Beneath a Steel Sky begins with a comic book introduction which serves notice that the game is a bit different from the normal graphic adventure seen in the genre at the time of release (1994). Relying mainly on voice acting, humor, and a somewhat cliche-filled script to further the plot, the game scores big points for a refreshing approach because of the overall integrated presentation. Take any of the aforementioned components separately, throw in a weird but effective interface, and the result would be less than attractive. Taken as a complete package, though, Beneath a Steel Sky becomes an enjoyable and funny experience. In fact, it’s the voice acting that saves the script from sounding too amateurish along with the humor that creates an immersive counterpoint to the actual simplicity of the plot. This is one game that actually gets better after the opening sequences.
Beneath a Steel Sky would not win any prizes or awards for outstanding graphics presentation, an innovative interface, or superlative writing. It does, however, manage to overcome all those shortcomings and provide an interesting look at a future world, filled with bleak and cutthroat industrial real world problems. The interface is simplicity personified. Rather than using icons, the game makes use of a single cursor for all actions and employs the technique of screen “hot spots.” In some ways this simplifies the game by limiting on-screen choices at times, but it’s a breeze to master and breeds a comfort factor whether clicking on one of dozens of characters for interaction/dialogue, picking up or using an object, opening doors, working levers, and so forth. All good graphic adventures contain an array of puzzles to solve and Beneath a Steel Sky is no exception. Expert gamers may find the first two thirds of the game too easy but quite possibly will hit the wall near the end, when the puzzle-solving becomes much more challenging. Unfortunately, there are a couple of beat-the-clock scenes in the game which detract from the otherwise smooth flow of action. The graphics are not exciting but escape the lame label and portray a believable environment for the adventure.
The content of Beneath a Steel Sky is definitely borderline for younger players. The recipe which makes the game a treat for those who enjoy a more robust adventure contains a dose of heavy British humor, both sight gags and double entendres, a smattering of mature themes and scenes and a dash of adult language, not to mention a pinch of near-nudity. The accents of the voice actors and the delivery of the dialogue makes the experience of playing Beneath a Steel Sky a worthwhile excursion. The major complaint is the shortness of the tale. Even novice adventurers should complete the game in less than eight to ten hours tops, with the seasoned gamer finishing much quicker. No matter how quick the trip though, the ride is worth it.
By no means spectacular but pleasingly presented in a fundamental way as are many early entries in the genre. Similar to early Indiana Jones games and some Sierra titles (e.g., King’s Quest and Space Quest adventures).
Voice acting enhances the written script and dialogue. Some players may be turned off by the staid attitude of the main character but the game comes with a text-only option.
One of those games where the end result surpasses all of the individual parts. Puzzles increase in difficulty as the game progresses and the plot hangs together nicely.
Short enough that you might try it again (especially if you like the humor); otherwise probably a once-through is sufficient.
Very short manual, mostly geared toward background information on the many characters in the game. Play is simplistic and the manual developed accordingly. Nice comic book by David Gibbons is included in the game box.