Beneath a Steel Sky (1994)
Adventure Games are the only computer game genre I really enjoy. They are not just point and click puzzles, some could be called interactive movies, and a few have a very good storyline. I'll start by reviewing a classic.
In a dystopian future in Australia, a young boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Gap (what's today known as the Outback). He is adopted and grows amongst Indigenous Australians.
When the game starts Robert Foster is kidnapped and his tribe annihilated by security soldiers sent from Union City by its powerful computer LINC. On their return to Union City, their helicopter malfunctions and crashes. Foster survives the crash and escapes into the dark metropolis vowing to avenge the murder of the only family he's ever known. See video below.
Beneath a Steel Sky is inspired by various dystopian future stories, with a cyberpunk twist. The main influence is George Orwell's Ninteen Eighty-Four, in fact we have cameras and security personel, war with rival city states, saboteurs, propaganda and fake news, and different social classes.
Other influences include Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (mostly noticable during the Walter death scene near the end), and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Australia is divided into 6 city states at war for market dominance, mostly through the use of sabotage and flooding the market with cheap goods. The cities follow either Union or Corporate creeds, however the meanings of those words are the opposite of what they are today.
In the game only Union city (where the action takes place) and their rival Hobart Corporation are mentioned. Union city is governed by a commitee which is advised by a super computer called LINC (Logical Inter-Neural Connection).
Plastic surgery is considered essential, and court proceedings are a game show. All Union City's inhabitants have an ID card which allows them to travel to different locations and access various information services through ATM like machines. Movement and access rights depend on social class.
In the Gap Foster builds a talking robot called Joey, but when the soldiers attack Joey is damaged. Foster takes Joey's circuit board which stores his personality. Throughout the game Foster puts the circuit board in various robots, so Joey is resurrected in various guises with different tools. Joey is a very sarcastic robot, but he is helpful as he examines objects for Foster, and his help is needed to complete certain puzzles.
Beneath a Steel Sky's dark storyline is lightened by comedy, warm characters, and various references to movies, books, songs, and tv shows.
This game doesn't feature photo-realistic graphics or cartoon graphics which were popular at the time. Instead it employs comic book style graphics. The picture above should give you a hint who is behind the comic book introduction sequence and game backgrounds; Dave Gibbons the co-creator of Watchmen. The game also includes a 10 page printed comic book by Dave Gibbons.
Cyberpunk Factor ★★★☆☆
Sentient androids that are indistinguishable from humans, a psychedelic virtual reality interfaced via a cybernetic head implant, and horrors hidden underground relating to Overmann and LINC.
Technology & Gameplay ★★★☆☆
The PC version is a point and click graphic adventure on floppy, or CD version with speech. The only photo realistic video in the game is when you play the "Pussies on Parade" video cassette (odd that a futuristic game available on CD featured a video cassette!)
The point and click system doesn't have any menus with verbs taking up screen space, or appearing when you click. Simply left click to examine, and right click to do the appropriate action.
In 2009 the game was remastered for the iPhone. Improvements include a sliding paper style animated intro, better sound and speech, new music, new touch based interface, context-sensitive hint system, and a new cut scene at the end of the game (after the credits). See BASS Remastered trailer below.
Final Verdict ★★★★☆
Beneath a Steel Sky was released by Revolution Software during the golden age of adventure gaming, when competitors LucasArts and Sierra Entertainment ruled the market. It was released the same year as Access Software's super high tech Under a Killing Moon. However Beneath a Steel Sky was never eclipsed, and is still loved and played by adventure gamers. Truly one of the classics!
The original floppy and CD versions were made freeware in 2003, and are available for download on many sites. They can be played through the ScummVM interface software which allows supported older games to run on modern operating systems. Alternatively you can download the game pre-bundled with ScummVM through GOG.
The iPhone version is available through iTunes.