When the name Charles Cecil is mentioned, adventure games like the Broken Sword franchise are what would normally come to mind. Another of Cecil’s successful adventure games was Beneath a Steel Sky, a gritty tale of oppression and fascism created with Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. A whole 26 years later, the duo teamed up to release a sequel, Beyond a Steel Sky, on Apple Arcade and PC. A year later, Beyond a Steel Sky heads to PlayStation 4 and our review finds it was certainly worth the wait.
Despite being a sequel, knowledge of the previous game is not needed to enjoy Beyond a Steel Sky, although Beneath a Steel Sky is free to play on Steam or GOG if you want to experience it beforehand. Set ten years after its predecessor, Beyond a Steel Sky has a story that can be understood independently of the first game. Robert Foster has settled in a village located in the desert wastelands known as the Gap. When the son of his close friends is abducted in an ambush, Foster vows to find him and bring him home safely. The kidnappers’ trail leads him to Union City, whose security systems need to be fooled into letting him in.
Beyond a Steel Sky Review – Returning to Union City
Foster has a history with Union City. After overthrowing the oppressive AI dictatorship, he left the city in charge of his automaton friend Joey. Things have changed a lot since then. Union City is now a futuristic utopia where the aim of the AI is to make the city’s human occupants as happy as possible. Androids look after their every want, everything is free, and an energy drink known as Spankles provides all the nutrition they ever need. The mega city, now rendered in beautiful cel-shaded graphics, looks very impressive and is kept immaculately clean.
Looks can be deceiving and it all sounds too good to be true. Joey is no longer in charge and Union City is now run by The Council who seem to have eyes everywhere. The residents are unknowingly controlled by their Qdos score, meant to help people reach their full potential but instead used to keep people in their place. The very lowest levels of the city are reserved for the happiest, most altruistic and sociable residents, while the upper levels are meant for the majority of others. On the other hand, the industrial sector is kept to the upper limits of the city and these areas are a stark contrast to the pristine residential areas. Despite the city’s size, Foster only gets to explore a few areas but it’s enough to realize that one dictatorship has been replaced with another.
The city is full of interesting characters, from a poetry-loving android servant to a bored teenager being dragged around the museum. They all have interesting things to say and aren’t just used as a means to an end. They’re also the source of most of the game’s humor but their personalities aren’t explored too deeply and you never care much about them. There’s even a strange bug that appears occasionally when Foster will turn around and face in the opposite direction during a conversation. A couple of characters had entire conversations with the back of Foster’s head.
Unlike its predecessor, Beyond a Steel Sky is no longer a point and click game. It’s now a free moving 3D adventure game with a simple control system that’s designed well for consoles. Foster needs to find items to use later, talk to people for more information, and do jobs for them to trade for more information or other items. There’s no combining of items or using items for seemingly stupid actions; everything makes sense. This does mean there’s a tendency to rely on Foster’s crowbar for a lot of things. Need to open the door? Crowbar. Need to jam that mechanism? Crowbar. Need to get through that vent? Crowbar. You get the idea.
Beyond a Steel Sky Review – Hacking Your Way Through
A little way into the game, Foster acquires a hacker that allows him to change the way many of the city’s systems work by switching up the modules within their logic loops. The idea begins simply. A door that only opens for a city resident can be changed to open for a stranger. Later on, the implementation can require precise timing and placement but the idea is always the same. For this reason, these puzzles can get repetitive after a few hours. None of the puzzles are ever obtuse, but sometimes knowing where to start is the issue. If you do get stuck, a great hint system will start with vague tips and end with step by step instructions if needed.
Some of the game’s puzzles can be solved in multiple ways and this can affect the way characters respond to Foster later on. Those wanting to get all of the game’s trophies will need to complete two playthroughs because of this. The first playthrough will take around 12 hours, although this could be longer depending on how much players explore and talk to people. A repeated playthrough can be completed in just 3-4 hours when you know what you’re doing.
Those who have played the first game will find plenty of references throughout Beyond a Steel Sky, as well as nods to Watchmen and other Charles Cecil games. There’s an entire museum exhibit dedicated to Beneath a Steel Sky that’s well worth looking around for those not in a rush. Foster’s old costume can even be unlocked, although the delay before it appears in Foster’s wardrobe means there’s unfortunately no opportunity to wear it.
Although there are some bugs and missed opportunities, the issues that plagued the game’s release on PC and Apple Arcade have been largely solved, making the console experience far smoother. The result is a game that suits both newcomers and those who experienced Beneath a Steel Sky. Newcomers will find a great story that can be enjoyed as an independent game. Those familiar with the franchise will find a sequel that was well worth the wait, although it’s unlikely to reach the critical acclaim of its predecessor.
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