Reviewed: March 17, 2004
Released: November 11, 2003
I’m going to throw caution to the wind and make a very bold statement…Beyond Good and Evil is one of the most AMAZING games I have ever had the pleasure to review. Hold on there a second, buddy…Did you noticed that I capitalized the word AMAZING? Yep – Beyond Good and Evil is amazing with a capital A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and you’d a fool if you didn’t drop everything right now and go pick this gem up at its bargain basement price of $19.99.
Now you might be thinking to yourself – “Oh, I’ve heard of Beyond Good and Evil and you know, it just doesn’t sound like something I’d be into…”. Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I first heard about Beyond Good and Evil, and I’m here to tell you that I was wrong. Beyond Good and Evil takes all the best parts from all the best games out there and combines them to produce the most beautiful and satisfying gameplay experience I’ve ever seen. Then again, what else would you expect from Rayman creator Michel Ancel?
Beyond Good and Evil wears its influences proudly on its sleeve – the most prominent being the Zelda series of late, namely the Wind Waker title. Fitting, as Ancel is often referred to as France’s “Miyamoto”, with his deep, surrealistic gaming designs which mirror – and often eclipse – the works of Nintendo’s game guru. And there is no better example than Beyond Good and Evil – which takes all of the great aspects of the Wind Waker and molds them into a mature and engaging epic adventure.
Sadly though, for all the care that Ancel’s put into developing this top-shelf opus, the sales figures have been less than stellar, causing dramatic price drops within a month of release – the most dramatic being a major electronics chain which was advertising the PS2 version for the shockingly low price of $9.99 just three weeks after the release. This bargain may be good for gamers – for the time being at least, but let’s hope this undeserved “lack of interest” doesn’t spell the end of a great gaming powerhouse. This is the most underrated game of 2003/2004, and when people finally start finding out how great this game is, we will most likely have another Rez or Einhander on our hands – garnering $100 or more in auctions. Seriously, you need to check this one out before it’s too late.
Beyond Good and Evil follows the story of Jade, a 20 year old resident of a lighthouse orphanage on the planet Hillys. As the oldest resident of the orphange, Jade has assumed the maternal role – watching over the half a dozen or so younger inhabitants with her adoptive uncle, a walking and talking porcine papa-figure named Pey’j (pronounced Paige). Long story short, The year is 2035 and Jade’s planet Hillys, has survived centuries of conflict with a group of alien invaders, the DomZ. Through a series of strange occurrences, Jade – a part-time Hillys “action reporter” – finds herself deeply entrenched in the Hillys’ underground resistance, armed with only a camera and dai-jo staff (and later a disc-glove), on a mission to expose the DomZ for the horrific invaders they are, and in turn free the peaceable inhabitants of her home planet.
I have made it quite clear that Beyond Good and Evil borrows heavily from a number of other chart-topping games, and while that may sound a little cheap or lame, when all the parts come together we are left with one hell of a game. What all do we have here? Let’s see: a huge GTA-inspired open-ended living environment, heavy doses of Sam Fisher-worthy stealth moments, Wind Waker-like water based vehicular navigation and controls (including the infamous auto-jump), Panzer Dragoon-esque serpent battles (sans rails, thank you), Otogi quality combat, hovercraft racing a’la Quantum Redshift, even a little Asteroids space shooting, I could go on and on – it’s all here, and it’s all fantastic.
As mentioned, Jade is on a quest to expose the DomZ and their dreadful ways. The way the story plays out may sound familiar, but in Beyond Good and Evil it is by no means cookie-cutter; Jade and her companion (sometimes Uncle Pey’j, sometimes a bumbling agent named Double H) receive hints and/or missions directing them to a location. They travel to said location via Hovercraft, generally encountering some form of conflict along the way (meteor attacks from the DomZ, sea serpents, etc.). Once they have arrived at the assigned location, they generally exit the hovercraft and continue on foot (however later levels utilize the hovercraft and/or a space shuttle for more than simple transportation).
By and large, the on-foot levels consist of basic one and two-button dodge-and-slash combat, and switch puzzles which range everywhere from simple to cerebral to down-right perplexing. Again, although it may sound like a tired formula – fear not, Beyond Good and Evil is in a genre all its own.
So what really makes Beyond Good and Evil so different from the numerous games it so blatantly rips off? Everything. Beyond Good and Evil has an atmosphere – a look, a world, a life – just dripping with quality and craftsmanship that has seldom been matched in gaming. Everything from the graphics to the controls to the character design and voices have been carefully selected and sculpted to welcome the gamer into the world of Beyond Good and Evil with two open arms.
And because the atmosphere is so inviting, so captivating, it’s really hard to leave. You begin to feel emotional attachment to the characters – a feeling that you really are freeing the people of Hillys. Do you like Vice City? Yes? Me too. Ok, do you care about the people of Vice City? Didn’t think so. Well – I was cruising through Hillys on my Hovercraft, aimlessly firing away with my craft’s cannon, and I think I accidentally shot a passing motorist…and I felt guilty. Guilt is not generally a feeling I’ve had in my years of gaming. Now that’s immersion.
Jade controls like a dream, with a platformer-like 1:1 3-D control scheme as opposed to the Resident Evil up-is-forward control scheme, which often ruins games of this ilk. Movement is smooth and lifelike, with the triggers buttons mapped for seamless transition from walking to running to stealth crouch. There is no jump button per se, as most jumping is generally performed automatically. A few jumps do require a button input – but only if it fits into a puzzle’s decision process, and you will be flagged of this on the HUD. You also have a dive/roll button allowing you to stealthily move about and avoid detection.
As mentioned, combat is a simple single-button affair for the most part, with moves and combos being automatically animated by the game itself. I must admit, this was a bit of a letdown at first – until I discovered the cool combos you can create with your companion to dispatch numerous enemies at once. The way this works is as follows: In the heat of the battle, you call for your companion to perform his special Super Attack (be it a super jump or head ramming or what not) which temporarily stuns all of the surrounding enemies. Like a batter at home plate, you quickly line Jade up alongside one of the stunned enemies and press and hold the A button. Everything snaps to slow-mo as an aiming reticle appears on the screen allowing you to aim your swing towards either another bank of enemies, or certain damaging environmental objects. You let off the A button and Jade swings, knocking the enemy in the direction of the reticle. Hopefully, but not always, you hit your target and the results are quite explosive.
Controlling your hovercraft will prove quite squirrelly at first as it uses a 3D control scheme similar to the on-foot controls, as opposed to the expected driving standard of gas/brake-right/left. However, after a few minutes navigating the Hillysian waterways, the vehicle controls soon becomes second-nature. The right trigger controls the turbofan motors giving a bit of boost when cruising. Shooting is very much in the vein of Panzer Dragoon, where quick taps of the A button will send a smattering of non-homing cannon fire, yet holding the A button will begin a multi-targeting homing missile fire. The only thing missing from the Panzer Dragoon formula is the ability to manually sweep the reticle and choose your targeting – this is all done automatically and can prove a bit trying at times.
Then there’s the photography. Early on in the game, Jade is hired to photograph the wildlife of Hillys for a certain biologist who pays for the photos in pearls, which can be exchanged for Hovercraft upgrades. Throughout the game you will encounter a menagerie of animal life – some voracious, some benign – which you will need to photograph. For the benign wildlife, it’s simple point-and-click affair. However, when under attack from the more voracious types, it’s a bit more difficult to set up one of those Kodak moments as the photos have to be framed and focused correctly a while being slapped silly. Finding and shooting all of the animals is akin to Fatal Frame meeting Pokemon and it adds a lot of fun and excitement to the overall experience.
The visual quality of Beyond Good and Evil can be summed up with two words: absolutely stunning. True to his form, Ancel has created a world lush with color and life, not unlike the familiar world of Ancel’s limbless hero Rayman. No stone has been left unpolished in the land of Hillys – breathtaking vistas are truly awe-inspiring, and the water shimmers and ripples so realistically, you’ll need to have a couple of towels lying around to wipe off the screen after chasing down the sea serpent.
And whether examining the amazing variety of wildlife scurrying about or interacting with the staggering diversity of NPC’s roaming the cities, you will never cease to be amazed by the creativity of Ancel’s designs. If anyone ever thought Miyamoto was a closet mushroom-head with his wacky psychedelic designs – then Ancel qualifies for the Lizard King of gaming, what with his talking pigs, sexy blue kitty ladies, little bunny children and all. Ancel takes the cake in video game weirdness, but what good weirdness it is.
As for Jade, she’s definitely one of the most beautiful characters in gaming. Forget Lara Croft and her unnatural endowments – save for her green lipstick, Jade’s got a natural beauty – something we really need more of in gaming. Too often, designers go for the T&A approach to gaming – which works fine for single guys and teenage boys – but T&A doesn’t go over so well with a wife and kids.
Ancel designed Jade to look relatively normal, and he succeeds. In fact, even my wife was shocked (and impressed) at Jade’s lack of, uh, “big guns” and her amount of bodily coverage. Finally we have a female character who can act as a positive role model for women, and maybe let the fellas know that women can be more than just sex objects. I wasn’t uncomfortable playing Beyond Good and Evil with my three-year-old daughter in the living room, and that means a lot to me. Kudos to Mr. Ancel.
Beyond Good and Evil also features some of the most finely crafted sound design of any game I have played. It’s always a plus when the sound work is organic and natural sounding, and in Beyond Good and Evil you get the best of the best. The music is superb, and is used in such a way that it fits the scenes perfectly – beautiful orchestral backgrounds seamlessly meld into reggae-inspired romps and tribal drum rhythms to match each setting. The music swells and recedes to match the excitement of the gameplay and really draws you into the scene as a whole.
The voice acting is top-notch and the intelligent dialog never seems forced; truly a feat for a title that was originally written and designed in French. The voices sound genuine and endearing with the only cheesy voicework belonging to the purposely cheesy characters (Jade’s holographic data keeper, Segundo, takes the cake here). Really, I only had one issue with the voicework – there’s not enough of it. Most dialog-heavy scenes start with voiced responses, but soon regress to a text-based dialog that you read and click through. While this does allow you to make dialog decisions (what to ask, how to answer, etc..), it still breaks the momentum up a bit.
Finally, the effects – while not as standout as the music or voicework, is still amazing in the amount of detail contained. Conveyor belts grind, machines hiss, electrical arcs buzz all with a very appropriate, very realistic quality.
Generally, story-driven titles rank relatively low in value because they lack real incentive for replay. The Grand Theft Auto series changed this by adding free-roaming aspects and side missions, which allowed you to have fun aside from the story. As I mentioned, Beyond Good and Evil has assimilated some of the better aspects of the Grand Theft Auto formula; mainly the free-roaming nature and the ability to progress the story without having to complete every minute detail. And although Beyond Good and Evil’s world isn’t nearly as free as, nor as large as, the GTA world – being able to roam around and do what you want adds a lot of replay to the game – even though it is a story game. Sure, you can easily blow though the story in a matter of hours – but in order to see every nook and cranny, to get every pearl, to photograph every animal, it’s going to take you some real time investment.
Speaking about the length – many reviewers are knocking Beyond Good and Evil for its relatively short story. And it is short – clocking in ay about 9-12 hours total. But with the critics, I have to disagree. Gone are the days when games were $70 cartridges and a kid could only afford one game a year and it had better give 30-plus hours of gameplay to be of value. Now, with games regularly selling for as cheap as $20 right out of the gate, packing a game with filler just to boast about ‘-blank- hours of gameplay’ is completely unnecessary. Granted, Beyond Good and Evil ended a bit quicker than I would have liked, but I never felt like I was weighed down or stuck in a rut – and I like that.
Ok, so I’ve made some pretty heavy statements about Beyond Good and Evil. Do I really mean that after 25 years of gaming, and thousands of titles in my collection, that Beyond Good and Evil is one of the best games I have ever played? Yes. The absolute best? No, not by any means – but Beyond Good and Evil as an entire package is right up there on the top shelf. I really had a great time with this one, and the feeling of accomplishment I had when watching the ending credits has seldom been matched before.
Although Beyond Good and Evil may not be the longest title, but as a whole it is quite rewarding and is definitely a title that every collector should have on his or her shelf to say “Hey, here’s a game that did it right”.
Let’s just hope that the lackluster sales don’t sour Mr. Ancel and Ubisoft on the North American audience. When two A-1 titles (Prince of Persia and Beyond Good and Evil) can’t sell in the US, while lackluster titles like Enter the Matrix make the top ten sales list, I wouldn’t blame them for being a bit disappointed.
Get this game!