Beyond a Steel Sky aims to resurrect a cult-classic adventure game franchise with updated graphics and a new storyline.
Beneath a Steel Sky is a cyberpunk-style, point-and-click adventure game released by Revolution Software in 1994 that featured art design from Watchmen’s Dave Gibbons. 25 years later, the game will receive a follow up in the similarly named Beyond a Steel Sky. Based on a recent alpha-build demo we played, one that showcases Gibbons’ new contributions and challenging puzzles, it’s safe to say that Beyond a Steel Sky will deliver a classic adventure game experience for PC and other video game platforms.
Welcome to Union City
You play as Robert Foster, a man in search of a kidnapped child. As he traverses a barren desert, Foster happens upon Union City, one of the last metropolises in a world wrecked by warfare. The fortified utopia is filled with people who happily live under the watch of a benign artificial intelligence, but Forester begins to realize all is not what it seems.
Humans, animals, and robots populate the world, and each have their own particular motivations. Obtaining information or objects require you to discover what they want—more on that in a bit. Everyone and everything exists in the game world for a reason, be it as a help or hindrance.
Modern-day adventure games emphasize dialogue and dialogue choices. It is rare to come across complex puzzles in games like Batman: The Telltale Series or The Wolf Among Us. That said, complex puzzles are a major component of Beyond a Steel Sky’s gameplay. Charlies Cecil, one of the lead game designers, states that Beyond a Steel Sky will have a variety of logic-based puzzles. As long as you pay attention to the world and dialogue, you’ll possess the necessary tools to overcome even the craftiest challenges.
For example, you’ll need to retrieve an important device, the LINC Hacker, from a murder of crows. With this, Foster is able to hack into devices to alter their programming. Knowing the birds hate love food but hate loud noise, you can toss a rancid sausage link near an off-line holographic display. When the birds gather around their putrid snack, you activate the noisy hologram which sends the birds scattering. Without the birds to impede Foster, you now have the sought-after device.
Missions have predetermined outcomes, but you can complete them in various ways. This gives you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to deciphering puzzles.
Dave Gibbons’ Art Design
Aside from its back-to-basics adventure game mechanics, Beyond a Steel Sky’s art design is its other notable aspect. Dave Gibbons, the man who drew the original, classic Watchmen comic book series, worked on Beneath a Steel Sky back in 1994 and has returned to lend his talents to this sequel. Unlike the original game, this installment recreates his unique art style more authentically because of modern technology.
“It’s been the most wonderful collaboration,” said Gibbons to PCMag in a New York Comic Con interview. “I’m involved in the story, in designing the characters and the environments. I love working with the rest of Charles’ team and it’s been such good fun. It’s been as much fun as any of the comics I’ve worked on. It’s great to see it out there for a different audience.”
The original game’s cut scenes take the form of in-game comic book panels drawn by Dave Gibbons. Beyond a Steel Sky features similar in-game cinematics, only this time, they’re presented as a motion comic complete with voice-over work and music. The motion comic serves as an introduction to the game’s world.
In fact, Beyond a Steel Sky starts as a short motion comic that introduces the characters and the inciting incident. You can quickly read the motion comic and then jump straight into the game. This time around, the development team has the luxury of making the motion comic and in-game art style match.
“In the first game we had tiny blocky sprites with really detailed backgrounds,” Gibbons said. “People had to imagine what we were going for. But with this, we’ve been able to come much closer and much more seamlessly.”
A Few Issues
The demo we played was from the game’s alpha build. As a result, it’s easy to forgive some of the bugs and hitches, such as the characters’ mouths not moving when speaking or minor environmental clipping. What’s harder to overlook is the delivery of dialogue and the narrative.
While most of the demo’s characters delivered their lines earnestly, Foster’s voice actor sounded bored. Most of the narration (presented in the form of in-game narrative boxes) felt redundant. There is no need for the game to state Foster found birds pecking at a dead man if you already see that on screen, unless it’s an option for people with hearing difficulties.
Beyond a Steel Sky’s Steam page recommends that your gaming PC have at least a 3GHz AMD Phenom X4 945 or 3.1GHz Intel Core i3-2100 CPU, a 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7770 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 graphics card, 4GB of RAM, and the Windows 7 operating system. These aren’t particularly demanding requirements, but you will need a halfway decent rig to run the game.
Toward the Future
Though a follow-up to a 25-year old game, Beyond a Steel Sky doesn’t feel out of place in the modern gaming landscape. Cyberpunk/dystopian settings are all the rage now, and adventure games have arguably never been as popular. Dave Gibbons’ masterful artwork permeates every inch of this title and helps give it a timeless quality. The puzzle-centric gameplay is another factor that should help the game stand out from the pack.
Beyond a Steel Sky has no official release date or release window. It will release on Apple Arcade, PC, and consoles. Stay tuned for more news regarding the specific console platorms and a release date.
Bottom Line: Beyond a Steel Sky aims to resurrect a cult-classic adventure game franchise with updated graphics and a new storyline.