Technology has always been a double-edged sword. We can communicate with each other more easily than ever these days, but our communication is now less personal, and computers – devices that have enabled so many peaceful endeavors – were originally designed and enhanced for military purposes. Revolution’s Beneath a Steel Sky is a game originally released fifteen years ago that offers a warning on what happens to a society that becomes overly reliant on technology. Funnily enough, it is our own advancements in handheld devices that make it possible to play this classic game anywhere from airplanes to parks to subway trains. A new “Remastered” edition of BASS has now been released for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and while the controls are slightly quirky (there’s that double-edged sword again), the classic appeal of this oldie but goodie shines through even in the new millennium.
Beneath a Steel Sky is the story of an adult orphan named Robert Foster and his robot sidekick, Joey. Robert lives in a post apocalyptic-style Australia where cities have become isolated city-states and the barren, dangerous wasteland between them is referred to collectively as “The Gap”. The Gap is where Robert has spent most of his life up to this point, being the only survivor of a helicopter crash outside the city walls as a child. Taken in by some friendly wastelanders, Robert built Joey out of spare parts and has lived a life of peace until now. However, in the newly-revamped opening cinematic, Robert’s foster father details his vision of evil beneath the nearby city that he believes is coming for Robert! As if to punctuate this portent, helicopters immediately land, kidnap Robert and Joey, and heartlessly kill everyone else. Robert is unwillingly flown back to the city, where his bad luck with helicopters acts up again (or is it good luck in this case?). The transport crashes, Robert escapes with Joey’s circuit board, and finds himself trapped in a strange and often hostile city many stories above the ground. Now the pair face the daunting task of escaping back to the Gap, along with finding out why Robert was kidnapped in the first place.
Since the game itself is essentially the same as the PC original, you can read our review of that version for detailed analysis of the story and gameplay. Revolution knew enough not to mess with a good thing in an enduring classic, so the main highlights here will focus on how well it’s been ported to the smaller, much different platform.
The basic point-and-click interface actually remains fairly traditional, with hotspots on each screen that can be examined or manipulated. Robert can pick up items to use in his environments or try combining with other objects, and characters he comes across can be talked to. The key difference is that the controls are now all touch-screen based. Press your finger on the screen and any nearby hotspots will be indicated with pulsing blue circles. Release the screen over one of these circles and any available interactions will appear to examine, interact, and talk to accordingly. Touching one of these will make Robert perform the appropriate action on that hotspot. It’s an intuitive system, but there are some minor hiccups; often the device thinks you’ve touched outside the icon, which makes them disappear rather than activate the one you want. It takes no time at all to try again, however, and none of the puzzles rely on fast reflexes. Just don’t be surprised if once in a while you need to try using the same hotspot more than once to get it to work.
Accessing inventory is equally simple. There’s a permanent icon in the lower left corner, and selecting this displays Robert’s possessions. You can tap one for a quick description, or hold your finger on it for a second or two to “pick it up”. The object’s icon will then be draggable and appear above your finger on the touch-screen. Simply release it over the hotspot you wish to use it on and Robert will take it from there, either using the item appropriately or shrugging his shoulders if you’re on the wrong track. Using one object on another in your inventory works much the same way, by dragging the first item over the one you wish to combine it with.
Conversation remains easy as well. After starting one with a character, your written dialogue options will appear on the screen. Simply click the one you like and listen to the result. And “listen” is meant literally here, as the game includes all the original voice acting and music. The vocal performances and characters hold up strongly after all these years, nicely supported by the remastered sound in this version. The only unfortunate issue is at one point in the game when almost an entire conversation has subtitles that don’t match the voices at all. I don’t remember if this was an issue with the original as well, but it seems odd it hasn’t been fixed either way, since the mixup is impossible to miss if you have both voices and subtitles enabled. As with the general interface, you’ll find some button pressing blemishes along the way, but accidentally clicking on the wrong dialogue option causes only a minor inconvenience in most cases.Continued on the next page...