Originally a commercial flop, Beyond Good & Evil has gone on to become both a critical and cult favourite, regularly appearing on lists of most underrated games, but does it really live up to its hype or is it another victim of its own nostalgia?
We just reviewed Beyond Good & Evil on our Game Warp video podcast, which I encourage you to check out. We’ve got plenty of game footage and discuss at length our playthrough. Here though is my own written impressions of the game that expand on that show. Thanks for reading.
Born out of a desire by Rayman creator Michel Ancel who wanted to do something different with the game originally being conceived as the first part of a trilogy. However, despite being well-received by critics, the game ultimately failed to find its audience, thanks partly to Ubisoft choosing to focus their marketing efforts on promoting Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, though in the years which followed, thanks to word of mouth, the games popularity has slowly increased while earning a HD re-master in 2011.
Set in 2435 on the mining planet of Hillys, the place is currently under siege from aliens called the DomZ’s, who are currently kidnapping people to drain their lifeforce. In response to this situation, Hillys has been put into the military dictatorship of Alpha Section who have come to power under the promise of defending the local population against the DomZ, though little seems to have changed. Now an underground resistance has been formed to expose Alpha Section called the IRIS Network. They believe that Alpha section are in league with the DomZ. Recruited by the IRIS Network, you play as freelance photographer Jade, who soon finds herself uncovering a secret plot between the DomZ and Alpha Section.
Jade is an interesting heroine to play as her tomboy design goes in the opposite direction to the majority of sexed-up heroines of the time. Equally, the style of gameplay we get playing as her is far from the norm as she only welds her Daï-jo combat staff when faced with an enemy to battle. The game instead chooses to focus mainly on exploration and puzzle solving. The game also comes with the equally fun ability to photograph the many colourful creatures and characters which inhabit this world as Jade catalogues species for the science museum which has contracted her and which will no doubt make those of you who enjoyed Pokemon Snap happy to see another game with such a fun photography element to it.
Accompanying Jade on her missions is her humanoid boar uncle Pey’j, who is a really fun character. He can be used to open locked doors with his bolt cutters yet is sadly taken out of the game way too quickly, only to be replaced by the soldier Double H, who essentially has the same abilities as Pey’j apart from being armed with a giant hammer and the ability to get through certain security doors that block Jade’s path.
Originally envisioned by Ancel to be like Ico and more “abstractly ambitious” but ultimately he ended up changing the game to be more commercially appealing. The game was also designed to have long periods of exploration, which Ancel shortened after he played Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker, despite leaving his team demoralized by this decision. The game we get though is largely on rails despite appearing to be an open world game. The player is constantly kept to certain areas due to fences and obstacles, which require upgrades to pass, often leading to much frustration as players complete various areas with the sole purpose of collecting more pearls to get the next upgrade.
Mixing elements of fighting, stealth and exploration together, it’s certainly a mixed bag of a game we ultimately end up with as while it is unquestionably a vivid and interesting world that the game takes place in, far too soon does it become samey and repetitive once you get into the factory and slaughterhouse portions. It’s also in these sections where the game really starts to beat the player down with endless stealth sections to get through rather than making any real attempt to mix things up.
These stealth sections also are one of the main bugbears of the game as not only are you required to sneak up on Alpha Section soldiers, but at the same time they only have one weakness: damaging the oxygen tanks on their banks. Of course if this wasn’t bad enough, the game also throws in stealth sections where, if you’re spotted, it’s an instant death. Considering how many times you’re no doubt going to die trying to beat these sections, it soon becomes much more of a grating experience than any kind of challenge. Bizarrely, the stealth sections, which make up some of the stealth sections, are actually enjoyable and contain some fun set-pieces, making it only all the more baffling that the stealth sections in the main missions are so awful.
When you do get to fight, which sadly doesn’t happen as often as you might like, especially since Jade is rather handy with her staff, able to easily out-maneuver enemies with a series of flips and dodges. True, the fighting might be lacking some finesse as it’s all kept to one button, but it’s fun nonetheless. Your companions meanwhile can join in these fights, but most of the time the majority of the fighting is left to Jade to handle.
Moving around the maps, players gets to use Jade’s hovercraft, which over the course of the game earn upgrades. Players can purchase elements such as adding guns, turbos, and a jump ability. In the later levels, one even adds the ability to turn the craft into a plane, and finally a spacecraft as the missions head into the Moon for the finale. The hovercraft though is a fun vehicle to explore the environment and some of the levels, though when it comes to the racing sections, fails, falling kind of flat, especially when everyone else’s craft is so overpowered.
While the Beyond Good & Evil certainly has its moments, it’s far from the groundbreaking experience that many critics would have you believe it is, leaving me to wonder how much of their love for this game is being fueled by nostalgia. While a lot of the usual retro-gaming flaws might be present, they are easy enough to get past, though sadly the brutal stealth sections put me off wanting to replay, especially when they frequently came off so cheap. However, with the long mooted sequel currently in development, I am curious to see where the story goes next and hopefully the time between games will have served for the development team to recognise and correct some of these flaws. Until then, this remains an interesting if barbed game that is worth still tracking down if you’re willing to have your patience tested.
Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier, Ubisoft Milan
Platform(s): Playstation 2, Xbox, GameCube