I have been an avid fan of the Adventure Game genre (or Point 'n Clicker) from as far back as when pirates ruled the sea, Neo Templars conspired in the shadows, and evil tentacles sought world domination. However, in my ignorant youth, I somehow managed to miss this particular gem. Thank God it was released as freeware and is available on SCUMMVM, eh?
Beneath a Steel Sky is a point-and-click science fiction thriller set in a bleak vision of the future. You play as Robert Foster, an outlander from the bush who finds himself trapped in a dark dystopia where the corrupt nobles dwell in the lavish underground while the plebes toil and work in the polluted towering heights. You must guide Foster and his robotic companion Joey through this vast city while uncovering the sinister truth behind his past and the infamous system known as L.I.N.C.
The first thing that caught my eye when playing this game was the visual aesthetics. Well known comic book artist David Gibbons (Watchmen) worked largely on the design and graphics of this game, creating a Cyberpunk world that feels both threatening and alive. Despite the game's age (released in 1993) I couldn't help but gawk appreciatively at the superbly drawn background art. When traversing the different levels, I found the contrast of the high rise slums and the wealthy bowels of the city to be done quite well.
The second thing that warmed me to this title was the characters. Despite being such a morbid game (especially as you progress later on) there is some excellent humor found through the interactions with the characters. At first, this humor is largely provided by your robotic chum Joey, who indulges you with his witty cynicism and brash comments. There is also an eclectic mixture of personalities for you to converse with. The great voice acting helped to flesh these characters out nicely and as a result, none of the NPCs feel uninspired or off the assembly line.
What about the puzzles? You will definitely encounter some difficult and well thought out ones in this game. If you're like me, you will groan in anguish more than once after you realize you had missed something blazingly obvious. But it isn't horrendously difficult; it's manageable and adds to the game's longevity. Though I admit there were times where I had wished that I could just figure out the puzzle so I could see what unfolds next in the engaging storyline. There is also the nice feature of solving puzzles in Cyberspace, though they're not as difficult as the real world.
This game highly deserves to be played and played again. Even if you are not acquainted with the point-and-click genre, it's a great way to start. For any die-hard adventure gamers, prepare to immerse your self in the enchantingly dark world of Beneath a Steel Sky. Be vigilant.
Note: The download is the Freeware CD version of the game. You also will need the latest version of ScummVm to run this game.