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Beneath a Steel Sky

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1994). Revolution Software. Designed by Charles Cecil, Dave Cummins, Dave Gibbons, Daniel Marchant. Platforms: Amiga, CD32, DOS (1994); Win (2008); iOS (2009).

Beneath a Steel Sky is a graphical Adventure game using a point and click interface, which takes place in a Dystopian future Australia. The setting is a grimy, run down megalopolis ruled by a totalitarian computer, where the rich live on the pleasantly arranged surface and the poor inhabit teeming levels of machinery in the sky. The Dystopian elements have something of an old fashioned feel, somewhat reminiscent of the film Brazil (1985); it is characteristic that the game's version of Cyberspace exists inside a single giant mainframe computer. The player character, Robert Foster, is a native of the city who was involved in an aeroplane crash in the Outback when young and was adopted by a group of aborigines. The game begins after the now adult Foster has been kidnapped by the city's brutal police and escaped from their custody following another aircraft crash. Trapped in the city, Foster must uncover the secret of his true identity and, it is assumed, take revenge for the mass murder of the tribe which adopted him. Ultimately it emerges that the city's ruling computer has been guiding his progress through the linear narrative (see Interactive Narrative) in order to acquire his services as an organic component of its core processor. Foster's father is revealed to have been the man who designed the computer, and whose brain was incorporated into its workings; his subconscious desires may be partially responsible for its authoritarian savagery. After confronting his father in the person of the computer, Foster can free his actual father from its embrace, replacing him with the brain of his faithful Robot companion. Foster's father then dies, leaving both his son and his city to their new-found freedom.

Technological progress allowed Beneath a Steel Sky to successfully adopt a less cartoon like art style than most earlier graphical Adventures, in keeping with its serious tone. However, the often humorous puzzle solutions and conversational byplay can seem more suited to a comedy game such as Maniac Mansion (1987), a contrast which creates some jarring shifts in mood. Nevertheless, Beneath a Steel Sky's menacing atmosphere and impressively dynamic world, inhabited by scores of computer controlled characters with their own personal agendas, make it a novel and interesting game. It has been made freely available as a download for ScummVM, an open source project which reproduces the software used for many popular but now commercially unavailable graphical Adventures. [NT]


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