The appearance of Beneath a Steel Sky on iPhone has created a paradox or two. Here we have a game that’s 15 years old but set in the future, featured on a device that wouldn’t look at all out of place in its own sci-fi setting. This updated edition features both remastered audio and a comic-book style introduction lifted straight from the original game’s manual. Beneath a Steel Sky fits the iPhone perfectly, with its point-and-click gameplay merging seamlessly with touchscreen controls for adventuring on the go.
Beneath a Steel Sky doesn’t let us down on any score and, in truth, seems just as relevant now as it did in 1994. Telling the story of a future repressed by corporations and wracked with smacks of fascism, you take on the role of Robert Foster, previously ostracized from city life after growing up in the wilderness (otherwise known as “the Gap”) but now back and on the run from the authorities.
Like all adventure titles, there’s a mystery or two afoot, and Beneath a Steel Sky has lost none of its charm over the years, managing to combine step-by-step puzzle solving with a sense of humor often omitted from modern games. Set in a beautifully animated 2D world, the game has you interact with the various objects scattered around the screen and talk to the game’s cast of characters to uncover clue after clue. The game’s endlessly witty script and fixation with folk absorbed in their own worlds sets it apart from the crowd.
But you have so much to live for!
Exploring this world involves slowly moving your finger around the screen. Objects you can interact with are marked off with blue circles, and tapping on them then allows you to either examine or use them. It’s also possible to combine anything in your own inventory with the game’s architecture, holding your finger down on the item and then dragging it to wherever you need it. It is, surprisingly, a very simple affair, the odd slip of your finger inevitable, but never fatal.
That’s because Beneath a Steel Sky is much more a case of thinking, rather than doing. Even the simplest of its puzzles can dominate you for a day if you let it. An early skirmish involving a wrench ate up the better part of our evening. Perhaps a sign of the times, this remastered edition does come with a tips system. The next goal is marked off in a menu, and a series of clues or directions is offered, without going into too much detail at first.
It’s a feature that might antagonize some of Steel Sky’s hardened fan-base, but one perfectly pitched at the iPhone generation. It also serves as the perfect example of how to bring an established classic to the App Store, enhancing, rather than altering, its original form.
Art by Dave Gibbons, co-creator of Watchmen.
Beneath a Steel Sky never stops feeling like a series of paradoxes, however. Though full of gadgets and gizmos that could only exist in a far-flung future, this is an adventure with plenty of subtle nods to troubles past. Yet despite a somewhat sober setting, it comes with a script full of laughs and lighter moments, even the most inconsequential of conversations raising a smile or hinting at each character’s own little universe.
These are traits that have, until now, seemed out of reach for many iPhone adventures. Beneath a Steel Sky somehow feels bigger and bolder than its rivals, raising the bar and highlighting what others have so far failed to achieve. Perfectly suited to its new home, Revolution’s remastering of an already established gem serves up point-and-click play nearly unmatched on the App Store. This is a story rich and layered throughout, gifting iPhone gamers with a trip back in time that feels like a grand step forward.