Apple Arcade: Beyond a Steel Sky is finally available to play

The long-awaited sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky shows that adventure games aren't dead.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
4 min read

What will Robert Foster find in Union City?

Revolution Software

This story is part of CNET's coverage of Apple Arcade, including exclusive first looks we got at some of the service's high-profile new games.

The much-anticipated Beyond a Steel Sky from Revolution Software has at long last joined Apple Arcade's library of over 120 games this week. First announced during the launch of Apple's $4.99-a-month mobile gaming subscription service, the sequel takes place 10 years after the events of 1994's Beneath a Steel Sky, which came to mobile in 2009. 

The original Beneath a Steel Sky is a much-loved classic, a cyberpunk science-fiction point-and-click adventure game, in which you play as Robert Foster, who is trying to survive in a dystopian future society. In the new sequel, Foster returns to Union City after learning a child has been abducted. 

Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil and comic book artist Dave Gibbons spoke with CNET about their teamwork on the new game. Gibbons -- perhaps best known as the artist behind the original Watchmen comics -- said the duo has come a long way from the pixelated sprite-like characters and hand-painted backgrounds of its predecessor. 

"It's a game that Dave and I have been dreaming up for 26 years," Cecil says.

The new game is styled like a comic book, down to the closed captions and Foster's narration. The characters are drawn like those found in Telltale games, of which Cecil and Gibbons are both fans. Players are immediately dropped into the highly explorable world with half a dozen ways to talk to each character they encounter, and ultimately impact the environment with their decisions. 

Beyond a Steel Sky's open-world style gaming experience could draw more traditional console gamers to Apple's service. While there are over 120 games that you can play across the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod Touch and Apple TV, the subscription service still lacks many open-world RPGs, multiplayer offline games and first-person shooters. 

'Make the people happy'

In terms of themes, Beyond a Steel Sky focuses on how an AI would interpret the directive to make people happy. If you ponder this phrase -- the final instructions Foster gives his robot companion Joey in the original game -- long enough, you can probably start to imagine some of the many problems that arise in the sequel when Foster makes his way back to Union City. 

Ultimately, the game seeks to explore the ideas of utopia and dystopia, and how they might actually not be so different, Gibbons said.


"What Foster finds is that [Union City] is a utopia -- he left Joey in charge, and Joey's responsibility was to make the people happy," Cecil said of the sequel. "On the surface, it is a utopia. But, of course, in utopias, there's always a dark underbelly." 

While Beneath a Steel Sky reflects the technology available at the time, Cecil said the original game's story also is reflective of the culture of the early '90s. Revolution Software drew inspiration from everything from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, to Terry Gilliam's 1985 dystopian sci-fi film Brazil

Reviews also compared Beneath a Steel Sky to George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984. The game, however, isn't meant to make a heavy-handed political statement, Cecil says. 

"It's really good fun to examine some of the things in society and see what the impact would be, and to provide a game that has put a lot of thought as to how it relates to people's real experiences," Gibbons says. 

The future of Foster

You can pick up Beyond a Steel Sky without having played the prequel, Cecil said. Just make sure you don't skip the new game's intro, which will fill in any gaps of what you need to know. Beyond a Steel Sky starts out with a comic-book style intro, like the original game, that serves as exposition. 

"You get to know Foster a bit, what his mission is, what he's doing and where he's been in the time between the two games," Gibbons says, "which if you have played the original one, you're really interested to know." 

The more players explore the world of the game, the better experience they'll have, Cecil says. Advances in visual theater -- characters' ability to walk around the environment and respond to the world around them -- provides a more dynamic gaming experience than the previous game, he adds. 

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Plus, Foster can hack his environment, thanks to a handheld device that allows him to tap into the network system, Minos, and move commands around for everything from vending machines to activating bridges. And the characters will then respond to how Foster hacks the environment.   


For Gibbons and Cecil, fans of adventure games are the most important audience. Some of the duo's favorite moments include meeting fans at conventions. 

"The passionate people in comic books, the passionate people in video games -- it is always such a thrill to be able to communicate directly with people," Cecil says. "We're just really lucky, because video games audiences -- they're smart, intelligent, passionate people. It's a pleasure to be able to write stories and games for them."

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