a smart move in terms of game design (it means the world seems larger than it actually is and it increases the difficulty of puzzles as you have more things to interact with) it also means a lot of walking back and forth which is cumbersome, especially if you need Joey to follow you.
Lack of useful feedback
I did use hints a few times and a couple of times the solutions were actually rather simple (e.g. using a card to break open a lock or leaving a follower alone, despite thinking I needed to free them). However, one puzzle where I easily missed the solution was when I was expected to use a particular card on a terminal. Using other similar access cards would just result in Foster doing his usual shrugging of the shoulders, which doesn't really indicate whether you're on the right path or not. It would've been better if Foster gave more useful feedback in instances where you're close to the solution instead of the generic animation that applies to everything else.
Score – 8/10 (Recommended)
Since Beneath a Steel Sky is free, there's no reason not to give this game a try, especially if you're a point 'n' click adventure game fan. Yes, the game hasn't aged very well in the graphics and audio departments, backtracking is a pain and so is waiting for your wisecracking robot sidekick, Joey. The game does have a lot going for it though including its weird, dystopian version of Australia and the fact it's fun and accessible to the players of today.
If you like this game, you might like…
[ LINK: Beneath a Steel Sky @ GOG ]