Beyond Good & Evil (GameCube) Review

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Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft

Platforms: PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

The planet Hillys is under assault by the alien DomZ, and has been for so long that buildings and cities are equipped with protective energy shields to protect the occupants from DomZ meteor attacks. The government's Alpha Section, an elite military cadre, claims to be making strides to contain the DomZ, yet the attacks continue unabated. Citizens continue to disappear from Hillys, apparently related to the DomZ attacks.

Jade is a young reporter, as well as the caretaker of a lighthouse full of orphans (with the help of her adopted uncle Pey'j). She is working to create a photographic catalog of the planet's animal life when she encounters a rebel organization known as the IRIS network and begins to explore the truth about the war, the abductions of sentient beings and the Alpha Section.

Kyle Ackerman

Michel Ancel, best known as creator of the Rayman series, has been working for years to create Beyond Good & Evil (BG&E), a cinematic adventure. Aside from being genuinely entertaining, BG&E does an amazing job of providing a movie-like experience, while maintaining accessible and open-ended gameplay.

Most of the choices made during the development of BG&E aimed to make the title more like an interactive film. To emphasize the point, the premiere events for BG&E, just prior to release, were held in theaters, allowing gamers to play the title themselves on the big screen. Almost universally, these development choices make for a better game, as they either help keep the action and plot moving or provide a rich environment for players to explore. The choices that don't improve the game play don't hurt it. For example, the display has been forced into wide-screen format, regardless of your resolution settings. This film convention makes little difference in play. BG&E pays more attention to visuals, shots and angles than many games. As in any game, the moving camera can occasionally drift into inconvenient positions, but the camera positions are often carefully calculated to evoke an action or science-fiction film. These angles are particularly noticeable during dramatic stealth sequences and chases. A great deal of effort went into making the ambient scenery evoke a complete, bustling world.

Makes the Controller Like an Appendage

The attractive and stylized graphics are lush and beautiful, especially for a console title. The world has a nicely implemented day-and-night cycle that impacts tangential interactions, for example affecting when animals appear, but that doesn't get in the way of real progress. Even the water is shiny. The team is proud that one staff member focused solely on the water, and it looks good. And sparkly. Among the other fancy cinematic effects, some cut-scenes actually worry about camera focus. You can see a foreground character, previously in-focus, blur as a character in the background comes into focus. Rather than the computer convention of having everything in focus, this makes more sense to the eye and lends a sense of realism.

One thing BG&E does surpassingly well is interpret contextual action. While far from perfect, the game does its best to jump, climb, push boxes or activate machinery when appropriate. The game usually does what you want it to do, when you want it to do so, making the analog stick on the controller feel more like an extension of your will than a conventional joystick. Even in the cases when you need to press a button, the interface usually tells you which button to press. The context-sensitive action makes many portions of the game a pleasure to play. Want to press yourself against a wall for stealth? Walk towards the wall when an enemy is around the corner. See a difficult jump? Walk toward the ledge and Jade will jump, barely catching the ledge with her fingers. Without the automatic jumps, BG&E might have been a clunky platformer. With them, achieving fantastic jumps doesn't disrupt the narrative and the action is seamless.

Explore Or Battle The DomZ... Either Way There Are Save Points Aplenty

Even some basic game conventions contribute to the pace of the game without becoming frustrating. Several timed missions spring themselves upon you without warning, but the timer provides urgency. There is always enough room to accomplish your objective easily, so there is none of the irritating repetition other games' timed sequences entail. Puzzles (especially because of context-sensitive actions) make the player feel clever without becoming especially difficult, and they keep the game moving while still being interactive. There is combat, but it is rarely difficult, and it requires a minimum of reloads. Perhaps the most irritating console game convention of all, save and continue points, is present, but fails to get in the way much. Save points are plentiful, and continue points exist before nearly every combat. So, if you fall victim to a guard, you'll usually start at the entrance to the same room in which you were bludgeoned.

Despite a story that impels you to learn more about the DomZ and save the world, the game provides plenty of incentives just to explore. Aside from the beauty of the world itself, you'll cruise the planet by hovercraft, foot and spaceship in search of money, photographs, pearls and information discs. Somehow, BG&E is both exciting for those driven to follow the strong pull of a narrative tale and those players who want to explore and collect trinkets.

Accompanying Jade throughout her journey are Pey'J (a curmudgeonly pig) and Double-H (a rebel journalist with the mentality of Dudley Doright). Both give her advice when Jade gets stuck, and aid her in battle, and each will accompany her at different times. They are both key to solving certain puzzles, as Jade will have to work in tandem with her co-adventurers to bypass certain obstacles. But mostly they help add gravity to Jade's quest with their comments.

Actually, Good & Evil Are Right Here

It's not fair to say the story disappoints, because the journey throughout BG&E is a lot of fun and lends a great framework for events in the game. It is fair to say that it could have been more. When BG&E was in the marketing phase, it promised to address themes of moral ambiguity, propaganda, the role of pervasive media, and the trustworthiness of authority. To be fair, these concepts suffuse the game, and can be heavy handed (such as the Propaganda song in the Akuda Bar). I, however, was hoping for something a bit more ambiguous and sophisticated than the game that was released. There is a clear white hat/black hat distinction between the protagonist and the allied Alpha Section and alien DomZ. Jade is the caretaker of many orphans. The Alpha Section traffics in humans. The resisting Iris Network wants to free everyone. It would have been interesting to add additional plot reversals, such as a more sinister agenda for the resistance. Ultimately, Jade faces both internal and external evil. The straightforward roles still make for a great game, that is more appropriate for a diverse age range than the alternative. Even so, the nearly omnipresent media in BG&E makes for a nice effect. Screens and speakers are everywhere in the main city, constantly spewing the propaganda of the Alpha Section, which nicely keeps up with the player's latest exploits.

The single biggest complaint many players will have is that BG&E is short. The game can easily be completed in a single day, and that will still give you enough time to collect every pearl and animal photograph. Even the short duration contributes to the cinematic feel of the game, as things move quickly. But it would have been nice to have more game to play. The plot urges you forward, but it also leaves the title with little replay value.

If there is a drawback to BG&E, it's that the game is short. Otherwise, it is entertaining with the textures and controls perfectly tuned for a console game. If not for the fact that some of the action sequences (racing and combat) require a bit of coordination, this would be a great title to lure casual gamers into a fuller gaming experience. The game may be short, but hardcore players can compete on an internet site for high scores based on time to completion, objects collected and performance in mini-games. The experience is closer to that of an interactive movie than most games have achieved, and is a worthwhile way to spend a day.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 13, 2004 7:38 PM.

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