2003 was a damn good year for gaming. The Xbox LIVE service was fortifying the console’s online capabilities, hotly anticipated sequels like Half-Life 2 and Halo 2 were being demoed at E3, and a storm of holiday titles, notably PlayStation platformers, were saturating the market. It’s no surprise then that when Beyond Good & Evil was released in the late months of that year, few were quick to notice or care. A bad marketing campaign and a focus on their priority title Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did little to help garner Ubisoft’s game commercial success. The ones, however, who happened upon renowned designer Michel Ancel’s ambitious adventure were paid back in full with what was one of the year’s most awesome games.
Set in a sci-fi fantasy world with frequent tones of reality, Beyond Good & Evil featured a sharply crafted tale of conspiracy and charm. Under threat of invasion by an alien force known as the DomZ, the planet of Hillys submits to the authoritarian protection of the Alpha Sections, a mysterious militant group commanded by the always televised General Kheck. Meanwhile, a journalist named Jade and her anthropomorphic pig of an uncle are low on cash, so they accept what appears to be an innocent freelance assignment. The employer turns out to be an agent of the Iris Network, a persecuted resistance movement convinced that the Alpha Sections are working with the DomZ in systematically wiping out the denizens of Hillys. What begins as another charming ‘talking animal’ game racked in roses and lilies quickly becomes a dark and sinister plot as Jade and Pey’j become embroiled in a war they never even knew existed. The game was a lot like Rayman 2 in that respect; both balanced the comic and cartoonish with darker themes rooted in reality.
Camera, Fights, Action
Beyond Good & Evil’s gameplay ranks right up there with the best of Ancel’s classics. Level design was loosely structured like a Legend of Zelda game, although hardly as grandiose.
Divided into five main dungeons, the ten to twelve hours required to beat the game mainly consisted of reconnaissance, objectives usually involving using your camera to take pictures of incriminating evidence against the Alpha Sections. The combat was fun and really simple, executed with your Dai-jo staff by tapping one button, but it never got repetitive because many of the levels were about sneaking around and less about confrontation. Fighting, in essence, was rare and if you somehow got into a fight with a bunch of Alpha Section guards, you’d get your ass handed to you.
When not on a mission, the Venice-like port of Hillys served as your world hub, allowing you to revisit many of the areas you had already explored. The most attractive trait of Beyond Good & Evil was its pace and variety. Collecting pearls to outfit your hovercraft with additional armaments, fighting off DomZ attacks on the population, besting opponents in races and mini-games, and growing a catalogue of documented animals via photographic snapshots were passive interchangeable duties that never made exploring Ubisoft’s cozy world a chore, but rather extended the game’s value.
At the time, the Beyond Good & Evil was a graphical gem.
At the time, the Beyond Good & Evil was a graphical gem. It had a sort of style that crosses between cartoon and reality, but it all looked really sharp and clean. The character models looked great, and every level had its own look from colourful countryside to the murky machinations of the Nutripils factory, to the moon-looking moonness… of the moon. The musical score was awesome and fit the mood for every situation, whether you were sneaking around or shoving your staff down enemies’ throats… uh, that didn’t sound right.
If there’s one aspect of the game, at least from the presentational perspective, that holds Beyond Good & Evil together, it’s the voice talent and dialogue. Quirky remarks between Jade and her uncle Pey’j or the hilariously awkward Double H steal the show and do no less than bring a smile to your face. It’s all about the characters, and a well-delivered script makes you care about its cast as if they were your own family and friends.
What happened to the Ancel glory days before Ubisoft started running the show and letting those damn Rabbids take over the scene? Beyond Good & Evil was and is the definition of a hidden gem. It went largely unnoticed because of the mass amounts of other great games out at the time, but man, if you haven’t had a chance to play this adventurous piece of genius, do yourself the great service of picking the game up. The game has been remade in HD for the gamers of today and is available from Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network.
A tight script, sharp graphics, a cast of heart-felt voiceovers, balanced gameplay, a ton of replay value (this reviewer has already played through it six times) and an overall sense of charm make Beyond Good & Evil a must-own and one heck of an awesome game.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video reflection here.