Review by pd_

"Give me an analysis, Joey..."

Beneath a Steel Sky is a point-and-click adventure game that offers an experience that is both funny and fascinating. Considering it is nineteen years old, and was initially released on 15 floppy discs, it has aged very well. Here's the breakdown.

VISUAL
the visuals are pretty much what one would expect from a 1994 video game, if not better. The sprites and art in the game are of a comic style that is mostly realistic-looking; more specifically, much of the visual design originates from Dave Gibbons, well known for co-authoring the Watchmen graphic novel.

As long as you're not an unimaginative, inflexible graphics critic who only plays games that require a top notch graphics card because your narrow mind lacks the creativity to imagine all the bells and whistles and their minute details, you should be fine with how Steel Sky looks. It really isn't bad at all. Even the animations are quite smooth, having a nice amount of spites for different actions. The visuals are good, super, appealing, even in 2013.

PUZZLES
like any game of this genre, having to advance the plot by getting items, using appropriate items in appropriate situations, and or talking to certain NPCs is pretty much a given. Some of the puzzles are solved purely through dialog with certain characters in certain areas. There is a small amount of backtracking. To add a little realism, some things in the game that seem like they must be solved or obtained are actually just extra fluff that have nothing to do with advancing the plot. So one may get mislead, or distracted, for a moment as to what Robert, the protagonist of the game, has to do next.

How difficult are the puzzles? They should be pretty fair to figure out without constant consultation of a guide, as the solutions are fairly sensible. But even so, it is not unheard of to get stuck a couple times. As far as pixel searching goes, I can think of only one instance where a thing of importance was of a small size and kind of blended into the environment, but there's nothing ridiculous like one-pixel items or buttons. Although the difficulty is very fair compared to some other adventure games, if you do get really stuck, there's always gamefaqs, or the universal hint system, or your other preferred source of guidance.

SOUND, MUSIC, DIALOG
the sound effects do their job. As for the music, I love the retro melodies. I always tend to get attached to certain pieces in video game scores. There are at least four tracks that I personally like, including the music from the first room and the ending in which the memorable main theme can be heard. But what I love just as much, if not more, is the dialog.

Beneath a Steel Sky is a talkie, and the spoken dialog is nothing less than genius. The voice actors really do give some extra life to the characters. In particular, the conversations involving Robert Foster and his robot pal Joey are comedic gold. And really, all the voices in the game are excellently delivered; OK, perhaps some parts of the introduction are a bit overly dramatic, but almost everything after that becomes much more natural-sounding and appealing. My one piece of advice to get the most enjoyment out of the game is to make lots of saves so that you can exhaust all the dialogs and hear all the great voice work put into Steel Sky (you should also save often anyway since unfortunate things can happen). Personally, the voice of the main character has really grown on me after hearing it throughout the game, and by the end of the game Rob's voice has become one of my favorites. It's a shame the voice talent isn't credited.

STORY
Steel Sky takes place in future Australia in a city crowded with tall buildings where the citizens are divided into different classes, the lower classes who live on the upper levels of the city where the air is dirty from the fumes of a factory-dependent age and the higher classes who live on the lower levels closer to the earth. The main objective of the game is to guide Rob out of this city after being abducted from his home in the wastes for reasons unknown to him. In trying to leave, Rob will notice subtle signs of propaganda and inequality, and some clues that there is more to the city's operation than what can be plainly seen by its citizens.

Despite these seemingly unsettling themes, the tone of the game is for the most part comedic and lighthearted. Only near the end does it take on a noticeable, more serious tone. The resolution is perhaps a bit on the abrupt side; I wanted more at the end of the game and was a bit sad when it was over. And that's about as far as I will go, lest I write a flat out summary and spoil things.

PLAY LENGTH
it really depends on how much the player wants to get out of the game. There is some dialog that one can miss; in a conversation there can be several dialog choices that each give unique replies, but often the conversation never goes back to the unused choices. Curious players can save before meeting a new NPC and reload to try out any missed dialog options. Doing this adds some time to the overall play length. Another thing a player may like to do, is look at everything, because looking at things to get the player character's descriptions of said things can be an amusing part of a point-and-click adventure game. And since this is a talkie with pleasant voice acting, interacting with things is even more enjoyable. The play length also depends on how good one is at adventure games, because a large portion of the time is spent figuring out what to do next.

One can expect a play time of maybe 5 or 6 hours, give or take depending on the above mentioned variables.



FINAL THOUGHTS
In conclusion, this is a game that is to be enjoyed by listening to the dialog, getting some laughs, and getting to know the characters. All the while the visuals and music greatly enhance the experience as the plot unfolds. Beneath a Steel Sky is a classic filled with humor and is definitely worth playing. And thanks to Revolution Software's wonderful decision to make it freeware and to ScummVM, one can easily download a digital copy free of charge from somewhere like GOG. It is recommended for just about anyone who enjoys a good old point-and-click adventure.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/12/13, Updated 09/05/13

Game Release: Beneath a Steel Sky (US, 10/25/11)


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