Beyond Good and Evil is a grown-up’s game. IGN called it “Zelda for grown-ups”, and although in typical IGN style they’re half-right, there’s so much more to Beyond Good and Evil (BG&E) than a Zelda clone (see my next article on Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy for more on that front.) Beyond Good and Evil is brilliant because it likes the player, which I’ve always thought is the most important aspect of a game – if the game enjoys being played, people will enjoy playing it. It really is that simple. BG&E loves to be played because it wants to show you its ideas, how different it is and how much it likes you. It wants to be your friend.
It wants to be your friend because it knows you’re going to be impressed with what it can do. First of all, it’s not like any friend you’ve had before – it’s a stealthy photographer that pilots a laser-shooting hovercraft. The game switches between different game modes smoothly, and although theyâ€™re not all winners â€“ the stealth sections arenâ€™t great, though I dislike stealth anyway â€“ the overall effect is a pleasing range of things to enjoy.
Of these gameplay sections, my favourite is the photojournalistic drive of the game. The idea of a photography game appeals to me greatly, but up until now Iâ€™d only played PokÃ©mon Snap on the N64; these two are very different kettles of fish (likewise Tecmoâ€™s Project Zero series, which Iâ€™m far too wimpy to play!). Your character is sent on missions to photograph the hidden secrets of Hyllis, including aliens, torture and exactly what the Alpha Sections are shipping around in crates. Whipping out your camera and taking aim is easy, and can also be used to â€œscanalyseâ€ maps or, in a really enjoyable sidequest not unlike Wind Wakerâ€™s figurines task, document all the animals living on the planet for the Science Centre, which is a very lucrative hobby. When youâ€™re slinking around bases or zooming around the open waters, managing to grab a shot of an elusive animal is really satisfying. It makes me wonder why we havenâ€™t seen more photography games â€“ perhaps an opportunity for the Wii?
One thing I havenâ€™t mentioned so far is the gameâ€™s sublime art and music. The visualsâ€™ use of greens and blues give the game an almost aquatic feel, and the many aliens, corals and crystals glow and filter light beautifully. I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if Ubisoftâ€™s alien world was inspired by the depths of our own oceans.
The gameâ€™s soundtrack is one of the most varied Iâ€™ve come across, with beautiful piano tracks (â€œHome Sweet Homeâ€ being possibly the best game tune since Headhunterâ€™s â€œJackâ€™s themeâ€) sitting alongside the rhinosâ€™ reggae, drumâ€™nâ€™bass and others. Itâ€™s good to hear the French and European influences in the music as a whole (the reggae being an obvious exception), and another point is the gameâ€™s voice acting, which is certainly higher quality than some Iâ€™ve heard.
Plot-wise the game makes a number of more serious points â€“ or even accusations â€“ than your typical 3D adventure, particularly in questioning the information handed down to us. This is brilliantly done by contrasting a subscription to the official Hyllis Word with the emails and newsletters of the rebellious Iris Network. When your reports are published itâ€™s wonderful to read how the Alpha Sections spin and cover it up to make you look like the bad guy, which also somewhat unnerves you; who can be trusted? I wonâ€™t say that the game is a massive political satire, but there are certainly subtexts of uncertain trust and Government manipulation.
Unfortunately for me and many others, despite its good review scores and press praise, Beyond Good and Evil did so poorly in shops that itâ€™s unlikely to see a sequel. It was released on the PC and all consoles, so you can play it if you want to. Iâ€™m told the Xbox version can go for a fair old price on eBay, but if you flick through the second-hand racks of your local game shop hopefully youâ€™ll chance upon a copy (if not, send me an email â€“ I have my sources).
Please, please do hunt it down and give it a chance. Itâ€™s a very warm and charming game with so much to recommend it, from its fantastic dialogue and characterisation (I can never decide whom I like more, Pejâ€™y or Double Hâ€¦) to its inventive direction and above all its smooth, enjoyable gameplay. I really took to Beyond Good and Evil in a way I havenâ€™t felt for many years, and I hope youâ€™ll think itâ€™s worth your time and try it yourself.