Written By: Steven 'Westlake' Carter
Game Over Online - http://www.game-over.com
When I think of adventure games, I think of using a comb on a cat to get some hair so I can glue the hair to my face to create a mustache. Or I think of turning knobs on a machine to get the steam pressure just right so I can get the bridge to elevate so I can cross the river. By those standards, Beyond Good & Evil, released by Ubisoft late last year, isn’t an adventure. It’s not really an action-adventure, either, because there aren’t any puzzles in it, other than pushing some crates around and figuring out how to defeat enemies. And so, for better or worse, I’d call Beyond Good & Evil a story-driven action game.
Why for better or worse? Because apparently consumers were confused by the game, and despite winning lots of critical acclaim, it didn’t sell very well. The good news is that Ubisoft almost immediately dropped the price to $20, making it easily affordable to anybody who buys computer games. The bad news is that Beyond Good & Evil probably won’t receive a sequel, and developers probably won’t line up to make more story-driven action games. But we can always hope, because Beyond Good & Evil was a lot of fun to play, even for somebody like me who rarely plays action games.
In Beyond Good & Evil you guide a photojournalist named Jade. Jade takes her name to heart. She has green eyes, wears green clothes and even uses green lipstick. As the game opens up, Jade is living on the world of Hillys, where a group of otherworldly thugs called the DomZ are systematically kidnapping the population. Worse, the local militia, the Alpha Section, seems unable to stop the DomZ. They always show up just a little too late to do anything. As the game progresses, you’ll discover that the Alpha Section isn’t trying as hard as it might to stop the DomZ, and that there is a deeper mystery behind the flashy attacks.
That would be a fine premise as is, but Ubisoft did one better by personalizing it. All of the characters in the game are well developed, and so when the DomZ attack the lighthouse where Jade lives, and, worse, kidnap some of the people she knows and loves, you want them to be rescued. And when Jade or her uncle Pey’j (pronounced “page”) are in peril or feel demoralized, you want to keep playing to teach those dirty DomZ a thing or two and set matters straight. Beyond Good & Evil definitely isn’t a game where you play an anonymous reporter and then investigate something just because it’s there.
Since Jade is a photojournalist, combat isn’t the main focus of the game. Instead, Jade mostly tries to sneak through Alpha Section installations so she can take pictures of what she sees, and thus expose the plot. To help her along, Jade can crouch and hug walls, and she’s pretty good at jumping and climbing, too. Of course, most of those actions are automated. Jade can’t fall off ledges, and she automatically jumps or climbs when the situation demands it. Thus, your goal when you play is to make sure Jade crouches behind walls or hides behind boxes when enemies are looking. That’s more difficult (and probably more exciting) than it sounds, since you sometimes have to deal with multiple patrolling guards who can kill you easily.
But sneaking around can get boring, and so of course you can fight, too. To that end Jade carries a mean dai-jo stick, which she can use to whack her enemies silly, and she also eventually finds a gyrodisk glove, which she can use to shoot little energy disks. The glove is more a utility device than it is a weapon (it can shoot buttons Jade can’t reach, for instance) but as soon as you face off against Alpha Section soldiers, you learn that if you hit their air tanks with a gyrodisk, that will briefly shut off their air supply and disable them, and so the gyrodisk glove becomes your best friend for a while.
Combat is fairly easy to control. You have to point Jade in the direction of an enemy, and then you have to click the left mouse button to make her attack (you don’t actually click on enemies). Jade also gets some special moves and a super attack, but I found my sophisticated “click wildly” technique worked pretty well. Generally, combat is easy (when you’re facing things you’re supposed to fight) which is a good thing because unfortunately Beyond Good & Evil doesn’t come with any sort of difficulty settings.
There are also some mini-games in Beyond Good & Evil. Jade needs to earn money to buy K-Bups (the equivalent of health potions) and other power-ups, and she needs to earn pearls to buy better equipment for her hovercraft. And so Ubisoft provided a variety of ways for her to do these things. She can try and capture “looters,” she can play an air hockey type game, she can compete in hovercraft races, and more. The mini-games work pretty well (although some of the “looter” sequences can be frustrating), and they’re a nice change of pace from sneaking around and taking pictures.
The only real downside to Beyond Good & Evil is that it feels (and probably was) developed with a console in mind. That provides lots of little interface oddities and annoyances. For example, to navigate a menu system, you have to use the keyboard, but when you want to select something, you have to use the mouse. And then there’s the all-time console favorite: save points. In Beyond Good & Evil you can only save when Jade reaches an “mdisk” player. Luckily, though, if you die during an action sequence, the game automatically takes you to a point just before the sequence (regardless of where your last save was), and so some of the frustration of this sort of system is minimized.
And so, overall, I found Beyond Good & Evil to be a lot of fun to play. I liked the characters, the game sounded and looked good, and the action sequences were challenging without being too challenging. Even some of the potential pitfalls, like the save points, didn’t bother me much. So if you think you’d like a story-driven action game, Beyond Good & Evil is definitely one you should buy.
For more information, see Thomas Wilde’s Xbox review of Beyond Good & Evil: