Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky

Nothing makes me more uncomfortable as a reviewer than disliking a cult classic, especially when I understand why it’s a cult classic. In the case of Beneath a Steel Sky, it’s because it has vastly more mature subject matter and writing than anything else from 1994, when gaming stories were mostly about cartoon mascots or standard high fantasy tropes. The problem is that that’s all it has. This isn’t just the usual scenario of a great story bogged down by subpar gameplay – it’s also a case of a great story being told very poorly. For example, the emotional and practical climax of the narrative is given less screentime than a comic relief subplot about a rich lady’s dog falling into a pool. And all of it is conveyed with hammy, tone-deaf voice acting.

The release year will inevitably be brought up as a defence, but that only accounts for certain things. Putting myself in the shoes of a 1994 audience allows me to appreciate the imagination that went into certain late-game locations and the body-swapping robot sidekick. But bad voice acting is bad voice acting, regardless of how common voice acting in general is at the moment. Similarly, the soundtrack isn’t annoying because of its antiquated audio quality; it’s annoying because every song sounds identical. And the visuals aren’t problematic because they’re pixelated; they’re problematic because the game expects you to detect which nondescript pixels are actually vital interactive objects. On the subject, for every decent puzzle, there’s a baffling one representing every flavour of bad adventure game design – barely-noticeable details, inscrutable logic, and completely arbitrary character behaviour. But you probably could have guessed that. After all, it’s from 1994.

4.5/10
4.5/10

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