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SummaryAn Incredible Experience, Don't Overlook It Too!
The GoodBeyond Good and Evil, created by Rayman supremo Michael Ancel, is possibly the most charming platformer on the PS2 system, and really makes you feel part of a living world. Forget GTA's bland sandbox or the boring skateparks of Tony Hawk's, here's a game that really puts you right into a world that you'd actually want to spend time in.
The sense of atmosphere is palpable and really quite beautiful. Strong words for a mere game, but BG&E is without doubt one of those games, like Ico, that starts to transcend the barriers between gaming a genuine cinematic experience. We're not there yet, but this is a step in the right direction. The plot is neat, petite and melodramatic in all the right ways - its a lot better than your standard 'alien menace' fps plots although it does find itself on the wrong end of a few naff moments. The game is also a basic satire on the role of media governing our lives, intelligent stuff for a game, even if this territory has been covered a bit in film.
The peaceful world of Hillys suffers under alien attacks constantly, but it is thankful for the Alpha Force, an elite force of soldiers championed by the media as our salvation. Although many civilians still go missing mysteriously, the Alpha Force are heroes, an example to all in the idyllic world of Hillys. Or are they? Okay, so the whole 'undercovering a conspiracy' plot has been done to death, but it hasn't been covered in games that much, certainly not in platformers. And the story is good fun, with enough twists and funny moments to keep you playing, even if you feel you know where the story is ultimately heading.
As photographer and orphanage owner Jade you sneak into a variety of locations, helping the Iris Network, a galaxy-wide resistance force, to unveil the truth to the population of Hillys. Again, very predictable, but the feeling of revolution and liberation as you start to reach the public is one of those terrific feelgood moments that you remember forever, and that only games can really muster. 'See those revolting citizens - I did that!'
The feeling of being part of an actual resistance movement is excellently recreated, with enough death and sad moments to feel like you are really battling against an almighty corporation. Sneaking through the cracks in the scenery or using your ship to blast your way in makes you feel like you are really up against it, and really makes the stealth tense (more on that later).
After entering a base, which take the form of everything from a drug factory to a slaughterhouse, your mission is to photograph all the nasty stuff going on. And its nasty - not blood and guts nasty but a real contrast with the stunning aesthetics of Hillys' scenery. The photographs are then sent out to Iris, who distribute them among the population. Seeing your report, complete with the photos you took, is really quite an ego boost, and then seeing people talk about what you discovered when just a few hours of gametime ago they seemed like lambs to the Domz slaughter - that's really cool.
The reason all these basic actions make you feel so great is because the actual world is so well realised. Lovingly designed characters walk the streets, hovercars whizz around the roads and even the mechanics are Jamaican rhinos with their own (excellent) reggae theme song! Even the giant Domz monsters are works of art. And the game world, especially the open sea, is simply stunning - especially as you upgrade your ship and discover more and more glorious countryside.
Another factor that makes the game so compelling is the dialogue and personality of the characters that inhabit the game world. The characters are very charming, and the dialogue is, compared with most games anyway, sparkling, fresh and very well acted. The leads are compelling, and even the bit-parts have their own quirks and eccentricities. The warm characters allow the game to move from light humour to bleak sadness in the blink of an eye. An event near the end of the game where Jade nearly gives up is beautifully done, and not anywhere near as naff as it really should have been.
Jade is an excellent lead, thankfully a bit deeper than the Lara Croft 'breasts and ass' stereotype while remaining clear of the forced 'feisty' cut-out she could have been. She's sassy, funny and genuinely seems like a fully-fleshed character. The sidekicks are more eccentric but steer clear of annoying for the most part.
Jade's step-father and loyal friend Pey'j is a pig, but only in the literal sense! When I first played this game, I couldn't quite believe I was adventuring with a talking pig, but you'd be surprised how this feeling disappears and he becomes good old uncle Pey'j - he's the game's key humour character, and his natural charm makes him a trusted ally.
Your other companion is Double H, a bizarre, military-tradition obsessed solider who you rescue from the Domz. It takes a little longer for you to get used to his sheer oddness, but after an hour or so you start to see just what a cool guy he is really. He's a lot deeper than he first appears!
Its odd that I've written so much without commenting upon the actual gameplay. The game has a rich variety of styles, but the main ones are adventury platformer bits (technical term!), with some stunning set-pieces, stealth sections, which are simple but satisfying, and driving sections, which are terrific fun.
As a straight platformer, BG&E is a disappointment - there aren't any jumps, as every gap is leaped across by simply pointing Jade in the right direction like you would Link. Really, the exploration sections are classic adventure, with puzzling and a fair amount of combat, like a very French Zelda.
The combat is quite simple, but looks so lovely you won't mind too much. Really all you're doing is bashing 'x' while pointing the analogue stick in the direction of an enemy and watching Jade leap into some quite stunning animation. If you're struggling to imagine it, try thinking of an arcade-heavy Prince of Persia combat system. A special attack (which becomes quite valuable after upgrading it at the game's store) and simple teamplay commands add a bit of variety, but really combat is a bit one note.
The bosses are stunning however. They look incredible, and although the method of dispatchment is always simple, it still feels very satisfying. Also of note are some frantic chase sections with you running through city streets crawling with guards baying for your lovely green lipstick. These are excellently handled, with cinematography that simply beggars belief.
The stealth is also quite simple, but the tense atmosphere and sense of danger make the sneaky moments work. You'll be skulking a lot more than you would expect upon first glance, but thankfully the game offers a good enough system to entertain, with lots of baddies to dodge and the occasional set piece that entertains (staying out of sight by hiding behind a moving crate for instance).
The driving sections are wonderful. They are perfectly done, with simple but satisfying shooting with a lovely lock-on cannon and again some wonderful set pieces that have you luring homing mines into crates to stay alive or stuck in the tractor beam of an enemy ship. The handling of Jade's hovercraft is simple but very controllable, and the upgrades that let you lock-on, jump and eventually fly make you feel really quite brilliant.
Special mention has to go to the subquests that pad out the admittedly rather small adventure. There are loads, from hovercraft racing, to an addictive tabletop game called pearl hockey, to desperately trying to find secret areas to find extra pearls (the game's black market currency), to trying to take a picture of every animal in the world! These diversions are terrific, particularly the animal photography one that makes the adventure sections work much better as you constantly scan the area to find a new species. The rewards for quest completion are excellent too, with a two-player pearl hockey game to be found and a fun little concentration mini-game for finding all the pearls.
To finish this bit I'd also like to comment upon the music. The score is again streets ahead of most gaming fodder, and I actually have bits of it on my PSP music collection. The little phrases are deftly composed and the music that comes in at moments of emotion or action are perfectly judged. I can still remember a nasty twist coupled with a stunning minimalist violin melody that just captured the moment.
To conclude this rather lengthy monologue, Beyond Good and Evil does everything right in terms of atmosphere, and is great fun to play.
The BadThe game does have its weaknesses. You probably noticed that I didn't spend all that long on the actual gameplay mechanics, and when I did I used the word 'simple' an awful lot. This is because a lot of the game is actually very basic and comfortably easy. This doesn't matter for me as I love the atmosphere and the characters and the sub-quests - if you find you don't warm to the game immediately, you won't at all. The game is also rather short, especially if you aren't interested in side quests and secrets. Again, I loved it so much I found it endlessly replayable, but again that may not apply to you. I would try renting the game first to see if you really like it. My other complaint is with the stealth sections. Here the rather one-dimensional gameplay holds it back. Sneaking behind a guard and kicking his air tank to kill him rather melodramatically is great the first time, but the fiftieth? Also, too much is reliant upon trial and error, with a lot of deaths and restarts. Really, BG&E is a very unique game with its own charm - if that charm doesn't appeal to you, chances are you won't enjoy it.