Mad Max Meets CyberPunk in this competent story-driven slice of the future
- Developer: Revolution Software
- Publisher: Revolution Software
- Release date: 30th November 2021
- Genre: Point and click adventure
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: PS5 via backward compatibility
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Beyond a Steel Sky Review
A child has been kidnapped and your best friend has been killed in the process. This is the opening sequence of events facing Robert Foster in this narrative-driven sci-fi adventure game. Set in a dystopian Australian future, that has a distinctive Mad Max meets Cyberpunk aesthetic, and playing as Robert Foster, you set off following the clues left behind in search of the missing child, to one of the last outposts of “utopia” in the wilderness, a place called Union City.
As you arrive you soon find an AI-controlled city, that only allows inhabitants in if they comply with the rules, and subject themselves to the tyranny of social constructs. Working around those constructs to achieve your goals, alongside helping the inhabitants, constitutes the bulk of the puzzles this game requires you to figure out.
With the art direction from the legendary comic book artist, Dave Gibbons (The Watchmen), alongside some of the finest world-building, narrative and writing found in any genre, they really propel this game in the right direction from the outset.
Players will have their interest piqued, not only in the world around them but also in the lives of the people, machines and AI you encounter. It is a testament to the writing that you feel part of this world and its deep lore within moments of arriving.
It’s easy to get caught up in the conversations of a passerby and therein lies the crux of the puzzle-based gameplay. As you wander around the world, you are set with obstacles to navigate to fulfil your own objectives. To do so you need to converse with the people in your environment, and through the use of logic, solve their problems/puzzles. Doing so grants you items you’ll need to solve the next puzzle, unlocking the way for you to continue your own quest. It’s a little more complicated than anything in the Telltale series of games, but the presentation and structure of how to progress follow the same principles.
When reaching a new area, you need to interact with as many people as you can, listen to their situation, and then put together the pieces of the clues you have picked up. Logic will normally give you the answer on how to continue, however, there is a useful hint system that guides you towards the solution whilst still allowing the player to feel like they solved it themselves. Some moments the solution is to gather items, others will be to use an item you already have. The fun is in figuring this conundrum out.
An example of a rewarding sequence of puzzles, a particular item you need for someone is held by an animal, and you have to lure the animal to a specific location for them to drop it. To do so, you will need bait, but that bait is locked in a box; To open the box containing the bait, you will need to do another favour for a different person that owns the box. When you complete this sequence of events, it does feel extremely rewarding, and there is a natural flow of progression that doesn’t feel forced.
Where the puzzles fell down and occasionally made me throw my controller away in frustration, is when the solution to progress is more of a random set of inputs than logic. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between, but when they arrive your progress grinds to a halt, and it can make playing the game feel like a chore to grind through.
However, a taught narrative, excellent voice acting and a richly diverse world make spending time in this unique setting interesting enough to keep you there long enough to solve these puzzle ‘humps’.
Graphically the game runs and looks superb, with a beautifully stylized world akin to a Borderlands game rich in colour and interesting features. With excellent storytelling and cut scenes that look like they were ripped straight out of a visual novel, the game simply oozes class. The styling alone is enough to invest the player into completing the 10 to 12-hour story.
The audio of the game is limited, for obvious reasons, as being a text-heavy story game there isn’t the need for many fancy explosions or effects. The soundtrack was serviceable, and the limited effects while interacting with objects were good. The voice acting was the best aspect of the audio as it was clear, concise and easy to listen to; As listening to each character is such an integral part of gameplay, this helped make the game much more user friendly.
Technically, the game can be a little hit and miss. NPCs can glitch over obstacles rather than around them, and this can pull you out of the experience a little. I also had an almost game-ending bug that would have required me to start the whole game over again. At one point in the second level, after obtaining a required item and handing it to the person who wanted it, the game should have then kicked into a new scene. However, the game looped back to the conversation I had before I had the item, thinking I hadn’t just handed it over to the person in question. Going back to the spot where I collected the item in the first place didn’t help either, as the animal who had it wasn’t there anymore – I was stuck! Fortunately, having three game saves, the last of which was the only one I had that was before this event occurred, meant I could reload and try again. It thankfully worked doing the same set of events the second time around, but if not for the last save point I had, I would have had to start the game all over again.
Despite all that, the star of the show is the wonderful story. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail here, but the effort to complete the game is worth the time it will take you to unravel the story, enjoy the characters you meet and the world you take part in, right up to its satisfying conclusion.
Beyond A Steel Sky is a simple game but still has a few bumps in its gameplay. The occasionally obtuse puzzles and game glitches detract from the overall experience, but sticking with it through those times will reward you with a rich and interesting world, excellent and interesting visuals, alongside superb voice acting and a narrative that hooks you from the word go. Storytelling in this form is an underrated experience, but Beyond a Steel Sky would be a great starting platform for many to at least try. It’s not the deepest of games, but one most certainly worth experiencing.