STAFF REVIEW of Beyond a Steel Sky (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Beyond a Steel Sky Box art Despite being a sequel, you don’t need to have knowledge of Beneath a Steel Sky (published in 1994 on PC) to play and understand Beyond a Steel Sky. It was a concern I had before taking on the review of this game by Revolution Software. Since I hadn’t played Beneath a Steel Sky, I did watch a primer to get some background info and Beyond does give you a bit of an overview before you start, so I had a basic understanding of the story line thus far. While there are a few references to the original story, Beyond a Steel Sky is more of a spiritual successor to the original than a direct sequel, 27 years in the making, set 10 years after the events of Beneath. Unlike its predecessor, this game is no longer a point and click game, and is a fully flushed out, free moving 3D adventure game. It’s simple control system works well on consoles.

Beyond A Steel Sky sees our protagonist Robert Foster living in The Gap, the wasteland/desert outside of Union City. He must return to Union City while searching for a child named Milo who has been kidnapped from his village. Like any good game, the kidnapping is only part of a darker story and secret that the city is hiding. En route to Union City, Foster finds a dead man on the road, he takes his brooch and assumes this man’s identity to access the city boundaries. The man had a full life in the city, including a wife who is very willing to go along with Foster’s charade. The plot thickens.

Union City is a cyberpunk utopia full of large skyscrapers, lots of electronic billboards with advertising and rules, robots and holographic assistants are prevalent. There is a travel system to whisk you away anywhere you need to go. Foster’s best friend, Joey, used to run Union City until he handed the keys over to a mysterious Council that takes care of everything now. There are lots of references and statues to Joey in and around Union City and most people talk about him with a sort of reverence bordering on religion. The Council has members in charge of different things for the city, like the Minister of Well Being, The Minister of Comfort, etc. Something is obviously ‘off’ with this, and you will eventually unravel the secrets.

The Council uses a system called Qdos to track and control the citizens of Union City. Qdos tracks everything they do; their happiness, comfort, charitable actions, etc, and determines their status or standing, in the city. The higher your Qdos, the higher your standing. Your status determines the types of jobs you can have and what places you are allowed to access in the city, an obvious class system. All Qdos can be accessed through the aforementioned brooch that all citizens wear. The system is fascinating, and the game could have spent more time exploring it, but it is simply something you refer to while moving through the story.

Foster must gather information from dialogue choices you make while having conversations with a multitude of characters. There are numerous options to each conversation, and although Foster can end conversations at any time, I would recommend you explore and exhaust all questions to get as much info as you can. One negative to the story writing in this regard is that sometimes multiple questions will give you the same information. The info you gather determines where you need to go next and helps you solve the puzzles that you use to navigate your way through Union City. At points you feel like your choices matter, and at other times it doesn’t seem to make a difference as long as you eventually get to the location it needs you to get to. The destination, not the journey, matters. The story is engaging and you’ll never really forget what you are doing. While the story is rather linear, it isn’t boring and there was a moment where I literally said ‘what?!’ out loud. A twist I didn’t see coming, but I won’t spoil any of the story here.

The characters in Beyond are well written and diverse. There is a little something for everyone; a dramatic teenager, a poetry loving robot, a smelly truck driver, even a strange underground tech guy. There will likely be a character that resonates with you. Most actors do a great job with the well written script, and the accents and voice acting make the game feel authentic and even wholesome at times. Most of the game's humour comes from these additional characters you meet, but they are merely moments in passing. You don’t get enough time to explore them or become too invested in them. In classic Charles Cecil style, there is lots of wit and charm in the writing. Revolution really does a fantastic job in the writing and voice acting. The game also boasts a fantastic soundtrack by Alistair Kerley.

Beyond looks like a graphic novel, and while it may not have the most striking visuals, the Cel-shading creates a wonderful background, especially when you get a wide shot of the city. I wanted a bit more when it came to the character models though as they often felt very cartoon like and a bit stiff. None of this really took me out of the game, I just wished it felt a bit more fluid and dynamic.

Puzzles are a staple of any adventure game, and Beyond a Steel Sky is no different. Foster will accumulate items as he moves through the city and this inventory is used in various ways for his solutions to situations. It could be as simple as bribing a man with a sandwich or using a crowbar to open a stuck door. Unfortunately, it became obvious that there weren’t a lot of options needed and the beloved crowbar was used a lot. I would have liked to see more variety. Foster also has the ability to ‘hack’ any machines, like androids, billboards, doors etc. Using his hacking device, he can swap the actions of each system and trick them into doing something they are not initially programmed to do. This isn’t just useable on one device at a time either, if multiple devices are in rage at the same time, he can swap choices between them as well. This way he can get machines to do things they wouldn’t normally do. This is a great way to access locations he shouldn’t be able to, or a way to distract onlookers to sneak by. It is a simple mechanic to master and doesn’t overwhelm, but eventually became a bit repetitive. If you ever get stuck on what to do next, there is always a hint menu built into the game that came in handy a few times for me. The hint system starts with just giving you a hint, then after a brief cooldown you can ask for another hint. Eventually it will walk you through step by step how to solve something. Some of the puzzles can be solved in various ways, meaning there are a variety of outcomes and dialogues you can encounter throughout your play time.

Beyond a Steel Sky feels like there are areas where it could be open world, but it is very straight forward, and you can play through in about 10-12 hrs. Subsequent playthroughs can be completed in about 3-4 hours once you know what you are doing.

Even without playing the predecessor of Beyond, I found myself engaged in the story and am interested in going back and finding the first one now. I think that’s a good sign for a game. While I’m not sure if it was worth the 27 year wait for the sequel, as I hadn’t played the first, it’s easy to recommend this game if you are interested in a laid back story driven game with puzzles. I enjoyed the narrative, and even with a few minor graphical bugs, I thought it looked and played great on the Series X.

**Beyond a Steel Sky was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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