Beyond Good & Evil review
Beyond a Simple Game
When it comes to Ubisoft properties it's easy to think of the likes of Rayman or Prince of Persia, which are well know action-adventure titles with a heavy focus on platforming. So when a new IP pops up appearing to run along the lines of action-adventure from that team then thoughts of precision jumping under a new name come to mind. Well, that isn't the case. Beyond Good & Evil focuses a lot more on the adventure element than its brethren, and it turns out to be a rather good unusual experience.
The story follows freelance photographer Jade, who when not tending to the lighthouse where she lives takes on odd job missions to make a living. The planet Hillys is constantly being invaded by an enemy known as the Domz and Jade's journey sees her diving into the depths behind these invasions. An encounter with the terrorist group IRIS leads Jade closer to the Domz and the supposed protectors of Hillys, the Alpha Sections. The pacing of this is quite good and it is interesting to see just where the secrets will lead. I think it also helps that the game doesn't take itself too seriously. In amongst the angst and drama is sprinkled various pieces of light humour to soften the mood and it helps a lot.
What really makes the story work though is the wonderful cast of characters. Female characters can often be attributed as mere eye candy and/or damsels in distress, but Jade defies this by portraying herself as a strong willed character willing to do what it takes but still showing just enough emotion to be identifiable. She is joined by some wonderful companions, like the half boar Pey'j, who proves himself to be a bright spark, and Double H, a strange spy who comes up with the most strange sayings. These people make you care about Hillys and the events that are happening.
This real sense of personality translates across to the visuals as well. Character rendering and animation deserves special mention for being amazing. Jade receives the most care and attention, allowing for a somewhat down to earth appearance befitting of her role and animated both to convey emotions effectively and to allow her to execute her actions smoothly. Other characters bring in their own style, as Hillys is filled with a variety of humans and half-humans.
The area of Hillys you are in is a thriving community set amongst a number of islands with some interesting features like the bustling city in the middle, hidden caverns and military facilities. While not quite comparing to the amazing characters, the architecture still inspires something like a sense of awe and the clever way different areas intersect makes it a wonderfully places just to go taking photos of (which, funnily enough, you're able to).
In terms of Music BG&E scores another success. Of particular note is the way it's handled in the "dungeon" type areas, as the music alters with the events that play out, but even the more humdrum background tunes that beat out as you explore the likes of the overworld do the game justice.
What really sets standards in the audio department though is the voice acting, as this game gives even animated films and TV series a run for their money. The choice of actors is perfect to flesh out the personalities of the different characters. Jade sounds as strong willed as she acts, and Pey'j sounds exactly as you'd expect a talking boar to speak.
Unlike most adventure games you're not really setting out to defeat a single known big bad as such but trying to unravel a possible conspiracy regarding the invasions. IRIS decides to contract Jade with the purpose of gathering evidence in order to rally the people into taking action. This means that Jade's role is not just to dash through dungeons smacking anything that so much as moves but to infiltrate facilities and stealthily gather the evidence needed.
This is really the first aspect that is going to be a surprise to gamers. Combat exists, but Jade rarely resorts to it. The bulk is on exploration and so you'll spend your time both figuring out how to get into certain locations and then trying to track down the evidence needed for your mission. Thankfully, the structure and layout of both the overworld hub area that is Hillys and the dungeon-style complexes is simply amazing, and it's fantastic to see how the different areas connect. For example, one facility later on is impossible to get into through the normal route but a construction oversight has a possible entrance in one of the racetracks that passes by there. Figuring out these odd routes is part of the fun and will produce some of the challenge.
This also means that puzzle solving is a heavy focus and this can mean a variety of things. If you need to use a lift that is broken then you need to find the means of fixing it, which means locating replacement parts which can be obtained from the more unusual places and finding ways around the power loss. Needless to say that these approaches won't necessarily be considered normal but it can be somewhat ingenious. What's great is that these puzzles rarely become too routine and so you'll enjoy tackling each one to get deeper into each complex. Puzzles are not limited to static types like that though. Finding a way through lasers is an example of a more active challenge or figuring out the best way of triggering a switch to give yourself enough time to reach a closing door puts on the pressure.
This element is boosting by the presence of a partner. At times you will be joined by someone else who will be necessary to clearing some of these tasks. The extent depends on the circumstances but they can help launch you to higher platforms or to activate switches when you can't be near it. These actions are triggered solely by a single button and the AI otherwise controls them effectively which makes it a nice team setup without getting frustrating.
Stealth plays a significant role as well. Considering you're in places you're not supposed to be then you can expect that the guards won't be too pleased to see you. Obviously, a freelance reporter doesn't have the means to take on an army so Jade has to sneak through certain areas. Normally I'm not all that fond of stealth sections being crammed into games of other genres, so the fact that I found it enjoyable here must mean the developers did a great job on it.
Stealth actions here aren't as terribly complex as something like Splinter Cell. Guard patterns are mostly predictable, alert areas are limited and they'll quickly forget they saw anyone if they lose sight of you for long enough. This may be what makes it fun though, as they isn't too much pressure from it. Even so, there is still a tactical element as you figure out safe spots to hide in and ways to disabling the guards without alerting others to your precise location.
When Jade does have to fall back onto combat she does have some option open to her. Her staff is her primary weapon, which she will pull out automatically when she needs to fight. The action button then becomes her attack button, with tapping producing some standard combos or it can be held down to produce a stronger area attack. So far into the game she can gain an ability to fire discs off, which can be used for puzzle solving and combat alike. Dodging is an option as well and Jade's partner can help in some fights.
Ultimately combat isn't as indepth as something like Legend of Zelda, but it works enough to be enjoyable, which is nice for a game where it isn't even the main focus. I do wish the dodge command was a little more useful though, as sometimes Jade doesn't quite dodge out of the way enough and still ends up getting smacked in the face. However, this rarely proves to be a significant issue.
When you're not on foot then you get to ride around in a hovercraft. This is a necessary form of transportation as much of Hillys is covered in water, but sometimes you will have to complete tasks like shooting down enemies or completing races. The handling is somewhat slippery though but not bad enough as to detract a lot, especially as it's rare to sustain actual damage should you smash into the scenery. Doing those extra tasks can be somewhat fun, upgrading the craft by hunting pearls forms an interesting challenge and the gaming world size is just about right as to avoid making it too tedious.
Like other adventure titles there is a fairly good shops system. The main city has a few shops where you can buy items, which includes food items to replenish health, and there are also vending machines dotted all around the place, often in convenient locations to help you stock up should you be in need of them. Money can be obtained the traditional way of smashing objects in areas to reveal purple gems, which are converted into money for you. Uniquely, BG&E also assigns you a mission early on to take photos of the animal species in Hillys, which you can tackle over the course of the game and provides a more interesting source of income.
In terms of difficulty the game offers a reasonable challenge without getting too difficult. A lot of the challenge comes from the stealth aspects and figuring out where you need to go, but you still need to be careful around combat enemies or navigating death traps. On the other hand, the game is fairly generous with cash and so you should really have a good supply of health restoring food, and even if you or your partner should bite the dust (very possible as there are some instant kill situations around) then you simply reappear back in the same area, with the only real consequence being that your health gauge only refills up to 4 hearts. Hardcore gamers may lament the lack of a lives counter or more serious consequences, but this makes it more accessible without making the challenge insultingly easy.
The real problem in this game though is that it ended. When the ending credits ran I felt it was a shame that the adventure had come to an end, and that is a testament to the sheer quality of the game that sucks you in. I wanted more and there are some optional sidequests around but it still feels like it all finishes too soon.
Beyond Good & Evil has often been referred to as a sleeper hit, and it's easy to see why it gets such praise. There's not a lot of games out there quite like this one and the fact that it leaves the player wanting more just shows that everything in this package is simply a lot of fun.
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