GamingReview: Beyond a Steel Sky - Console Edition

Review: Beyond a Steel Sky – Console Edition

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My formative gaming years were spent with the classic Point and Click adventure games of the 90s, from The Secret of Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and others. It was a golden age of the genre, something that had a bit of a rival with the Tell-Tale Game releases but one of the more iconic games for me was “Beneath a Steel Sky”, a Cyberpunk Sci-Fi rich adventure full of humor release in 1994. So back in 2020, when it was announced that a spiritual successor in “Beyond a Steel Sky” was to be released on PC as well as iOS and Android devices, well it had my attention, but it has taken to the final days of November 2021 for the game to finally come to main consoles, so was the wait worth it?

Beyond a Steel Sky is more than just a spiritual successor, it is a direct sequel to the 1994 classic, set ten years after the events of the first game and features a returning Robert Foster, the hero of the first game, enjoying life back in the GAP, formerly the Australian Outback before the world went to pot. Now helping a new tribe, on his final day there, Robert goes on a fishing trip along with his best friend and their son Milo when suddenly, a giant machine comes out of the water knocking Robert and the boys father out and kidnapping the child. With the father too injured to pursue, Robert takes up the task of tracking down and rescuing the boy, this will bring Robert back to face his past and a world he felt he had already saved and left behind.

Now, if you have played the original than Beyond a Steel Sky is going to be a fantastic and rewarding return to that world for it has so much nostalgia for it in terms of returning themes and names whilst using the same style of puzzle solving and humor that fans will instantly recognize. If you have never played the original, there is still a very competent modern style point and click adventure but a lot of the spirit of the game might be a little lost on the player. From the same team behind the Broken Sword series, ‘Beyond a Steel Sky’ is very much old school, which for 2021 console players who may never have played a true Point and Click story, might leave them in the cold.

Visually this game has the similar art style of Tell-Tale Games, and it certainly works for it, controlling Robert Foster with a controller instead of a mouse gave me more of a connection to Robert as I moved him around to navigate locations and interact with the world. That world is very beautiful with the main bulk of the adventure taking place in Union City, a rebuilt version of Sydney Australia, with locations that look incredible as you often visit places that allow you to move the camera to see more of the city with building reaching hi into the sky. The animation is simplistic but works though it can feel a little off at times such as Robert Foster not really running rather than fast walking when the player wants to move a little faster when wandering around a level.

The story itself is very much a narrative driven experience, there is little to no combat and very traditionally focused on puzzle solving and there is a great deal of that though the puzzles are quite simple, nothing too testing that interacting with everything in an area to see if it will help you solve a section to exploring all dialogue options with the characters around you. Quite a bit of this interaction style can feel like filler after a while however with the main puzzle solving mechanic of Hacking, which uses a tool to switch program protocols from different systems often being the go-to solution when needing to access a location or system for information. This is a fun mechanic at the start of the story but by the final sections can become a little repetitive.

The themes of the story continue very much from the original which saw an AI system controlling the city but here it has been replaced by “The Council” who uses a QDOS rating system to control the population. QDOS is a scoring system that works when the person does as they are told so turning up for work and being all happy can lead to a high QDOS score and opens more social climbing and progression for that person but the flip side is, miss a day of work, acting in a way that is not seen as positive and happy for the community, and your QDOS will be impacted and even lowered, removing your social standing and therefore access to all the lovely things that make your quality of life worthwhile. It is a clever look at a very dystopian method of control and the player can see how this impacts the people they interact with as Robert Foster, adding more reason for Robert to take The Council down.

The voice performance is a very mixed bag here, some performances are great but the variety of quality across the different characters is very noticeable, often wooden performances made me skip a lot of dialogue not centered on the information you needed to get from that character, and there is a lot of throwaway dialogue options that can build an understanding of life in Union City, but with the voice performances being rather annoying to listen to, I found myself focusing on just getting what I needed and moving on, especially in the later stages of the game.

There is a real over reliance on players of this game at least knowing the story to the original, as the moments where the nostalgia kicks in, such as meeting Joey, the AI Robert created in the first game, will have more impact for the player and though it will not be completely lost on a newcomer to this game, the references and jokes certainly connect better with the knowledge and experience of having played “Beneath a Steel Sky”. As someone who did play the original, Beyond offers so much that reminded me why I loved the original so much but also offered something new to justify a return to that world and this does deliver that but it also has a very one and done feel to the experience, once completed I never felt the same connection to this game as I do with the original, making this more a fun holiday back in time that a “oh I really want more stories in this world” feeling as the game’s credits rolled.

Overall, this is certainly a game for fans of the original, though taking as long as it has for this 2020 release to make its way to the main consoles is a real shame but with the world as it has been for the last couple of years, it is very understandable. As a game experience, if you love the point and click genre style of puzzle solving and story telling than ‘Beyond a Steel Sky’ has a lot of boxes ticked for you, if not then you might find this a rather plodding along game experience that will be a great “picked up in a sale for a £10 or lower” title.

I enjoyed this game because of my experience with the first, and it was a fun nostalgia ride down my gamer memory lane but beyond that, and pardon the pun, it is a good but not overly memorable or fully satisfying game experience.

SUMMARY


+ Nostalgia trip for players of the original
+ Story
+ Hint system if stuck
- Overuse of Hacking mechanic
- Hit and miss Voice performances
- Puzzles never provide a challenge
( Reviewed on Xbox Series X and S, will be available on December 7th for Xbox and PlayStation consoles and Nintendo Switch)
Sean McCarthy
Freelance writer but also a Gamer, Gooner, Jedi, Whovian, Spartan, Son of Batman, Assassin and Legend. Can be found playing on PS4 and Xbox One Twitter @CockneyCharmer

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