Point-and-click adventures are about as old as mainstream gaming itself. From the early days of Maniac Mansion and Myst to the more modern titles such as The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange, adventure games have always been around in one way or another. While games such as Grim Fandango and The Secret of Monkey Island have definitely aged in a less than appreciable way gameplay-wise, I've always found the older entries in the genre to be worth playing solely due to the story and their often dry sense of humor. With more recent games in the genre I've felt that the need for a more "cinematic" and thought-provoking experience has ruined what made the classics...well...classic. Beyond A Steel Sky looks to take what was best from the golden era of the genre and brings it to 2020 with a fresh coat of paint and some pretty smart gameplay conventions.
What's Old Is New Again
Beyond A Steel Sky is a sequel to Beneath A Steel Sky, a 1994 MS-DOS point-and-click adventure, in which you play as Beyond A Steel Sky's main protagonist in a dystopian Australian future. While in most cases a 26-year gap between games would prove to be a problem, Beyond A Steel Sky sums the plot to its predecessor efficiently in the first few hours and I never felt like I was missing out by not playing the original. There are a few nods to Beneath A Steel Sky thought the game, but the main protagonist Robert tends to announce who was from the prior game and why they're important.
Visually Beyond A Steel Sky is pretty darn impressive depending on what platform you're playing it on. While the PC and Mac ports look good, they're not going to wow anybody with its visuals, but its when you play it on an iPhone or iPad where the games art direction and optimization truly shine. There were a few times where I noticed myself saying "wow" when entering a new environment due to the simple fact that I was playing a game of this quality on my Instagram machine. Beyond A Steel Sky's retro-future comic book art style really bring the game's world to life and hide the need for an overly detailed world. If you're a fan of Fallout or The Outer Worlds art direction then you'll definitely dig Beyond A Steel Sky's retro-future meets the corporate dystopian aesthetic.
For the most part, the plot is pretty bare-bones. Beyond A Steel Sky's world-building during its relatively short adventure makes up for the need for any sort of blockbuster narrative and its quirky sense of humor kept things fresh throughout its often time's hardcore gameplay conventions. That's not to say the story in Beyond A Steel Sky ever felt lacking. It's just a bit of a slow burn for the first hour or so and at times I was a bit disinterested until I made it past the city gates and the retro-future aesthetic was really allowed to shine and pull me into its bleak but goofy world.
The soundtrack and overall presentation of Beyond A Steel Sky are definitely what will keep you engaged and gives it the feeling of a AAA title from the golden era of point and click adventure games. There were times where I let the music play through my headphones and soaked up the world around my character and let my imagination run wild. Composer Alistair Kerley knocked it out of the park with the music in Beyond A Steel Sky, and I would go as far as to say that his work here is on par with some of gaming's best scores like Journey and The Last of Us and even movie scores by John Williams. If you don't play Beyond A Steel Sky but you're a fan of game music you definitely owe it to yourself to check out the tracks Gaplander, What have you done?, and Finalie.
Big Brain Energy
Beyond A Steel Sky is a game that really isn't going to hold your hand. That's not to say that it's brutally difficult or frustrating like some classic adventure games, it's just going to require a bit more logic and thinking to solve its puzzles and situations. Early on in the game, you're given the ability to hack terminals and various components. Unlike most games, the hacking isn't a simple connect the dots or maze puzzle, but instead, a logic-based "if this then that" concept. This is where Beyond A Steel Sky really shines. I often found myself walking up to panels trying to see if I could mess with their functions and see if I can change anything around me. There's a sense of accomplishment when solving one of Beyond A Steel Sky's often brutally obvious but difficult to figure out puzzles, but its the process of figuring out what I needed to do that made me want to stop playing more than not.
Difficulty in a game is definitely subjective, and while Beyond A Steel Sky does have a pretty intuitive hint system, I really wish it just gave me a little more of a hint when it came to starting its puzzles. Once you figure out what you need to do though, the game's puzzles take onto a life of their own and I really felt engaged in Beyond A Steel Sky's world. All that being said there are definite differences between the platform you choose to play Beyond A Steel Sky on.
PC vs iPad vs iOS
I played Beyond A Steel Sky on multiple platforms, iPhone, iPad, PC, and Mac, and the controls differ wildly between what platform you choose to play it on. For this review, most of my playthrough was on an iPhone 11 Pro and the touch controls were by far some of the most intuitive and easy to use for a third-person game. That's not to say there were a few spots where the touch controls failed and I had to shuffle around a bit to lock onto an environmental prompt. The iPad Pro with a magic keyboard was a different story entirely. Unfortunately Beyond A Steel Sky just doesn't control well with Apple's overpriced touchpad or a Bluetooth mouse. There were a few times I awkwardly ran into a wall and had to drag myself out of a corner to talk to somebody, other than that Beyond A Steel Sky looks astounding on the iPad Pro and unlike its iPhone counterpart, I rarely noticed any dropped frames or felt my iPad get too hot. The iPad port does have controller support and that's by far the best way to play Beyond A Steel Sky. So if you have the means, go with that.
The Mac and PC ports are by far the best way to play Beyond A Steel Sky. The game took full advantage of my iMac Pros hardware and it was a pretty great experience. Since the game was developed to be played on a phone, I noticed that paring Beyond A Steel Sky with a controller was the most comfortable and engaging way to play. Mouse and keyboard are better on the computer ports and the overall graphic fidelity was higher than the iPhone version, there was something more "magical" about playing a game of this caliber on the small screen. Throughout all my time on every platform I still found myself preferring the phone port. Mostly due to the games nature and being able to pick at it in short bursts wherever I was at the time.
Regardless of the platform, Beyond A Steel Sky did occasionally have some issues keeping a steady frame rate and I did experience the occasional progress stopping bug that required a reset. While this is acceptable on a phone game (since its a phone and all) It was annoying having to reset the PC/Mac port because somebody got stuck in some geometry. There's also an aspect ratio discrepancy between ports where it was displaying and outputting an ultra-wide 2:40 signal on the iPhone 11Pro and switching to 16:9 during cutscenes and some dialogue sections. This is definitely not an uncommon issue with the Apple Arcade ecosystem, but it was a bit jarring going from my phone to iMac Pro and realizing that I was missing the bottom few pixels of dialogue on my phone. It's not the biggest issue, but if you're the type who plays Apple Arcade games on multiple devices it worth knowing that there will be a slight aspect ratio discrepancy.
Beyond A Steel Sky Review | Final Thoughts
Beyond A Steel Sky isn't for everyone but by no means am I saying that Beyond A Steel Sky is anything but exceptional. While there were a few times I found myself getting frustrated at the games traditional point and click adventure roots, I also found myself loving Beyond A Steel Sky's creative world and its absolutely incredible musical composition. Once you get over the rather dry first hour or so you're in for what might be one of the best examples of an adventure game in the last few years and you'll find that Beyond A Steel Sky is definitely worth your time.
TechRaptor reviewed Beyond A Steel Sky via Apple Arcade on the iPhone, iPad Pro, OS X, and on PC with a code provided by the developer.
- Impressive visuals on iPhone
- Great writing and world building
- Exceptional soundtrack
- Controls can be wonky depending on platform
- Puzzles can be difficult