I still can’t believe we got a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky 26 years later.
As someone who has played the original multiple times over the years, I’ve been hoping and wishing that Charles Cecil and Dave Gibbons would finally get together again.
Beneath a Steel Sky helped launch Revolution Software along with Lure of the Temptress and paved the way for the legendary Broken Sword series.
But BASS also helped usher in a cyberpunk/dystopian era in adventure games which had previously been steeped in high fantasy.
It was something of a groundbreaker, for sure. But also incredibly distinct with its quick-witted dialogue, grisly death sequences, and stunning comic book style. In recent re-releases, Gibbons completed full comic panel style introductions to set the scene for the game, something that immediately sets up the plot for the sequel.
Beyond is a true sequel, then. Set years after the events of Beneath with Joey left to rule Union City and Robert Foster living life in the Gap in a remote village. But when Milo, a young child is snatched unexpectedly by a machine unlike any they’ve ever seen, Robert feels like it could have only come from one place.
Revisiting Union City is a conflicting experience for Robert, especially since he barely escaped last time. However, he’s surprised to find that it seems relatively easy going – though really tangled up in red tape. But it turns out that Joey isn’t actually the one in charge anymore and a Council have formed to keep the peace using a new Qdos system.
This is a very different Union City, a mostly safer one, but one that still harbours some very dark and sinister secrets. And perhaps that’s one of the immediate and most striking deviations between the games – apart from the stunning new visual style – most of those iconic death scenes you were used to from the original are gone. The sense of peril that followed you through the first game has kind of been lost.
I have to be honest, I missed that. There was something about Beneath a Steel Sky that really kept me on edge. Worried that my next move was going to be my last move. Before I stepped into a new room, I hammered that save button, took a deep breath, and tip-toed over, unsure what I was about to come up against.
In that regard, Beyond a Steel Sky doesn’t really make the player uncomfortable. At least, not at first. Some of the themes and tones used throughout are certainly unsettling, but there feels like much more safety netting cast around. It is understandable as the original game was very much about laying the foundations of a better world – and there would undoubtedly be adversity to that. Now that ‘better world’ seems to exist, and there’s a living breathing population reaping the benefits, walking alongside you.
For some people, that might take a bit of adjustment, and you may wonder if the halmarks of the original game have been lost. But you’ll soon be swept up in the game’s utterly compelling story and it’s absolutely stunning depiction of a modern day dystopian sci-fi. Because, honestly, Gibbons and the team have done a wonderful job bringing a pixelated adventure game into a living, breathing, interactive 3D world.
This is, unquestionably a BASS game, still with an emphasis on droids and hacking, lengthy monologues, and poking your nose where you don’t belong. Robert Foster hasn’t lost a beat but he will also get the opportunity to interact with some refreshing and interesting characters that could only have come from the brilliant mind of Charles Cecil.
The Cecil/Gibbons collaboration just works and their combined efforts make for one of the most visually impressive, stylish adventure games I’ve ever seen. If you wanted a good example of how to make the genre still feel relevant in 2020, then Beyond a Steel Sky is your template.
There’s multiple ways to solve some puzzles, you learn more about the environment and open up new conversation choices by being persistent in your questioning, and with the game’s unique hacking tool, you can form all sorts of wild and wacky combinations that affect the gameworld in various ways.
One puzzle, for example, tasks you with visiting a museum and creating a sign for one of its patrons through one of the monuments. So you have to check out various exhibits at the museum and find an appropriate emotion to do just that.
By clicking the right mouse button, Robert brings out his hacking tool and if he’s in range, can jump right into the interface of multiple different interactive elements in a style that looks a bit like Scratch, the coding language.
You drag and drop actions between the various elements in order to change the way they respond in the gameworld. The earliest example of this is when you get a vending machine to dispense infinite amounts of carbonised drinks, essentially nullifying the alarm system.
The game is a little buggy, though. I lost my UI and conversation choices one time because I jumped to the pause menu. I also noticed that characters have absolutely no regard for social distancing whatsoever. More than once or twice, they’d randomly pop up in the middle of my conversations and seemed attracted to me like I was a magnet or something.
I also occasionally lost a few recorded lines of dialogue through skipping and some of the camera angles were either a bit odd or seemed fixated in the walls. None of it was noticeable enough to detract from, or spoil my enjoyment of the game and its story, though.
Beyond a Steel Sky is ushering in an exciting new era for adventure games. There’s more than one way to solve some puzzles, the world is genuinely interesting to explore, and the UI feels flexible, capable of stretching across multiple formats with there already being a mobile release and a clear way to map and match the interface to a gamepad.
Much like its predecessor, its aesthetic will be burned into your brain, BASS features various compelling moments that you’ll think about for years to come, and once again Revolution Software prove they can tell an entertaining story while shining a spotlight on truly memorable characters.
Revolution Software have gone above and beyond with this sequel and reinvigorated a classic franchise in the best possible way. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another twenty six years for another return to this incredible world.
Beyond a Steel Sky is now available on Apple Arcade and releases on Steam July 16th
Tested on PC and iOS
Code provided by Publisher