By Marty Mulrooney
Beyond a Steel Sky is a story-driven adventure game originally released on Apple Arcade and PC in 2020, which Alternative Magazine Online’s review described as “a refreshing throwback that feels thoroughly modern and should be experienced by any self-respecting fan of the genre.” A sequel to the 1994 cult classic Beneath a Steel Sky, this follow-up – which is set 10 years later, with Robert Foster returning to Union City to track down a kidnapped child – was recently released on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox consoles and Nintendo Switch.
When Beyond a Steel Sky launched on PC (please see AMO’s original review here), it was a wonderful adventure unfortunately marred by some slight – but noticeable – technical issues. However, never a studio to rest on its laurels, Revolution Software spent the months following release continually patching and improving the game, as well as adding new features such as an in-depth director’s commentary.
All of these improvements served to continually increase immersion and allow Beyond a Steel Sky to truly shine; after all, when a game has art direction and sound design as accomplished as this, you want to be distracted by the underlying technology as little as possible. Another benefit of these comprehensive patches? The console version has arrived in fabulous shape!
The PlayStation 5 version of Beyond a Steel Sky is a rock-solid port and a delightful surprise; Revolution Software didn’t originally plan to make a native version for the console (as it is backwards compatible with PlayStation 4 games) but later changed its mind. A free upgrade for the PlayStation 4 version will also be offered from the 23rd December – today!
According to the studio’s most recent newsletter, the native PlayStation 5 version offers 4K resolution, a bonus 60fps mode, dynamic lighting effects, more geometry and a new renderer. What this means in practical terms is that the game looks, sounds and plays great on 4K televisions.
By default, the game runs at 30fps with ‘high’ textures. For a more action-packed game, this lower framerate might have been an issue – but it works great with the narrative-heavy, slow-paced investigative nature of Robert Foster’s latest trip to Union City.
Switching the game to 60fps makes everything feel incredibly smooth, with the caveat that the textures will be set to ‘low’. However, testing this new mode still displayed a game that looked exceptionally good, so the chosen mode of play will ultimately boil down to individual player preference – this reviewer chose to stick with the default 30fps mode and ‘high’ textures.
So far, this review of the PlayStation 5 version has focused mostly on the technical aspects, as the actual content of the game is identical to the original PC release. Please check out Alternative Magazine Online’s review of the PC version for a more in-depth look at the game’s story and puzzles, and this lengthy interview with Charles Cecil for some insight into the making of the game and its underlying themes.
For those who didn’t play the PC release (and perhaps didn’t even play the original Beneath a Steel Sky), Beyond a Steel Sky is a science-fiction adventure that combines serious storytelling with a lighthearted touch. Players take control of Robert Foster, a ‘Gaplander’ from the Australian outback of the future who travels to the towering metropolis of Union City to track down a child kidnapped from his village.
The opening cutscene – a gorgeously animated comic book drawn by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame, who also provided art direction on the project – does a splendid job of recapping the events of Beneath a Steel Sky for returning fans and newcomers alike. After defeating the evil AI that controlled Union City in the original game, Foster left his robot pal Joey in charge with a clear directive: make the citizens happy.
Set 10 years later, the Union City that Foster returns to seems like paradise – but Joey is nowhere to be found, and there is something seriously wrong hidden just beneath the surface. As Foster, players will assume the identity of a dead man to gain access to the city, reunite with their old friend and uncover the sordid truth about this imperfect Utopia.
The dialogue and inventory-based puzzles are still a lot of fun (especially when using the hacking tool) and the new director’s commentary – which involves collecting floating ‘comic books’ within each environment to trigger audio diaries from the game’s creators – makes a replay even more appealing.
There is even a ‘Festive Cheer’ mode that makes Foster’s crowbar look like a candy cane and sprinkles Christmassy touches throughout the game. Be sure to keep an eye out for the slightly creepy Santa Claus when you first enter Union City!
Admittedly, there are still some slight niggles; for example, the NPC pathfinding can behave a bit erratically at times and the framing during conversations can sometimes feel slightly off. However, this is the best the game has ever looked, sounded or played and it feels right at home on next-gen consoles.
Over a year of polish has made a great game even better and Revolution Software obviously made the right decision keeping the porting process in-house. Beyond a Steel Sky on PlayStation 5 comes highly recommended to those who love old-school adventure games with a modern twist. Happy holidays from the Gap-Chaps!
9 OUT OF 10
Thank you for reading Alternative Magazine Online’s review of Beyond a Steel Sky on PlayStation 5! Don’t forget to check out my recent interview with Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil: