Review by Lewis B
Beneath A Steel Sky: Remastered
Developer: Revolution Software
Publisher: Revolution Software/Apple
Released: 23rd September 2009 (App Store)
Available for: iPhone and iPod Touch
Time Played: Finished
Verdict: 4/5 Thumbs Up
Revolution Software really have set a precedent on the iPhone for adventures games. Beneath A Steel Sky: Remastered has a wonderful control scheme, fantastic dialogue, challenging puzzles and all for a fabulous price tag. Anyone who owns an iPhone who doesn’t own this game, is someone not worth talking to…
It’s been quite some time since I played a point and click adventure game. Broken Sword was the last (again by Revolution Software), which by my estimations makes it around a fourteen year break. So I find it quite surprising then that I have actually purchased another, and not a new game, but one which was originally released in 1994.
When myself, Gregg, and our Mum used to sit down to play Beneath A Steel Sky (BASS) on the Amiga, the game was on over 12 floppy-disks. Often, after the numerous disk changes and exhausting loading screens, before the game had even started, my Mum would have fallen asleep through sheer lethargy at the sound of the Amiga chirping and clunking away. While we (myself and Gregg) never finished the Amiga version; a culmination of wanting to ensure our Mum played it with us and its difficulty. I have always had a fondness for the game however, and in part I suspect games and films such as BASS and Blade Runner were the catalyst for mine and Gregg’s love of stories that paint a picture of a bleak future.
Thankfully times have changed significantly, and floppy-disks and long loading times are now a thing of the past. A quick search on the App store and you will be struck by the fact that the game is only £1.79. That’s right, £1.79 for a re-mastered original classic which according to the developers “boasts of over ten hours of narrative puzzles”. It would be hard for many to say no to such a price and a tragedy if they do. It’s a steel after all (sorry).
You will need a Wi-Fi connection to install BASS, as the game is over 350MB, however the installation is entirely pain free once your connected. Played in portrait mode, the menu is clean, crisp and responsive. Still terribly voice-acted, the cut-scenes have thankfully had a visual face lift, with vibrant new animated scenes added from Dave Gibbons (famed for Watchmen). As the story unfolds (I won’t spoil it here) you find yourself taken from “the Gap”, to return back to Union City. The game begins with Security Services trying to track you down as you make your escape.
BASS as a result of the iPhone’s touch interface adopts a less conventional exploration method. You can touch anywhere on the screen to move, while large gray arrows that highlight accessible routes off screen appear should you tap near them. Objects of interest which can be interacted with are highlighted by an animated blue ring when you tap in their vicinity, and by selecting the blue ring directly it will give you the option to use, or examine (displayed as the image of an eye, or a set of cogs). Talking to characters within the game is much the same as interacting with other objects; tapping a character will highlight a pair of lips above their head, that can then be selected to begin a conversation.
Opening your inventory from the chest in the bottom left hand corner, allows you to tap an object once to examine what you are holding, or holding down on the item will allow you to drag it onto the screen to interact with another object of your choosing. Dragging one item onto another within your inventory may result in both becoming something new. Its all simple and highly effective, and prevents those moments of years gone by pixel hunting. At first though it can all seem very fiddly using your finger, instead of the pinpoint accuracy of a mouse cursor, however after several minutes you’ll soon realise how perfect it actually is, and wonder why more Revolution Software games aren’t on the iPhone.
The re-mastered audio tracks, musically and vocally, are of high quality considering the age of the original recordings, and particularly good for a hand held device; it certainly benefits from using headphones. The entire game being voice acted is also a pleasant surprise and wasn’t part of the game when I first played all those many years ago. The dialogue, like many adventure games is often sarcastic and witty, but with some great humor. It can also be skipped should you read quickly. Lamb is a particularly fantastic character, and I challenge anyone to not smile at him, or attempt to impersonate his northern accent.
In terms of the puzzles, I still found them tricky. Like all adventure games, the puzzles are often painfully simple in design, yet challenging enough to justify the ten hour play time. I make no boasts of being good at adventure games, so others may find the game easy; it would be hard for me to quantify. One particular puzzle did have me vexed for quite some time though.
Revolution Software have added a context sensitive hint system indicated by a large blue question-mark in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Dependent on the puzzle you are to undertake, it will give you several small hints in succession to lead you to its conclusion- so you can get as much or as little help as you need. Shamefully I did have to use one hint throughout the game, and I fear if I hadn’t my iPhone would have gone through the window. No doubt like many others, I was very grateful for this addition, as I would have only looked on the internet anyway, and because of the nature of its hints I never felt too guilty.
What also sets BASS apart is the interaction between you and your robot sidekick Joey, who trundles behind you at all times. Unlike other adventure games which are often solitary affairs, speaking to, and interacting with Joey can and will often help in many puzzles throughout the game. It can at times however feel like painting by numbers. Exhausting every conversation tree with every character is often the answer to far too many puzzles.
Despite the story not being hugely in-depth, it is enjoyable, but can often be forgotten due to the stop start nature of handheld play. Pausing the game to continue at a later date as you get off the bus, or return to work from your lunch break can leave you wondering what puzzle you were on, should you pick up the game several days later. However, the hint system is always there to give a guiding hand if you can’t remember what your supposed to be doing. An in game diary of the story-so-far would have been much appreciated though.
After completing BASS, the game took me a little over eleven hours to complete, which for £1.79 is bloody good value. I thoroughly enjoyed the game from start to finish, with the graphics and animations a particular draw (they are still very impressive) and despite several puzzles causing problems, I didn’t think the game was actually difficult enough.
Revolution Software really have set a precedent on the iPhone for adventures games, and it is certainly a market which the device could excel in, and one which deserves to be exploited. The tap function to move, and investigate is a dream to use, and I hear has been put to equally brilliant use in Broken Sword: Directors Cut which has finally arrived at the App Store. With the added extra’s (including a new concluding cutscene that hints at a sequel), the ability to play the game on the move, and for the handsome price tag of £1.79 (including a pain free, PC free installation process) anyone who owns an iPhone who doesn’t own this game is someone not worth talking to. Well, maybe.
You can view the opening footage of Beneath A Steel Sky: Remastered, including the first puzzle here
Nice review Lewis, although I have a couple of questions:
1.) Have Revolution Software set a precedent on the iPhone for adventure games?
2.) Does it come at a handsome price of £1.79?
3.) Does the game include a pain free, PC free installation process?
4.) Am I worth talking to if I don’t own this game?
Many thanks.. 😉
Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. Oh and no, I’m not bloody talking to you mathew. You still haven’t bought it despite my moaning! Its £1.79!!!!
No internal emails for you tomorrow! and finish Broken Sword!! 🙂
Nice review, Lewis! I’ve been meaning to grab this for months and keep forgetting/getting distracted by other shiny things on my iPhone – like FingerPiano and RockBand – this will be my next download. I promise! 😀
What a great review, Lewis. I remember when the original came out – I was still in college and working at an Electronics Boutique (later to become EBGames). I liked the box art, but was too preoccupied with Arena and Wing Commander 3 to give it a try.
The iPhone/iTouch is going to mean a massive resurgence for adventure games of the classic style. You heard it here first.
God, I was playing the first Broken Sword last November (on my evil WIN98 PC) and got stuck about halfway through. Revolution adventure games are not easy.
I don’t even HAVE an iPhone so I will go back to my corner.
Great review, Lewis!
That’s good, thanks for answering my questions, although can you please make such issues more obvious in your review next time? I think they’re important questions but readers might miss the two times they’re mentioned there.
I’m confused mat? The opening paragraph is intended to be a snap shot from the article? I wasn’t aware it was a problem? 🙁
@ Mike, I’m currently writing a review for Broken Sword, the Directors Cut, so watch this space 🙂
Hey, for anyone who doesn’t have an iPhone, BASS is available for free on GOG.com.
I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of Beneath a Steel Sky until sighting it there; I was playing more mainstream adventure games at the time of its release. I have played a bit of the game; I rebuilt my snarky robot pal, and all he really seems to do is make fun of this Foster sap. Still, it does look like a classic that I missed, and I should spend some time with it. Maybe when TLJ is done…
Is it the remastered version Xtal? Not that the differences are huge of course! I really would recommend people seek it out, although I can’t promise you’ll find it easy. Be prepared to get stuck at times, like all good adventure games 🙂
@Steerpike: Me and mrlipid briefly spoke about this on your SEGA is Sad Panda article a while ago. I think that the success of the casual gaming scene has brought new demographics into the industry, ones that were perhaps not around when the AG genre was at its peak. As a result these AGs, whether it’s Professor Layton on the DS, Sam and Max on the Wii, Monkey Island on the Xbox or Beneath a Steel Sky on the iPhone/iPod touch, are becoming popular again, and in my book that is a great thing because my mum can be happy once again.
Also, I thought the cover artwork for BASS was amazing as well.
Electronics Boutique was where me and my brother used to go for our games. I remember paying 50 Great British Pounds for Resident Evil 2 there once. And thank god it was once. That was the most I’ve ever payed for a game.
@Lew: I think your sarcasm detector is broken today! Also, the version on GoG will be the free version released by Revolution a few years back. It’s the version I finished at Barlborough.
@Mike: For shame, neither do I. I’d like one just for the games.
@xtal: TLJ! Now I really need to get round to that, I bought it a few months ago on GoG with Sanitarium. Super cheap.
I think that’s enough ‘@’s for today.
I was very much pulling your plonker, Liza Burnelli! Don’t worry. Lovely review but I just found it amusing that some of the lines from your opening paragraph are exactly the same as some from the last. If intended, not to worry!
Ooh, I noticed Sanitarium is available on GOG; I’ve contemplated buying it. My memories of the demo I played back so many years ago from a PCG disc are fond ones. To be honest all I remember is a guy named Lenny, and some dude dropping his drawers and falling to his death. I sorely need to revisit good adventure games, as most of my adulthood has been spent playing RPGs and shooters. After the Golden Age/Lucasarts mid-1990s era I pretty much gave up on adventure gaming. I was perverted by the likes of Warcraft, Diablo, and Worms.
xtal, play Sanitarium. You will not be sorry.
Haunted, perhaps, but not sorry.
@ Xtal, be prepared to be perverted by Diablo again when the new one launches 😉 Check out Penumbra, thats technically an adventure game 😉
@ Gregg, £50 for a videogame when we were kids. We must have been bloody mad! I remember the N64 prices being rediculous though, £60+ sometimes. I can’t actually remember the cover art for BASS though. I just remember all the disks.
@ Lewis, Believe you me, I am TOTALLY prepared for Diablo 3 to ruin my life! (much like Diablo 2 did– 10 years ago!!!–)
And re: Penumbra, I think I read a review of it here. Penumbra: Overture, was it? Maybe when my list whittles down; who the hell am I kidding, that will probably never happen.
Off Topic, I can’t wait for Diablo 3 either. We can dungeon together like real geeks! 😀
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