Reviewed: March 13, 2004
Released: December 2, 2003
If I had to use one word to describe Beyond Good & Evil it would be “magical”. From the very instant this game begins you are transported to a wonderful fantasy world inhabited by some of the most creative and delightful creatures in gaming history. Even the so-called “bad” characters, whether they be hostile subterranean plant life, or clunky Alpha Section guards (think Cylons meet Stormtroopers) have their own personable charm.
Created by Michel Ancel (Rayman), Beyond Good & Evil shows the same visual qualities, careful game design, and wonderful plot and character developments that made Rayman a household name. Beyond Good & Evil is amazingly complex in its design and totally simplistic in its execution. There are numerous types of gameplay covering multiple genres, so you end up getting an unexpected and unpredictable mix of action and adventure.
I won’t spoil the plot for anyone but in brief, you play as Jade, a freelance photographer who lives in a lighthouse on an island that is also home to several displaced youngsters whose parents are missing as a result of an ongoing war with an alien race known as the DomZ. Jade, herself is one of these parentless children, taken in by the humorous Pey’j nearly 20 years ago. Pey’j is just one of many unique races you will encounter in Hillys, a jovial pig-like creature that wears overalls and likes to tinker with mechanical devices and invent cool gadgets.
Jade is initially given the task of capturing photos of every species on the planet. This becomes an ongoing side-quest throughout the rest of the game, but as you will quickly learn there is more sinister plots to be uncovered. You are given a test mission by a mysterious man in a black limousine and once completed you are recruited by the IRIS network, a rebel faction determined to prove that the military force, the Alpha Sections are in league with the DomZ. It’s up to you to uncover the truth and capture it on film for the entire world to see.
During the first few moments of the game Hillys comes under attack by the DomZ and Jade gets into her first fight. Jade’s primary weapon is her Dai-Jo stick that she can use to beat down most enemies in the game. Combat is a button-mashing affair with little or no skill required, although she can hold down the attack button and power-up a super attack and later in the game she can upgrade her stick to fire energy bursts during this super attack. A few hours into the game Jade will also gain the ability to fire projectiles using the Gyrodisc Glove, and you will get to use this in conjunction with the Dai-Jo stick in a few battles that require more strategy. You can also zoom in and snipe distant enemies with these energy discs.
Jade’s trusty camera is her final piece of equipment and probably the most important. There are at least a hundred unique species you need to photograph including your enemies and even the bosses. Yes, it’s as humorous as it sounds. You are about to face off against some super-bad creature and you have to pause for a Kodak moment. You are paid in cash for each picture taken and the fee is based on the rarity of the creature as well as the location. Some creatures are abundant and will get you a few hundred credits while others require a few tricks just to make them appear. One such creature only appears when it’s dark and you have to figure how to turn out the lights when there is no switch.
The entire concept of using a camera to capture wildlife photos is highly original and I can envision a game built entirely around this premise, most likely an education game. Just imagine going on safari in Africa or the Amazon and trying to capture as many indigenous creatures on film as you can. This feature alone puts Beyond Good & Evil in a niche genre all its own.
Your camera is also used to capture evidence needed to prove the conspiracy between your planet’s military forces and the aliens. The resistance leaders at IRIS will give you specific assignments and targets that you must capture on film. Another nifty trick is the ability to snap a picture of a locked door. By uploading the barcode serial number on the lock you can learn the access code to get through that door.
Another creative gameplay device is the S.A.C., the device that holds and analyzes your inventory. While most gamers have learned to ignore the impossibilities of carrying around a truckload of items in your pocket, this game solves the dilemma by digitizing everything you pick-up and reintegrating it when needed. So you basically carry as much as you want and it all fits in a small device about the size of a portable CD player that Jade wears on her waist. It even comes equipped with Rinaldo, the suave French AI who handles Jade’s interfacing needs.
Beyond Good and & Evil never attempts to hide its console roots. This is not your typical third-person PC action game, and while the game is functional using a mouse and keyboard you will ultimately have a better experience if you hook up a gamepad. When a game looks and plays like a console game you need a console controller to make it all come together.
Hillys is a large world with plenty of areas to explore using your beat-up hovercraft. The game reins you in and dishes out portions of the world through a clever reward system using pearls. Pearls are the only accepted currency at Mommago’s Garage, the only place in Hillys that can fix and upgrade your hovercraft.
Pearls are awarded to you for each completed roll of film you shoot and you also get a pearl after each boss battle. There are four hovercraft racing events you can enter and first place earns you a pearl. There are looter caverns hidden around Hillys and defeating the pirates inside will earn you pearls. There are 88 pearls in all and while you don’t need all of them you will need most, and finding them is the ultimate quest.
There are a few aids to help you in your fetch quests. The Animal Detector will display the location of every creature on your world map that needs to be photographed and the Pearl Detector will do the same for pearls. You won’t find these items until later in the game and having enough money to buy them is another matter entirely.
As you can see, there is a lot going on at all times. You are given specific missions but you are free to explore the world, or at least what’s available to you, at your leisure. Some areas are locked by keys that you won’t obtain until later in the game. You’ll need money to buy health and hovercraft repair kits and other necessary items and you need to shoot pictures to get that money. You’ll need pearls to upgrade your hovercraft and access new parts of the world to continue the story and discover new animals and pearls. It’s all tightly integrated and perfectly balanced so you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.
During your adventure a sidekick will almost always accompany you. For the first part of the game this is Pey’j and later you are joined by Double-H, a freedom fighter and hero within the rebellion. Regardless of your companion you will get to work with them to solve many puzzles and fight off the enemy. You can order your companion to perform a context-sensitive action like a super-attack or something as simple as standing on a pressure plate or cutting down a wire grate. Pey’j and Double-H can both perform a special attack that temporarily freezes your enemies allowing you to execute a powerful Dai-Jo spiral attack sending them flying across the room.
You are responsible for keeping your companions healthy and ready for battle. You can upgrade their total health capacity with PA-1’s (extra hearts) and you will want to make sure they have a good stock of health power-ups. As long as they have something to eat they will heal themselves as needed.
While there is a lot of action in Beyond Good & Evil the latter half of the game contains several stealth levels as you infiltrate the Alpha Section headquarters and even an alien infested moon base. Jade has some excellent stealth abilities and is able to crouch and move silently as well as flatten against a wall and peek around corners. Some levels consist entirely of sneaking past dozens of alert guards to reach your goal. These levels involve learning the patrol routes of the guards and moving only when they are not facing toward you (as indicated by the green glow on their visor).
The Alpha Section AI is surprisingly good, better in fact that some serious games like Splinter Cell. If you are seen for just a moment the guards will go on alert and you have about 2-3 seconds to get out of sight. This is the equivalent of the guards catching something out of the corner of their eye. If you are seen for about a second longer than that they might deviate from their normal patrol to confirm any suspicions. If you are totally discovered the alarms will sound, laser fields will block your escape and the guards will attack. A disintegration droid will fly to your last known position, scan the area and vaporize anything there. You are still free to run and hide if you can, and the guards will eventually cancel the alarm and resume normal patrol if they can’t find you.
You can also sneak up on guards and kick them in their air tank or shoot them with your energy disc. They will dance around unable to function until you either kick them again to finish them off or one of their comrades comes over to reattach their air hose. You can use this tactic to your advantage to disable one guard then setup a chain reaction where you do the same to each guard that tries to help the last. Once they are all dancing around just walk into the room and kick them at your leisure.
Beyond Good & Evil makes excellent use of frequent checkpoints so you never have to replay more than one or two rooms if you meet an untimely death. You are free to save your game at any of the convenient M-Disc stations scattered throughout the game. I was a bit disappointed that you could only save games in three slots, but only because I wanted to save so many specific points to show friends later.
So there you have it. Action, adventure, racing, exploration, discovery, stealth, puzzles, combat, engrossing story, and a cast of unique and charming characters that all come together to create one of the most original games of the year. This game has it all.
Beyond Good & Evil is a visual masterpiece and the PC version outshines the console, both with higher resolutions and more detailed graphics. The screenshots don’t even begin to do this game justice since it gets even better when everything is set into motion. The game has a unique stylistic shading to it that blurs the lines of cel-shading and CG. Certain locations feature unique color pallets that help create a specific mood.
There is a definite predominance of blues and greens used throughout the game as well as realistic night and day lighting effects. The days and nights cycle at a highly accelerated rate so you will have plenty of chances to appreciate the subtle changes. Interiors are purposefully dark to show off realistic architectural and environmental lighting effects. Jade herself is dressed in green kakis, green jacket, and wears a green headband and green lipstick.
The world is huge with a draw distance that extends to the horizon with no fogging or pop-up. Even when you take to the skies for a birds-eye view of Hillys, the game manages to maintain an impressive level of detail with fluid framerates. At any given time there are dozens of ships flying overhead or sailing around on the ocean. When you cruise down the main canal you will be dazzled by the hustle and bustle of traffic moving in all directions at all elevations.
Hillys is a land of islands so there is a lot of water and it looks very nice with real-time reflections that distort and ripple with the wave patterns. Some of the interior levels like the ancient mine are simply enchanting, almost like a fairyland of glowing plants and other gelatinous creatures of various colors and textures. Real-time colored lighting reflects off of all the surfaces creating realistic shadows, and in rooms with water you get a very nice ripple effect on the walls and ceiling. There is also plenty of atmospheric fogging and random particle effects used to create little firefly creatures buzzing around or even just dust particles in the factory. Everything feels alive and moving at all times.
There are literally hundreds of unique creatures in Beyond Good & Evil and many of them are actual characters that you get to interact with. Since a lot of the dialogue is text only the animators are given the daunting task of creating personality through design and animation rather than speech. Success. Even when you can’t hear them speak characters like Pey’j, the Rastafarian Rhinos of Mammago’s Garage, the shark creature at the pub, the cat woman at IRIS headquarters, the oriental fish creature at the shop, all ooze with personality and quality design.
Even though you read much of the non-relevant dialogue in the game there is still plenty of speech, both in the game-engine cutscenes and at key moments in the story. You are usually treated to each primary character’s voice at least once so when you do have to read their lines later you can substitute that voice in your head. Every voice in the game is flawlessly cast and perfectly read.
Sound effects are perfectly matched to the visuals and have their own unique charm that fits the theme of the game. There are plenty of environmental noises and every single item in the game that would make a noise does. Despite the lack of trendy Dolby Digital or Pro Logic II support Beyond Good & Evil does an amazing job of creating accurate 3D spatial environments using basic DirectSound and a supported sound card. You can get some surprising positional effects, even with only a pair of speakers.
The music that supports the action is just as good as the rest of the game. There are some epic orchestrations that create some majestic moments and then you are treated to the delightful theme song from Mammago’s Garage that I can still sing and hum word for word and note for note. There are some cinematic actions sequences where the music ramps up into some techno-rock and the races and chases through looters cavern are backed with energetic theme songs.
I photographed every single creature, found every last pearl, and saved the planet and it took me 9hrs and 54min to do it. Of course this was my third time through the game having played it on the GameCube and Xbox previously. First time visitors to Hillys can expect 12-15 hours to complete (and I mean "complete" - not finish) this game. I didn’t get stuck or have to repeat any significant portion of the game so you can pretty much figure this to be an actual completion time for those that want to explore every facet of the game. I’m sure you could rush through the adventure and shave a few hours off that time but you would be doing yourself a huge disservice.
Beyond Good & Evil is an experience that is meant to be savored at a leisurely pace. There are so many memorable moments in this adventure and you will treasure and remember them fondly long after you are finished. There are a few mini-games hidden within the main game. You can race the four hovercraft races as often as you like and try to get the record race time. There is also a cool variation of air hockey in the bar and you can even earn some extra cash if you get good at it. When you find all 88 pearls you will unlock an addictive and challenging marble game, similar to Marble Madness only much harder.
You are also given an Internet Code each time you save your game. You can go to the Beyond Good & Evil website and enter that code in the Darkroom to receive new codes that you can enter in the code terminal in the lighthouse or the hangar and unlock more hidden material within the game. Even better is that the PC version is value priced at only $20 so there is no reason not to be playing this fantastic game.
Ubisoft has done it again, first with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and now this. Beyond Good & Evil is a highly polished game that covers so many genres and styles of gameplay that it can hardly be classified. Beyond Good & Evil has become one of my favorite action-adventure games of all time, first on the console and now the PC.
I could go on for another few thousand words about the immersive gameplay and just plain brilliant game design waiting for you in Beyond Good & Evil, but I would rather you go out and get your own copy and start enjoying it for yourself. This is a must have title regardless of what system you play it on. Just make sure you play it.