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Beyond Good & Evil (PlayStation 2)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (164812)
Written on  :  Apr 15, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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It's superficial. But it's fun, damn it!

The Good

If you say "French platformers", you know you can't go wrong. With the timeless masterpiece Another World and the modern incarnation of the genre Heart of Darkness, French designers firmly established themselves as the leading platformer-makers, at least in terms of creativity in gameplay design. "Beyond Good and Evil" is also based on the good old platformer genre, but it offers much more than that. It is an attempt to merge several genres (platform action, puzzle-solving, melee fighting, driving, and sneaking), adding some adventure elements and item-gathering taken from RPGs. Most astounding is the fact that it succeeds in this insane genre-crossing, and the result is an attractive mixture of creative elements that do fit together and form a rather convincing whole.

"Beyond Good and Evil" has what can be called streamlined gameplay - for us, gamers, it means fun. The overwhelming majority of games don't change paces. They begin as something solid and firmly established, and remain so until the end. The point here is not only to incorporate various genres into a whole. Outcast did it, but still wasn't fun. Nomad Soul did it, but the transitions between genres were abrupt and artificial there. "Beyond Good and Evil" is a very smart game. It leads the player securely to the next destination, yet it creates by him an illusion of dealing with something very flexible and open-ended. It changes genres when it wants to, yet the player feels he is the one who changes something. There is a lot of attention to the player here - as little frustration and as much fun as possible is obviously the goal. Like Anachronox, it smiles to the player, it tries to entertain him as much as it can. All this is done in a very discreet manner, with minimal pomp, and in a pretty natural way. That's why the gameplay rarely gets boring - like a snake, it drops its skin and wears another, it is like an entertainer with several masks, like a musician who plays different instruments and improvises on different tunes.

A large portion of the game is dedicated to platform-style dungeon crawling along the lines of ICO. A total of four large dungeon-like areas, together with several smaller ones (like Alpha Section Headquarters) occupy a central place in the game, and constitute what can be called the "meat" of the gameplay. Each dungeon is a long, often branched route to the destination, full of physical obstacles to overcome and puzzles to solve. The action part of dungeon hopping is in may aspects typical for platform games. Jade can duck, roll, and jump upwards (she does it automatically when its becomes possible). The most popular physical obstacles are series of laser rays. Some can be deactivated by pressing a button or by more complex means, some should be crawled under, while others should be jumped over or simply avoided.

From time to time, enemies attack Jade and her friends, and a battles begins. Once in battle mode, you cannot leave it and perform other actions until all the enemies are eliminated. Jade fights kung-fu style (the intro shows her meditating, as part of training in martial arts) and can perform simple attacks and cool combos with her staff. She can also gather spiritual energy and then release a group attack by jumping up and landing on the enemies. Early in the game she also receives a valuable weapon and a handy tool to solving many puzzles: a gyrodisc. It is a throwing device that is used by switching to first-person perspective and aiming carefully.

Almost all the puzzles in the game fit into environmental, physical category. There are no inventory puzzles and only a couple of "turning" ones (such as the mirrors puzzle late in the game). The puzzles pop out very frequently and are logical and intuitive to the extent of being the most obvious action one would perform in reality. Press a button to deactivate lasers; push a crate to jump on it and to access a higher level; fetch a fuse to repair a broken elevator. That said, the puzzles are not always blatantly easy. Some of them require precise timing and quick action - for example, at several points in the game you should cut off the electricity for a short time by kicking a generator; during this time, you should manage to run to another place and get an object that was previously behind a protective field. Many puzzles also require careful observation - some important switches are far away from Jade and can be accessed only by viewing them from first-person perspective, zooming, aiming, and then throwing a gyrodisc at them. Some fights also serve as mini-puzzles. For example, pushing a hostile robot to an energy barrier during a fight will cause it to explode, deactivate the barrier, and clear a passage for Jade and her friends.

The most interesting aspect of the puzzles (and also of the fights) is that they often can be solved only with the help of your team-mates. Those team-mates are: an all-around mechanic Pey'j, Jade's "uncle" and a representative of the species sus sapiens (which are none else but pigs with human intellect), and a super-cool military-trained agent Double H. Very often Jade will need the help of her friends by solving puzzles. Both can open heavy grates (Pey'j by using pliers, Double H by wearing a helmet and breaking them down with his head), press buttons that Jade can't access, and perform other useful actions. Both guys are also quite helpful and even indispensable in fights. Both allow the usage of a Super Action, which is slamming the ground with either Pey'j or Double H, that stun the enemies, and inflicting a heavy blow on them with Jade's staff. Particularly dynamic are boss battles, which are a combination of simple melee fighting, gyrodisc throwing, Super Actions, and special strategies unique to each boss. For example, the boss of the Factory is a giant robot on two legs, which can be defeated only by attacking both legs simultaneously (giving an order to Double H), and then launch a gyrodisc at the exposed core.

Both your companions also have their own health meters, inventory, and AI in combat. You can issue commands to them by pressing the triangle button, and manage their inventory by giving them healing items. They will then use those items in combat when their energy gauge drops. If your team-mate dies, you should start the fight all over again. The team-based gameplay is a fantastic idea that also adds some RPG flavor to the game.

With the recent success of (partly or fully) stealth-based games such as Metal Gear Solid series, No One Lives Forever, Deus Ex or Splinter Cell, it is not surprising that the creators of "Beyond Good and Evil" wanted to incorporate this element into their game. Stealth is much more than just a gimmick here. Despite being a martial artist, Jade is neither a muscle woman, nor a super-agent with a wide choice of weapons and nifty gadgets. She is not very strong, has no armor, and can fight only with a staff. As a simple photographer, she doesn't have much chance against the heavily armored robotic guards of Alpha Section. On her espionage missions, she should infiltrate enemy territories silently and with discretion. The stealth portions of the game are well made and offer some nerve-tickling suspense. Particularly thrilling is the Alpha Section HQ with guards at every corner and deadly turrets. Sometimes Jade has the choice of either being stealthy or engage the guards in combat. If she comes close enough to a guard from behind, she can kick him, sabotaging his gas tank, his most vulnerable zone. She can also fire a gyrodisc at those tanks from far away, causing a guard to run around aimlessly and to be incapable of fighting. Of course, other guards will notice that something is wrong, and you'll have to dispatch them the usual way. Fighting guards is not an easy task, especially when Jade is alone. Sometimes using stealth is the only way to proceed - turrets kill Jade in one hit once the guards notice her presence.

Jade is a photographer, and virtually all her objectives are to take pictures that would incriminate the treacherous activity of the Alpha Section, the bad guys of the game. Photographing is yet another cool addition to the versatile gameplay of "Beyond Good and Evil". You should find evidence and photograph it, then send the pictures to the governor who will in return give you some important codes to get to inaccessible areas. But you'll also use your camera to take pictures of animals. Photographing animals is the largest "sub-quest" of the game, to which you can resort at any time (except the final dungeon). Every time you encounter a new species, you can take a picture of it, and then send it to Science Center. In return, you receive a payment (which depends on the animal: rare species bring you more money than such usual ones as homo sapiens), and after you finish a roll of eight animal photos, a special reward (mostly a pearl). It is not always simple to photograph animals: some of them are very quick and require good reflexes and precise timing to take a picture. Particularly interesting is taking pictures of enemy creatures, where you should avoid enemy attacks and try taking their pictures at the same time. Such pictures often bring a lot of money.

Money management plays an important role in the game, and also belongs to its few RPG-like elements. By taking pictures or breaking some crates you can get money, which you can use to acquire healing items, active principles (that increase your energy gauge by one heart), various handy items for your vehicle, or other useful things (like pearl detector or attack-enhancer at Ming Tzu's). Beside money, you'll also have to think of pearls. Pearls are illegal currency that you'll need to have because some important plot items can only be bought with them (by the rhinoceroses at Mammago Garage). Finding pearls is an exciting and time-consuming quest, which requires you to visit several areas that would be otherwise regarded as optional. There are a total of 88 pearls in the game, of which you'll need about 70 in order to acquire all the necessary items. Some pearls can be bought, some you receive as payment for your successful missions, but most of them must be recovered from dungeons.

The various locations of the game are accessed by vehicles: hovercraft and space ship (late in the game). Hovercraft driving is quite important in the game. You glide over water and dock in order to access the city or another location. At a certain point you receive a jump upgrade, which allows your hovercraft to jump over obstacles. Sometimes you must navigate your hovercraft on a road with gaps and to avoid enemy fire at the same time. There are a few "hovercraft dungeon" areas where you interact with objects by shooting or pushing them. There is also hovercraft fighting in the game - at your disposal are rapid fire and a cannon that causes massive damage. Your space ship can obviously fly, but it is equipped the same way as the hovercraft, and also participates in battles.

As if all this weren't enough, the game is full of various mini-games, the most noticeable of which is hovercraft racing. The races are fairly easy to win, but are still a lot of fun. You also receive some good prizes if you win all the four races in the game.

The game's design is quite original, compared to the many 3D games devoid of any personality in design. The graphics are deliberately comic-book-like, with wonderfully deformed characters, cartoony villains, and a unique background style (check out the city architecture, for example). It is 3D, but its style goes in many ways back to comedy adventure - a rare sight in our days. Some might dislike the style for its obvious "lightness", but it is undeniably one of those aspects that makes the game unique.

The setting is also not your typical "cyberpunk/dark sci-fi" kind of thing. Their is nothing "dark" and "post-apocalyptic" here, no typical huge city covered by darkness and rain, and a lonely hero with a low voice, raincoat, and cynical remarks out there to save the world from an evil robotic conspiracy. It is hard to describe the setting of "Beyond Good and Evil" properly. It has some sci-fi elements (imaginary devices and gadgets, space flight), but they don't play an important role in the game. The only city of the game has a peculiar "ancient style" architecture, reminding typical European towns with narrow streets and brick houses. One of the most appealing details in the setting is the existence of animals-humans, like the pig uncle Pey'j or the "Chinese" walrus Ming-Tzu. They add some warmth and kind humor to the game's atmosphere, and that without any "cuteness".

The voice acting is quite good - I was switching between French and English while playing the game, and both versions were of a good quality. I should mention the game's above average music. The music is discreet and fine, undeniably French in nature, with some Chinese overtones - French composers often have a weakness for Asian music.

The PAL version I have allows you to play the game in five different languages. Everything, from text to voices and even some in-game inscriptions, changes accordingly. I hope other games will follow this example.

The Bad

Have you ever heard French music? If you are familiar with Debussy's or Ravel's compositions, you'll understand what I mean by comparing "Beyond Good and Evil" to them. It is beautiful, it is charming when you first encounter it, it is brilliant and elegant, but it is not profound.

The story for example is weak, and is treated with irritating negligence. The story is as simple and as straightforward as they come, and it doesn't have anything to make it different. What could have been a suspenseful tale full of moral ambiguity turned out to be a disappointing, simplistic affair. A plot twist that should have come near the end appears right in the beginning of the game. After the very first mission we find out that Alpha Section are the bad guys. From this moment on we work for the good fellows from Iris Network and sabotage Alpha's activities as much as possible. That's it. That's the whole story. There is a small plot twist in the final portion of the game, and a couple of moments during the ending itself that indicate something more interesting, but those moments are not enough to compensate for the overall lack of quality in the plot. There is no "beyond good and evil" to speak of; the title is absolutely misleading and sounds much more profound than the game really is.

And this story doesn't even end properly. The ending explains nothing from what was left unexplained. We never learn anything about the true origin of the Domz and of Jade. The ending is a rather blatant invitation to a sequel, which we'll perhaps never have. I have nothing against a long series of games where each sequel continues directly the unfinished plot line (like in Shenmue or Xenosaga), but for such a series, the first part should leave more questions unanswered, more to look forward to, which is not the case of "Beyond Good and Evil".

The characters are also not very deep. What can you say about Jade herself? She starts strong, with the orphanage she is running, but this character doesn't develop with the time. She rarely has to say something. We don't know what she feels. For a game which is essentially an adventure, this is a significant flaw. Her companions also lack substance. The typically light-minded French approach is clearly visible here. I wish they'd invite some Japanese designers to flesh out those characters.

If you look closely at the gameplay, you'll see that it is not quite as deep as it looks in the beginning. The game likes creating illusions. One of them is the illusion of non-linearity. When you get out to the surface for the first time, you see a large world that looks totally open-ended. You want to take your hovercraft and simply to drive around, like in GTA. But very soon you discover that most of the areas are blocked, and you can go only where you are supposed to go. Later in the game, optional areas do appear, but it is still a far cry from a truly open-ended world, which this game would certainly greatly benefit from.

The Bottom Line

+ Versatile gameplay
+ Lots of style
+ Very fun to play
- Forgettable story line and characters
- Light-minded

The keyword here is fun. And this fun is delivered with style. You'll have to forgive the game its French origin: don't expect a profound story line or well-developed characters, and be ready to deal with its superficial nature. But "Beyond Good & Evil" is not about that. It's about addictive, stylish genre-switching, which is frankly so well-done that you won't be able to stay angry at it for a long time. This game is like a sexy, witty girl who will be able to dump you for another guy when the right moment comes. Not somebody to spend your whole life with, but rather to have fun while it lasts!