Although hampered by some technical issues, Beyond Good & Evil manages to create an indelible experience that is very hard to replicate.
Beyond Good & Evil is definitely not the first game to quote Friedrich Nietzsche. Titles like Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast have also referenced the work of the 19th century German philosopher. Nevertheless, not many games can get away with it, making Beyond Good & Evil a special game right from the get go.
In Beyond Good & Evil you assume the role of Jade, a courageous reporter who lives in Hyllis, a planet where a war between the alien force DomZ and a military dictatorship known as the Alpha Sections is taking place. The main protagonist lives in a small island with her uncle Pey’j and a bunch of children who have lost their loved ones in the ongoing conflict. They all live in an old lighthouse that also serves as refuge whenever the enemy decides to attack. At first, Jade is forced to accept a job as a photographer, cataloging rare species for the local science museum in order to get money to pay the electric bills. A large amount of electric power is necessary to activate the powerful energy shield that covers the island and protects it from any external threat.
But even though Jade’s primary goal is to make ends meet so she can protect her family, soon enough things change drastically. Eventually, Jade is contacted by the IRIS Network, a rebel organization who is actively trying to overthrow the current government as they suspect that the Alpha Sections may be involved in the disappearances that have been taking place in Hillys. From there on, Jade’s main objective is to unveil a conspiracy by taking incriminating pictures and publishing them on a local newsletter for everyone to see them.
Fortunately, Jade is helped by a loyal companion. Most of the times, this means there are various puzzles that require at least two characters to be solved. These brainteasers are far from been overly convoluted and to solve them, the player is required to pull levers, move boxes or use a partner’s special action. Once a given dungeon has been explored, you arrive at a destination where you are supposed to fight a boss or take a photograph of a specific person or object so it can be published in the latest edition of the underground newspaper. The combat mechanics are quite simple but oftentimes, fighting enemies isn’t even encouraged. In fact, this aspect has been designed so the player can avoid most fights by using stealth techniques. When you do have to fight though, there are two styles of attacks, a regular strike and a special one that requires you to hold down the x button for a short period of time. It should be noted that certain fights may become way too hectic and due to the fast-paced nature of the combat the camera can’t always provide the best look of the action.
As previously mentioned, certain fights can be avoided by using stealth techniques. Interestingly enough, most of the stealth missions seem puzzles in and of themselves, as you need to recognize the pattern of patrolling guards so you can defeat them one by one. Should you die during one of these, the game automatically lets you continue from the latest checkpoint. Every time you enter a room a new checkpoint is set, preventing you from replaying whole chunks of the game all over again. Unfortunately, some of these missions are harder than they look at first sight and even when you restart from the last checkpoint they may become excruciatingly repetitive.
The photography mechanic on the other hand, is quite intuitive. The photo-taking system works splendidly as not only does it encourage you to take pictures of certain objects, but also of creatures that roam around the different exotic locales you explore. The list of animals that you can photograph is pretty extensive as there are bizarre creatures that resemble dogs, bugs, rats, dolphins, whales and so on. It’s worth pointing out that pictures of rare creatures and certain dangerous bosses are worth much more than other regular species of animals. Taking pictures of the local wildlife gives you money that you can spend on various items (like health packs or boost packs) and once you have completed a roll of film you’ll immediately be rewarded with a pearl. Pearls are a useful kind of currency quite valuable in the black market and when you have collected a couple of these precious stones, you’ll be able to exchange them for specific upgrades for the hovercraft.
The hovercraft is easily controlled with the left analog stick and this vehicle can also be used in races, to fight against enemies or to get places that you couldn’t otherwise. The driving sequences, especially the races and the fights in which you have to pursuit looters who have stolen money from you, are an absolute blast. In addition, there are multiple mini games at the Akuda Bar. The first one is a game similar to cups and balls in which you need to indicate where you think the little ball is right after the cups have been moved a couple of times. The second one is a disc game in which you need to get four discs to the opposite side of the board before your opponent does the same. All of these extra missions offer a welcome change of pace and even when most of them are quite basic, they stay entertaining even after dozens of times of playing them.
The different locations where all the aforementioned actions take place are masterfully designed and demonstrate the developers’ painstaking attention to detail. The caves where you fight have stalagmites that reflect the little sunlight that filtrates though ancient rock formations, the bar is full of flamboyant characters that desperately demand your attention and so on and so forth. Additionally, each location naturally connects to the next one, making the world feel vibrant, cohesive and extremely well put together. There are also some picturesque locations that are craving for someone to appreciate them, mesmerizing landscapes that need to be inspected and stimulating vistas that encourage exploration. All this cinematic resonance that the game exudes definitely adds a new layer of authenticity, creating an indelible experience that is hard to replicate.
The game’s delightful look can be deceiving to those who aren’t very familiar with Beyond Good & Evil’s story. The goofy-looking characters and cartoony scenery may suggest that this is a childish platform game, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The poignant plot and mature themes that are discussed (including human trafficking and torture,) make the game quite deserving of its T rating. So all those mature enough to enjoy and understand this title shouldn’t let its aesthetics deceive them, as Beyond Good & Evil isn’t for children.
Another aspect that should be pointed out is the couple of tightly scripted and paced sequences in which you need to escape from enemies. These are simply some of the most enthralling and captivating sequences of this kind to ever grace an action-adventure game and a thrilling feeling of adrenaline is definitely palpable while you perform graceful jumps so that the main protagonist can save her life. Events like these make the player feel much more attached to the story, you are constantly being incentivized to care about what happens next. It also helps that the world is so masterfully designed and that every single elements comes into place so cohesively. Picture this: just after publishing some really incriminating photos in the latest edition of a local newspaper you receive an e-mail in the form of a newsletter alerting citizens of the dangerous DomZ and their real intentions. As you make progress with the main story, you’ll definitely notice that some subtle details become more apparent and that they were all possible thanks to your actions.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t without its serious flaws. Sometimes while I was playing a disc game against Francis the shark at the Akuda Bar, Jade stated: “OK Francis, you win this time,” even when I was the obvious winner of the match. Little details like these may sound insignificant, but they definitely detract from the experience and take you out of the immersion the game so well builds. Furthermore, one time after successfully finishing one of the scripted events the game crashed, forcing me to restart the console and replay the whole section all over again. Thankfully, I had just saved before undertaking the mission and the second time I finished it, I was allowed to continue playing without any problems. Finally, there was an ongoing sound glitch in which a given sound kept repeating over and over even when I wasn’t doing performing any actions or pushing any buttons. The first time this happened was in the main menu while I was watching the bonus videos. The second time was during a fight and the sound Jade makes when she attacks kept repeating. These sound glitches are definitely obnoxious and infuriating, particularly because they affect the cohesive nature of the game.
Beyond Good & Evil has some undeniable issues related to an inconsistent framerate, repetitive puzzles, mildly frustrating missions and some obnoxious sound glitches. Nevertheless, problems like these shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying this exceptional title. Its intuitive controls, meticulously crafted missions, mesmerizing story, challenging gameplay and extremely immersive world make Beyond Good & Evil an eminently satisfying experience. In the end, Beyond Good & Evil makes a lasting impression. A lasting impression you won’t soon forget.