Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the best point and click adventures of all time, and while this isn’t a review, it’s a Channel 5-like production of ‘Remember the 90s…’ and some fond memories.
You’re unlikely to learn anything new here; it’s just a little bit of babble looking to the day where I’d sip 7UP cherry and munch on Fizzy Chewits with one hand, and click the Amiga’s future-esque mouse with the other.
I’ve meant to write a feature on my other site, Vulgar Knight, for Beyond a Steel Sky, but it’s most likely to be a PC exclusive at first (writing this bit before the research).
Well, now that there’s a story trailer out there and I’ve set up this new site, time to have a closer look as the predecessor.
Beneath a Steel Sky Where I Might Own A CD32
Back in the day when gaming networks consisted of swapping 3.5inch disks as if they were Pokémon cards, with X-COPY at the hub, my <ahem> friend, acquired a copy of Beneath a Steel Sky.
As point and clicks were soon being etched into my stack as ‘favourite genre’, I was trying to consume everything.
From Secret of Monkey Island to Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places), Beneath a Steel Sky, from Revolution – who gave us the superb Broken Sword, filled that desire for inventories, witty dialogue and the occasional dystopian setting.
I loved the game that much that I saved up some money and bought the big box version on a trip to Covent Garden. For my friend, of course.
It was the mid-90s, and I’m purely basing this on memory, but the standard Amiga version was text only, with the talkie version available for CD ROM on PCs and the CD32.
I didn’t have the latter and to this day, would swap my third testicle for one if it was worth around the £600 asking price I often see.
Talk Is Cheap – It’s Abandonware
I’ve since played the talkie version of Beneath a Steel Sky on PC, but the most vivid memories of the game were my ‘inside voice’ as to how Robert Foster would sound (probably like John Hamm) and his trusty companion Joey sounding like Kit from Knight Rider, or Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Nurtured by the locals since he was a child, he’s kidnapped when he reaches adulthood and taken to Union City were an ongoing feud is going on between the neo democratic unions and the corporations.
As a kid, and to some degree, as an adult according to my birth certificate, I didn’t get the political side of things, but Beneath a Steel Sky had all the devices of a typical cyberpunk theme – only much less neon, that distracted from my political ignorance.
Despite its age, I won’t cover any spoilers – I encourage you to seek it out as it’s classed as abandonware and you can get it for free on GOG, alternatively, pay a small fee and you can get it on iOS.
Style AND Substance
Though I didn’t get the political agendas, I did understand the consequences of the two warring sides through sabotage and espionage. What resonated more with me was the humour.
Beneath a Steel Sky had the brutality of a Sierra game (i.e. you could die), but the humour of a LucasArts title. Robert could interact with via a dialogue tree with pretty funny results, but the best relationship was with Joey.
Joey is a sentient robot who clearly had his self-awareness attributes increased. Robert can carry Joey’s circuit board about and place him in various technological advances – such as a vacuum cleaner.
Much to Joey’s dismay.
It was quite a bittersweet experience having a point and click like Beneath a Steel Sky that would result in deaths, so savegames were more frequent than changing my pants.
But, when you’re at an impressionable age where you should be talking to girls and playing football, I was playing the Amiga in my converted wardrobe (who needs clothes), trying to work out how to get past a section.
Sections were literally the rooms you were in rather than a long-winded ward or world to explore – where was X to insert into Y? This is a kids’ show folks, calm it down.
A Tour Guide For The Future
This was before the internet, so no walkthroughs nor hotlines that both Sierra and LucasArts offered to get past a tricky area. If there were any, I didn’t know about them.
Instead, it was the routine of getting home from school, trying something new, die or find the new method didn’t work, then ask my friends in the playground if they got past it.
There was always that kid that came up with an utterly bullshit scenario that we never got to experience or later see in YouTube longplays.
Beneath a Steel Sky took me about a month or two to finish. New gamers, or perhaps even just smarter thinkers may poo-poo that notion, but point and clicks were often illogical, but a lot of solutions were staring you right in the face.
Thankfully this wasn’t a time when you would stream a game, getting numerous comments about being a noob, thick twat or Hitler. It’s the internet, someone will call you that.
Finishing a game back then was a real achievement, and the story for Beneath a Steel Sky was so engaging that you just wanted more, so after all these years getting a sequel has been worth the wait.
Before getting this release information, I revisited Beneath a Steel Sky once more in anticipation for the new game, but also because I had recently finished The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games by Bitmap Books.
At the time, I thought the opening comic book sequence was revolutionary and thinking that this was the future. As a kid, I had no idea who Dave Gibbons was, but looking back now, I can see why the game holds up so well – it’s not just the dialogue, the challenging puzzles or dystopian narrative – it’s also the aesthetics.
If you’re still reading this, you’re likely to be invested in the game already, but in case you don’t know who Dave Gibbons is, he’s one of the co-creators of the comic book Watchmen – you may have seen the ‘unfilmable’ Zack Snyder movie or recent TV series.
I remember the first time walking out the first building and peering over the deathly fall below. It made Blade Runner appear so minuscule in scale as you looked at at the city skyline, wondering how Robert would adjust from the rural to the urban.
By the way, if you’re on a retro collector’s adventure, add Blade Runner by Westwood Studios to your list. I regret giving my mint boxset to charity all those years ago.
Back in those days, everything seemed to be done in Deluxe Paint 2. Having got the Batman The Movie Amiga 500 boxset, it came with the art package, and I remember drawing various forms of poo or naked women as I flirted with the tools.
Dave Gibbons is a professional, but it amazes me to this day how these artists could create these vistas with such a small palette. That’s not a euphemism.
According to an issue of Amiga Format, requoted from Wikipedia as I simply wouldn’t know or even recall this:
…he [Dave Gibbons] found it challenging to get a character’s personality and expression in a face that was only around seven pixels wide and nine pixels high…
Still, he was able to design all of the characters in Beneath a Steel Sky and to this day, holds up as one of the best point and click adventures of all-time, depending on your stance.
The aforementioned Bitmap Books title is a must-read if you love the genre as much as I do, but the best way to experience Beneath a Steel Sky – or to pop your cherry in Union City is to play it.
In the meantime, look to the skies for when Beyond a Steel Sky is released. You don’t need to do that, it won’t help. Just add it to your Steam wishlist, or check in here for updates.
Thanks for your support and reading through, Mum. I’ll ensure to drop off a pint of milk later.