Beyond Good and Evil
The sleeper hit of 2003 was overlooked by way too many gamers and reduced to $20 in the States. So perhaps we can be excused for reviewing it this late, to remind all you sleepers... BUY IT.
PS2, Xbox, GCN
We've all encountered terms along the lines of "sleeper hit", "under the radar" and "cult favorite". In gaming they usually all mean the same thing: a great game that went unnoticed and will continue to be unrecognized by the gaming public. This is precisely the case with UbiSoft's Beyond Good and Evil. In the States, Beyond Good and Evil certainly went unnoticed this holiday season, warranting a 20 dollar price drop a mere 2 months after its release. This is sad on many levels but the worst part is that many people haven't enjoyed one of the finest adventure games since the Wind Waker's release this past March.
At the heart of this great adventure, like many, is an impressive and equally interesting story. Players assume the role of Jade, a human reporter living on the world of Hillys. Hillys is plagued by attacks from an alien species known as Domz. The result of these attacks is a group known as Alpha Section, which is charged with protecting Hillys, but often they fail to stop these deadly attacks. Thus, many questions arise and the plot thickens as Jade works to uncover the truth behind the Domz and Alpha Section.
Still with me? Right, anyway… while seemingly basic, the story twists and turns and has a great, unique "conspiracy" element that isn't seen very often in games. Overall the story is just as enthralling as any aspect of the game, and begins to showcase the great amount of originality poured into BG&E.
And innovation truly seems to be a theme throughout. While some things seem borrowed or modified from other games, what game doesn't do the same?
Graphically BG&E does a good job of setting itself apart from other titles, without being drastically different or radically unappealing to any one audience. So the end result is an impressive looking and great moving game.
The general feel of the graphics can be described as a cartoon in a way only without the cel-shading. Environments elicit a great amount of detail in both the amount of realism and the sheer scale. Of course the cartoon reference comes the fact that many of the environments have "sharp edges" as apposed to having rounded, cleaner edges, giving the environments a hand-drawn feel. Water effects, which are prominent when traveling between areas of Hillys, are amazing and look great, especially when you're driving your hover craft.
Diversity is also key. Each of the environments has similar themes but there is more than enough diversity to avoid repetition. The world is realistic enough to be believable, and interesting enough to allow for over the top characters, actions and enemies, not to mention a very intriguing plot.
If animals and humans lived equally and communicated with one another you have a good grasp on the characters found in BG&E. Not only will you find (and play) humans but many of the "other" life forms are walking, talking versions of both common and uncommon animals. One of the main characters, and Jade's uncle by some amazing act, is in fact a pig. These characters all look great on top of their diversity, especially the main characters, which have great and varying animations depending on the tasks being preformed. In essence the sub characters have the capabilities to do anything Jade does, meaning they are animated to fight, jump, climb and perform a number of other special tasks.
Innovation transcends directly into the gameplay too. There are adventure staples here, things you'll find in games like Zelda, and then there are some of the coolest original elements seen since Zelda's original transition to 3-D. Much like Zelda, BG&E isn't combat heavy, but it's there. Its also the most basic aspect of the game and involves two very simple aspects. First, Jade's primary weapon is a staff with awesome power used to pummel opponents into submission with one-button combos, exactly like Zelda's sword attacks. Then she also gains a projectile device that shoots CD-like discs at enemies and objects. That's it: that is how you fight. While it is basic it also works very well, and really the encounters aren't all that frequent.
Jade's camera is the greatest tool a reporter on Hillys could ever need. During the course of the plot she'll use her camera to get to the bottom of the Domz and the Alpha Sections involvement. For this Jade will be charged with the task of photographing different people, places and things at different times. Each of these photos will be used to forward the plot.
The camera also serves a second purpose: getting money. Jade will be assigned the task of taking pictures of the local wild life, and in doing so she receives money and eventually camera enhancements and pearls. As you can see the camera is a fundamental and functional part of the gameplay here and using the thing couldn't be easier. Just zoom, make sure your target is focused and snap. Easy as can be, but you never know where you gonna find something you should snap - so always be on your guard. A great and never annoying innovation, and on top of this the camera can be as deep as you want. Some players will seek to photograph everything you are supposed to while others will merely get what they need to move on. A truly innovative system.
Jade, being a human, is a bit under-equipped and under-powered when it comes to dealing with the Alpha Sections, who are heavily armed and armored. In these instances the gameplay takes a turn for the Metal Gear. Jade is really good at sneaking around and solving various puzzles. Disabling laser's avoiding guards, unlocking doors, decoding codes are all par for the course. Luckily Jade can peek around corners, crouch, jump, duck and otherwise stay undetected, which is certainly the way to go when dealing with the Alpha Sections. Jade controls superbly here. Everything works well and most of the time it is sheer navigation that will get you through the levels and this will be simplified due to precise and easy to learn controls.
The only gripe I have with BG&E is the slightly shaky and moderately annoying camera (not the one Jade uses, the player's perspective on the action). It doesn't prevent the game from being fun and thankfully you have full manipulation of the camera as well, which minimizes the frustration and annoyance a great deal. Outside of this BG&E is well done. Some may find combat simple and repetitive, but if one gets beyond the intro the enemies become more complex and you can hardly ever defeat enemies by simply hitting them with your staff. There is also a fair amount of item collection to further immerse the player in the world of Hillys and make them forget about anything they might dislike about the game. One hardly finds this amazing amount of quality in a game that retails for twenty notes in some parts - and the gameplay alone makes it worth every penny spent.
Voice acting is often the Achilles' heel of many games that use it. Either stifled by poor dialogue or simply poor acting many times the voice work brings a game down in this category. Not the case here. Instead BG&E offers excellent voice acting that does nothing less than enhance the characters and their unique backgrounds. Jade is voiced well with a sound of confidence, and the character actually acts on this confidence throughout the game. Jade's uncle has a southern type accent, which fits well considering he is a pig, and he also sounds aged and experienced because of the voice chosen. He shows these two qualities physically at different parts of the game. Another character you encounter later in the game has a very dramatic voice which also fits his "secret agent" persona. All these voices are done with extreme quality and all of them seem very different. Well done.
Musical scores are a bit lackluster here, the only area we see BG&E really fumble. This is largely due to the fact that many of the areas feature little to no music to keep you aware of what is going on. When you do hear music it's great and often done with piano. Sound effects are prevalent though. Certain sounds will inform you of impending danger or there may just be simple background chatter to make the local bar sound lively. These are nice touches indeed and work well to enhance the feel of the game. While by no means horrible the sound could have used a bit of work, mostly in the music department, but to ask for better voice acting would almost be an insult.
All this makes for the one of the best adventure games of late. Yet somehow the game has been reduced in price and largely rejected. Is it worth playing? Yes! Is it worth owning? Yes, again! It really is sad when you see games as great as this get passed up for the latest Madden, which have all been done before.