Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 12/11/03 | Genre: Action
Now days there are so many new games coming out all the time, it's hard to know which ones to watch for, and a lot of great ones get passed over. Such is the case, it seems, with Beyond Good & Evil by Ubisoft. While it has been highly rated all over the gaming community and is available for all three current consoles and the PC, it's surprising that BG&E didn't produce more of a stir. Recently Ubisoft dropped the retail price to $20 on all platforms, due to poor sales. This is great news for gamers, but one has to feel bad for the developer and publisher who put so much effort into this completely original title.
BG&E is a third person action/adventure game with many stealth elements, puzzle solving, real-time battles, hovercraft racing, and some item finding. The game takes place on the fantasy world of Hillys where humans and anthropomorphic people live together in a futuristic society. You play as Jade, a young freelance photographer who lives in a lighthouse with her adopted half-pig-half-human uncle, Pey'j. Pey'j took her in after her parents mysteriously disappeared. Together they provide a home for children whose parents have been captured by an invading alien force called the DomZ.
You are immediately thrown into the action as the DomZ commence an attack on Hillys. Defending the children at the lighthouse (who the DomZ are trying to kidnap) in this first battle is relatively easy and serves the purpose of teaching you the basics of fighting. While the combat in general isn't too hard, you'll want to hone your skills throughout the game in preparation for the final battle, which will probably be difficult your first go around. A squad of the Alpha Sections, a kind of space corps who has offered to protect the Hillyans from the DomZ, shows up to save the day after you've already taken care of the monsters yourself. They give the all clear and leave you to yourself again. Pey'j angrily points out how convenient it is that the Alpha Sections always show up at the right place at the right time, but don't seem to do much good. And despite their help, the DomZ attacks and the kidnappings keep increasing. Very soon you are recruited by the IRIS Network, an underground group seeking to find the truth behind the attacks and hopefully expose the Alpha Sections. It becomes your job to go undercover and infiltrate strategic points of operation for the Alpha Sections, photograph anything odd you find, and publish it so that the people of Hillys can know the truth and rise up against whoever is behind it all.
The feel of the game isn't too different from other third person adventure titles, however the way that all the elements come together is superb. There are plenty of small missions and mini games to balance out the few longer missions that you'll be given. Two ongoing tasks keep you thinking about different things while you're exploring. These are collecting pearls and photographing all the different animals on Hillys. Finding pearls isn't nearly as monotonous as collect-a-thons in a lot of platformers, as there is a pearl detector you can buy to help you find them easier, and many times you'll collect several pearls at once in a single place. You can also see the rewards of collecting these pearls pretty quickly in upgrading the hovercraft. Taking pictures of animals also give you pretty quick results, as each picture immediately produces 150-3000 credits (Hillyan currency) depending on the animal's rarity or difficulty to capture. Each roll of film you complete (one roll is eight pictures) also earns you a prize. The first prize is a digital zoom for your camera and the last one is an M-Disc with all the pictures you've taken on it. The rest of the time you'll receive a single pearl. There is also a prize for collecting all the pearls in the game -- another M-Disc with a minigame on it. In this game you control two pearls simultaneously, one with each analog stick. The goal is to navigate the pearls through obstacles without crashing, and is VERY difficult.
I wouldn't normally make much note of an item bag, but this one I really like. Items are stored in a pouch that hangs at Jade's hip. This is one of the only item bags I can think of that makes much sense, as Jade holds the item to a scanner built into the bag and it demolecularizes it, basically storing it as un-arranged atoms. I don't know how in the world other video game characters can store so much junk in their pockets or backpacks. Anyway, the interface for the inventory also seemed somewhat innovative to me. At least I can't think of a time I've encountered one like it. Selectable slots are arranged in a circle with an icon representing what's stored in that space. You point the control stick the direction of the slot and a small arrow shows you what you're pointing at. Then you just press the A button to select the item. You may have to see it to understand.
You can save your game almost anywhere by finding an M-Disc reader and inserting your save disc. Just press A at the reader to activate it and then select the disc you wish to use. You'll receive different M-Discs at various important times throughout the game. You'll have the save disc from the beginning. The readers are found all over the place, including in the middle of dungeons, and you even begin with a reader detector in case you need to find one quickly. I will say, though, that this is rare, unless you don't have very much time to play. I only used the readers to read new discs, which you don't get that many of, and to save when I was ready to quit. If either you or your companion die at any time, you'll be started back at an invisible checkpoint with slightly depleted health. You really won't have lost much. For this reason, you probably won't need to use any health replenishing items, so just save them for times when you get desperate. The final battle was really the only time I felt I needed them.
Your main mode of transportation besides foot, is a hovercraft. While you'll mostly stay on water in the hovercraft, it can also go over certain areas of land. Wherever you are, it's a real joy to control. And unlike sailing in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I never once got bored of it. Just push the direction you want to go with the control stick, and you'll turn and be propelled that way with a couple of mounted fans. This method isn't the fastest way to get around, so thankfully there are upgrades available. The only place you'll be spending your hard earned pearls is at Mammago's Garage to upgrade the hovercraft, and eventually a spaceship which you can attach the hovercraft to. This way you don't have to worry about whether or not you could have spent the pearls more wisely some other time and place. The first upgrade only costs one pearl and allows you to boost while holding the R button. Don't confuse this with the limited boost capsules which temporarily triple your speed -- this upgrade is permanent.
The game's controls are immediately intuitive and are generally explained well in a tutorial-as-you-go style whenever a new action is available. The control stick controls movement, while the C-stick pans the camera left and right and zooms in and out. Thankfully, the directions for camera mode panning and third person view panning are separately adjustable. No other control scheme changes are available, however there is really no need to change anything. Ubisoft has done an excellent job here. The A button is context sensitive and so fills many roles: pick up items, talk to people, activate buttons, etc. B performs a rolling dive. Holding R allows you to run and holding L crouches. The Y button is dedicated to Jade's companion, whomever it may be, directing him to perform context sensitive actions such as press buttons, clip chainlink fences, stomp on things, or ram things. Left and right on the D-pad scroll through items, which you can use at appropriate times with X. Z activates camera mode, in which you'll spend a fair amount of time. Here the control stick looks around while the C-stick zooms and the A button takes pictures. A bit later in the game, you'll get a disc shooter that mounts on your camera. You can then shoot discs in camera mode using X. Start opens the inventory screen where you can also access missions, e-mail, maps, and options. There is no targeting system while fighting. Instead, Jade just faces herself towards the nearest enemy. You can then use A to attack and B to dodge.
The graphics in BG&E are absolutely beautiful. While the polygon count isn't really high and the textures aren't necessarily as crisp as they could be, the variety of the shapes, textures, colors, and lighting are overall very impressive. (I'm guessing the texture resolution is because all the versions use the same textures and they had to allow leeway for the least texture-savvy platform, though I don't know.) The blur effect is used extensively, with a slight motion blur occurring when in camera mode and trying to catch a moving animal or object. Other times you'll see a haze when in first person view during a cut-scene, such as one time when Jade faints. In the final battle there's a really cool glowing fuzziness to everything after the fight has gone on for a while. Real-time shadows add depth to the already beautiful environment. Dust clouds, plants swaying in the breeze, dripping water, glowing fire, and other subtle effects complete the mood nicely. Animations are fluid and characters move seamlessly from one state of action to another. The cutscenes show off some impressive facial animations that really express the characters' emotions. Together, with the voice work, I actually became attached to the characters, much as you would in a good book.
Of course we can't forget the music. BG&E offers an amazingly varied soundtrack, from soft ambient music which compliments the stealth elements of the game very nicely, to lively Latin-style pop while you race. I wouldn't have imagined such starkly contrasting music to all appeal to me, but there isn't a single track I don't like. Over and over I find myself humming different tunes from the game and never getting tired of them. Voice acting is good, and you can feel the emotion in places, while at other times there is some purposefully corny dialogue. Actually, these parts remind me of my mom (she loves puns and other cheesy humor I can't take much of) and added to the bond I felt between Jade and Pey'j. The only thing that came even close to bothering me about the sounds was the repetition of phrases that Jade's companions say during battle. Even those lines, however, are pretty well scripted. Thankfully, I haven't been able to notice any sound compression, if there is any. This was a very unfortunate necessity for the GameCube version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, another recent Ubisoft game.
All in all, Beyond Good & Evil is an amazing game. It was worth the $50 retail price when it was brand new and it certainly is worth $20 now. The only complaint that I might have would be that it isn't longer. Any other minor details are just that -- minor. They don't affect the gameplay or overall experience enough to even warrant an argument. So if you haven't already picked it up, go out and buy it, and show developers and publishers that we like new stuff, too, and not just rehashes of the classics, however good they may be!