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Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181564)
Written on  :  Apr 15, 2004
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Fun, but superficial and limited

The Good

Beyond Good and Evil is an attempt to merge several genres (platform action, puzzle-solving, melee fighting, driving, and sneaking), adding a Zelda-like propensity to collecting and unlocking.

Beyond Good and Evil is a smart game - it is good at creating illusions, good at holding hands in such a way that we don't feel offended. It knows when to change gears, and it has a great sense of tact and tempo. There is a lot of attention to the player here - as little frustration and as much fun as possible is obviously the goal. The game smiles at the player, it tries to entertain him as much as it can. All this is done with minimal pomp, and (at least in the beginning) in a fairly 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, a musician who plays different instruments and improvises on different tunes.

The most interesting aspect of the gameplay is cooperation with your teammates. Those are the all-around mechanic Pey'j, Jade's "uncle" and a representative of the species sus sapiens, and a super-cool military-trained agent Double H. 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. Particularly dynamic are boss battles, which are a combination of simple melee fighting, gyrodisc throwing, Super Actions, and special strategies unique to each boss. 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.

The various locations of the game are accessed by vehicles: hovercraft and space ship (late 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 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. There are also a few minigames to spice things up.

It is hard to describe the setting of Beyond Good and Evil properly. It has some sci-fi elements, but they don't play an important role; the only city in the game is reminiscent of small, cozy European towns with narrow streets and brick houses. The bright, slightly cartoony visuals perfectly fit a certain fairy tale-like atmosphere of the game: its world is populated by humanoid animals, giving the game a sweet, endearing vibe equally remote from ultra-realism and Japanese gratuitous "cuteness".

The Bad

Beyond Good and Evilis beautiful, charming, and elegant; but it is not deep. Everything here is restricted to following the designers' admittedly well-crafted, but limiting scheme. Unfortunately, the game's very low difficulty level doesn't go well at all with its linearity. In essence, it's a typical example of a jack of all trades which is master of none.

If you look closely at the gameplay, you'll see that much of it consists of minigame-like challenges that trick you into mistaking them for full-fledged concepts. Every puzzle needs to be solved in a specific way rather than require you to think outside of the box. At first I thought that the game will eventually present more complex situations, but this didn't happen: after you familiarize yourself with your basic arsenal you'll have no trouble at all figuring out what to do in every situation. So as a puzzle game, Beyond Good and Evil is quite basic and unsatisfying.

This approach is evident in combat as well. The battles must be the game's most restricting, unremarkable, and unexciting feature. They are confined to small areas and are woefully scripted, leaving next to no room for any kind of creative tactics. You can win most fights by simply mashing down the attack button.

Beyond Good and Evil 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 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. Also, the game eventually forces you to collect so many pearls that you'll probably have to explore those areas no matter what. There is no comparison here with the freedom of movement and abundance of secrets and things to do offered by Zelda games.

The story is weak and treated with irritating negligence. What could have been a suspenseful tale full of moral ambiguity turned out to be a disappointing, simplistic affair. 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 the whole story, and the blatantly "to be continued"-style ending doesn't compensate for its lack of quality in any way. The characters are also anything but deep: even though Jade starts strong, she doesn't develop at all during the course of the game and treats everything with a startling calm bordering on lack of emotions.

The Bottom Line

Beyond Good and Evil is a classic case of style over substance. Snapping pictures of sentient rhinoceroses and buying gadgets from a Chinese walrus is fun, but the actual core gameplay comes only in small portions, making you crave for a bigger, deeper, and more generous game.