It’s hard to believe that Beneath a Steel Sky was released 25-years ago. After Revolution Games co-founder Charles Cecil approached comic book artist Dave Gibbons, they created this point-and-click adventure which became a cult classic and still features on many ‘all-time top’ lists.
I ended up not completing the game until much later despite originally coming across it in the nineties. Remember those days when you could pop into the local newsagent and pick up gaming magazines with floppy-disc demos attached to the front? My dad brought one home for me and I tried it out on my old Amiga after school, then years later I got to play the title in full after signing up to the GOG platform. It was dystopian science-fiction tale full of secrets which was right up my street.
I’d seen Cecil speak previously at EGX in 2016 where he declared that adventure games aren’t dead while promoting The Little Acre. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy the title, I do agree with his sentiment; and I was therefore excited when I heard that he’d be appearing at the expo again this year. What was even better was that there’d be an opportunity to play a demo for Beyond a Steel Sky, a follow-up to the 1994 classic that adventure fans have been eagerly waiting for.
We made the Revolution Games stand our first stop of the event on the Thursday and, thanks to it being hidden away in a corner of the ExCeL London, my other-half and I had the closed-booth all to ourselves. The team kindly let us stay to complete the whole demo rather than moving us on after 15-minutes because it was quiet, so I took the opportunity to jump into the seat and take control of the keyboard and mouse while Pete chatted to community manager David Vaughan-Jackson.
Players once again step into the role of Robert Foster who is on the hunt for a child who was abducted in a brutal attack. You’ve vowed to bring him home to your community of desert wasteland dwellers and the trail has led you once again to Union City, one of the last remaining mega-cities in a world ravaged by wars and political meltdowns. It’s portrayed as a utopia where people live happily under the control of a benign artificial intelligence, although everything isn’t as it seems.
Later Devils 😈 (@LaterLevels) October 17, 2019
A helpful introduction told us the demo would be starting part-way into the game and we were tasked with finding a way into the city. It wasn’t possible to get in by foot and Robert had already met a grumpy trucker who was willing to help; but as is the way with adventure games, the power-cell for his vehicle had discharged and it wasn’t going anywhere. It was time to get to work, discover a way to get that truck going again, and bring ultimately bring the missing child home to its parents.
Beyond a Steel Sky looks and feels a lot different from its predecessor and gives off a Mad Max kind of vibe. The visual style is reminiscent of Borderlands, although a little more detailed, and the comic-book-influences are clear through Gibbons’ artwork. You can now use the keyboard and mouse to navigate around a 3D world to look at items and characters from any angle. Some adventure fans won’t like this change because it’s so different from the point-and-click mechanic, but I didn’t experience any gameplay difficulties during the demo.
The first character we met was Ember, a cheeky young lady with a lot of knowledge about technology and the way things worked in Union City. She gave us a hacking tool and explained how it worked: after scanning your surroundings for available devices, you could access them and use them to subvert the environment – or just mess with people. This came in handy when trying to get across a bridge with a mechanical lock. We were able to swap its behaviour to let anyone with an unauthorised handprint across.
This idea of ‘subversion’ has been a big influence for Beyond a Steel Sky, according to Cecil during his developer session later that day. The team wanted to implement puzzles that not only felt as though they belonged to the world and the story, but which could be solved by changing the behaviour of objects and characters around you. He showed a clip of Robert using a sausage to attract the attention of a group of food-loving birds and explained how they could be used to solve a challenge involving an electrical doorway.
Later Devils 😈 (@LaterLevels) October 17, 2019
The developer also explained how he’s not an enthusiast for multiple endings because it’s hard to write just one that’s a great climax for your video game, let alone several. I was pleased to hear this as someone who feels under pressure to obtain the ‘best’ ending when faced with such situations. As explained in a post coming next month, a branching storyline which ends at only conclusion means I can simply enjoy it while not having to worry that my decisions will have a huge negative impact.
Sadly we were unable to capture any gameplay during our time with Beyond a Steel Sky so I’m unable to share any photographs. But what I saw of the game at EGX makes me hopeful; the puzzles we played through were logical yet enjoyable, the environments look lovely, and the voice-acting and music suited them perfectly. We’ve had to wait a very long time for a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky but it seems as though we’re finally going to get a worthy successor.
The Steam page is already available so you can wishlist the title, although a release date isn’t yet stated. Follow Revolution Games on Twitter for the latest news and keep your eyes open for a stream in the future!