By setting out to make her home a better place to live, Jade ends up making our world a whole lot better
Games pertaining to the action/adventure genre have been continuously produced ever since 3-D gaming was born. After all, if there is one thing a tridimensional scenario claims for is deep exploration with a few action sequences along the way to further enhance the game’s pace, hence stopping it from being a monotonous linear line on the excitement chart.
Most of those games, though, fail to provide a somewhat unique experience as they usually draw tested concepts and gameplay structure from genre pioneers (Zelda and Mario), but fail to use those pillars as the solid foundation for something that is big and refreshing. Consequently, they end up feeling like redundant purchases, or inferior imitators, to gamers that already have the best of the genre on their collection. Beyond Good and Evil is different, however. It heavily drinks from the Zelda fountain, but it adds some extremely successful elements that help distinguish it from its colleagues.
As the game begins, on year 2435, players are presented to the world of Hillys, a beautiful planet in a far away galaxy where many islands are connected by a big body of water filled with ships while space shuttles fly overhead. In this planet humans, robots, and other animal-like species live in a society that is more often than not attacked by DomZ, evil aliens with an unknown purpose. Thankfully, the planet is protected by a group of military forces dubbed Alpha Sections, which always show up on attack scenes right after the occurrence in order to protect the population and fight the DomZ.
Jade, a human orphan and the game’s star, lives with her uncle Pey’j, a pig-like humanoid with great knowledge in mechanics, in a lighthouse taking care of Hillys’ children that have been orphaned by DomZ’s attacks. One day, while going through financial woes, Jade receives a mysterious message. Its content leads her to an investigation group, the IRIS Network, that searches for evidence of a possible conspiracy inside the government. The search reveals a shocking reality, and the brave Jade decides to lead the IRIS Network in their fight against the powers that be.
The plot is extremely original and clever. Not only does it deal with propaganda and underground battles between a dirty government and its suppressed opposition – a surprisingly deep theme for a software of cartoonish visuals, it also sets the basis for an equally distinct gameplay, and it is in that combination that Beyond Good and Evil truly flourishes as a game.
The storyline is made even stronger by the building bricks that fill it with life. The voice acting is great, and so are the lines punctually delivered by the actors. As a consequence, Beyond Good and Evil’s characters are charismatic and easy to fall in love with, naturally increasing players’ interest in what happens during the adventure and making the levels of engagement soar. The same applies to the development of the core group of characters, which is handled with a lot of care by placing them in carefully constructed situations of drama, comedy, tension, and sheer joyful adventure
All of that excitement unfolds in a vast overworld composed of a small number of islands and locations to be explored, and a big city that serves both as the main point for resupplying and the secret base of Jade’s insurgent organization. The metropolis is bustling with activity and, as an added touch, it feels extremely alive due to the fact that – as the investigation advances and the truth begins to go from mouth to mouth – citizens start reacting to what is taking place and change their behavior.
In order to travel between the distant locations that form Hillys, Jade uses a fast modern ship that controls very well and streamlines the process of going from one place to another. The vehicle plays a large role in the game and a good portion of the adventure is spent inside of it as some of the places that must be visited are heavily guarded by enemies, barricades, and other obstacles that can only be surpassed by using it.
Additionally, perhaps aware of how thrilling that method of transportation is, Ubisoft threw in few amusing races and other small side missions that involve driving the ship as fast as possible while speeding by the almost surrealistic scenarios of Hillys.
Once Jade steps out of her vehicle things take a less-frantic turn. Most of the gameplay consists of exploring large and dark environments where the government is potentially undertaking suspicious activities. Like a nosy journalist committed to the truth, Jade’s main goal is to show the population the reality of what is taking place behind the scenes. Therefore, she must often take revealing pictures in locations that are heavily guarded.
Players will have to find a way to sneak through hordes of bots that will act in the sign of any small noticeable movement. Naturally, Beyond Good and Evil has an intense element of stealth surrounding each and every one of its missions. Jade will crawl, hide, and surprise the guards by attacking their weak spots when they least expect it. In order to advance, players will have to carefully scan their surroundings and look for a route that is best suited for sneaking around, making most of the gameplay feel like a big puzzle that involves finding a way to navigate between two points without being seen.
Those sequences are overwhelmingly impressive. The combination of the tense soundtrack, the knowledge that these are facilities that hide huge secrets, and the visually stunning camera angles that display perspectives that border on cinematic drives the pressure to the stratosphere.
Although stealth is its calling card, Beyond Good and Evil does a fantastic job in balancing out its gameplay. There is a lot of sidling, but there is also plenty of puzzle solving and combat. The former involves some Zelda-like solutions to problems that stymie the progress of the investigation. Overcoming those obstacles usually involves using the skills of Jade’s partner by pressing the Y-button, which works as a context sensitive command to those characters.
Meanwhile, the latter consists of a good collection of baddies ready to be beaten down. It is worth noting that the game’s combat system – which makes use of a fixed camera that is extremely accurate even if the automatic lock may bother some players – isn’t exactly deep, as most regular enemies can be brought down in hack and slash fashion. However, it is entertaining and it does its job in changing the game’s pace a little bit. Boss battles, on the other hand, even if not very numerous, are pretty inventive and tend to demand more than button-mashing.
That fantastic alternation between stealth, combat, and puzzle-solving comes to a close after ten excellent hours of gameplay, but Beyond Good and Evil knows the impressive allure of its world, and it finds ways to lure players into further exploring it. Firstly, as a pleasant break from the snapshots of disturbing contents, Jade can use her camera to photograph and catalog the vast fauna of Hillys, temporarily turning the game into a delightful scientific quest in beautiful and, sometimes, inhospitable settings.
Secondly, as a more traditional – yet equally attractive – collectible of sorts, pearls are scattered throughout Hillys, and tracking each of them down can be an adventure in itself given some of their hiding spots are away from the course one takes when tackling the game’s main plot.
Despite all of its qualities, Beyond Good and Evil is not perfect, and it is disappointing to notice that its major shortcoming is found in one of its most original and best elements: the storyline. Although the script is by all means stellar, its execution has issues that diminish the value of its concept and of the prowesses that it highlights, such as the tense atmosphere created by the knowledge there is something iffy going on.
Through the first half of the quest, players will be extremely compelled to uncover the schemes of the planet’s leaders. Unfortunately, the truth is unveiled so quickly that the game’s second half feels a little bit lacking because the story’s core will already be exposed by then. Therefore, from that point onwards, players are left with a gameplay-focused experience.
While the gameplay is great and holds up the game by itself just fine, the complementary tension provided by being on the verge of a nice discovery is gone, taking away a little bit of the game’s fantastic charm. Thus, Beyond Good and Evil skyrockets to the masterpiece level on its first hours, but comes to the finish line as a great action/adventure game.
The end result is Beyond Good and Evil is not as great as it could have been, but it clearly rises far above most of its competition. It uses an intriguing premise as its launching pad and, from that point, it proceeds to craft clever gameplay elements to complement it. In this world where goofy characters meet somewhat dystopic visual cues, Ubisoft pulls together a highly varied adventure with great heart and personality that rightfully earns a well-regarded position in the lore of gaming. By setting out to make her home a better place to live, Jade ends up making our world a whole lot better; we should be thankful.