Published: Revolution Software
Developer: Revolution Software
Release Date: 06/25/2020
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Adventure games are always hit or miss. The fundamental thing that needs to be focused on is characters and story as that’s the main reason why people play these games. It takes away the action and gameplay so you can enjoy an interactive story. This has been done really well and, sadly, really badly more times than anyone can count. Beyond a Steel Sky is the long-awaited sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky which was released in 1994. It wasn’t very well known and most people know it today as “that free game that GOG.com gave away when you opened an account” for the longest time. Beyond a Steel Sky has the potential for greatness, but it falls flat in many ways and I’ll explain.
You play as Robert Foster who was the main protagonist in the first game. You are living your life in the Gap, which is a Nomad town basically, and someone’s kid named Milo gets kidnapped by a walking mechanical dog thing. Yeah, there’s no context here and you are literally told to care about someone and risk your life who has zero backstories. A chapter or two inside the Gap where Foster was living would have built that up, but instead, we jump right into heading into Union City which is the dystopian town from the first game. Here you are introduced to controls and game mechanics which aren’t any different from other adventure games. You find objects that go into other objects and click on stuff. The only difference is a cool gadget which is a hack tool, but even that isn’t living up to its potential as I thought it would. It shows various devices with a puzzle-like grid and you can swap stuff around to make these devices do different things. Of course, one puzzle piece from action for that device must fit, but the issue here is that each device has a different type of puzzle piece and if you are in proximity to multiple devices the game purposefully makes those pieces different so you can’t swap whatever you want around. Instead, this is mostly reserved for main mission puzzles.
As you progress through the story there’s always a sense of why? Why am I doing this? The characters are one-dimensional and just don’t have good writing. The dialog is very dry and unimportant and there’s no reason to explore the world. I even wound up finishing the game with items in my inventory I never even used so what’s the purpose? The writing is just awful or passable at best and the voice acting is so spotty. Even Foster sometimes sounds like he’s reading from a high-school play and sometimes he nails the line. It’s so inconsistent it drove me insane. Once you eventually team up with the city’s AI, Joey from the first game, the story then turns from saving kidnapped children to taking down the entire city council? I don’t understand why the narrative has this tug-of-war and that’s not even mentioning the fact that this beautifully created world is never explored. This game could have been something like Beyond Good & Evil with a great city to explore, but instead, we only see a few mundane and boring areas with this huge beautiful backdrop that I wanted to explore more of. Beyond a Steel Sky does a great job of creating an atmospheric and lived-in world, but this isn’t how you explore that world.
The most entertaining part of the game was exploring the MINOS cyber world which had a Vaporwave/Cyberpunk aesthetic and collecting the various programs to progress was fun, but again, the puzzles had zero challenge. The entire game just has you matching items to others and it’s very obvious and there’s zero challenge throughout the entire game. There’s even a hint system that basically tells you where to go, and while that’s a good thing, it doesn’t make you work for the hints either. I also think this game would have done better as a multi-part series or just something that isn’t an adventure game as there’s so much missed potential around every corner.
Overall, Beyond a Steel Sky builds a great atmosphere and a wonderful city to explore, but you can’t explore it. The story doesn’t know what it wants to do and the characters are one-dimensional with dry dialog and humor that lands wrong. The puzzles aren’t challenging and even just simply exploring the game is boring. I wanted to care about everything in the game, but it’s hard to when the developers only pushed their world a little bit instead of shaking it and letting the fruit fall.