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Final Thoughts 09
Beneath a Steel Sky
Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently
completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my
backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.
Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in March 2013.
Release Date: March 1994
Good Old Games, or GoG
as it is commonly referred to now, is the king of selling older PC titles at super
cheap prices, all digitally free of any copyright management or strings
attached. Whenever you first sign up for a free account, they deposit a few
freeware games into your library. Like most free things, I dismissed them all
as crap, and spent the next two years happily waiting for sales to bring down
the already low prices and snatch up some forgotten gems, or to simply get a
nice, easy to use digital copy of an old favorite.
When I began this Rogue's Adventure's backlog
playthrough and decided to begin with Adventure games, I frequently looked
through AdventureGamer.com's Top 100 Adventure Games of All Time List (published in Dec. 2011) to discover how well a classic game or modern revival stacks up. I was in for a surprise when I
noticed one of the free games I had nearly completely forgotten about listed as
#19. I quickly added it near the end of season one's schedule, and my playthrough of
Beneath a Steel Sky was achieved!
Beneath a Steel Sky is very much an Orwelian dystopia where the
Earth has become largely uninhabitable, and most of the human population is
forced to live in gigantic towering cities on top of one another. Unlike many
multi-level dystopias, however, in this one it's the poor that live in the
skies with the industry and smoke stacks, while the rich get to live on ground
level with the waxy fake trees. Access is tied to elevator tubes, and the whole
of Union City (the location of the game) is run in large part by an interwoven
computer AI known as LINC. However, recently LINC has been getting a little out
of hand, security has tightened, and everyone is more miserable than usual.
The story begins with the backstory of Rob, the
only surviving young boy of a helicopter crash trying to flee Union City. Rob
was taken in by a rural tribe that lives in the small sliver of slightly livable land outside the city known
as The Gap. They give him the last name of Foster, as they found the name on a
crushed beer can near the wreckage. During his time with them he builds his own
robotic friend out of spare parts, naming him Joey.
point when Rob has become a man, a helicopter resembling the one he crashed
from comes to The Gap, captures Rob, destroys Joey, and nukes his entire tribe
from the sky. As the helicopter, led by Officer Reich (so evil!) approaches the
city, it suddenly goes haywire and crashes. Once again Rob survives, and finds
himself in the upper levels of the city by a factory. He's left with only
Joey's circuit board, his wits, and lots of questions.
The comic book
intro was kind of spiffy, and the game was co-written by comic book artist Dave
Gibbons, famous for co-writing and drawing the Watchmen comics. The actual graphics are nice, considering it's a
twenty year old game. The minimal UI allows for a large screen showing the
action. The left mouse button Looks while the Right button Interacts, and
moving the mouse near the top reveals the simple inventory screen.
Aside from a
single puzzle involving making a grappling hook, there is no item combination
to speak of, and most of the puzzles revolve around using items or talking with
people. There are several inhabitants of Union City, but given the limitations
of the era, it's difficult to ascertain the proper sense of scale they probably
would've liked to convey. The factory has three people, the security
headquarters two, etc. The game is fully voiced, which is nice, and most of the
voice work is pretty good though a tad overdramatic. Everyone seems to have
British accents except the American voiced Robert.
leaves much to be desired, however. Though the muted brown colors and general
industrial dismay surrounds the city's aesthetic, the music is a weirdly
upbeat, recycled midi affair like you'd hear in the old Might and Magic games.
It was mostly annoying although I did find the repetitive theme that played in
the virtual world of LINC Space to be quite catchy.
overall goal for the first third of the game is to reach ground level, and to
do that he needs the proper security clearance. Stealing the ID card from
Reich's obliterated body in the beginning of the game is a good start. In what
ended up being one of the cooler scenes, Reich catches up with Rob after the
first few puzzles gets him out of the factory, but he's saved when LINC
(represented by a giant camera) blasts Reich with an energy blast, leaving Rob
and the player with more questions.
One of my favorite parts of the game
was Rob's robot friend Joey. Reminiscent of The Whispered World's Spot, Joey
acts as an NPC that follows you from scene to scene, offering insight on
puzzles and objects, and in many times utilized to solve problems, distract
people, or entertain with his hilariously sarcastic jabs. Unfortunately the
game makes a huge mistake and knocks Joey out of commission once you reach
ground level, and he doesn't make another appearance till almost the very end
of the game. Granted he plays a huge and awesome role at the end, but for the
middle section of the journey he was sorely missed.
journey finally gets going once he's granted a tour of the factory and meets
Anita, a D-LINC that is essentially an indentured servant. She had been in
talks with rival city Hobart about how bad things had gotten here, and was
trying to come up with a way to stop LINC. She gives Rob a jammer that allows
him better access with his card, and eventually Rob manages to acquire a
Schribermann Port, a literal hole in the head (think jacking into The Matrix) that
gives him access to LINC Space - the virtual reality abstract representation of
LINC's network. Since it's the early 90s, the world looked like an acid-trip
version of TRON, and offered Rob all new abilities (in the form of inventory
items) but sadly only one real puzzle to solve, though Rob would need to return
twice more with different people's cards to access new areas with new
journey eventually takes him into the abandoned Subway Tunnels beneath the
city. Things have gotten a bit more serious as he had found Anita's corpse
dumped in a locker beneath the church, along with several others, and a creepy
army of androids. He finally reached the underground chamber containing LINC,
with the outskirts serving as a creepy android growing facility. It was here I
finally found a new body with Joey, though it was quickly destroyed as he
defended Rob against another android. A cool solution for Joey presented
himself with some rubbery naked android bodies ready for a memory board.
Downloading Joey's mind into the android gave me a new friend, which Rob
hilariously renamed as Ken.
The finale involved using Anita's
computer virus on LINC to destroy it, though there was an interesting twist
with using it: the virus infected the tissue/organs that were being grown to
feed the organic matter, and using the infected tissue poisoned the organic
part, allowing access to the central chamber of LINC. There Rob found his
father, still attached to LINC as he had built it, now shriveled and nearly
dead. He explained that LINC wanted Rob here as a new vessel, as his brain was
nearly spent. He had tried to crash the helicopter to spare Rob his fate.
Joey/Ken arrives right when his father is disconnected, and before LINC can
grab Rob, he tells Joey/Ken to plug into LINC. He does so, and instantly wrests
control, embracing his destiny as the new benevolent AI of Union City.
shows Ken operating as a proper civic leader, while Rob decides to leave the
city and return to The Gap (to what though?). The ending was much happier than
I was expecting, with Ken being a massive Fixit for all the problems with LINC.
Finding his father connected to LINC was expected as the game was dropping
hints along the way. All in all the story and world was interesting, and I dug
the dystopian sci-fi setting. The puzzles were mediocre, however, and the game
was very short. I did have to consult a walkthrough several times, not
necessarily on how to solve puzzles but more that I missed an object in my
pixel hunting of the screen. The writing and dialogue were enjoyable, filled
with satire and dark humor, particularly a courtroom scene with a hilariously inept judge that serves no
purpose other than to entertain. Given its age, poor audio quality, and lame
puzzles, I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone except Adventure
Aficionados interested in seeing one of Revolution Software's earlier games,
and a successful engine that was independent of LucasArts' popular SCUMM model or
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