At the launch of the App Store, what immediately sprang to mind for many was just how well suited the platform would be for classic point and click adventure games. The Secret of Monkey Island, which launched previously this year, was met with much critical acclaim and was a personal favorite of mine. As the trend of porting these games of yesteryear continues, it is heartening to know that the developers of Beneath A Steel Sky were not satisfied with simply executing the easiest port possible. Rather, it is obvious that time was spent making the game well worth the price tag that is now attached to it. Beneath a Steel Sky is available for free on the PC, legally of course, and for that reason I will not focus all too much on the merits of the game itself but rather the specific qualities that make the iPhone version unique. Know that as far as point and click adventures go, Beneath a Steel Sky is widely regarded as a good if not great member of the genre. All of the content from the original is featured in the iPhone version, along with some special new touches.
Those unfamiliar with point and click adventure games should know that these kinds of games are often highly story driven with an emphasis on puzzle solving and dialogue. Beneath a Steel Sky focuses on one Robert Foster- who at the start of the game is ripped from his village and thrust into a futuristic corporate city with only his pal robot Joey and a thirst for revenge. Along the way the player is treated to an interesting story, accompanied by some functional and often cheesy dialogue. Beneath a Steel Sky’s story did not draw me in to the same degree that Secret of Monkey Island for iPhone did, but the game’s content still holds up well- even without the ever helpful support of nostalgia.
Upon picking up the iPhone version, I was interested to see if Beneath a Steel Sky had done anything to adjust to the change of hardware. Right off the bat I was glad to see that controls were fitted to work well on an iPhone. While placing one’s finger on the screen and dragging it about, all of the items that can be interacted with on the screen are highlighted in blue as one’s finger passes by. This seems like a sort of throw away feature, but not having to waste time clicking every pixel with my pointer finger in a game that is big on having plenty of interactive objects is a lifesaver. Cutscenes in the game have been animated and improved, and the sound has been touched up a bit. These are the changes that warrant the “remastered” attached to the title.
Where the game tried to go above and beyond a simple remastering is the addition of a hint system. Hardcore players may fume about a game that tries to reach out to players who don’t want to sit about using a wrench on every possible box, gear or robot in sight just to advance the story, but I was happy to see an adventure game that was willing to help the player out a bit. This is after all, an iPhone game and if my play habits are commonplace then it will be played in small ten minute intervals during which people generally do not want to be frustrated. The hint system is functional, but at times does not give the player a sense of direction that I felt was often missing. Since I do play my iPod in small bursts, I forgot what I was doing during one particular sequence and became hopelessly lost. Ultimately I had to consult a strategy guide because the hint system had nothing to offer to me at the moment; I will not share what scene but know that it was early on in the game and I am rather embarrassed that it stumped me at all.
Me getting stuck almost lead me to feel that perhaps these long winded PC experiences that everyone thought would work so nicely on the iPhone are perhaps not as well suited as we all assumed. If this were the case I suppose I would not have enjoyed Secret of Monkey Island so much, and I think ultimately the fact that I feel that BASS is a lesser experience on the iPhone is that it is not as well suited to that bite sized method of consumption. Sure, you can save anywhere and pick it up when you want, but the experience shines so much more when played at length on a PC. Beneath a Steel Sky, for me at least, demands much more attention than the standard iPhone romp and is difficult to play in the distracting environments where iPhone games are most often played.
Of course, I cannot fault the game for having a world that the player needs to pay attention to. All of the content in Beneath a Steel Sky is great, and it really is neat to be able to play it on the go. In the end, however; I have come to realize that playing BASS wherever I go is an experience that just doesn’t work out for me. Getting hung up on a puzzle right before lecture starts, missing a chunk of dialogue in front of the television, and trying to figure out what the heck I was doing when I last saved so that I can resume my story are all things that really conflict with how I play my iPhone games. Beneath a Steel Sky is a good game that everyone should play at some point but I cannot help but feel that the portable version is more of a novelty.
I have a hard time pushing people to purchase a copy of a game when the version I enjoy more is free, but the game still has merit and even more so for those who don’t have access or time for the PC version. For those at all curious, you can find the full original version for free online at sites such as Good old Games. If you find that you really enjoy the PC version it likely will be worth your while to buy the iPhone version at $2.99, just note that it cannot quite replace the experience of playing it on a PC.