"In recent years, storytelling in our video games has grown somewhat stagnant. Some of the best selling titles of the previous generation of consoles were the products of ego-driven artists, producing shoddy action titles to fulfill their action hero wet-dreams. Am I the only one surprised by the fact that people who write "music" that consists mostly of "uh" and "yeah" are incapable of stringing together a decent story? "
In recent years, storytelling in our video games has grown somewhat stagnant. Some of the best selling titles of the previous generation of consoles were the products of ego-driven artists, producing shoddy action titles to fulfill their action hero wet-dreams. Am I the only one surprised by the fact that people who write "music" that consists mostly of "uh" and "yeah" are incapable of stringing together a decent story?
Even companies and franchises renknowned for strong storytelling have become locked in the same old stories and recycled ideas. I've already sworn that Rogue Galaxy is the LAST pirate RPG I will ever touch (damn you, Skies of Arcadia. Your great destroyed an entire generation of RPGs). And then there is the ultimate crime: once venerated franchises with riveting, multi-game story arcs have practically thrown storytelling to the wayside. I'm staring accusingly in your direction, Resident Evil 4.
But even in the darkest of skies, there are breaks where the sun shines through. One example: Beyond Good & Evil. A sci-fi tale set in a dystopic future, the developers of the game clearly drew their inspiration from such great dystopic novels as "1984," "Brave New World," and "Fahrenheit 411." And, like all good science fiction, Beyond Good & Evil draws eery parallels to our own world, history and society. Whether one sees these parallels as deliberate allegory, or coincedental applicability, is entirely up to the player.
Set on an aquatic, alien world in some unspecified, far-off solar system, the peoples of Beyond Good & Evil are periodically menaced by an invading alience race: the Domz. To protect the peoples of the various planets in the solar system, the military employs an elite task force known as the Alpha Section. Though the Alpha Sections do indeed appear to protect the planet's population, an early plot point is the unethical restrictions they place on people's freedoms. Parts of the city are occupied by the Alpha Section (coughRevolutionary Warcough), certain forms of currency are outlawed, and parts of the planet are completely restricted.
The heroine of Beyond Good & Evil is named Jade. Herself an orphan from a Domz attack, she and her "Uncle" Pey'j (a giant, humanoid Pig) open their home to other children who have been orphaned by Domz attacks. While out one day trying to earn money to pay the power bills, Jade is unexpectedly recruited into a resistance movement. This movement operates an underground newspaper, which attempts to expose the truths behind the planet's so-called "protectors," and Jade becomes their newest "reporter" (re: spy).
What follows is a story that is brief, straight-forward, and even relatively predictable (although there are one or two twists that will catch you). The plot has highly poignant things to say about the power of the press, and the true motives of those who would be your protectors, or your enemies. Late in the story, concepts which bring the power of faith and philosophy come into sharp focus. Perhaps the greatest strength of Beyond Good & Evil's story is that it says a lot in a relatively short amount of time. This player, at least, really appreciated seeing this, especially in the previous generation's climate of "Longer Stories are Better Stories!"
Another strong point of Beyond Good & Evil is its varied gameplay. The predominant activity is stealth recon. While exploring the various Alpha Section strongholds, the player must avoid the detection of the Alpha Section soldiers, while searching for evidence of the Alpha Section's true motivations. Once found, the player must then get a snapshot of this incriminating evidence, which is then uploaded to a planetary-wide news network (which is an obvious homage to the internet).
The stealth isn't nearly as cool or intense as it is in that-other-stealth-game (we should all know what that is), however. The Alpha Sections aren't very bright (which is doubly confusing, as they're a key part of a diabolical, interplanetary conspiracy). They have an extremely short field of vision, and never pursue the player very far. This is rectified slightly by the fact that force fields appear to block your path forward, should you be detected. This forces the player to backtrack and try again, instead of just kamikazi-ing through the whole level. That-other-stealth-game should definitely look into that. In another advantage over you-know-who, very little of BG&E is entirely linear, which adds a fair bit of exploration.
Though Jade spends a significant part of her quest solo, she is also joined by one of two partners a fair amount of the time. The first is, of course, her uncle Pey'j, and she is later joined by a resistance member code-named Double H. Both of the partners have unique abilities which are needed to solve puzzles. Pey'j, for example, can perform a ground pound, which is needed to defeat certain enemies and interact with the environment. Double H is equipped with Alpha Section armor, which lets him enter highly guarded areas, and bypass force fields. The partners are, for the most part, pretty good about keeping out of trouble. But, on the rare occasion where you need to sneak through an area, and are accompanied by one of them, the situation becomes significantly trickier.
When not infiltrating restricted areas to take illicit photographs, the player is navigating the overworld in Jad'es hovercraft. The overworld, while lamentably small, neverthless has a good amount of stuff shoved into it. By find and completing the various tasks in and around the game's only city, players can earn Pearls. These can be exchanged at the Mammago Garage for hovercraft upgrades.
The Hovercraft upgrades are required to progress. So, unfortunately, several points of the game are padded down to what essentially amounts to a Pearl Hunter. But, since Pearls are found in numerous quantities almost everywhere, the pain of these sections is minimal. In fact, some of the sidequests fork over so many Pearls in one go, that Pearl Hunting becomes almost trivial. Activities which reward players with Pearls range from Hovercraft races, to advanced stealth missions, to thwarting (sigh) Pirate attacks.
Jade's camera, too, is used for a lot more then taking illegal photographs in top secret facilities. Near the beginning of the game, Jade becomes employed by the local Zoological Science Research center. Players are rewarded with Pearls and Credits for taking pictures of the different species around the planet. These species range from wild animals, to insects, to the various sentient beings of the planet, to the Alpha Sections, and even the Domz. It's an almost unabashed rip-off of Metroid Prime's scanning system, but the concept is fresh enough that it still works.
Be it with Alpha Section, or wild animal, or science-experiment-gone-wrong, Jade is inevitably drawn into unavoidable combat. For these times, Jade is equipped with a Staff. Here, the game slips slightly, as staff combat is ripped off almost frame-for-frame from that most reviled Zelda clone, Starfox Adventures. Jade ven finds discus-shooting gloves, which function almost identically to the Fire upgrade in Adventures. As if the bizarre similarities to that particular Starfox title weren't enough, late in the game players engage in space combat which gave this player, at least, Starfox 64 flashbacks. I could almost hear Peppy telling me to do a barrel roll.
The problems with the combat don't just stem from being too similar to an average action game. The player begins the game with only two hit points total, but very quickly begins to amass huge numbers of items which increase the hit point maximum. By the end of the game, you have so many hit points that dying is never really an issue. The hit-and-miss hit point meter is further worsened by the hit point restoring items included in the game.
Early on, you'll go throw huge quantities of the basic healing item, which only restores one hit point per go. By the end of the game, you have twelve hit points, making these particular biscuits worthless and time consuming, but necessary. But wait, it gets worse. There is also an item available which restores all of your hit points in one go. This item, however, is only marginally more expensive then the basic healing item. It's not difficult, once your cash flow has been built up, to buy huge quantities of these items. In short, keeping your hit points up early up is annoying, and dying is never really an issue by the end of the game.
Beyond Good & Evil is powered by an extremely slick cel-shaded graphic engine. And for all you people screaming "Celda," it's cel-shaded as in graphic novel, not as in saturday morning cartoon. Even though the title is a few years old now, the character models still look really fantastic. Jade, in particular, is animated with ridiculous detail. I only wish that the same could be said for the environments themselves. The water effects, city, and landscape are nicely done, but nowhere near approaching the quality of the character models. This is not only disappointingly inconsistent, it also makes the character models stand out like a sore thumb.
This was also one of the first titles to be displayed exclusively in widescreen format, beating out Resident Evil 4 by several years. I'm a big proponent of the widescreen format, no matter how small the screen. Why? Because our eyes are designed to see more horizontally than vertically. The fact that it has taken this long for widescreen media to become the accepted standard in television and games is one of the great crimes of the electronic world. I could take this opportunity to go into the horrors of the Pan & Scan format, but this is not the time or place.
So, the game has an uncommonly good story, varied (but not original) gameplay, and excellent character models. So, it makes sense that the sound and music would be a complete travesty. WRONG. The vocal track is outstanding (not to mention it comes in multiple languages). You won't be pining to turn the voices off here. The included subtitles are almost unnecessary, the acting is so good. Even the completely over-the-top perform for Double H is acceptable, as the character was clearly written that way (CARLSON AND PETERS!). The music, too, is excellent. With an eclectic soundtrack that ranges from Reggae to Hard Rock to Atmospheric, the sound team really outdid themselves on Beyond Good & Evil.
Gameplay: 8 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 8 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.2 out of 10
I can honestly say I didn't expect much from Beyond Good & Evil (which, I fully admit, may attribute to how much I admire it). I found it in a Gamespot bargain bin for ten bucks, so I figured that even if it was truly terrible, it wouldn't matter much. But, such was not the case. Though the controls are stiff and the overall length rather lacking, a neo-political Sci-Fi buff like me nevertheless got a big kick out of it. I can easily see myself playing it for years to come.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 21, 2007)
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