Beyond Good & Evil
There's nothing like a good conspiracy theory to get the old brain going. There's also nothing like a foxy female lead to get other things going. Combine the two, and well, you can't go wrong, can you?
Beyond Good & Evil is the latest game from Rayman creator Michel Ancel. And it seems to us that this could be one designer who's just come of age in a major way.
Ray Of Light
First thing's first, though; BGE is the sort of cute, harmless, family action game that's traditionally more suited to consoles. Rayman all over again then? Well, no. This is nothing like Rayman. In fact, BGE is virtually impossible to nail down into one particular category, as it tends to shift from one genre to another with the speed of a bullet train. One moment you're hopping from platform to platform like a mutated rabbit with a banger up your arse, and the next you're speeding around a racetrack in a hovercraft. Then, before you know it, you're pole-vaulting into a bubbling, viscous mass of orange glop, before finally settling down in a bar with a well-earned drink and a game of air hockey against a giant upright, walking, talking walrus.
Hero Or Zero?
The only thing constant is that the world of Hillys is under attack by an alien race known as the Domz - and it's up to you, Jade, a mere freelance photographer (albeit a very athletic one) to stop it all. Trouble is, who's telling the truth? Who can you trust? The government's Alpha Section controls all media and claims they're winning the war. The rebellious IRIS group, on the other hand, believes the Alphas have already allied with the Domz to take over the entire population.
Here is a game that's not only genre defying, it's quite possibly one of the weirdest games to ever appear on the PC. In fact, when it comes to atmosphere, story and personality, Beyond Good & Evil has a very similar feel to Grim Fandango.
Monsieur Ancel is also partial to diving into Shigeru Miyamoto's pot of ideas. Jade, our heroine and her eclectic friends live in a land abundant with rivers, oceans, caves, mountains and secrets galore. There are even heart containers to find that increase Jade's maximum health. Please. Is it possible to be any more Zelda?
Anyway, this beautiful world is yours to explore at will, and some of the most important items you can find are pearls. Pearls can only be spent at the Rastafarian Rhinoceros' garage where, to the backdrop of a funky little reggae tune, you can buy various upgrades for your hovercraft that enable you to reach previously inaccessible parts of the world. The amount of sub-games also rivals Nintendo's elfin adventure. Hover races present an opportunity to not only participate in pod-like blasts around four different tracks, but also offer the added incentive of a pearl should you win the race.
One of the biggest problems with games featuring large freeform play areas like this is that players can become confused and bored. BGE is so well structured, though, this is never an issue. By pressing the Tab button you can view a map of the world, as well as a list of your current objectives. You can also utilise devices that scan for pearls and animals. Presentation of everything, from the way you read the occasional emails and news updates through to flipping through your pearl collection to see which ones you've missed, is incredibly clear and intuitive. Bill Gates would do well to look into the person responsible for this system and hire them to work on the Windows interface.
In all, there are dozens of sub-games, side-quests and other diversions offering everything from the aforementioned heart containers and pearls through to even more curious rewards like taking photos of rare Hillyan animals for extra cash. Young Jade is a freelance photographer after all -we've all got to make a proper living somehow.
There's so much to do in BGE that the chances of becoming bored are virtually non-existent. Another more calculated reason for becoming totally absorbed in the game is the strong support cast. Your partners and sidekicks exemplify this by not only spitting out fantastically acted witty one-liner but by also providing timely hints and tips. But that's only half the story...
You have several sidekicks who help you through your adventures, all of which are incredibly charismatic such as Double H, the lumbering Buzz Lightyear wannabe. Despite his lack of mental agility, IRIS's main covert operative always manages to appear (in true Buzz Lightyear fashion) in the nick of time. His entrances are often scripted to brilliant comic effect too, such as the way he tumbles down a rubbish shoot in a factory to land in front of a giant robot just as it's about to vaporise Jade. Genius.
Hold on a minute - this is all looking too good. If we carry on at this rate, Beyond Good & Evil's going to go Classic. And while there's no doubt this is one hell of a game, there's room for improvement in the inevitable sequel (finish the game and you'll see what we mean).
The main disappointment is combat. Admittedly, it's smooth, easy to perform and satisfying as you bat enemy after enemy into oblivion, but it's nowhere near as compelling as it should be. The Bullet-Time effects are impressive, but ultimately the fact that Jade has only one main melee weapon (a dai-jo stick) severely restricts the thrill.
Most fights degenerate into repeatedly pressing the left mouse button. As the game progresses, timing comes into it more (as does actually having to block). A spinning disc also becomes available - and this adds a long-range element to the battles. Still, a big stick and a frisbee is not the most impressive arsenal for a secret agent. If you want toys and gadgets, Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever fame is probably the lady for you.
But Jade's Better Looking
One of the most blindingly obvious assets to Beyond Good & Evil is the way it looks. You don't have to appreciate much about art to realise this is one flash looking game. Everything from the animation on the main characters through to the stylish level design is first class. Not one blade of grass is out of place in the BGE world. Everything blends together perfectly, which is stunning considering the level of graphical variety present in the game.
The ancient mine on Black Isle, for example, is full of weird organic plasma-like monsters and bubbles. In stark contrast, the Nutrpils factory harbours biomechanical robots, deadly laser beams, elevators and a host of other technology-related obstacles and denizens. And then there's Hillys' main city, which is a cross between a quaint fishing village from the Monkey Island games and the city from The Fifth Element. The levels may be diverse, but style, humour and fluidity link it all together in a way that Miyamoto himself would be proud of.
Beyond Good & Evil reaffirms why gaming is so great, and why it's important to keep developing games that aren't sequels or based on films, books or any other kind of licence.
OK, hard core action fans will be disappointed with the combat, but if you can forgive that and just accept BGE for the brilliantly crafted piece of emotionally riveting storytelling and all round gameplay excellence that it is, you will be letting yourself in for one of the greatest gaming experiences of your life.
Download Beyond Good & Evil
You haven't lived until you've played this game because:
Where to start? Beyond Good & Evil puts you in a world inhabited by animals under siege, and indeed under control, by a vicious alien contingent known as the DomZ, intent on harvesting the good people of Hillys for their own wicked ends. All this, and it's named after a major philosophical work by Nietzsche, a man whose work had rarely been occupied by Rastafarian rhinos prior to this game's release.
Whether you're running around your lighthouse home with your dog Woof, taking photos of the flora and fauna of Hillys in your role of photo-journalist or creeping around secret DomZ bases with either your pig uncle Pey'J or incompetent hero Double-H, Beyond Good & Evil is never anything less than a delight. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's better on console - but it genuinely tugs at the lieartstrings (tliose poor orphans...), and has a heart of absolute gold.
People probably didn't play it because:
Because they're heathens. Evil, despicable heathens who wouldn't know gaming if it bit them on their obese buttocks. For some reason, a woman with a camera and delectable green-gloss lippy didn't cut the mustard. Proof positive that everyone else but you and I are the utmost of buffoons. Stand-out moment of brilliance: Hard one this. I'd say that the lighthouse destruction sequence is up there, as are the moments directly preceding your entry into space late in the game (which isn't actually much cop when you get up there). However, for ultimate satisfaction, getting a good photo of that wliale leaping out of the water is the best it gets.
The panel's views:
Andy: "I think it's really hard to make a smart, fresh adventure game - but there's a lot of stuff in here that's completely new. The Al co-op, the slow-motion, the taking photos, the vehicle stuff - and the voice-acting's really good as well. It even looks good today, and it's what - three years old?" Dan: "You forget how many great features there were in there - it's got more forgotten glories than any other game, because no-one played it.."
Once A Year, Ubisofthold an event called Ubidays. Like so many industry events, it's essentially a dick-waving exercise, and 2008's undulating penis show was notable for two main things. First, the misjudged use of Vernon Kaye as an MC. I'm sure he's a nice bloke but having him scream "I'm so addicted to GAMES," and genuinely expecting a cheer, was mortifying for everyone involved.
The other thing that sticks out was the ripple of excited cheers that shot through the audience when people realised that the teaser trailer at the end of the show, was actually the Beyond Good and Evil sequel. Making a big deal about something that was a far bigger critical than commercial success seemed brave, and uncommonly worthy.
Since then, there's been mealy-mouthed backtracking chat of pre- h production, on-hold, and defensive " bluster that the game was never officially announced, so how can it be technically cancelled? To which the correct response is "Sod off, it was the big reveal at an event you organised, remember? Stop being a semantic tool about it".
A Hit That Wasn't
So, it looks like all we've got for now is the original game (available on Steam and Good Old Games). Luckily, it's charming enough to reward first-timers and historical snufflers alike. The pretentious title sounds like something Peter Molyneux would cook up, but there's none of that in the game - we start off with a battle against a plant, relax with a bit of nature photography, before getting embroiled in a speedboat race and some platform puzzling.
BGE attempted - and pulled off - what Tim Schafer was trying to pull V off with Brutal Legend, something to all people. Another similarity is the tepid reception: while Beyond was loved by journalists, there's something about a game that does more than one thing that's hard to passionately explain.
These days people buy soundbites and quick pitches, and Beyond Good and Evil defiantly resisted a quick and cheap summary.
There's a lot to like about Beyond Good & Evil, the best action-adventure game since Zelda: The Wind Waker (GC). You play as Jade, a plucky freelance photojournalist working for a rebel organization out to prove that the planet's militaristic government is hiding sinister secrets from the populace. In you charge, camera in hand, to get the truth. But you don't just take pictures in BG&E, you get to drive a speedy hovercraft, sneak through top-secret installations, coordinate with a partner to solve puzzles (much like in Ico for PS2), and beat up foes with a big stick. Not only does the game do all of these things well, but it also imparts a constant, magical feeling of exploration as you discover more about its involving story and the colorful inhabitants of the lighthearted, Fifth Element-like world around you. If you've ever thought you'd prefer a short game that's consistently great over one that's artificially extended with stupid, unfun bits, you were thinking of BG&E. It's short (about 10 hours), but very sweet. It's not so easy that you'll breeze through it, nor is it too hard to be frustrating. That makes BG&E good for casual players (and even your nongaming girlfriend), but you'll surely dig it yourself.
Long after you've shot your last roll of celluloid and blown the lid on a body-snatching conspiracy, you'll reminisce about your stay on planet Hyllis. Mixing Walt Disney's colorful whimsy, the industrial distopias of French cinematographers Jeunet and Carot (City of Lost Children), and Zelda mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto's genius for flexible gameplay, BG&E is mesmerizing, ominous, and, most of all, memorable. Unlike other ambitious games that try to be too many things to too many players, BG&E pulls its components together beautifully. Your hovercraft handles well, letting you explore pristine waterways, chase crooks, and run races without hassle. The first-rate stealth sections escalate tension rather than induce stress with tedious trial and error. Even your responsive starship is a joy to pilot. Only BG&E's relative brevity and puzzles that get recycled toward the game's end disappoint.
Hey Eidos, pay attention: This is the game the last Tomb Raider should have been. BG&E is packed with personality and girl power, and more importantly, it controls like a dream. The play mechanics borrow from the Zelda template in all the right ways (autojumping, enemy targeting, etc.), and the game delivers enough original material keep things fresh. For instance, Jade's camera is an integral tool--a single shutter click can take down an entire government if you're stealthy enough to be in the right place at the right time. Similar creativity manifests itself in Jade's darkly beautiful, Disney-esque world (although bouts of choppiness blight its otherwise fine graphics). An interesting story and entertaining cut-scenes round out this worthwhile package.
Beyond Good & Evil is a short and sweet action game with plenty of quasi-original storyline built around a unique blend of fighting, puzzle solving and picture taking. You assume the role of Jade, a lighthouse keeper and freelance photographer whose struggling to make ends meet in the futuristic world of Hillys. Of course what sci-fi, low-rent storyline would be complete without a nefarious government, evil aliens and a warthog-like sidekick.
What separates this game from the pack is its unique mixture of fighting, racing, puzzle solving and' .um' .photography. I know it sounds bizarre, but the picture taking is actually a pretty fun element of the game. You end up taking pictures in the game for two reasons, either to wrap up a quest by getting photographic proof of something or another or to send off to a scientist looking for pics of the planet's fauna. In turn you are giving credits, which can be used for a variety of things including pearls, which are what most merchants expect to in exchange for items.
Although the game has a multitude of short battles spread throughout the game, it really isn't a high point of play. Fighting basically consists of a lot of whiffing, whaling and hoping your character isn't going to succumb to the enemy at hand. The bulk of the game is really a pretty standard adventure game steeped in average but not too puzzling puzzles.
You'll also have to spend a fare bit of time in your hovercraft, speeding from location to location to complete quests and buy upgrades. The short journeys are at times interrupted by alien attack, but none are too hard to throw off track.
The most impressive part of Beyond Good & Evil is its stellar audio and over the top graphics, with well-rendered cell-shading that helps to add to the games look and feel, making you care enough for the characters to want to puzzle and fight your way through the roughly 12 hours of the game.