There’s something wonderful about returning to a long-lost fictional world. The memories, the relationships, they’re all just ruminating at the back of your skull, ready to be brought back to the fore. Beyond a Steel Sky marks the lauded return to the world of Beneath a Steel Sky, the classic 90s point and click adventure, and it sees series protagonist Robert Foster returning to right more wrongs in this post-apocalyptic landscape.
This is a game that seeks to tickle away at the memories of old MS-DOS and Amiga gamers, while bringing the wonders of modern technology to bear for a brand new audience. Based on our latest hands on, both camps are going to be well looked after.
We got an early look at the game’s progress last year, but this time out, we’re getting to embark on Beyond a Steel Sky from the very beginning. Following the events of Beneath a Steel Sky, Foster has settled down in a village, using his technological know-how to help the local residents. While out fishing with Milo and his dad, the group are set upon by a hulking techno-creature, a Stalker, with robotic soldiers capturing Milo and injuring his father. It falls to Foster to set out into the wasteland to find Milo.
This is all told via fully-voiced, 80/90s-styled comic book stills, and it immediately sets the tone for this world, doing a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the original game, and its new, Unreal Engine-powered sequel. It’s great to see, and hear how the team have stayed true to the original’s native Aboriginal Australian heritage, and that Foster has once again found solace and companionship amongst them.
The search for Milo quickly takes Foster back to the beginning of it all – Union City. In Beneath a Steel Sky, Foster left his robotic companion Joey behind to run the city, and he’d heard that everything was going swimmingly, but as you return, it feels as though something has gone a bit wrong along the way.
You’re stuck outside though, and you’re introduced to the wonderful batch of characters that hang around one of the city’s freighter entrances. There’s a pair of street urchins called Pixel and Voxel, the bungling technician Hobbsworth and a curmudgeonly sausage delivery guy called Wendell, all of whom are fully voiced. They’ve got bags of personality too, and Revolution have done an impressive job in bringing them all to life.
While Beyond a Steel Sky certainly looks like a modern, 3D adventure game, this is still a point and click adventure through and through. Progress is made by talking to everyone, working your way through conversation trees, and working out how the items you’ve picked up can be put to use. It’s not the nonsensical sort of point and click either – there’s no Day of the Tentacle weirdness, at least not in the portion we played – and you can probably see where you’re supposed to be heading or what you’re trying to do in most instances.
If you do get stuck, the options provide you with a Hints tab, with each use having a two minute cooldown to stop you just blazing through them to force your way to success. It could do with a little refinement a moment – in the demo it wasn’t keeping track of where I was, so gave hints from the beginning of the game – but it’s still a nice feature in a genre that can prove to be frustrating at times.
While outside the walls you gain the ability to hack machines, and it’s this that will prove to be the key to success. You can scan kiosks, machines or hand scanners and subvert their programming, letting you into places that you shouldn’t be able to access, or turning slow cargo ramps into treadmills that fling off their cargo. While these early puzzles are relatively straightforward, I can imagine them becoming much more complex as you progress.
Once past the gates, you’re finally given a view of Union City. A futuristic cityscape of towering buildings linked by walkways and raised gardens, it’s an idealistic setup, but one that you seem destined to learn has corruption at its heart. The swelling Stargate SG-1 style music helps to solidify the journey into the city, and as a whole the aural soundscape is coming together perfectly, selling the setting, and the emotional beats as you explore.
Once there, you find yourself at the home of Graham Grundy, the citizen whose ID you’ve “borrowed”, and you’re about to be interviewed by a Ministry representative over where “you” have been for the past two weeks. It’s a good excuse to have a root through the dead fellas stuff, piece together what he’s into – which includes a nice few nods to the original game – and then muddle your way through the interview. Apparently the quality of your answers will play a big part later on, but we’ll have to wait and see, as that’s where this demo came to an end!
Beyond a Steel Sky is shaping up to be a fantastic sci-fi adventure through Union City and its underbelly, with enjoyable performances and modern production values really putting this at the forefront of narrative adventures. The lackadaisical pace won’t be for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for some head scratching puzzling, in one of gaming’s classic settings, Beyond a Steel Sky is shaping up to be something special.