Beyond Good & Evil Review
Beyond Good and Evil is the latest game from Rayman creator, Michel Ancel. However, the game has little in common with the limbless platform star's games, as Beyond Good and Evil is an Action-Adventure game similar to Zelda. The game's story follows the adventures of Jade, a young woman who is a photographer on the planet Hillys. Jade and her uncle Pey'J (pronounced "page"), who is a pig-type creature, work at and live in a lighthouse with a variety of interesting characters. Planet Hillys is under attack by a group of aliens called the DomZ, who at the very beginning of the game, launch an attack at the lighthouse. Page fights off the aliens, but then a group that is supposed to be protecting the citizens of Hillys, called the Alpha Section takes credit for saving the day. After Page gets a message from someone wanting her to take pictures of a dangerous creature, she learns that a group called IRIS thinks that it's actually Alpha Section that is the greatest threat to the planet, and asks Page to uncover what's really going on using her trusty camera.
Right off the bat you get the feeling that Beyond Good and Evil isn't going to be just another ho-hum adventure game. The story, while a little confusing and odd at times is very compelling and is able to make up for any faults that the game has. Each objective you complete seems to bring up more questions than it does answers, and as a result you'll find yourself wanting to play just a little bit longer to see what's going to happen next. Another way in which the game differs from the norm is that your heroine is armed with a camera, not a gun. Yes she does have the ability to wield a staff to fight off the bad guys, but her greatest skill is her ability to use a camera. Not only do you have to take pictures of the atrocities that the Alpha Section is committing against its own citizens, but you can earn money by shooting pictures of Hillys' wildlife. This money allows you to power the protective shield around the lighthouse, and also lets you purchase valuable upgrades.
The basic gameplay found in the game involves exploring and sneaking around the game's large levels. The game's cinematic feel makes each room feel like it's very important, makes each guard look a little more imposing, and makes each trip through a laser-covered hallway an intense experience. Combat is handled in a very movie-like fashion, with slow motion pans and smooth fighting moves aplenty. While the game isn't particularly fast-paced, rarely does it ever get boring, since there are so many twists and turns to the story.
All of the characters in the game with whom you interact are not only valuable pieces of the story, but they are interesting and fun to interact with. Whether it's meeting up with the members of IRIS like the interesting Double H, souping up your hovercraft with the wacky characters at the garage, or challenging someone to a game that's similar to air hockey at the bar, everyone has something to offer to the story. In fact, even the people that are in the background add to the atmosphere. At the beginning of the game you'll hear townspeople singing the praises of Alpha Section, but as you uncover more and more of the conspiracy, you'll actually hear townspeople start to speak out about what's happening to them. It's a well crafted story that is a lot of fun to watch unfold.
While there is certainly a lot to love about Beyond Good and Evil, there are a few things that keep it from being a must-have. Key amongst these is that sometimes it's just too darn hard to figure out what you need to do, or where you need to go at times. Sometimes the character that you are with will wander over to something you may have missed or they may bring it up if you talk to them, but other times you're left having no clue as to what to do. One key instance is when you need a fuse to leave an area you've cleared. You had to get a fuse earlier, so you think it's just a matter of taking it out of where you put it, but the game won't let you do that. Instead you've got to backtrack and get another fuse that's easy to walk past unless you know it's there. This certainly doesn't ruin the game, but you'll find that little annoyances like this can add two hours to the game that will only take you 10-15 hours to beat.
Beyond Good and Evil is very cinematic in the way in which it plays, which is immediately made evident in its widescreen presentation. Actually it's not really widescreen, since even on a 16x9 TV the game has bars on the top, but it's supposed to have that feel to it. Each of the game's main characters is wonderfully designed, and that goes for the bad guys as well as the good ones. You'll never run into someone and forget if you'd met them - you'll know when and where it was. The world of Hillys is interesting and quite large; large enough that you'll get lost and turned around quite a few times before figuring out where you need to go. In addition to being large, the world is very colorful, something that you would expect from the creator of the Rayman series.
The are, however, a few things to complain about with the game's graphics. The letterbox thing is cool, but to not have the option for true widescreen support is a glaring oversight on the part of the developers. There aren't many people that want to watch a movie or play a game with black bars on their $2000 television. The other issue is the game's occasionally erratic framerate. This seems to happen coming out of the pause menu fairly often, and when you're in the hovercraft the game can look downright pitiful in parts. Neither of these things ruin the game, but when you're bordering on being a great game, it's little things like that which keep it from getting there.
The sound in Beyond Good and Evil is phenomenal in every way. The score, while sparse in areas is incredible when it's called upon to add to the game's cinematic feel. It ranges from quiet, barely there piano, to huge sweeping melodies that leave you wanting to hear more. The voice acting is equally wonderful, and you'll never have any of those painful moments where a character's voice ruins the game. It hasn't gotten lots of recognition thus far, but Beyond Good and Evil is certainly a candidate for the best sound in a game this year.
For whatever reason, Beyond Good and Evil hasn't sold well and is now only $20 at stores. Maybe it got lost in the Christmas deluge of games, didn't get enough advertising support, or perhaps people are just tired of this kind of game, but it is one of the better games to be released this winter. Now that it can be had for twenty bucks there's no reason not to check it out. If you're looking for something different than the commercialized games out there, then Beyond Good and Evil is worth a look.
1/6/2004 Aaron Thomas