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Review of Beneath A Steel Sky
(Article written by Yann-Gaël Guéhéneuc and excerpt from www.chingu.asia - September 2017)


Beneath A Steel Sky is a computer game designed for MS-DOS and Amiga. It was developed by Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive in 1994. It is a point-and-click sci-fi adventure game. Set in a dystopian future divided between the Gap and Union City, it leads its hero, Robert Foster, from the industrial and residential sectors of Union City all the way to the old subway tunnels where evil lurked...

Beneath A Steel Sky

Story

The story of Beneath A Steel Sky is actually quite elaborated and could have been taken, without a shame, from a very good book! Although the story revolves around Foster's adventures to save Union City from its mad computer (more on this below!), to understand his past, his story has a deep background.

The story is set in a dystopian future where some catastrophe, maybe a nuclear war or climate change, has devastated the Earth. Specifically, the story takes place in Australia where the states became city-states. There seems to be four "factions" fighting for survival or power.

First, there are Aboriginals. They live in "The Gap", a wasteland outside Union City, where they try to survive. Second, there is Foster, who was adopted and raised by a band of Aboriginals after the helicopter carrying him as a baby crashed in The Gap. Third, inside Union City, members of Union City are fighting against the Hobart Corporation an economic war, using sabotage and cheap gimmicks to win over the market. And, fourth, there is a faction with only one member: LINC, the computer running Union City (a.k.a. Logical Inter-Neural Connection).

The story is twisted, though, because in this future, "union", like Union City, are actually against labour representation and social security of any kind while "corporation", like Hobart Corporation, support workers and want greater protection for them... If anything, Hobart Corporation is the good "guy". Also, contrary to "usual" stratification of classes/masses, like typically in Metropolis, poor workers live and work in the upper levels of Union City, amid factories and pollution, while the "elite" members live in the lower level, surrounded by trees, palaces, and select night clubs. At the lowest level are abandoned subway tunnels inhabited by strange creatures...

Now that the scene is set, the story... It starts with Foster being kidnapped from The Gap and the helicopter transporting him crashing in some industrial area of Union City. Foster escapes in a recycling plant and hides there to overhear a security officer, Stephen Reich, threatening to arrest Foster or worse... From this point on, Foster's aim is to unravel clues regarding his past, present, and future.

Beneath A Steel Sky

The player will first direct Foster to rebuild his sentient robot, Joey, using (first) a vacuum cleaner. Then, she will help Foster navigate through Union City (using ropes and elevators), discuss with the many characters in the game (from factory manager to Diva to insurance salesman to evil computer), and perform various actions (collecting anchor, videotapes, fixing robots, playing with a nuclear core).

The player must understand the role played by LINC, the mad, evil computer that is running Union City. Through various encounters and clues, she will find that LINC is actually half-machine, half-biological and that it needs a human to function. Currently, Foster's father plays the role of human host to LINC but, with his death approaching, LINC sought Foster to replace his father due to their genetic compatibility. Fortunately, Joey, then in the body of an android, will save the day by taking Foster's place and, thus, changing LINC into a benevolent computer.

Graphic Design

Beneath A Steel Sky is a point-and-click adventure game based on the Virtual Theatre engine, also used in Lure Of The Temptress. It allows easy interactions through a smart, intuitive user interface. It also allows the various characters to "have a life" independently of one another.

Beneath A Steel Sky

First, it is very easy and intuitive to control Foster with the mouse by clicking here or there on the screen. The mouse pointer changes into an arrow or a cross to control Foster and interact with objects and people. When the mouse is an arrow, it indicates the place where Foster could go. It can also change into a large arrow to exit a particular screen. When the mouse is a cross, it can be used to look or to use/pick an object or talk to a person. As far as I can remember, I never got stuck in a particular place because of some hidden exit or forgotten object.

Talking to people is a major part of the fun! First, I don't recall any dialogue that didn't make me smile... Usually, upon clicking on a person, a list of 4-5 sentences appears on the top of the screen. Any sentence will do because, as far as I can tell, they provide information but do not need to be told in a particular order. Some dialogues are very, very funny! I let you read the dialogue between Joey and Foster when Foster ask it to crank some other robot...

Using objects is also very easy. Some object can even be combined in Foster's inventory by selecting one object and clicking a second one. The best example is, of course, the grappling hook made of an anchor and a rope; very useful for Foster to play Tarzan later!

All-in-all, the Virtual Theatre engine makes it very easy to play the game and control Foster and interact with object and people. Another thing made easy by the Virtual Theatre engine is the lives of the other characters. Each character seems to have her/his/its own life and will go about the game minding their own business, even sometimes interacting with one another and, of course, with Foster if Foster talks to them or if the game scenario calls for some action... Sometimes, a character will actually block Foster, like this annoying robot at the beginning of the game, but generally, they integrate well in the scenario, giving it a "life-like" feeling.

In addition to the game engine, Beneath A Steel Sky is well-known and recognized for the quality of its graphics. Simply put, its graphics are awesome! The first cinematic scenes are amazing, setting the tone for a Blade Runner-like dystopian future... The characters' moves are life-life and each level/place has its own feeling, from rundown factories to chic apartment buildings to organic/technoid horror... See below for many screenshots that just show how gorgeous is the game!

Beneath A Steel Sky

The graphics were drawn by a small team of graphicians, including Adam Tween and Stephen Oades, who both also worked on Lure Of The Temptress! Despite the limitations (as of today) of the OCS/ECS chipsets (state-of-the art at the time!), the team managed to convey an atmosphere in the game, at each level and place... never missing or leaving out details that could have broken the "spell". They also used the details to support the funny-side of the game, with, for example, a video of cats... maybe the first in the history of the Internet! Somewhere else, the organic/technoid horror in the underground level always reminds me of Darkseed for some reason...

Music and Sounds

Surprisingly, the original A500/A1200 version did not have much in term of music and sound... just some sound effects here and there!

The CD32 version, on the contrary, had music, sound effect, and spoken dialogues! It is the version to play to enjoy Beneath A Steel Sky at its maximum... It offers different voice for each character, which make the game much more lively and interesting. It really makes the game more interesting and more exciting and captivating!

Animations, characters, objects

One of the major quality of Beneath A Steel Sky is that of its animations! The characters, robots, and various details move nicely around, with great visual and nice integration with the scenery and scenario. They have many details that make it a pleasure to look at them and watch them move around. For example, when Joey is embodied into a roving vacuum cleaner, its wheel turn around as he moves. I like also the "fur" coat of Lamb...

They are several important characters in the game, a dozen or so, but only about nine are really important. They are:

Character Description Image
Robert Foster The (anti)hero, played by the player Beneath A Steel Sky
Joey Foster's side-kick, a robot with repartee Beneath A Steel Sky
Howard Hobbins A factory worker of Irish descent... Beneath A Steel Sky
Gilbert Lamb The controller of the pipe factory, and also a jerk Beneath A Steel Sky
Stephen Reich A "Safetyman" who runs after Foster at the beginning Beneath A Steel Sky
Anita Einbeck A factory worker with hacking talents and a kind heart Beneath A Steel Sky
Dr. Burke A plastic surgeon with some Frankenstein issues... Beneath A Steel Sky
Danielle Piermont A wealthy citizen who owns a dog and knows night-clubs Beneath A Steel Sky
LINC The computer running Union City Beneath A Steel Sky

Likewise, there are several important objects to collect and use during the game:

Object Description Image
Circuit board Joey's silicon brain Beneath A Steel Sky
Metal bar Used to open and break things Beneath A Steel Sky
Wrench Various silly usages Beneath A Steel Sky
ID card Reich's access to LINC Beneath A Steel Sky
Putty Used as bulb Beneath A Steel Sky
Light bulb To kill a mocking monster Beneath A Steel Sky
Cable To build a grappling hook Beneath A Steel Sky
Magazine Bargaining chip Beneath A Steel Sky
Ticket Lamb's holidays Beneath A Steel Sky
Video cassette For dogs only Beneath A Steel Sky
Anchor To build a grappling hook Beneath A Steel Sky
Grappling hook Indiana Jones or Tarzan? Beneath A Steel Sky
Dog biscuits To get dogs wet... Beneath A Steel Sky
Pruning shears To cut a wire Beneath A Steel Sky
LINC card Used to enter LINC Beneath A Steel Sky
Brick To destroy monstruous veins Beneath A Steel Sky
Tongs Used for biological experiment Beneath A Steel Sky

Gameplay

The Virtual Theatre makes it easy to interact with the characters and objects in the game and control Foster. I can't recall any time where I got stuck and frustrated by the interface, except at the very beginning when I had to take the lift used by the robot carrying barrels... and even there...

The controls are very intuitive and accessing the inventory is easy, just moving the pointer up the screen. Using objects from the inventory is also easy, just select any one of them!

Beneath A Steel Sky Beneath A Steel Sky Beneath A Steel Sky
Movements, dialogs and inventory

The game is of the highest quality for its scenario and graphics and voices... too bad that the music is rather poor.

The game runs very well, in particular in WinUAE! I didn't encounter any crash but you got to use the right version...

Solution

Many solutions exist on-line:
Conclusion

Beneath A Steel Sky is a game that you myst play if you like point-and-click games and Blade Runner-like movies. It features an interesting and deep scenario, beautiful graphics, nice animations, easy-to-use interface, funny dialogs, and great voices (for the CD32 version).

Further Reading
Name : Beneath A Steel Sky.
Developpers : Revolution Software.
Publisher : Virgin Interactive Entertainment.
Kind : adventure game.
Date : 1994.
Minimal configuration : CD32 or Amiga OCS, 68000, 512KB of memory.
Licence : commercial.

NOTE : 9,5/10.


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