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. Though I was only 1 or 2 years old when it was initially released on 15 floppy discs, I think it has aged well. Here's the breakdown.

VISUAL
Visually, it's pretty much what one would expect from a 1994 video game, if not slightly better. The sprites and art in the game are of a comic-book style mostly originating from Dave Gibbons. The animations are quite smooth, having a nice amount of character spites for different actions.

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 can 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 happen to get really stuck on something, there's always gamefaqs, or the universal hint system, or your other preferred source of guidance.

SOUND, MUSIC, DIALOG
The sound effects are adequate. 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 excellent. The voice actors really give some extra life to the characters. In particular, the conversations involving Robert Foster and his robot pal Joey are comedic gold. All the voices in the game are well delivered; 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 of the dialogs and hear all of 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 actors aren't listed in the credits.

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 having been 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. However, the game takes on a noticeable, more serious tone during the final portion, where there are at least two encounters in which death is a real possibility for Rob, should he make a wrong move. 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.

PLAY LENGTH
The play length depends on how familiar one is with adventure games, because a large portion of the time is spent figuring out what to do next.

One can expect a play time of around 4 or 8 hours, not necessarily in one sitting.


FINAL THOUGHTS
In conclusion, Beneath a Steel Sky is a classic with a good deal of humor and a smidgen of tension and drama here and there, 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 point-and-click adventure.


Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/12/13, Updated 08/11/17

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

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