It’s not often we've had to wait a quarter of a century for the sequel to a game, but then the last 25 years has just flown by. Back in 1994, Tarantino had a new film out, The Lion King was also in cinemas, Friends was on the telly and… hang on, maybe not too much has changed there. When it comes to games, though, things have moved on massively in two-score and five Christmasses.
The 1994 game Beneath A Steel Sky was a 2D point-and-click cyberpunk adventure on MS-DOS and Amiga, by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons and game development legend Charles Cecil. But while these days we may have more sophisticated gaming hardware and an appetite for open worlds, that doesn’t mean the spirit of a point-and-click adventure like Beneath A Steel Sky can't be reimagined for 2019.
Events in the original took place in a post-apocalyptic future, in the cyberpunk settlement of Union City. You played one Robert Foster, a young boy who, with the help of his sentient robot companion Joey, would eventually right the wrongs of the cyberpunk city. Now Foster, grown up and sporting a grizzled 'wasteland warrior' look, returns to find Union City may not quite be as nice a place as when he left it under the control of a 'benevolent' AI. The machine has, in fact, taken things a little too literally, and Union City is now something of a controlling, 1984-style society.
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For Cecil, Beyond A Steel Sky is a welcome return to a world that’s familiar yet still thrilling to him. "It's hard writing a new game, particularly an adventure game," he says. "There are a gazillion games but almost all of them have a repeated gameplay loop, which gets harder, and that's fine. But we're writing games where as the narrative changes, the spirit of the puzzles changes and it's quite reassuring to come back to a game where you know the main characters, their motivations, and the world. Because focusing on innovative gameplay [as well as] creating a new world and new characters would be such a big undertaking, so it's really reassuring to come back to a game we know. And it’s great to be back working with Dave Gibbons."
The game's look has Gibbons' art style all over it, and it has a lovely comic book feel. The game is again powered by Revolution's concept of Virtual Theatre, the engine used in the original and that enabled the team to create an important sense of ongoing on-screen drama. NPCs wander around the city, in need of your help; lending them a hand will contrive a way to open up a new area, or advance something plot-wise.
Outside the city, at the start of the game, Foster meets a truck driver who's broken down and needs a battery to get moving again. We find the kind of battery we need powering a droid, which seems to be in charge of scrap disposal. Since he helped install it, Foster is able to hack the city's AI system, 'LINC', and subvert its functions to his requirements. In this case, he is able to manipulate the conveyor belts and magnets the droid's using in order to incapacitate it, and get its battery.
"There are some fans that say, we want this to be point-and-click," notes Cecil. "What we’ve got to do is convince them that we can convey the spirit of a point-and-click adventure, that actually, through our 3D, we can do the Virtual Theatre in a way that’s so much more dynamic than we can ever do it in a point-and-click."
In many ways then, Beyond A Steel Sky feels like the culmination of 30 years of work for Revolution. This game – which is still yet to be officially dated – is the studio's next attempt to refresh the adventure genre; we love everything that we have seen of it so far, and so only time will tell if it will have the same impact as its glorious predecessor.