Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky is set in an apocalyptic future, time and location unspecified. The introduction itself tips you off that this isn’t your standard 1994 CD-ROM release. Instead of the usual digitized video or 3D-modeled graphic images we’ve come to expect in a new release, the prologue is told through a series of static, comic-book style images supplemented by a relatively deadpan narrative.

8The intro tells the story of Robert Foster — the character whom you’ll play as — who was orphaned after the helicopter carrying him and his mother crashed in “The Gap,” a wilderness area outside the polluted, overcrowded, totalitarian metropolis of Union City. After being rescued by a band of inhabitants from the Gap, you were raised in an atmosphere of freedom and independence, and are now happy and content — until Union City Security forces arrive to take you back “home.”

A good part of the game’s puzzles aren’t extremely challenging for veteran players, though many of them do require you to link seemingly disparate clues and objects. But after you run into Hobbins, a maintenance man working in the building where you’ve taken refuge as you try to evade the Union City Security, you’ll realize that the game’s real appeal lies in talking to the warped characters which U.K.-based Revolution Software has created.

Everyone you meet, from the working-class Hobbins to the arrogant supervisor Gilbert Lamb to the small-minded bureaucrat Mr. Pitts, has a distinct personality, thanks in large part to the decision to go with a CD-ROM release. If you were reading the puns, one-liners, and extended diatribes from these folks, you’d probably think the writing is only slightly above average; but when you hear the voice actors delivering the lines, it changes the experience entirely. And there are more than a few subtle references, many British, that are especially hilarious.

3The interface is simple but functional: a single cursor is used for every task, from picking up objects and using them to questioning characters or examining your surroundings. The result is that unlike some graphic adventures, you never have to fiddle with switching between icons; just move the cursor around the screen, and if there’s an object to look at/use or a person to look at or talk to, just click the appropriate mouse button.

But while the controls are good, the game does have some annoying throwbacks. Chief of these are some of the time-based puzzles, which are essentially point and click races. Them quibbles aside, Beneath a Steel Sky is overall an enjoyable retro adventure.

System Requirements: 386 CPU, 4 MB RAM, DOS

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