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.


2 Replies to “Beneath a Steel Sky”

  1. I honestly don’t agree with your negative review. Granted, I first played it WHEN it was released, so I’m acclimated to the “pixel hunt” aspect, but even then I didn’t think it was an issue.

  2. got here from your steam review. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. As someone who has no nostalgia-based reason to like this game, it seems incredibly flawed in almost every aspect.

    Music: The droning music will make you want to unplug your headphones after a few hours of gameplay. You can change the volume in the f5 settings, but for some reason it resets itself after you enter new rooms, which means that you’ll have to get used to the bit-tunes blaring at 100% no matter what.

    Story: Seemed OK for what it was. I didn’t finish the game, but what i saw seemed interesting. Too bad that the saturday-morning cartoon tone clashed horribly with the plot, whenever the story tried to be deep or mature.

    Gameplay: looot of pixel scraping, and illogical puzzles, as you pointed out. It was by pure chance i noticed the gum on the floor, which was pretty much invisible unless you happened to hover over it. The weird cyberspace-puzzle is absolutely baffling to me as well, and i don’t know what the devs were smoking when they came up with it. The worst offender of bad gameplay was using a keycard on a traditional wooden door lock. What the hell? The game literally tells you that you need a key to open the lock. As in, a real steel key. Made me quit the game.

    So yeah, for me it’s a 5/10. Has some charm, some cute moments, but the outdated gameplay and awkwardly told story brings it down.

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