I’m a massive fan of point-and-click games, whether they’re presented as the genre suggests (where you point and click) or modernised into a 3D style akin to the popular Telltale games. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few reboots, such as Black Mirror, remasters, such as Sam & Max, and new titles in a series, such as the Leisure Suit Larry games. The latest game I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing (multiple times) is the long-awaited sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky, the 1994 classic point-and-click game; Beyond a Steel Sky.
Beneath a Steel Sky launched in 1994 on both MS-Dos and Amiga, followed by an updated iOS port in 2009. You can even pick it up on both Steam or GoG for the low, low price of FREE, should you want to experience the events prior to Beyond a Steel Sky – however, despite being a direct sequel, Beyond thoroughly explains what happened within the first game seamlessly within the story and objects you can interact with, so you don’t have to play Beneath in order to fully enjoy the latest game.
Both games were created by Revolution Software, the studio behind the hilarious Broken Sword series, with the console version of Beyond a Steel Sky being published by Microïds (the developers of classic series’ such as Syberia, Still Life, and publisher for games from Pendulo Studios). It’s a brilliant partnership, one which led to (spoiler) a port that looks and plays brilliantly on the PlayStation 5.
So, after playing the game four times in order to grab the platinum on both the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game, was this sequel worth the 26-year wait? Let’s find out…
Beyond a Steel Sky is set ten years after the events within Beneath a Steel Sky, our Protagonist Robert Foster has returned to ‘The Gap’ after leaving his robotic friend in charge of rebuilding and maintaining Union City. Set within a post-apocalyptic world, the remaining humans either reside within the enclosed mega-cities and live by the rules of those in charge, or survive in The Gap (basically anywhere outside of these cities), scavenging and trading within their small tribal communities. Having been raised by Gaplanders growing up, Robert felt more at home with them than within the steel walls of the city, hoping to live a peaceful life with his new friends.
However, whilst out fishing with his friend and their son, a giant robotic creature emerged from the waters and kidnapped the child whilst its riders severely injured his father. After braving a sandstorm whilst trying to follow the giant creature’s tracks, Robert finds himself at the entrance to Union City once more. Did the creature come from here? And if so, why is such a thing happening under the rule of his good friend Joey? He has to find a way inside and discover the truth – a simple task that is made much trickier by the new security systems and mandatory ID implants.
Upon finding his way inside the walls, one thing is clear – this isn’t the Union City you left all those years ago! There’s a class hierarchy in place, a council that rules over the people by cherry-picking what to show and tell the people who live there, and no sign of hate or negativity. You need to find out what’s happened to Milo (the child), who’s behind the kidnapping, and also reunite with your old friend for moral support and guidance.
Beyond a Steel Sky is a third-person 3D adventure game, giving you full control over the camera as you explore each location for people to talk to and objects to interact with. The core gameplay is very simple, operating most actions with a single push of a button before choosing what you wish to say or do, with the added ability to run should you want to move around at a slightly faster speed. Also, should you find yourself stuck at any point, unable to figure out what you have to do next, there’s a built-in hint system that guides you.
The game is heavy on the narrative, with a fair amount of backtracking between a handful of locations that are populated with interesting characters. However, there are also both environmental and item-based puzzles, using objects you’ve picked up as a conversation point and/or combining them with things within the world to solve puzzles and obstacles. The best gameplay addition, in my opinion, is the hacking mechanic – allowing you to change the outcome or personality of various machines by tampering with their internal protocols.
Although Beyond a Steel Sky is linear, presenting you with the same story despite your actions, there are a lot of choices that change the immediate scenes, alter how you overcome the current situation, and even adjust which of the two possible pre-ending scenes you get (both are required for the platinum). I strongly recommend playing the game without a guide, or at least interacting with everyone as much as possible – if not, you’ll miss out on a lot of the hilarious dialogue and Easter Eggs based on previous titles from the developer.
I touched on the hacking mechanic above, but I feel it deserves to be talked about in more detail. I’ve not seen anything quite like this before, especially within a narrative adventure game. Early on, literally within the first act, you get your hands on a MINOS Hacking device – a tool that lets you re-program practically any robotic or mechanical object whether you need to do so for a puzzle or not. This can lead to some rather interesting outcomes as well as even more comedic moments and dialogue.
For example, activating the tool within the museum, whilst next to an exhibit about children and a rather aggressive toilet cleaning robot, allows you to swap the aggressive attitude of the bot with the ‘gently’ attribute of the exhibit. Performing this leads to the exhibit continuing to say the same words as before, only this time it’s aggressive in its tone and rather threatening and hostile. You can also adjust machines so instead of denying you access to something due to your level of clearance, it grants you it and denies those who actually do have the required privileges.
I had a lot of fun experimenting with this mechanic, messing around with various processes just to see what they’ll do.
As the game progresses, the hacking does get a little more advanced, such as implanting a process within a moving bot so you can swap it with another device further away, even hacking three objects at once to create a chain of events that solves the problem you’re facing. I didn’t find any of these too hard to work out, even without using any hints (for the trophy), but you can always resort to trial and error if you’re not sure as there’s no penalty for getting it wrong.
Beyond a Steel Sky is full of references to previous games from Revolution Software. The museum, for example, contains a whole room crammed with objects and characters from the previous game and even a cameo from the stars of the Broken Sword franchise, George, Nico, and the Goat. You can even unlock the original outfit Robert wore in the previous game, which you can wear if you’re not a fan of the new outfit, the work uniform, or the superhero-like party costume.
As an additional set of references, there are five spoof posters of popular sci-fi movies hidden within the game. Finding these unlocks a trophy but it’s also fun looking for them as each one depicts a famous film which you’ll no doubt recognise.
After the release of the game on both Mobile and PC last year, the developers added the ability to play the game with Director’s Commentary – which has also been added to the console release upon launch. If enabled, you’ll find commentary tracks all over the place, either describing the scene you’re in, telling you how certain aspects were made, or chit-chat about the game in general. What I liked about this is that the in-game audio auto-lowers itself when you’re playing the commentary, rising afterwards, and you get to learn a lot about the development of the game as you play.
For example, I had no idea that the studio initially used Kinect cameras to map their motion capture for the game! Also, due to the fact you have to essentially play the game twice for the platinum trophy, turning it on whilst doing your second playthrough makes the experience different and almost like you’re listening to a podcast as you run through everything a second time.
PS5 30fps vs 60fps mode:
Free PS5 upgrade?
As far as I can tell, based on the PSN store listing, there is no free PS5 upgrade for Beyond a Steel Sky – something I have asked the publisher for confirmation on, which they are looking into for me. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as the PlayStation 4 version via Backwards Compatability actually makes use of the PlayStation 5, enabling a higher framerate if you’re playing it on the new console. Before I get into this in detail, here are the technical specs of the game on all console platforms:
Switch Undocked/Lite (Handheld) = 1280×720
Switch Docked (TV) = 1920×1080
Xbox One = 1920×1080
Xbox One S = 1920×1080
Xbox One X = 3840×2160 (4k)
Xbox Series S = 1920×1080
Xbox Series X = 3840×2160 (4k)
PS4 = 1920×1080
PS4 Pro = 3840×2160 (4k)
PS5 = 3840×2160 (4k)
All of the previous-gen console versions run with simplified art assets, static lighting, and forward rendering (ES 3.1 feature level), whilst targeting 30fps. However, the current-gen systems (PS5 and Xbox Series) have two options, the ability to run the last-gen quality at a stable 60fps, or a stable 30fps with complex art assets, fully dynamic lighting, and deferred rendering (Shader Model 5 feature level). Also, as stated above, if you run the PS4 version on a PS5 console, it actually plays at 60fps – which is identical to the 60fps mode within the native PS5 version.
So, if cross-buy isn’t added to the game, and you own a PlayStation 4 or 5, both versions will give you the same 60fps mode (with the same resolution as well), but the native PS5 version has the additional 30fps mode which introduces higher-quality assets and real-time lighting. I played through the game in both modes and personally preferred the 60fps mode, but the enhanced visual effects are a nice bonus for those who own a current-gen console – as long as you don’t mind the drop in framerate.
Beyond a Steel Sky is visually a very colourful and beautiful game. The text and intro are presented as a comic book, just like they were within the original game, with the gameplay taking place within a fully rendered cartoon-like 3D world. Every character is unique, well-designed, and memorable, with some having gone through countless re-designs based on the commentary I listened to. The world itself is fascinating, taking you from the vast deserts to the inside of the A.I. run city, then from the recycling centre into cyberspace itself – you never quite know where you’ll be heading next.
In terms of the voice acting, I have no complaints at all. Every actor played their part perfectly, from the main cast to the lesser NPCs you only speak to once or twice. You can even play the game with either English, French or German vocals, with the character models lipsyncing each dynamically to create a more natural dub – rather than simply playing the new language over a pre-animated English lipsync. If you’re in need of another language, don’t fret, Beyond a Steel Sky includes 17 subtitled languages to choose from (interestingly, it has both British and American English – which you don’t often see).
I had no technical issue with the game, at all. I played the game four times, twice with the PS4 version via BC on the PS5, and twice with the native PS5 version – as I grabbed both platinum trophies at around 16-17 hours per game. There was no crashes, no bugs, no glitches, I never hit a progression-blocking situation, and the performance remained solid throughout. In short, this was an amazing port in terms of both the PS4 and PS5 versions – easily one of the best launches of a 3D adventure game in a while (as they often have issues with trophies and/or performance). And yes, all trophies unlocked when they were meant to with no problems.
Beyond a Steel Sky is a brilliant sequel to the 1994 classic point-and-click game, Beneath a Steel Sky. The gameplay and mechanics have been perfectly modernised without losing the humour and style of the original game, reuniting both Robert and Joey once more with the same witty dynamic. The new hacking mechanic greatly enhances the puzzle elements, combined with good old-fashioned inventory and environmental puzzles, offering a fun distraction from the well-written narrative that’ll have you hooked. It may have been 26 years (ten in-game), but it was worth the wait – let’s just hope we don’t have to wait that long for their next adventure!
If you wish to play the original game before diving into the sequel, you can download it FREE on GoG and Steam. I really wanted this new console release to have the original game included as a bonus unlockable, but it didn’t – it’s not a big issue, as the game explains things whilst you interact with certain objects or browse the museum, but it would have been a nice extra for those who don’t have access to a PC.
Also, if you’re wondering why you can’t see Beyond a Steel Sky on sale in your region, please check out my article HERE which describes all of the delays and new release dates for the game around the world. Today is the launch of the game within the UK digitally on all platforms (Switch was last week), but America is next week and physical copies are on a different date – it’s a little confusing.
Beyond a Steel Sky£34.99
- - Very colourful with well-designed characters and environments
- - Fun puzzles, especially the hacking mechanic
- - Interesting story with lots of references and nods to previous titles
- - Great voice acting and music
- - Runs flawlessly at 60fps on the PS5 with both the PS4 and PS5 version of the game
- - It doesn't appear cross-buy is enabled (not sure if it will be)
- - Although the Director's Commentary is great, it cuts off if you walk within distance of a new commentary point
- - Not a negative as such, but I wish the original game was included so everyone could play both titles on the same platform