Apple Arcade adventure Beyond a Steel Sky has to learn from its predecessor if it wants to be great
Beneath to beyond
I remember snatches, little moments here and there. The smell of cardboard and plastic; the way the boxes, shiny and slick, rattled while you walked them home. Twisting dials to answer questions and reveal the arcane symbols that would allow you to get to the game stored on those mottled, blue plastic disks. Adventure games were an adventure before you even got to play them. And then there was Beneath a Steel Sky.
The matte black box with the shiny silver detailing, the orange sky when you walked outside. You made maps while I sat next to you, trying to figure out the maze of screens, trying to remember where everything was. I wonder if you still have them? There was a strange, communal humanity to it - like I was watching a film where we both had a say in the ending.
I don't remember if we ever got to the end. You probably did, you were always more patient and methodical than I was back then. You got our dad's problem solving; A to B, and if that didn't work C, and D, and so on. I got Mum's anxious passion, mixed with something from neither of them that had already started scratching, even then, at the back of my brain.
Beyond a Steel SkySo what of a sequel? I think this might be the first time that something that holds genuine nostalgia for me in the gaming world has come back round. I know the names, and the beats, of plenty of other games from the era; but reading Alan Moore comics, laid on one of our creaking beds, while you explored a future we'd never imagined before, holds a special place in me.
There are words used to describe the sequel that worry me a little - open world, sandbox - the gewgaws of a modernity that took the grey of Beneath a Steel Sky but none of the joy. In the early days of gaming there was less delineation between playing on your own and playing with friends - we only had one computer, so we took turns. If there was nothing on TV, we'd slip into a different world on the other screen we owned.
Now there's so much demand for entertainment, so many ways that it can be delivered to us; so many screens. The dream is that Beyond a Steel Sky will understand those two boys huddled around a blinking CRT monitor; discussing, suggesting, arguing sometimes when things weren't going their way. It'll understand that the story on those clicking disks was only half of it - the adventure came as much from us as it did the game.