Beyond A Steel Sky Xbox Review
Welcome back to Union City. The decrepit, decadent world you left behind all those years ago has flourished into a bright, neon lined utopia where everyone’s dreams can be attained and no one has to want for anything. It’s paradise on Earth. . . Or is it?
While only ten years have passed in the world of Beyond A Steel Sky, in reality, it’s been much, much longer. Beneath A Steel Sky, the cult classic cyberpunk adventure from Revolution Software, came out way back in 1994, making the return of Robert Foster some twenty-seven years in the making.
As always, the questions as to how you follow up a revered game or hit of any kind, especially when so many years have passed, will always linger. So the question becomes, has Beyond A Steel Sky justified its own existence beyond mere nostalgia pulling? Is the story it’s telling worth your time and the world worth revisiting?
When we left Union City back in 1994, Forster had vanquished the evil A.I. LINC and left his A.I. pal Joey in charge of the city before heading back to the Gap and the world LINC had so cruelly taken from him. Alas, the past isn’t done with Forster and before you can say tragedy strikes again, well, it does. Another attack on Forsters tribe ends with the kidnapping of a boy, Milo, by androids and Forster starts off after them. The tracks, of course, lead back to Union City and yet again to Forsters past.
Beyond A Steel Sky is a point and click adventure through and through, though told through the lens of modern technology. Mostly gone is the 2D artwork and sprites of its original 1994 incarnation, replaced with cel-shaded visuals in Unreal Engine 4 for a full 3D experience where you explore the environment and can interact with people and the world with the press of a button when you’re close to them.
You’ll be spending all of your playtime talking to people, exploring environments and solving puzzles.
The game has some well-written dialogue, a particular highlight being the conversations that flesh out Forsters relationship with Joey. There’s no Mass Effect level of dialogue trees and options, what’s here is designed to give the depth of the characters and provide you with the information you need about the world around you or what you need to do next.
As with all adventure games, scouring the environment for clues and pieces to solve your puzzles is the order of the day, though I did find Beyond A Steel Sky’s environments less dense with objects than most adventure games. The bulk of what’s here is mainly set dressing so that when you find something that is intractable, chances are you’re going to have to manipulate it in some way.
The bulk of the puzzles are hacking related. With Forsters trusty hacking device, you can change a robots protocols, manipulate signs or open gates. And if your fancy little piece of tech can’t do it, Forsters trusty crowbar will take care of everything else. All of the game’s puzzles are logic-based. So while you may spend some time working out the order of things, you won’t be worried about trying to figure out how to open a crankshaft with a lollipop and two pieces of macaroni, for instance. If anything, the game’s puzzles are a little on the easy side and I never found myself really stuck or without a clue. However, if they do prove to be too much for you, there’s a handy hint system in the games inventory and menu section to help you out (not that I used it. Huzzah for me!).
Visually, Beyond A Steel Sky is aiming for a comic book aesthetic to its design. The cel-shaded visuals do look nice as do most of the environments which feel very much like a retro-futuristic 1950’s/1960’s vision of what a utopia may look like. The game’s opening cinema is told through comic book panels courtesy of Watchmen artist, Dave Gibbons, who also worked on the original game. Beyond A Steel Sky’s environments are rather small, however. The sense of scale for Union City is rather presented through the city backdrops, often leaving me wishing that there was more to explore.
There were two noticeable issues though. First is that Forster moves too slowly, both while walking and running. It’s not an action game so I don’t expect him to hit mach 5 but at times, in the larger areas, it could be frustrating. The second is a visual/collision bug that let NPC’s walk through me and other NPC’s during conversations, with at least one instance where I walked through Joey as well while solving a problem.
In many ways, Beyond A Steel Sky feels more like an encore for the first game, a greatest hits call back if you will. The game is full of references and nods to Beneath A Steel Sky, and while some of them may seem superfluous, the direction that this new story goes in makes most of them valid. These moments do serve the additional purpose of both reminding fans of what came before while also allowing new gamers to jump in without having to play the first game. Make no mistake though, Beyond A Steel Sky is best experienced after sampling the first game pixelated delights.
The game though is at its best when Forster is going about his detective work, making the game almost feel like a noir detective story at times. It’s also great when exploring further the relationship between Forster and Joey. There’s a bittersweet climax to the game that kneels heavily on the friendship between the two that, for me, made the journey through Beyond A Steel Sky’s world worth the price of admission.
Beyond A Steel Sky is an interesting mechanical step forward for adventure games. It brings the classic gameplay nature of point and click adventures and updates them for a modern audience. The puzzle-solving and story is rock solid and the themes of how A.I. would interpret our commands thought-provoking. But it’s the core relationship between Joey and Forster that makes the journey so memorable and, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Developer: Revolution Software
Publishers: Revolution Software, Microïds
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, MORE
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