Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5472)
Written on  :  Sep 15, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Who spilled Oddworld in my Splinter Cell?

The Good

The peaceful planet of Hillys is under attack by the vicious DomZ. Luckily the Alpha Section has established a base on Hillys and defends the aquatic world, but who are the IRIS network and why are they trying to discredit the Alphas? Are they DomZ collaborators or are they tied in to a deeper truth about the Alphas?

Enter Jade, a freelance photojournalist and foster parent to children orphaned by the conflict. Together with her “Uncle” Pey’j (a gruff, but lovable boar) they travel around Hillys on a hovercraft taking pictures in locations most people can’t get to. But as the game begins, the war comes to their island home, forcing them to take a more active role in the conflict.

Hillys is a typical one-planet, one-city, sci-fi world, but it is incredibly alive. Apart from the aerial and naval vehicle traffic, Hillys’s seas, skies and lands swim, fly and crawl with life. Jade’s first assignment (and one that will follow her throughout the game) is to create a photographic catalog of all the life on the planet. Using her camera, Jade will have to learn how to take a photo using the zoom feature and proper framing. This is key to the game and quite easy (unlike Bounty Hunter’s similar bounty marking system). For each animal photographed, Jade receives credits and once a roll of film is taken she earns a reward, often a Pearl.

Credits and Pearls make up Hillys’s economic system. Vending machines and conventional sellers accept credits, but the garage that services the hovercraft only accepts the more expensive (and much rarer) Pearls. Taking pictures is the easiest way for Jade to make money, but there are two ways to gamble (which work much better than Pazaak—take notes, George) and hovercraft races Jade can enter.

In addition to taking pictures and piloting a hovercraft, Jade is also an energetic explorer and skilled martial artist—the two go hand-in-hand. Often to get to where the pictures are, Jade will have to find her way through a “dungeon”—be it a cave or military complex, doing the tradition button pushing, inventory finding type things—and fighting a variety of enemies. Jade has a Daï-jo fighting stick (3rd person combat) and later attains a glove mounted disk-launcher (FPS-type action). She also fights in concert with her companions, utilizing a super-attack that they can perform.

Beyond Good & Evil has stealth portions. There are some challenging areas, but nothing I found impossible. Also, many of the stealth levels are pseudo-stealth, meaning that stealth is simply used to avoid combat. If you are detected, then you fight your way out.

Much of Beyond Good & Evil's open-ended design makes it feel like a role-playing game rather than a typical 3rd person action/adventure game. There is great emphasis on character development; Jade is emotionally invested in the story (as opposed to some videogame characters who seem disinterested in what’s going on around them) and the supporting characters acknowledge Jade and relate to their environments.

Beyond Good & Evil has stellar graphics with very fluid, distinctive animation. The game also has a wonderful soundtrack that had me hanging around in the bar just to listen to the “Buddy Holly – Propaganda” songs. Did I mention that I love this game?

The Bad

Beyond Good & Evil took me around 12 hours to complete; it seems short, but good games often do. Most of the game is very open-ended, letting you explore as much of Hillys as possible, but there’s a certain point where the game becomes linear until the end. I would have appreciated knowing that there was a point of no return.

Some of the stealth areas can be frustrating, but I personally felt a high level of accomplishment when I got through them.

And the dumbest complaint I heard about the game is that it ends on a cliff-hanger. It doesn’t. Finishing the game is completely satisfying, BUT the designers (perhaps too optimistically) left an opening for a sequel.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the biggest thing Beyond Good & Evil has going against it: a female protagonist and bloodless combat. Sales tanked, but gamers missed out on something great. Carlson & Peeters!