Come and experience the future of videogames.
From the creative mind of Michel Ancel, the man behind Rayman, Beyond Good & Evil takes the standard adventure game formula and twists it around in a way that evolves the classic genre. Gameplay wise, it shares much in common with games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet. However, the story takes a much more important role in the game. The player controls Jade, a freelance photojournalist who also helps take care of orphans with her “uncle” Pey’j. The action is set on the planet of Hillys, which isn’t that dissimilar to Earth as far as environment is concerned. However, the planet is occupied with all sorts of anthropomorphic creatures from cow-people to pig-people, as well as the standard Homo-sapiens. The planet is under attack by an evil alien force known as the DomZ. Thankfully, the populous is protected by the fearless Alpha Sections, defenders of the people. However, a third group factors into this equation. The IRIS Network has unearthed a conspiracy that has the DomZ and the Alpha Section working together to kidnap the people of Hillys. Jade falls into the IRIS Network early on in the game, and works to uncover the conspiracy.
Jade is a reporter first and foremost, and her talents are not thrown aside now that she must help save the world. Instead, her skill as a photographer is paramount in IRIS’ plan. IRIS’ goal is to inform the population of Hillys of what has been pulled over their eyes. They believe doing so will cause a revolt and will drive out both the Alpha Section and the DomZ. Throughout the game, Jade will have to take photos of various shady activities that this unholy alliance has been performing.
Jade is given various infiltration missions in which she must get herself deep inside the enemy’s operation. The game uses a mix of action and stealth gameplay elements to achieve this. Jade, although armed with a powerful staff, is no match for the fiercely armed Alpha Section troops. When on a mission it’s best to stay hidden and sneak around the bad guys, instead of taking them head-on. Sneaking around doesn’t often prove too difficult, though screwing up will almost always lead to death. Thankfully there’s not a lot of ground lost when dying. The game takes you back no more than one or two rooms away from your death location. This alleviates the frustrating experience of having to go back to a previous save point. In addition to all this sneaking around, there are also various puzzles to be solved. Many of them involve finding ways to reach areas that seem inaccessible. They differ in variety and aren’t very difficult to solve, but they do provide a nice change of pace in the gameplay.
There is a time for action though, and Jade will have to fight against her enemies. Combat is very smooth and not overly difficult. The player can have Jade attack any enemy around her by simply pressing the control stick in a direction and hitting the attack button. With the correct timing, attacks can be strung together to deal massive damage. There are plenty of small enemies she can take on by herself, but when faced with stronger adversaries she will enlist the help of one of her companions. Her “uncle” Pey’j will follow her early on in the game, and later she will be joined by fellow IRIS agent Double H. This team-play dynamic adds a lot to the game as you need to control Jade while also issuing simple orders to her companion. Lots of enemies can bet set up by Pey’j or Double H and then smacked around by Jade. This maneuver is used a lot to smash enemies into electric barriers to open up new paths.
Speaking of big baddies, the bosses in Beyond Good & Evil are huge. While patternized and not amazingly difficult, they will challenge Jade well enough. The final boss fight stands out as quite amazing. It is both difficult and enthralling on a narrative-level. It goes through a few stages and completely trumps Wind Waker’s simple Gannondorf battle.
Jade isn’t just running around secret government instillations all the time though. The world of Hillys is rife with things to do. There are numerous hovercraft races to compete in, as well as some chase showdowns with the bandits that patrol the area. And while other games may have problems accomplishing such mini-game tasks well, Beyond Good & Evil has no problem at all. Although simple, the mini-games are still good and more importantly they’re fun.
Beyond Good & Evil excels in the story department. Michel Ancel and his team have crafted a wonderful gameplay experience that propels the emotional storyline. The game’s story starts out simply but quickly escalades to a very engrossing narrative full of media conspiracy, and even the nature of existence and destiny. All of it is delivered without the heavy-handed symbolism found in many “story-driven” games today. The story is delivered wonderfully by the voice actors and cut-scenes. The story isn’t limited to cut-scenes either. The gameplay segments are littered moments in which the characters are chattering between themselves, really helping to bring the story to the forefront of the game. Animation also plays a big part in the storytelling. Facial expressions are very well realized, and Jade specifically can convey emotions without saying a single word. To top it all off, the game is presented entirely in a widescreen letterboxed format, both for cut-scenes and gameplay, giving the game a very cinematic feel.
This title owes a lot to its art direction. The world of Hillys is fully realized with some breathtaking design. The characters are beautifully rendered and animate fluidly. Beyond Good & Evil features some remarkable character design. Somehow, a myriad of creatures including a ton of different man-animal hybrids all seem to fit perfectly in the game’s environment, despite the fact that the environment itself isn’t all that different from Earth.
While Beyond Good & Evil is a very good title, it is not without demerits. Perhaps the biggest complaint is the game’s length. The average player will probably finish the adventure in somewhere between ten and fifteen hours. For such a fantastic adventure, it would be really nice if it stretched on for a little longer. The game only features three or four full-sized dungeons, depending on how you count them. It also ends with a huge cliffhanger sequel setup that could just have easily been incorporated into the game. It’s been mentioned numerous times in this review that nothing is too difficult (with the possible exception of the final boss). While it could be considered a mark against the game, the smooth difficulty curve also keeps the story flowing, which is a much more important goal. It would have been nice to see the challenge step up a little more, especially in the final dungeon.
Beyond Good & Evil blends elements of superb gameplay design and storytelling into a wonderful experience. It is an excellent example of the direction that games are headed. They’re moving into a realm of compelling stories matched with equally impressive gameplay. This is a title that anybody looking for a story in their game would be a fool not to pick up.