Beneath a Steel Sky

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 29 January 2007. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
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Beneath a Steel Sky
In the introduction, Robert meets the tribe leader after the plane crash.
Beneath a Steel Sky
The death scene! You must be more careful!
Beneath a Steel Sky
Robert tries out a dangerous stunt!
Beneath a Steel Sky
Robert hangs out in a cozy bar club.
Beneath a Steel Sky
The LINC computer interface is a reminder of Big Brother.

Beneath a Steel Sky is the second adventure title released by Revolution Software. Unlike its first title in 1992 called Lure of the Temptress which takes place in a distant fantasy past, Beneath a Steel Sky takes place in a dark futuristic version of a world where most people live in a gigantic city and totalitarian state known as the Union City. The game sets in a fictional vision of Australia that has been damaged by years of pollution. Not much is known about the world outside of Union City, except that it is an abandoned wasteland and desert known as the Gap.

The main character of the game is named Robert Foster. He is originally from the city. As a young boy, he has survived a plane crash outside the city but has lost his mother. Stranded alone, Robert is found by some friendly people who are living a simpler life in the desert. The tribe teaches Robert how to survive in the Gap, and Robert eventually adapts to his new life outside the technology obsessed city. The tribe is not totally devoid of technology though, and Robert has even built a robot named Joey that is his companion.

Suddenly, a helicopter lands in the Gap with armed security guards looking for Robert. They have come to bring him back to Union City, with orders from high above. When they find Robert living in the desert, they not only destroy his home but also kill everyone in his tribe. Once again, Robert escapes when the helicopter crashes, but this time he is inside a city which he does not remember at all. With help from Joey, Robert sets to find out who is after him.

Robert soon learns that a security guard has been killed by a automated security system called LINC trying to save his life. He also learns that his helicopter crash may have been from a computer virus trying to kill him. He can trust neither the security guards nor anyone else in the city, so he is pretty much on his own. The only certain fact he knows is that a mysterious man named Overmann wants him alive. In Union City, all the buildings are built tall and rise hundreds of meters above the ground such that Robert is now stuck on top and must find a way down. Yet, in this society only people with status are allowed to get down to ground level—"getting up in the world, means going down"!

Technically, the design of Beneath a Steel Sky is ahead of that of most other games from the same era. The game world seems more alive, since people are seen constantly moving around. Whenever non player characters are walking in your direction, either they have to move around you or you have to move around them (as opposed to just walking through them). In other games from that era, these non player characters are either found static frozen at a single place or just repeatedly tracking between limited numbers of places. The realistic interaction with the game world in Beneath a Steel Sky shows off the power of the Virtual Theatre system, first developed by Revolution Software for use in Lure of the Temptress. Beneath a Steel Sky uses version 2.0 of the Virtual Theatre system. This engine allows non player characters in the game to set their own agendas and to interact with the game environment accordingly, even without any player input. The only real criticism is that it is possible for you to get stuck between a character and a wall during the game, however unlikely it may be.

The dual dark and light atmospheres of Beneath a Steel Sky also make this game somewhat interesting and different from other games from the same era. Despite its gloomy and serious storyline, Beneath a Steel Sky is a game filled with humor and warm characters. Aside from your sidekick Joey, other memorable characters include Gilbert Lamb, Hobbins, and Anita. It is possible to die several times during the game, so save often. However, it is not possible to get stuck because you may have done some tasks in the wrong order.

The interface used in the game is simple and easy. Left mouse click is used to examine items while right mouse click is used to trigger actions. The inventory is accessible in the upper portion of the screen. This way, you do not need to try out every illogical action if you are stuck.

The artistic elements in Beneath a Steel Sky deserve special attention. The introductory opening is a cartoon drawn by Dave Gibbons, an award-winning British comic book author (of The Watchmen fame) and cartoon artist. In some releases of the game, an exclusive Dave Gibbons' Beneath a Steel Sky comic book is included. At first, the introduction feels a bit at odds with the rest of the game, but Gibbons has also drawn the backgrounds in the other scenes of the game which look just as great and equally fitting. Whereas other games use simplistic cartoonish graphics, the graphics in this game are more detailed and seem perhaps more real. The musical score in the game is not perfect but adequate to keep the mood. The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions. The CD-ROM version includes full speech not found in the original. The voice acting is average but not spectacular. Robert's voice carries a distinct American accent, while other characters' voices carry distinct British accents—even when the game setting is in Australia!

Overall, Beneath a Steel Sky is an adventure game that stands alone among its peers. It is also a rare example of a commercial game in which the developer has since decided to freely release it to the community years later. In 2003, Revolution Software releases the entire game as freeware and has made available both the source and resource files free for download through ScummVM. It is not without some irony, therefore, that the game's original working title is "Underworld". While Revolution Software has repeatedly mentioned of a possible sequel to the game, there has not been any official announcement of it so far to date.

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