Thursday, October 8, 2015

Beneath a Steel Sky Mega Review

Beneath a Steel Sky has received cult classic status, thanks to it's fantastic story, and also due to the fact that the original version was released as freeware for use with ScummVM.  This is one cult classic that is well deserving of that title, whether you play the freeware version or the remaster.

The game takes place in a dystopian future where the protagonist, Robert Foster, crash landed in the Australian outback as a child. The crash killed his mother, and he was adopted and raised by a tribe living outside the multi-tiered, gated, city.  Years later, he is kidnapped by security officers from the city, and brought back inside its walls.  Robert's initial goal is simply to get out, but in doing so, he discovers a conspiracy that somehow involves himself.  The story is excellent. There is also a good deal of humor interspersed between the drama, which is never overdone and works well.

The game is presented in a low resolution format, as the game was originally released in the early 1990's.  The graphics are quite good for the era, with a nice level of detail in the backgrounds, displaying the sterile feeling of the dystopian city, and showcasing the disparity of the living conditions on the differing levels quite well.  The game has an intro with still frames by comic book artist Dave Gibbons, with some frames having a little bit of animation to illustrate certain moments of the story.  The remastered version has a revamped version of the intro.  The new illustrations are of much higher quality than the originals, but both work well to illustrate the story.  The floppy version has a very different introduction, as it doesn't have speech.  The one thing that the floppy version has over the others is that the introduction has music not heard anywhere else.

The game uses Revolution's Virtual Theatre engine, which had a feature that allowed the non player characters to perform daily routines to give the games an added sense of realism.  Beneath a Steel Sky is Revolution's second game to use this engine, and it is a much improved experience.  Finding the characters you need to interact with is no longer a chore.  The game does well to let you know which character you need to speak with at which point, and each character has a routine that is easy to see.  You can also increase or decrease the speed of the game through the menu, which decreases the amount of time between the character's movements.  This helps a lot in easing any frustration over needing to wait for specific breaks in a routine.

The voice acting is quite good, with the voice of the main character, Robert Foster, being a notable high point.  Robert's companion, a robot named Joey, is also voiced well.  Joey's voice has a robotic filter, but it is done to a level that doesn't get annoying.  Much like GLaDOS in the later Portal series, Joey's robotic voice is memorable rather than grating.  The music is also excellent, helping to set the mood of the game quite well.

There are a few puzzles that have some weird logic, especially later in the game, but for the most part, they're well done.  The game has a number of puzzles in a computer world known as LINC space.  These puzzles are much different than the rest of the game, and take some getting used to. Once you know how the puzzles work, however, working out the solutions isn't too difficult.  There are moments in the game where you can die.  Like the later Broken Sword, most of these deaths are foreshadowed before hand, however there is one part later on in the game where it is possible to die without warning, so it would be wise to save often.

Beneath a Steel Sky is truly a classic adventure.  It has an excellent story, great characters, excellent atmosphere, great art work, fantastic voice acting, and music that sets the mood of the game well. Most of the puzzles are logical, with a few exceptions.  The LINC space puzzles, while confusing at first, are fairly easy to work out once you get the hang of things.  It is possible to die, but most deaths are foreshadowed, with one glaring exception near the end of the game.  The remastered version adds depth to the intro with much more detailed art, but the free CD version conveys the message nearly as well.  The free floppy version adds new music to the intro, but loses a lot in the process, as the voice acting is missing from this version.  If you play just one version of the game, you can't go wrong with either the free CD version or the remastered version.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

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