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Beyond Good & Evil PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Friday, 06 July 2007 18:00

Developer: Ubisoft’s Montpellier studio
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Official Site and Demo
ESRB Teen (Comic Mischief, Violence)
(Game contains depictions of violence)

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A Drop of Time
First impressions are everything. After a very short news report, Beyond Good & Evil opens on main character Jade and a young companion meditating. The pastoral setting is beautiful, the music surprisingly stirring. Suddenly, the characters find themselves under attack, and the player is thrown straight into battle. No warning. No tutorial. Just fighting for your life. It even shifts to slow motion at one point to heighten the drama of the situation. So much is done right in the first few minutes of Beyond Good & Evil that it pains me to think of how many games do it wrong.


The Truth is Out There

The world of Hillys is a peaceful place. The Hillyan people—humans and human/animal hybrids—live in harmony together on the islands that dot the planet’s watery surface. But Hillys now finds itself under siege by an insidious alien race known as the DomZ. The only thing saving them from complete annihilation is an elite division of the Hillyan military known as the Alpha Section. However, an underground rebel group, the IRIS Network, is convinced that the Alpha Section is complicit in the invasion, and spreads seditious rumors to that effect.

Jade isn’t directly involved in these matters in the beginning. She lives in a lighthouse with her porcine “uncle” Pey’j. Money is tight, as the pair has taken in the Hillyan children orphaned by the DomZ’s attacks. To make ends meet, Jade accepts a contract to create a photographic record of all the animals on Hillys endangered by the war. This segues into work for IRIS, which is seeking concrete evidence of the Alpha Section’s betrayal. Jade takes the job not out of any distrust of the government, but simply because it could end the war if they’re right.

Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise when IRIS is proven correct. The Alpha Section’s portrayal couldn’t be more blatantly fascist if they tried. That’s too bad, because the idea of investigating a truly murky political situation has potential. This also holds true for the overarching storyline of the game. Even as it unexpectedly twists and turns, it doesn’t quite seem to live up to its potential. Part of this stems from the fact that Beyond Good & Evil was intended to be the first entry in a trilogy, so its abrupt ending and post-credits tease wind up doing it a disservice.


The Heart of the Matter

Where Beyond Good & Evil succeeds is in the little details. This is a game brimming with emotional resonance, the likes of which I haven’t felt since Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. But whereas those games used a desolate, lonely setting to forge an attachment with a companion character, Beyond Good & Evil presents a place filled with life. Come to think of it, you need look no further than Anachronox for its closest counterpart. Both games present heart-warming (and, at times, heart-wrenching) tales set in worlds bustling with activity.

Unfortunately, you really don’t get to explore Hillys as much or as long as you’d like to. While the important scenes are fully voiced (and in English, French, or Spanish!), basic conversation is text only, the game world is fairly small, and there's really not much to do in town. It’s a shame, because Hillys is the kind of place you just want to immerse yourself in, progression be damned. The writing is sharp, the voice acting solid, and the music Grim Fandango-like in its scope and quality. I strongly encourage you to visit the official site or YouTube and have a listen.

It all comes back to the game’s heart. As an example, at one point I ended up chasing Jade’s dog, which had gotten hold of a health item and decided to play a game of keep-away with it. The moment of levity caught me so off guard that I just started laughing. How many games can you think of that have done that? This is a game that never beats you over the head with its values. Jade is simply a good person, not a mouthpiece for some designer’s agenda, doing what she believes is right. Small wonder she’s become my favorite female videogame protagonist.


You go, Girl!

As a third-person action-adventure game you’ll know what to expect from the gameplay, but the photography angle is definitely a unique touch. Despite certain platformer elements the game really can’t be called one, seeing as Jade automatically jumps when she needs to. You’ll also get to race around in Pey’j’s hovercraft quite a bit, and many of the on foot segments feature a heavy emphasis on stealth puzzles—which makes sense, as you can’t just go around bludgeoning everybody and still expect to photograph anyone incriminating themselves.

Uncovering a conspiracy of this magnitude by yourself would be a high order, but thankfully you’re not alone. Either Pey’j or IRIS agent Double H will accompany you most of the time. You’ll fight alongside them, work together to solve puzzles, and you can even share inventory items. They’ll also keep up a natural banter to make sure things never get dull, and both characters have distinct personalities. Pey’j has a take-no-crap attitude, but also a soft spot for his niece. Double H is a sympathetic member of the regular Hillyan military—chivalrous, slightly thickheaded, but loyal. 

So what's the problem, then?  Well, when it comes to gameplay Beyond Good & Evil could have been a one-of-a-kind classic, but instead they just seem to have... well... settled for more of the same.  There's nothing about it that really stands out from any other game in the genre.  The photography element should have been more central to the experience, rather than a gimmick that's quickly abandoned.  The platforming, stealth, and vehicle segments would then be in service to the photography, and the truth behind the Alpha Section inadvertently discovered in the course of cataloguing the animals.  What we have instead feels more artificial and forced.


Despite the fact that it's lacking in the content department and stumbles some when it comes to its overall narrative, I still have a soft spot for Beyond Good & Evil. It resonates with me in a way that few games have, which makes it such a pity that the gameplay itself isn't as good as it needs to be.  That isn't to say it's a bad game by any means, just that it deserves better.  Who knows whether or not we'll see the next game in the proposed trilogy, but on the basis of this game alone I hope so.  And if this teaser footage is any indication, I really hope so.


Game Rated 7/10



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