Beyond Good & Evil (Xbox) review
"Just who are telling the truth and who are the traitors? Jade, and ultimately, you, will have to see this through your photographic lens to believe it and expose it to Hillys before it's too late."
If the rumours are true, director Peter Jackson's latest film license King Kong was sold to Ubisoft off the strength of Beyond Good & Evil. Perhaps this is just some propaganda-heavy news article made up by the same shifty sources who annually promise a forthcoming Legend of Dragoon 2 or an end to the bloody Army Men series, but it's a nice line, and I choose to believe it.
Why? Because I want to believe that Mr. Jackson is like me, and has at some point fell in love with a hauntingly beautiful game. A game so perfectly made that he wants the same care and attention afforded to his film spin-off.
Perhaps protagonist Jade is about as different as everyone's favourite skyscraper-climbing chimp as you could imagine, but she shares the same never-say-die attitude. The young and lithe girl spits in the face of the stereotypical game heroine norm with cup sizes doubling her IQ by being a more natural character, with real concerns and emotions. Her world of Hillys is being invaded by a parasitical race of aliens known only as the DomZ, [EmP's note: words starting and ending in capital letters are cool] forcing Jade and her uncle Pey'j to convert their lighthouse home into a makeshift orphanage for all the Hillian children who's parents have fallen victim to the evil race.
The concern she holds for her adoptive family never fails to shine through in a refreshingly human way. This motherly resolve is tested to the extreme when a shower of the aforementioned intergalactic invaders crash-land on her peaceful island, unhindered by the protective force-field that usually shield their abode thanks to a late-paid electricity bill. Beyond Good & Evil wastes no time in throwing you headfirst into battle as the coffin-shaped DomZ surge from their meteor-like vessels, eyeing up your adoptive family hungrily.
If Jade shares one trait with the stereotypical heroines that thrive on the grassy plains of Videogameonia, it's that she can kick large amounts of arse. Which is handy, as the DomZ capture Hillians and store them inside their perplex-like innards to be used as some kind of biological battery cell. Won't anyone think of the poor children!? The crafty aliens do, as the unfortunate orphans are quickly kidnapped and made to be the strangest-looking set of AAA-batteries you're likely to see.
Solve this by employing a typical real-time battle set-up, pumping your attack button to smash, poke and prod the scaly green fiends to death with a handy bit of flaming scrap-wood Jade grabs up as she runs to the defence of the kids. With the right combination of button mashing and direction nudging, you'll find Jade to be quite the capable ninja. She'll spin gracefully, the flaming branch swung in an unblockable arc of death; she'll flip effortlessly, letting her feet cartwheel into any foes that bar her way; she'll even break into fluid combos cultivating in a harsh-looking jump-up-and-WHACK! The DomZ will fall quickly, their delicate looking limbs splintering from their main bodies and their transparent stomachs shattering, allowing the captive orphans inside to scamper free. Jade responds perfectly to your orders and the enemy forces stand no chance in the face of your onslaught.
Until the real threat is unleashed. Huge, meaty tentacles straight out of a Zigfried hentai dream gone wrong rip out from the ground and seize our heroine, pulling her into the newly exposed underground lair. It looks like things could go badly for young Jade as she is confronted by a huge circular eyeball supported by a slim stem, but back-up arrives in the form of Pey'j, her adopted uncle.
So starts the first of the boss battles that litter Beyond Good & Evil. A no longer trapped Jade is free to dispense thumping pain with her newly acquired Daď-Jo staff, while issuing simple orders to the exuberant Pey'j. This two-character system is excellent for all the right reasons, and the game will often ensure that you pair up to overcome tricky enemies or obstacles, but wily players will notice something peculiar about your robust rescuer as soon as he emerges.
Pey'j is a humanoid pig.
As good as the mechanics of the game are, and hopefully I've impressed upon you the fact they are really good, what makes Beyond Good & Evil shine is the breathtakingly complex world it creates. Pey'j isn't the only hybrid species out there: you'll find a host of others including bulls, goats, sharks and cats. If that wasn't enough for you, Ubisoft have gone to great pains to flesh out their world in all manner of original wildlife to populate their virtual kingdom -- but not without purpose. Once Jade dispossess of her uninvited guests, she'll find herself presented with a contract which will force her to snatch up her trusty camera and try and get documented evidence of several of these life-forms. Complying will earn her some much needed cash that, amongst over things, will allow her to reactivate the lighthouses shielding, purchase health-ups and attack augmentations and typically live up the high life!
Part-time ninja and freelance photojournalist. Some girls get all the fun!
And sandwiched in between this vibrant vicarious world and constantly evolving gameplay is a dark story that contrasts the colourful settings perfectly. Two factions wage war against the DomZ; the militaristic, propaganda-heavy Alpha Sections and the underground resistance, the IRIS network, each side claiming the others are nothing more than tools of the DomZ. It only takes a chance meeting to drag Jade kicking and screaming into the fray when a simple photographic assignment turns out to be more then it seems. Faced with the possibility of a planet-wide conspiracy, it falls on Jade's shapely shoulders to uncover the truth.
To this end, she'll sneak through heavily guarded installations to capture snapshots of damaging evidence; she'll battle strange and alien creatures to get to the bottom of an ever-deepening saga that poises new questions for every answer you'll find, she'll employ the services of both Pey'j and the meat-headed Double H to uncover the truth behind the invasion. Just who are telling the truth and who are the traitors? Jade, and ultimately, you, will have to see this through your photographic lens to believe it and expose it to Hillys before it's too late.
Because what is exhibited here is a non-stop roller-coaster ride that never lets up for a second. Jade will struggle on heroically through mammoth odds with an entire race vying for her immediate demise, a race not afraid to play dirty. It is only through her strength that you will prevail to the apocalyptic and eye-opening finale that sadly takes place all to soon. Things happen quickly in the world of Beyond Good & Evil, all the more so because you won't stop playing. You'll want to uncover that last scrap of evidence, to free that last hostage, to liberate that last weapons stockpile and to photograph that last lifeform. You'll want to save Jade and her world because it is something special. Something unique that has yet to be replicated.
And perhaps that's why multi-Oscar winning directors are happy to place their cherished licenses in the hands of people who can craft these worlds. Because if Ubisoft can replicate but a fraction of the excellence they've produced here, the decision is entirely justifiable.
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