Review

Beyond A Steel Sky Review - Foster The Future

  • First Released Jun 25, 2020
    released
  • PC
  • IOS

A long-awaited sequel to a 1994 classic that can't hold up against its predecessor.

In the 26 years since Revolution Software released Beneath A Steel Sky, the adventure game has come full circle. After the genre struggled to adapt into 3D and was briefly declared dead by pundits, the genre's resurgence occurred on two main fronts--the simplified, story-driven 3D games of Telltale, which focused on choice and consequence over puzzles, and retro-styled 2D games released like Unavowed, Kathy Rain, and Broken Age, which included a lot of the esoteric puzzle-solving the genre used to be known for. Beyond A Steel Sky, the long-awaited sequel to the 1994 original, is an attempt to bridge the gap between those two styles--but unfortunately, it ends up feeling like some of the messier 3D adventure games from 20 years ago rather than another classic like its predecessor.

Beyond A Steel Sky brings back Robert Foster, the protagonist of the first game, and picks up 10 years after his escape from Union City and LINC, the half-mechanical, half-organic being that runs it. Robert has returned to the "gaplands" surrounding the city, where he lives a happy, earnest life within a small society. However, he's soon forced to return to Union City after a young friend, Milo, is kidnapped by a huge robot and taken somewhere in the sprawling metropolis. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, but references to the country are unfortunately fleeting, despite the game's aesthetic invocation of the British colonization of the country--the gaplanders are largely people of colour, and Union City is predominantly white.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

At first, it's great to be back in the world of Steel Sky. The nods to the first game start flowing in from the first moments--like the original game, the opening is made up of comic panels drawn by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, whose most famous work receives a few fun nods and Easter eggs throughout the game. Joey, Robert's robotic sidekick, also returns, and seeing these two characters reunited is one of the game's highlights. The city, which is rendered in glorious 3D is lovely, too--the skyline stretches far into the background, and the cel-shaded aesthetic suits it.

You get a good visual sense of the sort of place Union City is--one with the outward veneer of a glowing metropolis, but with a dark side of corporate maleficence beneath it. The city is run by the Council, a mysterious body that dictates what people drink, how they act, and which areas they're allowed to travel between, and it becomes clear as you play how much control they're exerting over the population.

Unfortunately, many of the game's ideas and themes aren't examined in much depth. The QDOS system (pronounced like kudos with a Q), which dictates a citizen's worth, seems like the basis for a clever mechanic of social climbing when it's first introduced. But rather than requiring you to integrate yourself within the rules of society, you can overcome any obstacle by solving traditional "use X on Y" adventure game puzzles. There's a disconnect between the ambitions of the game's world-building and its actual plot, which lacks urgency, and Union City ultimately feels like less of a cohesive location than it did in the first game. While the city is presented as huge, you're only given a handful of small environments to explore, and you're left to infer the city's size from the skyboxes. It's frustrating to be promised such a wide-open world and then be offered so little of it.

A working prior knowledge of Beneath A Steel Sky isn't required to enjoy the sequel for most of its run-time, but the final hour or so makes it very clear that Revolution is aiming to tell a single story, and the game's ending is very much a conclusion to the first game's narrative. While it's good to see some loose ends tied up, it means that the story started by the sequel ultimately fizzles a bit, despite some fun dialogue between the interesting cast of characters you encounter.

The puzzles, at least, offer some inventiveness. Early on, Robert gets his hands on a hacking tool, which leads to some fun situations where you can change the operating procedures of machines. You might, for instance, hack a door by going into a menu and switching whether it opens or stays closed when an unauthorized person uses its hand scanner. It gets more complicated, and enjoyable, when you're hacking multiple items at once--you can switch programming notes between different robots to make them act differently, or access a schematic by moving it from a file server on a computer to a hologram display.

Some of the more traditional puzzles are clever, too. One highlight was a section where you have to explore a stranger's house and learn enough about them to successfully pass off as them when interviewed. Another is the opening hour of the game, which feels like an adventure game mixed with an escape room as you move through a single, closed environment, trying to figure out how everything interacts. Other areas offer less interesting solutions, though, and there is a bit of an overreliance on your crowbar throughout the game--it gets a lot more action than anything else in your inventory, and it's rarely used for anything more exciting than opening a door or jamming a gear.

You control Robert with full 3D movement in Beyond A Steel Sky, and as such the game is best played with a controller. But every now and then I found I'd need to swap to mouse or touch screen controls, as the controller would fail to register button presses in some menus or wouldn't work properly when using in-game computer terminals. Movement can feel a bit stiff, and interacting with moving targets or people is frustrating--if they move away while you try to bring up the inventory object you want to use, you'll have to run after them again.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Beyond A Steel Sky has also launched in an extremely buggy state, and in my playthrough, I encountered a particularly extreme example of one that broke my game. As I rode in an elevator that would have taken me towards the game's finale, Robert fell through the floor when it reached the top, plummeting back down to the ground. If I pushed forward I could clip through the glass tube the elevator floor had ridden up, then call the elevator again, only to experience the exact same issue. Other times, I found myself trapped in the glass. I tried multiple solutions to this issue, including loading an earlier save file and playing back to that point again, making different decisions on the way, but nothing prevented me from falling. I was unable to finish the game and had to watch a video of someone else completing the final section to get closure.

While this is a specific problem that I expect will be identified and patched out (even if none of the patches so far have addressed it), it's certainly not an isolated issue, and even if I hadn't encountered this specific problem, there are plenty of others to note. Audio would sometimes cut in and out during conversations, and NPCs would sometimes float over me during conversation cutscenes; sometimes the camera would get stuck inside walls during those same conversations.

All of my save files display playtimes that do not match up at all to how long I actually played the game. Often choosing to interact with a person or object would mean that Robert would turn around and walk away, very slowly, with control taken away from me until he reached an arbitrary destination. Textures frequently popped in late, lagging behind camera angle changes in cutscenes--the game is poorly optimized, which can impact its ability to sell the grandiosity of Union City.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

If you have access to Apple Arcade and badly want to follow up on Robert Foster and Joey, play the mobile version instead--it doesn't look nearly as good as the PC version, and still has awkward controls, but at least you'll be able to finish it. That's not to say that it's free of bugs, as the game's camera still flips out on occasion, and it's both harder to control and far, far less visually rich. But it's also much cheaper, and more consistently stable.

Beneath A Steel Sky remains a genre classic in 2020, an enjoyable, gorgeous game with smart puzzles and a lot on its mind. This sequel might have modernized the series' visuals and mechanics, but it's nowhere near as satisfying or exciting. Those with fond memories of Beneath A Steel Sky will enjoy being able to revisit Robert and Joey's friendship, but little else of what made the original such a classic remains in the sequel.

Back To Top

The Good

  • Great nods and Easter eggs to the original game
  • The hacking mechanic creates some great puzzles
  • Union City is gloriously realised in 3D

The Bad

  • A disjointed narrative that takes a left turn near the end
  • An overreliance on using your crowbar to solve unexciting problems
  • Only a few environments to explore, despite the huge scope of the city
  • A messy control scheme makes moving through the world unsatisfying
  • Lots of bugs, including one that broke my game

About the Author

James O'Connor spent about 11 hours getting most of the way through Beyond A Steel Sky, an hour troubleshooting a game-breaking bug, and a further 30 minutes watching someone else finish the game on YouTube. He also spent a few hours with the Apple Arcade version on an iPhone 8. PC review code was supplied by the publisher.
15 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for iX-gamer
iX-gamer

616

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

pundits KEKW

Upvote • 
Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

8041

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

The trailer made this look interesting :(

Upvote • 
Avatar image for sahugani
Sahugani

43

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 121

User Lists: 4

Sounds like a fair review. No mention of the soundtrack? I really liked the music in the first game

Upvote • 
Avatar image for phili878
phili878

2002

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 19

User Lists: 0

Games that are also available for smartphones are crap at best

2 • 
Avatar image for Gaming-Planet
Gaming-Planet

20342

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 12

User Lists: 0

Edited By Gaming-Planet

Gamespot just rolling out 5, 6, and 7s as of late.

2 • 
Avatar image for odolwa99
odolwa99

273

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 4

User Lists: 0

Played the original. Never understood what the big deal was.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

3331

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 7

User Lists: 0

Called it. It's really hard to try to hold on to a game spiritually that's this incredibly old, while making it fun in the modern sense of the word.

That being said, adventure games are probably the most subjective of all genres, because they strip away so many common elements of other games and leave you with a very focused experience.

There's very little in the way of gameplay. They often have low budgets with graphics that aren't pushed hard enough that they're beautiful, but aren't neglected enough that gaps need to be filled in by imagination and eventually nostalgia. They often have fewer controls than any other genre. With little-to-nothing demanded in the way of skill or speed or muscle memory or aim or spacial awareness or strategy.

It's essentially got two things: story, and atmosphere.

So it's only natural that scores vary wildly. There was a time not so long ago when just any adventure game like this would've been a breath of fresh air and scored highly. Now however there's stiff competition and it's criticised into the ground. Then again, come at it with nostalgia for the original, and you'll almost certainly love it.

For me personally, I'm busier these days, and I need games a little faster-paced than this.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

10208

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I never trusted ANY adventure game review by GS. I'll play by myself and judge it. James could be right, but, I have to unfortunately judge GS based on its previous screw ups.

2 • 
Avatar image for Yams1980
Yams1980

4056

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 27

User Lists: -5

some bug literally broke his game, I'm surprised he even gave it a 5. If I played any game and got a game breaking bug, i'd give it a zero, can't finish the game, its not worth it.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for good_coop89
Good_Coop89

411

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 5

@Yams1980: That's very harsh, when Skyrim launched on PS3 for example it had single-digit framerates.

Also, in the old Tomb Raider games I remember getting trapped in walls and all kinds of shit, but no way would I give them zero out of ten. Same with GTA Vice City, I got trapped inside that huge boat at the docks - no way out, no weapons, couldn't even kill myself. But again, doesn't deserve a zero.

Upvote • 
Avatar image for Barighm
Barighm

13487

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 24

User Lists: 0

Edited By Barighm

@RogerioFM: I dunno, man. This sounds like one of the fairest reviews they've scored in recent memory. Frankly, I think a game with bugs so bad you can't finish it should score even lower since it's almost in unplayable territory.

2 • 

Beyond A Steel Sky

First Released Jun 25, 2020
released
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • PC

5
Mediocre

Average Rating

1 Rating(s)

6