Beyond Good and Evil PS2 Review

Some said it was crippled by Sony’s exclusivity contract; some just never heard of it. What is the deal with Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil? From its earliest signs of development, under the tentative working title of Project BG&E, this game has shown a promise that has been missing from the gaming scene for some time and managed to keep a number of people waiting in anticipation. Is it worth the wait? Lets get on and find out…

Graphics

Occasionally plagued by some moderate slowdown (which will probably be ironed out by the cube and xbox releases), the game on the whole looks gorgeous. The world of Hillys, while slightly on the small side compared to some action/adventures like Zelda, is wonderfully recreated with some truly atmospheric locations. The innovation doesn’t carry across to the dungeons in quite the same abundance; some of the earlier ones look pretty samey. Seeing as the majority of the land is underwater, some nice water effects have been applied which enhance the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

The sprites are beautiful as well, though there is some odd animation; the way that Jade runs with her head thrown back for example looks a bit stiff and unnatural, but other than that everyone has been lovingly crafted with great levels of detail. The Hillyans in the Pedestrian District, for example, are all individual and easily recognised. This works well in creating the overall atmosphere of a living, breathing community. Seeing some of the wildlife as well, such as the huge whales that sport in the open sea, is really breath taking; similarly the day-to-night transitions are wonderfully rendered.

Strangely, large black borders to simulate a widescreen effect have been added to the game to make it appear more cinematic; while in theory this is a nice idea, having the gaming screen reduced is a little unpleasant and not really necessary. Still, once you are in the thick of things, the game really will suck you in to the extent that you wont really notice anymore.

Gameplay

You are cast in the role of Jade, a young girl gifted in the Dai-Jo school of combat and living in a lighthouse-cum-orphanage with her uncle Pey’j (a pig). Regular attacks by alien entities called “The Domz” take place on the otherwise peaceful land of Hillys (which is a marvellous combination of futuristic and rural elements), with the Alpha Sections (powerful system of government) serving as the only protection against these invasions. However, the citizens begin to grow wary of their benefactors as the number of “missing” people increases, and its up to a secret underground organisation known only as IRIS to confirm their suspicions. Are IRIS telling the truth about the corruption of the government? Or are they just another rebel outfit fighting against the system? Jade is set to find out…

Action is shown largely from the third person, with the actions that Jade can perform at any given time shown in the top left of the screen. At various junctions in the plot she is accompanied by one or two support characters; these will follow her as far as they can (they will wait behind if you enter an area they cant get to, such as a small hole) and can be ordered to perform set actions – this makes for some interesting puzzles that require using both characters to advance. The smooth, cyclical layout of the dungeons mean that you will rarely get stuck or have to walk for miles to get back out again – but if you are having troubles, having a quick chat with your support character will often reveal helpful hints. Jade can pick up a number of useful items such as keys, health-recovery objects and artefacts; these are automatically selected for use when you approach a puzzle, and can also be given to your support characters to use. Pearls form the most valuable resource on the planet, and are important to gather in order to buy parts for your ship; this makes for many neat side-quests to obtain more, be they from robbing the Alpha sections or looting natural deposits. Other action takes place in the form of races and mini games such as the games table in the bar (similar to air hockey) which are a good way to pass the time and rack up some rewards. There are plenty of shops and vending machines to scour for goodies, and even two newspapers (sent by electronic mail) that you can subscribe to; while this isn’t essential, it really does a good job of setting the scene and bringing you even deeper into the politics of Hillys.

Battle takes place in real-time, and is relatively basic; hitting the attack button repeatedly will perform more combos,and hitting the dodge button will quickly skirt you out of danger. Jade will attack in any direction that you indicate while hitting attack, which allows for some nice moves to take out enemies behind and to the sides. Holding down attack will perform a super-move which hits all around your character, and is essential when you are surrounded by enemies. Your partners can also be used to help swing the odds of battle by momentarily knocking all enemies back to allow you to attack, which is a nice addition. Battle has also been used in order to be integral to your progress; some doorways can only be opened, for example, if you hit an enemy into them. This breaks up the concept of just battling to prove how strong you are before the next room; it gives it more of a puzzle-solving purpose, which is a nice idea. As well as the standard exploration expected from dungeons, there are also some great sneak-em-up sections ala Metal Gear Solid which require you to judge the movement of your foes and creep by unnoticed. This is boosted by some situations requiring you to immobilise one guard in order to catch another unawares as he goes to aid his companion. These sections are well-constructed, and usually have a clear method of solving them (although the game is lenient in letting you find other routes). Things get gradually harder with the introduction of rays that will kill you instantly if you are spotted. Luckily, if you die at any point in the game you are generally restored back in the entrance of the room in which you were killed so you don’t have to trek far. There is no limit to the number of times you can continue.

An interesting concept is the use of a camera to photograph wildlife for a survey and to capture images of important activity. This makes for some wonderful Pokemon-Snap-esque moments hunting out wildlife and capturing it on film, and also does a wonderful job for the atmosphere of the game; snapping an oblivious enemy from several feet away feels great, and is nicely removed from having to actively battle every person that you’re sent to investigate. This also acts as your first person view, which is a nice touch.

Movement around Hillys takes place in various vessels, the first of which you will find is a Hoverboat. As previously mentioned, this can be upgraded during your quest to allow you to attack and evade enemies more effectively. Watching other boats sail around, and scooting amidst schools of jumping fish really do add to this wonderful sense of a true environment. The ships are easy and instinctive to control, so the battle and race sections that you participate in are rarely a hassle.

Sadly the game isn’t free from flaws. While the land is beautiful and detailed, there are a number of areas that just cannot be explored. This, combined with issues like the auto-jump feature (meaning that as you run at the end of a ledge Jade will jump by herself) and the inability to “shimmy” or drop from certain ledges, not to mention the number of “invisible” walls you will encounter when trying to jump from certain platforms, gameplay often feels a little stifled.

The camera can also be a pain; in the stealth sections that require precise timing and positioning, the camera can often not lift quite high enough for you to get the best view of the action. This problem is solved in some situations by having the camera move to the best “fixed” position to view an area, but the places in which this doesn’t happen can be a little troublesome. There is also no auto-centre for the camera, which can be a pain when you’re trying to locate an enemy and you end up with the camera giving you a profile of your character instead of showing you what she’s looking at.

However, the atmosphere of the game really is amazing; the people, places and animals all manage to steer away from cliché and the result is a marvellously refreshing and involving world. These minor niggles really cannot spoil what has been created here; even the bizarre flora of the planet is beautiful, and the fluid and intuitive action of the game is really untouchable by these flaws.

Sound

Beyond Good and Evil boasts some of the best voice over I have ever heard in a game; no-one lets the team down at all. Every voice, from the government announcements broadcast on the TV and the radio to the pedestrians protesting in the streets has been perfectly cast and is delightful to hear. There are also some great humorous sections of dialogue that break up the seriousness of the gameplay.

The game’s music doesn’t disappoint either; fantastic scores accompany key moments in gameplay, such as battles and set events, which really makes the game feel epic. Battering a selection of enemies while fast-beat ambient music pounds over the top is spellbinding, and really makes battle seem like something significant rather than a chore. The same applies to locations; places like the Akuda Bar and Mammago Garage have their own theme tunes which vary in influence and make a nice change from the usual orchestral strains that usually fill these kinds of game. General in-game sounds are nicely captured as well, although not as noteworthy as the speech and music.

Lifespan

With so many sidequests – mini-games, treasure hunts, animal-spotting – seeing and doing everything the game has to offer will take a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit in replaying the game other than to relive the action – which may not be enough to draw some people back again. Playing the basic game will easily eat up a number hours, though sadly doesn’t quite reach the epic levels of the Zelda or Final Fantasy games – though this perhaps will encourage gamers that want to see the end of a game within a month to give it a go.

Overall

This is a wonderful, rare gem of a game that really delivers on all levels; it looks spanking, plays like a dream and sounds divine. That, and it feels wonderfully different to most action/adventures – more than likely attributed to its European origins. Still, while playing sometimes it feels slightly more shallow than, say, Skies of Arcadia, which boasts a large cast of highly memorable characters; while this game also has a nice cast, the stereotypical definitions of character (the hot-headed one, the loner, the wistful girl etc etc) are absent; while this is again probably attributed to the fact that the Japanese norm is far more prevalent over here than the European, it may make some people feel a little less familiar with the characters. People that will discard the game because of this really will miss out on this jewel; its difference is exactly what makes it so refreshing to play. Buy it and play it now.

9 out of 10
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