Reviews: Beyond Good And Evil

Pigs Have Wings

Beyond Good and Evil is Zelda Meets Half-Life 2. An impossible fusion of the Zelda fantasy interface and freedom of invention with Half Life 2's bleak, dystopian world of a planet drained dry by a collaborating regime. Zelda is about celebrating the world, the landscape of nature, how civilization integrates and develops. Half-Life 2 is about surviving a treacherous landscape and a hostile environment. Beyond Good and Evil celebrates a fantastic world of Hillys even as it is facing destruction and decay from a colonial regime. You get to photograph every animal and plants on the planet, from domestic and farm animals, to flies and amoeba, to anemone and fungus, not to mention whales and mantas. At the same time the main dungeons you visit in the game are civilized, the Factory and the Slaughterhouse, and the last one is essentially an armed camp.

Both Half-Life 2 and Zelda are fond of mixing up gameplay, of making you do something different, think something different in different levels. Beyond Good and Evil is impressive for doing this solely in gameplay terms of interacting with the environment rather than some cool power-up or gadget. Indeed Jade just has a few things which she carries. A kind of power-staff for combat, a range weapon that shoots plasma and a camera. That's it. There are no power-ups. Your hovercraft has power-ups of course, but even then nothing that will make you go faster or jump higher. Indeed Jade is really quite special as a gaming character for the fact that she's basically normal. She won't get stronger or fight better or gain new abilities.

She mostly works by improvising, adjusting and adapting to a situation which fits with the fact that she's a journalist. This is quite rare to achieve in a game where every character you play is a power fantasy, someone who's ten times stronger than the opponent. How many games do you play where the NP Cs are in a way stronger and better equipped than you are. Allies have special attacks and your opponents have shields and grenades. You on the other hand have your brains and wits. In that respects, Jade is probably more remarkable than Gordon Freeman.

The Hovercraft is awesome, allowing us to travel both on land and sea, giving a real control over the environment and then of course no other game has made us feel we are actually going to space like this one does.

A great game, with some confusing elements

I arrived to the Beyond Good and Evil scene a little late. I heard a bit about it back in the day, and even considered buying it for my PS 2, but ultimately ignored it, despite hearing good things from friends. When the HD remake was released last month, I decided to give it a whirl.

My overwhelming feeling is one confusion. We're thrown into Hillys with only a news report to tell us what's going on. We then have to fight off waves of... green things to protect some kids our heroine and her (pig?) uncle apparently look after. I've no problem with outlandish elements like these, as long as they aren't thrown in my face, giving me scant seconds to try and understand them.

Otherwise, the story is fine. Not really up to par with similar games like Jak II, but it's competently told, for the most part. There are certain lines that make it apparent the game was not written primarily in English, but they're easy enough to ignore. Where the narrative shines is in it's characters. Jade's porcine uncle, Pey'j, is a hoot, bringing a touch of comic relief to the game, while sharing some fantastic banter with his niece that makes Jade more likeable and their unusual friendship all the more convincing. Jade's other sidekick, a loyal member of the Hillyan army (and the IRIS network, the resistance) by the name of Double H, is just as enjoyable. Jade herself is great, a strong but sensitive female character who truly belongs up there with the likes of Samus and Femshep.

The gameplay itself is versatile, if a bit dated. Over the course of the game, you'll sneak, climb, fight with a staff, ride a hovercraft, play air-hockey with a shark, pilot a space ship and, as befits Jade's occupation, take photos. All of these tend to work well, though the stealth (sneaking past almost invincible marines in Powered Armour) can be infuriating at times.

All in all, I left the game moderately impressed. The game has aged reasonably well, and the updated graphics (most evident with Jade and Pey'j) are half decent.

Here's hoping the proposed sequel gets the love and attention it deserves. I'm sure Ubisoft, having gathered knowledge from the excellent Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell franchises, can make it the classic it deserves to be.