Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky by Revolution Software (1994)

One interesting thing about the graphics is that most of the backgrounds use vanishing points that are well off the top of the screen. This allows the characters to walk around quite freely without scaling--an interesting design choice.
Another thing I noticed is just how short the game is. It can probably be beaten in 2-3 hours, but then again, so can most old adventure games nowadays.
It's also interesting to note the direction of the game's atmosphere. The story and themes itself are quite dark, but many of the character sprites and music tracks are comical in nature. I'm not sure if these two balancing acts are a good or bad thing.

What's wrong with this game
The Intro: it doesn't really explain what's happening. You are a prisoner being taken back from the wilderness when your helicopter crashes, but for all you know, it could've just been a joy ride by three happy-go-lucky mechanics on lunch break.
The Puzzle-Design:
2 instances (out of many) where the puzzle design fails -
1 - You are supposed to go inside this cathedral (but the game never tells you that, it's just one of those problems that you solve out of knowing it's a problem) blocked by a guard. So in order to do so you must:
- Take a videotape of a cat from a fat man's apartment.
- Tell a lady that you are the long lost son of her old friend (which is true by the way).
- Go up into her apartment since you now are friends.
- Use the cat video tape on their television in order to distract the dog.
- While the dog is distracted you must take a biscuit from his dish.
- Back outside when the dog is on a routine walk you must put the biscuit on a seesaw device.
- When the dog goes for the biscuit you must pull up the lever and launch him off the seesaw.
- This causes the lady to scream for help, so the guard comes to her rescue and you are free to go into the cathedral for which you have no reason of entering.
And that's all for distracting a guard, of which you have no real reason to do in the first place, nor even the logical incentive to complete any of those tasks above and connect them together.
2 - You need to get past an enemy android who is in the next room, so you must:
- Go below that room and loosen a grate.
- Repair your broken computer friend by inserting his data chip into a new robot shell.
- Tell this robot to open a tank of liquid which will create a mess.
- Now that the mess is there, enter the room with the enemy android.
- Since the enemy android sees that there is a pool of liquid on his closest route to your destruction, he decides to side-step that route into the loose grate that goes into a lava pit of doom.
Now, you had no idea of knowing that the mess of liquid would block the android's path, among other things.
Other Puzzle-Design Problems:
Unnecessary pixel hunts, in at least two locations.
Sudden deaths without any prior warning.
An increasingly linear middle section that uses seemingly unconnected puzzles to advance.
Doing many things without knowing why or how they help you reach your goal.
The Story Progression:
Not enough is explained at the beginning, and your goal changes from getting out of the city to saving it quite unknowingly.

In conclusion, Beneath A Steel Sky is an immersing game with some good ideas but fails to execute them into an enjoyable experience. The story as a whole is great, but its progression suffers somewhat. The game play has some good ideas with Joey and the computer world, but most of this is negated by other illogical puzzles.
Worth Playing? If you are a sucker for atmosphere, and can stand illogical puzzles.

Beneath a Steel Sky

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