Beneath a Steel Sky is a 1994 point-and-click adventure game developed by Revolution Software Ltd. and originally published by Virgin Interactive. It was a creative collaboration between Charles Cecil, a game designer who would later create the concept for the Broken Sword franchise, and Dave Gibbons, an acclaimed comic book artist best known for illustrating the seminal superhero graphic novel Watchmen.
The game stars protagonist Robert Foster, a tribal survivalist and technological prodigy who was orphaned and raised in a post-World-War-III Australian Outback, and his sarcastic robotic companion Joey. The setting and concepts of Beneath a Steel Sky address concerns about heavily-urbanized society and the threats posed by humanity's over-reliance on technology, consumer capitalism, and government surveillance. Beneath a Steel Sky's introductory sequence was packed-in as a comic book with certain editions of the game.
Beneath a Steel Sky is a traditional point-and-click adventure game. Gameplay is similar to LucasArts adventure games of the era and primarily consists of navigating dialogue trees and solving inventory-based puzzles. However, there are certain sequences in which the protagonist may be killed or receive a "bad" ending, requiring players to load a saved game. Players choose Foster's responses during conversations and may question non-player characters about events related to the story and its characters, as well as Foster's own personal background. Foster's robotic pal Joey is also present throughout most of the game, providing color commentary and playing a key role in solving certain puzzles. The CD-ROM release of Beneath a Steel Sky includes full voice acting for all character dialogue.
The game's world is largely non-linear and players must explore their surroundings thoroughly for key items and clues about their next destination. At one point in the game, the player also gains access to an abstract cyberspace world that must be navigated to make progress.
The game is set in a future dystopic version of Australia where players assume the role of a plucky tribal-turned-fugitive named Robert Foster. As a young boy, Robert was the sole survivor of a helicopter crash that killed his mother and left him orphaned before being discovered by a tribe of scavengers, who raised Robert as one of their own in "The Gap", an area comprised of the modern-day Australian Outback. His adoptive tribe only knew Robert by his first name, but they eventually gave him his new surname of "Foster" in reference to an empty can of Foster's Lager found near his plane's crash site. Foster learns basic survival skills under the tribe's guidance and demonstrates an incredible affinity for engineering and electronics, which he uses to construct "Joey": an AI companion stored on a small circuit board that can be swapped between robotic shells.
One night, the tribe elder prophecies about a terrible evil emanating from deep beneath Union City and headed for their tribe's makeshift village. A heavily-armed helicopter suddenly arrives in The Gap and immediately attacks Foster's defenseless tribe before landing to deploy a team of soldiers from Union City. Joey's chassis is also severely damaged during the attack, forcing Foster to eject and store Joey's main circuit board for safekeeping. The soldiers begin searching specifically for Foster, claiming to want to return him to his original home. When the team's Commander Reich threatens to massacre the entire village unless he is found, Foster turns himself over to Reich's custody; however, as they depart The Gap, Reich's team detonates a large explosive that obliterates the scavengers' settlement as Foster watches in horror. Restrained by Reich's guards, a grieving Foster can only bide his time and wait for an opportunity to escape and exact his vengeance.
While en route to Union City central command, the helicopter's pilot loses navigational control, forcing the vehicle down somewhere among the cityscape's dizzying skyscrapers. After crash-landing onto an elevated city street, Foster makes a narrow escape from Reich's soldiers and finds a new robotic chassis for Joey, but Reich soon corners Foster near an industrial furnace and calls him by the unfamiliar name "Overmann". When Reich threatens Foster with a pistol, he is instantly disarmed and killed by a security turret embedded in a nearby wall.
Using Reich's ID card, Foster begins investigating the reasons behind his capture and the connection to the helicopter crash that left him an orphan. He quickly finds Union City to be an urban dystopia; the sprawling metropolis is completely controlled by a centralized computer known as LINC and a legion of secret police, as well as a nightmarish justice system mired in bureaucracy. Although offering modern comforts such as advanced medical technology and automated labor, Union City's government does not recognize basic human rights for many of its citizens, with harsh distinctions between the upper and lower classes. Citizens that have been stripped of any privileges due to inappropriate behavior are known as "D-LINCs", and are subject to terrible working conditions and restricted movement inside the city with little hope for a reprieve.
Foster also meets Anita, a D-LINC citizen and resistance sympathizer working in a pipe factory. She informs Foster of a plan devised by agents of nearby Hobart City to disable the rampant growth of LINC's biological components with a virus. Unfortunately, Anita is killed before she can deploy the virus; Foster later discovers a message file left for him by Anita, imploring him to complete her mission. Foster eventually obtains the virus in LINC-SPACE and, after discovering a large complex of tunnels deep beneath the city, infects LINC's systems with the virus. Joey also gains an advanced android shell inside the complex, remarking on how vulnerable he feels in his new humanoid form. However, before Foster can reach LINC's core control interface, he is confronted by a pair of deadly security androids which he barely manages to dispatch with Joey's assistance.
Foster and Joey finally reach LINC's core only to discover Foster's father, Dr. Richard Overmann, physically integrated into the computer by a mass of organic tendrils. Richard explains how he became the project leader responsible for developing and constructing LINC twenty years ago, willingly fusing himself with the system in order to achieve the perfect union of man and machine. However, LINC soon grew beyond Overmann's control; it murdered the remainder of Union City's administrative council and established itself as the city's supreme ruler. Robert's mother Maria fled from Union City with her child after she realized the threat posed by LINC's absolute power. Union City security forces learned of Maria's plans to return to her original home in Hobart City and sabotaged her transport, causing the fateful crash that led to Robert's upbringing in The Gap.
LINC now requires a new biologically-compatible human to interface with, as Overmann is near death; this was the reason Foster was forcibly brought to Union City at the beginning of the game, as well as why Reich was killed after threatening Foster. A regretful Overmann dies in Foster's arms, claiming that Robert was the only reason he clung to life for twenty long years. In order to save Foster from a lifetime of torment as LINC's new host, Joey uses his new humanoid robotic shell to interface with LINC instead, thus providing an ideal synthetic host for LINC and restoring Union City's basic administrative functions. As the citizens begin to relearn their city's computer system and take responsibility for their own lives again, a grateful Foster and Joey say their goodbyes before Foster returns to The Gap to seek out his next adventure.
Re-releases & Remake
Beneath a Steel Sky is currently available for download from the ScummVM homepage or from GoG.com. The game also came free with the Broken Sword trilogy box set released in the United Kingdom on 14 December 2007.
Released on 23 September 2009 for the price of $2.99, Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered is an updated port of the original game for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The game remains almost entirely the same, except for improved sound and voice acting, all new animated sequences (which are drawn by the game's original artist, Dave Gibbons), and a help system that the player can take advantage of at any time. Naturally, the game supports touch control, allowing players to slide their fingers over objects to see whether or not it is interactive.
- One of the lockers in the security building has the name "Lovecraft" on it, in reference to early 20th century horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.