Have you heard? Adventure games are back in fashion. In recent years, thoughtfully paced narrative-driven titles like The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain have revived interest in a genre that seemed to have all but died off in favour of twitchy shooters and action-focussed RPGs.
Back in the 1980s and 90s, however, point-and-click adventures enjoyed a central position in the video gaming market. Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, Maniac Mansion, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, The Secret of Monkey Island – all examples of beloved and successful adventure games that, for a time, dominated gaming on the likes of the MS DOS PC, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST.
Beneath a Steel Sky was – and is – among the best examples of the genre. Released in 1994, this science fiction adventure cost an astounding (for the time) £40,000 (S$84,120) to develop. And thanks to Good Old Games, you can play the entire thing for free on PC or Mac (there’s also a “remastered” iPhone version, with new graphics and improved audio, for S$3.98).
Quirky humour and death round every corner
Beneath a Steel Sky was created by British developer Charles Cecil’s Revolution Software. Cecil had already developed one successful point-and-click adventure (1992’s Lure of the Temptress) and for his second he forged a creative partnership with legendary comic artist Dave Gibbons (best known for Watchmen). The result was a comic-book style cyberpunk adventure that manages to be sinister and humorous – and unmistakably British in that humour.
Set in a dystopian, post-nuclear war Australia, the game sees protagonist Robert Foster (named after the lager) abducted from his outback tribe and stranded in Union City, a giant pollution-choked megalopolis controlled by an all-powerful and malignant computer called LINC.
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Play it before the sequel arrives
As Robert and his robot companion Joey progress through the game, you’ll solve a series of puzzles (classic point-and-click stuff, but well-balanced so as not to be overly tricky), explore the vast city, meet a cast of intriguing and colourful characters and solve the mystery behind Robert’s childhood as well as his relationship with LINC.
Even 20 years on, Beneath a Steel Sky is compelling, diverting stuff, and with a sequel in the offing (Charles Cecil has spoken of developing that once his current adventure game, Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse, is finished), there’s never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with it – or to play it for the first time.