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Beyond A Steel Sky – Review

Beyond a Steel Sky is the sequel to the 26 year old point ‘n click adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky. If you haven’t played the original you will certainly miss quite a bit of what makes the sequel enjoyable, so do yourself a favor and play the first one. It’s free and its a blast.

Alright, enough about the original. First, I’ll go over the stuff I don’t like about Beyond a Steel Sky.

In its current state the game has some flaws. None of the bugs and issues are game-breaking, but they are frequent and obnoxious enough to take you out of the moment. There are two major problems: NPC pathing and the cinematic camera during dialogues.

Pathing: when you’re taking with a character, other characters will frequently try to walk into the same space that you or the person you’re talking with are occupying. So you’re having a conversation while someone is pressing their face right into the person you’re talking to. There are also issues where you need to talk with someone but they’re constantly moving away from you so you have to chase them down. And I ran into one issue where I started a conversation with someone and they continued walking, so I slooooowly walked to where they *would* have been while they ambled off.. That one was frustrating, but the other pathing issues were just mildly annoying and can probably be fixed with a bug patch.

Camera: I often ran into an issue with the camera when speaking with a character. The camera does this cinematic thing, where it shifts perspective during the conversation to show who’s talking, or sometimes show some important part of the scene. The problem was when you were standing near a door or container of some kind like a cabinet. The camera would pop behind the door or inside the cabinet, both hiding the scene and characters from view and muffling the sound. Again, a minor annoyance since I had subtitles on so I didn’t miss any of the dialogue, but still annoying enough to take you out of the moment and make you shake your head in disappointment.

And the good…

So why am I recommending this game? Well, despite its flaws this was a good game and a worthy spiritual successor to the original. This game retained the original’s dry and sometimes dark sense of humor along with the corny jokes. The characters are interesting and memorable. In the original game you spend most of your time in the city’s upper industrial level, all rusty and brown and dystopian. In the sequel you spend most of your time in the bougie lower levels of the city and it’s quite gorgeous. The neon and pastel colors paired with the retrofuturistic art-deco aesthetic make Union City a place you want to spend time in. In general, the character design and comic book style cell shading are pretty fantastic.

The puzzles are more on the casual side of difficulty which makes this game feel a bit more like a digital novel than a lateral thinking exercise like old point and click adventures. Honestly this is fine with me. There is no pixel hunting here, no solutions to problems that make absolutely zero sense. Just a fairly straightforward adventure with some puzzles along the way.

The hacking mechanic is interesting, but somehow both over- and under- utilized. I enjoyed it, but almost too many of the puzzles are solved by hacking. This wouldn’t be a problem except the hacking interface itself is gimped, only allowing you to drag and drop a few options around so the solutions are fairly obvious. Most of these puzzles break down to finding all of the hackable devices in range of whatever obstacle is stopping your progress and then swapping the obvious pieces around on screen. After you figure out the gimmick most of the puzzles feel like they solve themselves.

Since this mechanic is used so much in the game it would have been *awesome* if hacking had more depth, options, results and consequences. There are a few instances where you can mischievously screw up something and get a funny reaction from an NPC, but there needs to be so much more of this! It just seems like there was a whole lot of potential for alternate solutions and replayability that were missed here. Still, it’s a fun mechanic and I enjoyed it.

Overall you can probably play through the game in about 10 hours. I took a bit longer to enjoy all of the alternate dialogue options and explore for possible alternate solutions and endings. This truly feels like a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky and not some money grab remake like so many other games that cash in on 90s nostalgia. The overall experience is definitely worth it — bugs and all — especially if you’re a fan of the original game.

Score – 9/10

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