“ Manufacturer: Reflexive Entertainment / Type: iPhone Game „
Oh, the hours I wasted on this back in the mid 90s. Supposedly finishing off my MA dissertation, I'd constantly find myself being drawn back into this brilliantly realised world. Even the fact it came on 11 disks and required constant swapping to perform even the most basic action (such as walking through a door) didn't put me off, so good was the game itself.
Thankfully, in this latest iPhone version, the frustrations of disk swapping are a thing of the past, whilst the fantastic game play remains intact. This is a very faithful port, and the fact that it has been written by Revolution Studios (who also released the original) left me confident that this would be £1.79 well spent.
Things start off well with a graphically impressive introduction. This sets up the back story using some bright, colourful graphics before throwing you into the action as Robert Foster, a fugitive in a hostile futuristic city who must find out what secrets lie beneath this man-made monstrosity of a city.
It's fair to say that the main game graphics (drawn by Watchmen's Dave Gibbon) no longer have the wow factor they did. They may have been stunning in 1993, but almost twenty years on, they look a little tired. The dystopian future setting doesn't help, as the backgrounds are mostly greys and blacks (at least to start with), lending a very drab feel to proceedings. Still, they are highly atmospheric and really help to create a sense of a totalitarian city where every movement is observed and where the lives of most of the citizens are dull and highly regulated.
The graphics also lose something in their translation to the iPhone's small screen. Many of the locations are vast city expanses, meant to impress with their size. Squashing them onto a screen a few inches across reduces the impact and can make it difficult to pick out the detail which so wowed gamers back in the 90s. On-screen conversations initially seem rather small and hard to read, although you will quickly adapt to this.
The screen size is an impediment in another way too. The essence of all adventure games is being able to see objects which can be picked up and used, and it can be tricky to pick out some of these objects. Revolution have thought of this, though, as touching the screen causes blue circles to appear over any objects you can interact with.
Controls can be a little finicky until you get used to them, again mostly down to the size of the screen. It can be a little too easy to accidentally hit the wrong blue spot and find yourself heading off towards somewhere you don't' want to go, frantically tapping the screen to try and stop your characters. Using inventory items is similarly tricky. If you want to use an item on something, you have to drag it out of your inventory across to the blue circle of the item you want to use it on. Sounds simple enough, but I kept doing this... only to find I'd left the item behind. It does get easier the more you play, but the control system is never quite as intuitive as the old point n click mouse operated adventure games.
Sound-wise things work pretty well. A series of tunes play throughout the game, which are not too intrusive, but add some atmosphere, whilst occasional sound effects are atmospheric. All in-game conversations are reproduced using speech, although some of this is pretty ropey and most of the voices have obviously been done by the same person. Speech can also be a little muffled at times, with the iPhone's speakers not really being up to the task of processing so much speech. Still, it's not terrible and I preferred to play the game with the sound on (unlike the awful speech on the DS's Sherlock Holmes). However, if it really annoys you, you can simply play with the sound off, since all in-game speech is reproduced using on-screen text.
Any negatives aside, BASS still has it where it counts. BASS is a typical graphical adventure: you wander around the various locations, speak to as many people as possible, pick up clues, find objects and use them with other objects to solve puzzles. If you've always hated this type of game, BASS is not going to change your mind. It's old school adventure gaming and many of today's generation will dismiss it as slow paced and boring. If you like adventure games, though, BASS remains a classic.
The game is not easy and some of the puzzles are quite challenging. However, they are also logical. Conversations with characters will often give you hints as to what you need to do next, providing you pay attention to what they say and put it together with things you already know. The puzzles are also very well balanced, guiding you through the game slowly. Initial puzzles are fairly straightforward, whilst there are some real brain teasers later on in the game to challenge your wits. Yet they are never unfair or esoteric that you wouldn't stand a chance of solving them without help. I did experience mild frustration a couple of times when I knew exactly what I needed to do, but wasn't quite sure how to get my character to do what I wanted and, of course, as with all games of this type, you are sometimes reduced to just trying every object in your inventory to see if any of them have an effect. These, though, are both weaknesses of the genre, not of this specific title. On the whole, the puzzles in BASS are logical enough to make the game accessible to newcomers, whilst being sufficiently challenging to tax more experienced adventurers.
What really sets BASS apart is the care that has gone into the script. Conversations between characters feel very real and they react in the way you would expect (plague a busy workman with lots of questions and he gets increasingly impatient with you). The game also has some genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments. It might not be as gloriously stupid as insult sword fighting in Monkey Island, the wry observations and amusing conversations will make you laugh. Even when you know which question you should ask next, you'll find yourself asking one of other options, just to make sure you hear all the dialogue.
Beneath a Steel Sky might be over 15 years old, but it's still a classic of its type. Graphically a little dated and suffering a few control issues due to the delivery platform, the wonderful humour and excellent game play remain as strong as ever. This is an essential purchase for any iPhone/iPod Touch owners who enjoy a good old-fashioned adventure game. And at just £1.79, it's (ahem) a Steel.
© Copyright SWSt 2010