REVIEW: Beyond a Steel Sky

Last Updated on October 20, 2022

Beyond a Steel Sky is the follow-up to the classic cyberpunk point and click adventure game Beneath a Steel Sky. I really enjoyed that game and it’s rusted Australian vision of the future as Robert Foster was kidnapped from the Outback where he was living, only to find himself up against a satirical society of upper class twits in a decaying urban hellscape.

Beyond a Steel SkyBasically, it was the video game version of the classic film Brazil by Terry Gilliam. Making a sequel to that sort of game was already going to be difficult even with the involvement of the original creator, Charles Cecil. Given the original was created with the involvement of Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbon, I had the feeling something was going to be missing. Still, I’m always willing to give dystopian science fiction a try.

My feelings are…mixed.

Beyond a Steel Sky’s premise is Foster is living in the Outback (“The Gap”) with a local family when their son is kidnapped by a group of androids as well as a giant four-legged machine. Following it back to Union City, which has become a megapolis even bigger than its previous incarnation, he discovers everything is now under the control of benevolent-seeming AI. The city looks clean, beautiful, and pristine with all of the citizenry’s needs taken care of. However, there’s a darker undercurrent to things as if kidnapped children wasn’t a big enough tip off.

Foster must assume the identity of a dead sanitation worker named Graham Grundy and solve the riddle of Union City. Where has his friend Joey (now worshiped as a god) gone? Who is kidnapping the children? Why? Also, what is in the drink Spankles that everyone seems to drink and contains 250% of your daily recommended dose of caffeine? Where can I get some? Oh wait, that’s just your average energy drink.

Gameplay wise, the game is basically a 3D adventure puzzle game. You have Foster walk up to things, touch things, take things, poke things, and try to figure out what he needs to do next. None of the puzzles are particularly hard but they can be a little obtuse like the fact you can probably figure out what needs to be lit on fire three or four steps before you actually can do it. The game is also frustratingly easy as you can never really proceed after missing something and this was rather annoying as some more game over states would have been appreciated. Instead, you get not so subtle reminders, “I should probably check X out before going to Y.”

The gameplay sensitivity is also rather troublesome, at least on consoles, because sometimes there’s timed puzzles that you need to move things around about that struggle because it doesn’t register you’re in the right place to do what you want. There’s a hacking minigame but it barely qualifies as a puzzle. There’s usually a blindingly obvious solution where you have to move certain shaped blocks into certain shaped holes about as challenging as an average five- year-old’s puzzle.

Really, the game is almost impossible to lose and if you ever run into trouble then you can just ask the Hint system. It takes about three times (as well as 30 seconds between them) to get it to tell you the answer but never left me stuck. If I had one big complaint, it’s the fact that the “running” speed of Foster is so slow that it really should be the default speed. It made Foster feel like he wasn’t capable of a brisque jog.

The appeal of the game is really the writing and graphics. The writing is still quite crisp and entertaining with Foster always having a witty likable charm to him even when he’s dressing down other characters, especially when he’s dressing down other characters. All the other characters are various stages of jerk or fool, which is what made the original game so enjoyable. The graphics also have an enjoyable comic book style ala Borderlands or Telltale’s Walking Dead that doesn’t require photo-realism but ages very gracefully. The city looks like a cartoonish but beautiful Jetsons-esque utopia in some places as a dingy hellhole in others.

So what brings the game down? Well, the problem is basically the original game was quite fun in its satire. It attacked the super-rich, police brutality, the pointlessness of travel agencies, the exclusiveness of country clubs, and horrible safety conditions in the working class. Nothing that was particularly preachy or incisive but enough that you knew they were highlighting the absurdity of the real world. It was satirical and stronger for the fact it was poking fun at things in the real world.

The premise of Beyond a Steel Sky is that the people of Union City have an oppressive nanny state that provides for all of the food, medicine, shelter, and entertainment you could possibly want. Yeah, okay, that’s not something that exists in the real world. It’s also something that the game attacks as oppressive to the human spirit or something. Which, um, okay, sure. As such, the satire feels pointless as most of us would be willing to deal with the brainwashing and kidnapping versus the threat of freedom from poverty.

In conclusion, Beyond a Steel Sky is an okay adventure game and pretty fun. You don’t need to have enjoyed the previous game to enjoy this one. Unfortunately, the satire and bleak cyberpunk atmosphere of the first game is gone with the criticism of an overbearing socialist technocracy being far removed from most reader’s struggles.

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.