I really love to get a little surprised by the games I play, and although that is hard to achieve in my field of work - since it is my job to stay informed on almost every game out there at all times - there are still games that positively surprise me every once in a while... If I perhaps heard of them, but didn’t expect them to be this good. Beyond Good and Evil is one hell of an example for this...
Live from the Life of an action reporter
Our heroine in this particular game is called Jade. As the name already suggests this young woman has a certain affection for all nuances of the colour - turquoise lipstick anyone? Jade lives on the planet Hillys; a planet where evolution not only favoured the homo sapiens, but also other mammals like goats, cows and walruses that have taken the next step and are self aware and know feelings like love, hate, pain, joy and sorrow. Unfortunately, the basically peaceful society of Hillys has been locked in a conflict with a race of mysterious alien invaders known only as the Domz for centuries. The Domz abducted hundreds and thousands of Hillyans over the years, and the local government and their military arm - the Alpha Section that in truth controls Hillys - seem helpless, as their actions to stop the abductions have been futile so far.
Jade herself is an orphan because of the Domz - her parents have disappeared many years ago, and the only thing that she has left from them is their camera, so it is not a real surprise that Jade decided to become a photographer. She was raised and adopted by her uncle Pey’J, a close friend of her parents who, although half-man half-hog, is the most important person in her life. They live in a lighthouse on an island a little abroad the capital of Hillys and share their quarters with a handful of children they offered shelter after their parents have been abducted by the Domz.
Jade is known to be the person to call if you need the best for a difficult job. Business didn’t go to well lately though, and during one of the regular attacks by the Domz the lighthouse’s energy shield fails because the nice people at the local power station decided to cut their power, as their payments were overdue. One of the Domz' projectiles gets through. A mysterious alien creature emerges, and Jade has to defend herself and the children.
The Action starts
Luckily besides being a professional photographer Jade is also a martial arts expert, and thanks to her trusty Dai-Jo staff the attacker is history before long. But knowing that next time they will perhaps not be as lucky, Jade and Pey’J are in desperate need of money... fast. Luckily the local science society is about to catalogue all species on Hillys, and is searching for someone that will take photographs of the fauna for them. Exploring the beautiful surroundings of the light tower you will find a sufficient number of creatures to pay the bill for now, and can finally leave the children under the protective shield and go adventuring.
Photographing remains an important feature throughout the game. Once you have filled the first roll of film for the science society you will be awarded with a zoom making your job easier, as some creatures are either too shy or too aggressive to get near them. Also not every photo is valid – such as if you are too far away or only parts of the creature are visible. An On-Screen-Help will assist you in making valid photographs. The ultimate challenge is of course photographing some of your enemies right before they attack. The risk is high, but the awards for these photos are too – in this case many, many credit units.
But since this money boost will not last forever, Jade and Pey’J have to accept the offer of a mysterious businessman that is seeking someone that is willing to explore an abandoned mine, look for a new species of Domz and bring a picture of it back to the surface. This is only the first of many missions Jade has to accomplish, and as the story unfolds she will learn that the future of Hillys itself is in peril, will uncover a conspiracy, will meet the ones truly behind the Alpha Section, and learn the secrets of her origin and heritage.
The story is intriguing, yet full of humorous interludes. One of the best examples is perhaps Pey’J’s explanation how his "natural gas powered jet boots" work. Only sometimes the "shocking" revelations are a little late – everyone with a little brains should have expected "this" and "that" for quiet some time already.
Basically Beyond Good and Evil is a Jump’n’Run and Fighting game, only without the jumping mostly. A very simple fighting system will not frustrate you, although there are many situations were stealth and sneaking up to your enemy is the only solution. Unlike in "real" stealth games, getting seen isn’t that big of a problem though – run around a little and hide behind the next corner or in the next room. The guards will almost immediately forget that they have seen you and the alarm will cease, so in many situations “hit-and-run” strategy is a legit way of cleaning out a room full of enemies. While this sounds like a bad AI at first look it is still a good training for your skills since especially later in the game one-shot-one-kill artillery will be more than happy to take care of nosey reporters that come into sight...
Besides her staff Jade is also given a gyro-disk thrower - a long range and silent, although also very weak weapon, that you can put to more than one use. What a shiny, red button there is on the other side of this bottomless pit. *Sigh* - too bad we can’t reach it...
Also most of the time Pey’J or someone else will be your companion, not only fighting with you side-by-side, but also capable of various special actions. The classic "press the button once I’m on the platform" situation is of course not missing, but certain boss fights need really good coordination between you and your AI partner.
Travel from mission to mission is done using your trusty hovercraft, which can be upgraded with different weapons and even new engines - although without giving away too much, I can promise you that your means of transportation will get more interesting later on in the game, once Jade learns more about her heritage.
Beyond the game
Beyond Good and Evil is perhaps not the most innovative title of this year's Christmas line-up, yet it is a fun and simple game with a good storyline and nice graphics. Ubisoft’s Christmas line-up deserves being praised by all means. Among the really fine titles like Prince of Persia, Beyond Good and Evil, and XIII, every player will find something that is suitable for him.