Beneath a Steel Sky

Review by Jen

I recently tried to install a couple of new games with no success, due either to bugs or system incompatibilities. Finding myself miffed about the Wintel juggernaut gone awry, I fished around through my older games and found Beneath a Steel Sky, one of the earlier games created by Charles Cecil, Tony Warriner, and the rest of the team at Revolution Software. I have an old 486/33 with DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.1 for just such situations, and I loaded this baby up.

Beneath a Steel Sky takes place in the probably-not-so-distant future and opens with a holocaust of sorts. You are captured by some paramilitary types, and your whole town in the Hobart Gap is annihilated. You are taken by helicopter to the "City," and your ride crashes. You are the only survivor. You ruminate on your past a bit, asking yourself some questions along the lines of "who am I?" "what do these people want with me?"—pretty standard adventure game opening so far. Then you find yourself in a sticky situation, and the game's afoot. Even though nobody is left, you want to go home because you feel claustrophobic ... Beneath a Steel Sky. (I hope you're all admiring the way I worked that in—I was quite proud of myself.) In your efforts to escape, you uncover vast evil (and yes, it lurks) and find yourself, once again, unwittingly, the only person qualified to save the world and humankind. Can you do it? Of course you can. You are an adventurer, after all!

This game was developed by Revolution Software, Famous for Graphics, and even though the pixels are big, the care taken in the drawings is very evident. The graphic designer for Beneath a Steel Sky is comic book author Dave Gibbons (The Watchmen). The opening and closing cut scenes are in comic book style, but the rest of the game brought to mind the Broken Sword games in the quality and style of the graphics. Like those, this is one good-looking game, despite its relatively advanced age. Some of the locations were awfully similar to ones in the Broken Sword games, and another location/puzzle bore a striking resemblance to one in Revolution's In Cold Blood. In fairness, I suppose all of us recycle our good ideas from time to time.

Gameplay is standard point-and-click. Left mouse button tells you about something, right mouse button takes an action, move cursor to top of screen to display and choose inventory items. Even though most of the puzzles are inventory-based, they are organic. Some of the solutions are pretty obscure, but they always make sense once you know the answer. I do confess to getting more than a couple of hints for this game. There is a lot of traipsing back and forth between locations, and a lot of conversation using inventory trees. (Why designers don't just make these cutscenes is beyond me. You have to say everything anyway, your choices don't influence the outcome ... I guess you get to click so you feel like you're playing something instead of just watching something.) Although there is no action, you do die from time to time, so it's a good idea to save often. Fortunately, you get unlimited saves.

The music is, as usual for games of this period, short loops repeated over and over (and over) again. I didn't think Beneath a Steel Sky's music fit well with the game. Even though there are plenty of humorous moments and the scenery is mostly in light colors, the overall mood of the game is kind of dark and foreboding, and the music is bouncy and chipper. Plus it's that electronic-sounding MIDI music (I probably got the terminology wrong) like you hear at a video game arcade. I finally got fed up and turned the music most of the way down. I enjoyed the game much more after that. The voice acting is not bad, not great. Sound effects are appropriate throughout.

I had a lot of fun playing Beneath a Steel Sky, and it was sure nice not to deal with the usual installation issues and patches galore. These days, it seems that half the game is to get the game up and running—not this time. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Slash/GT Interactive
Release Date: 1994

Available for: DOS

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System Requirements

IBM PC or 100% compatible with 386 processor or better
DOS 3.3 or better with MSCDEX
2 MB RAM (550 KB free base memory)
256-color VGA graphics
CD-ROM drive (150 kps)
Supports AdLib, Roland, and SoundBlaster

Where to Find It

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