One of the more exotic gaming journeys back into the 90s was to indulge in a point-and-click adventure that wasn’t a LucasArts project, but one that could stand tall against just about any of them. One well-recognised game that matches these criteria is found in the trip back to early 1994, with the destination being an uncomfortable chair in front of a DOS machine with Beneath A Steel Sky ready to play. I first experienced this game as a youngster on the Amiga, but revisiting and playing through the PC “talkie” version brought extra life to the set. The CD-ROM is also slightly harder to use as a murder weapon than the Amiga’s colossal fifteen floppy disks, which resemble a hefty brickbat when taped together and wrapped in something brickbat-coloured, or fifteen highly customised shurikens.
It’s not without its flaws, the most notable being the ill-fitting American accents of Foster and a minority of the cast, and indeed the entire cast bar Eduardo the gardener if you consider that the game is played in Australia, with the rest of the cast displaying a broad array of British accents, among others. Still, the cockneys are close enough. The voice acting has the right amount of ham to blend in with the dialogue to bring humorous overtones to a conceptually sinister game, similar in theory but not in practice to the cream of LucasArts’ contributions to the genre. The background music is typically supplementary, and the moods usually complement the intended atmospheres, but it is a little bit too cheery at times. The Virtual Theatre engine propels non-playable characters around the world, but the need to avoid them at times and to be moved to a particular place on the screen to have a conversation can be grating.
|You play Robert Foster. He's stylish...|
|...an effortless womaniser...|
|...has a refined taste in music...|
|...and is quite the athlete, to boot!|
|Joey is always complaining...|
|...and Hobbins can see why...|
|...but that's what upgrades are for|
The nagging issue that the characters don’t always stick to the written script is largely the cause of dialect, and this is in evidence as the American Foster meanders loosely around a very colloquial British script, with “jumper”, “it’s well smart”, and “they’re shagged beyond repair” changed to “sweater”, “it’s totally cool”, and “they’re frazzed beyond repair”. You can feel the defiance in the voice actor in the last of those lines. “‘Shagged’? Don’t be ridiculous, frazzed makes much more sense,” he says to himself. He’s wrong, though.
|The most intensive the interface|
gets, and it's telling you why
Hobbins is in such poor shape
Being point-and-click, it’s hard to complain about the controls. You click either mouse button to walk somewhere, talk to someone, or follow an exit cursor, and you left-click to examine a highlighted object, right-click to pick up or interact with it, and right-click anywhere to skip a line of text. Just one keyboard button is required, to bring up the menu. The interface is dead simple. The unobtrusive inventory only drops down if you move the cursor to the very top, and the only thing that changes when looking at objects is the cursor, which changes from a smaller arrow to a larger one labelled “Exit” for a route out of the room, or to a crosshairs with the name of the object or person, which even changes as the player learns the character’s name. It’s all minimal and effective, and allows you to enjoy the graphics.
|Stunning graphics are featured...|
|...from the barren to the exotic|
And what graphics they are. The background art supplied by illustrious comic book artist Dave Gibbons is painted to a half-realism rather than his comic style, although he does provide a comic strip too for the introduction in the packaging, which was featured at the beginning of the game itself on CD-ROM. From the bleak industrial towers to the plush modern veneers, the artwork is something to be savoured, and you can easily appreciate the effort that the Revolution team put into giving it centre stage. You even have the option to remove speech text from view if you’re feeling cocky about hearing everything first time, but do bear in mind that you don’t get to repeat conversations.
|Lifts make transportation easy|
Despite the sprawling city and plot, the navigable world is pretty small. Multiply that with the ability to change your game speeds, and you’ve got a much more easily accessible world than say, The Secret Of Monkey Island, a comparably epic world that takes about four decades to explore.
Right from the almost-animated cartoon strip intro, the scavengers that act as the guardians of Robert Foster paint an ill landscape erupting into the sky, and the protagonist’s life summary illustrates the relative wasteland. Another helicopter crash brings Foster, now regarded as a fugitive, to the start of the gameplay. Unlike a fair chunk of its peers, Beneath A Steel Sky presents several situations where our protagonist can die, and the ability to save is most welcome. Points of timing also come up, and the ability to slow the game speed down can prove to be quite nifty at times.
|Foster gets backed up against a|
wall straight away, and can die here...
|...good thing he's so eloquent and|
can blag his way out of trouble
|Foster's incisive humour is nothing|
short of irresistable...
|...he's smooth like ice, but Lamb is|
cold to the touch and isn't very nice
|Dystopian fashion is questionable,|
and yet Foster's coat is ridiculed
|The supporting caste bears the|
brunt of swingeing cuts
|Suddenly, you're in what feels|
like a different world
|Belle Vue isn't paradise, but it|
sure beats London
|LINCspace is like stepping|
into another game
With enough trickery and help from Anita, Foster gets to
Park at ground level, and manages to get some answers from
Danielle Piermont, whose deceased husband’s work led the pair of them to be
close to the Overmann family. The frightening Piermont is incredibly wealthy
and well connected, and can get you access to an underground club, and her dog
Spunky can be used to create a good distraction for one Officer Blunt, who is
basically Parker from Thunderbirds,
who ‘as no h’idea what h’exactly you’re h’up to. After entering a truly bizarre
courthouse scene in which a dated judge presides over his court as if it were a
game show, Hobbins hastily befriends Foster after standing accused of
assaulting Blunt with some water spray, which was an unseen result of Foster’s
work in the power plant.
|Very good, m'lady:|
h'Officer Blunt h'is 'opeless
|Here's your starter for ten:|
Judge Chutney hosts a sham court
|Doctor Burke is definitely|
After discovering Anita’s radiation-cooked body in the cathedral, an increasingly vengeful Foster vows to finish what Anita was planning, and destroy LINC. He sneaks into the underground to find some of the strangest things imaginable in the circumstances. LINC is a pulsating organism hooked up to Foster’s dad, and some guy with a surfer dude voice is totally growing rubbery androids. Joey, whose job is to annoy you and keep breaking shells, has his last one broken after an altercation with the mysterious Gallagher, who turns out to be... another android, and Foster downloads him into an android and dubs him Ken. A few more puzzles and sharp thinking leads to Foster meeting his father, and then on to victory. Fast forward a little spring cleaning, and everything's fantastic, so Foster declares his return to the gap, despite all of his tribe having been exterminated in the explosion courtesy of Reich’s entourage in the introduction, leaving Ken and Hobbins behind. The fate of the rest of the surviving citizens of the implied nicer, uncorrupted
is left open, apart from Lamb, who is suggested
to get a return to work in a less prestigious position. End game, roll credits,
“be vigilant”, whoopee. Union
|Things get weirder by the minute|
Some of the puzzles are easier than others. Along with the threat of death that isn’t always obvious, some puzzles are abstractly different to others, which keeps you on your toes at all times. While many hallmarks of adventure games are there, such as the initial level acting as a silent tutorial that equates to “use that metal thing to open that metal door or get shot”, and the increasing complexity, moving around LINCspace makes you feel like you’re playing a different game.
|The plot is heartwrenchingly good|
|Beneath A Steel Sky is a killer game|
|Dizzying heights were achieved|
in the creation of this game