Beyond Good & Evil is the latest release by Rayman creator Michel Ancel (and the reason he didn't work on Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc). Instead of putting together another platformer, Ancel has crafted an action/adventure title, a la Zelda. As a matter of fact, this game has more than a few passing resemblances to the latest Zelda games, but don't take that to mean that this is just a Starfox Adventures style Ocarnia of Time clone. Beyond Good & Evil definitely has an identity of it's own.
Players take control of Jade, a mysterious young freelance photographer from the planet Hillys. Every day, Hillys suffers violent attacks from the DomZ. The Alpha Section seemingly does their best to fend off the DomZ, but they aren't doing nearly as much as is needed to successfully defend Hillys. The Alpha Section claims that another organization, the IRIS Network, is helping the DomZ destroy Hillys - but IRIS claims that the reason it was formed in the first place was to expose the Alpha Section's secret partnership with the DomZ! Jade and her friends must decide for themselves what the real truth is. In the words of the introduction in the manual, "the dividing line between good and evil is very thin, indeed".
As was previously stated, Beyond Good & Evil is an action/adventure game in the vein of the more recent Zelda titles, especially The Wind Waker. Still, while the game has obvious ties to Nintendo's blockbuster adventure series, it is much, much more than a simple carbon copy of Miyamoto's successful Zelda formula. The meat of the game is based around large areas filled with puzzles and enemies. Most of these sections supply Jade with an NPC partner. Unlike The Wind Waker, the NPCs are extremely helpful, and add a lot to the level of enjoyment. They also do a good job of giving you hints as to what to do next. Most of the puzzles in this game revolve around making good use of your partner. UBI Soft has nearly obtained the holy grail of adventure games with the near-perfect puzzle design - it's easy to figure out what Jade and her partner need to do to conquer a puzzle, but difficult to actually solve them. It's not easy to obtain such equilibrium in videogames, but UBI Soft has, for the most part, achieved that with Beyond Good & Evil.
Battling enemies is a blast. Jade is equipped with a powerful staff that she automatically pulls out as soon as an enemy is within her range. You simply press A to attack. Simple? Yes. But there is much more than that. Almost every enemy needs a different approach in order to bring them down. Some enemies are impervious to attack unless they are launched into the air - which Jade herself has no means of doing. That's where your partner comes in. Pey'j, a pig-man, has rocket boots, and is also one heavy guy! Command him to jump and crash into the ground, which launches the enemies into the air, leaving them vulnerable to Jade's staff. That is just one of many different strategies needed in order to defeat the many enemy types present in this game. Every new enemy encounter is a blast to deal with, especially the boss fights. What if you don't figure out how to take out your opponents? No sweat - if Jade or her partner dies, the game will choose a continue point that is not too far away from where your character fell. This game will not let one go comatose while playing - you'll be on your toes for every second of gameplay.
If you decide to turn off your Gamecube, you won't be able to start up the game at one of these continue points, but the M-Disk players (Beyond Good & Evil's equivalent of a save point, combined with in-game disc reading functions) are scattered all over Hillys, so you won't have to retrace too many steps.
Beyond Good & Evil has some of the most polished gameplay out of any game this year, along with The Wind Waker, F-Zero GX, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (which is another UBI Soft title - these guys are on a roll), but it has a few faults. Slowdown is rare, but it does happen. Not nearly enough to be of any worry, but it is there. Also, there is a small handful of bugs present. One especially annoying example was when Pey'j was pinned by an enemy, which I immediately killed. Oddly enough, Pey'j kept screaming for help, squirming about on the ground as if the enemy was still on top of him! He slowly took more and more damage, until he finally died, which caused me to have to replay the sequence. I then cleared it with no trouble. I'm not sure exactly why that happened, but it did, and it would be nice to not have to deal with such irritating glitches. Still, errors such as these are very, very uncommon, so don't let them scare you away from what is an otherwise fantastic game!
Beyond Good & Evil has a very distinct graphic style - somewhat reminiscent of modern Disney films, or, better yet, Free Radical's TimeSplitters series. This game does not strive for realism, but it definitely dances on the line between realism and caricature. While this game does not take itself seriously, it isn't a cute little lighthearted romp, either! The more you play the game, the more you'll surely realize how well this art style works with the character designs, the gameplay, everything. Nothing feels out of place. Other developers should take a look at what UBI Soft has done here - it's breathtaking. With the exceptions of slight drops in the framerate, everything looks perfect. This is an especially amazing feat, considering that this game released simultaneously on all three major consoles!
As always with UBI Soft, the sound is extremely well done, especially in the voice acting department. All of the characters, however minor, are given voices that seem to perfectly match their appearances. Since most of the text within the game is voiced, it is a respectable feat to have spent the time on having each syllable sound right. Big budget titles like Shenmue and Final Fantasy X have failed miserably in this department, but Beyond Good & Evil takes a seat next to quality games such as Metal Gear Solid.
The sound effects are meticulously done - even when using a two-channel speaker setup, you are given a very solid sense of location. Each different surface type makes a different sound when stepped on, there are different explosion sound effects, sounds unique to certain vehicles (even those that seldom appear), and more. Unlike many games which drive the player to turn off the sound thanks to extremely repetitive samples, Beyond Good & Evil is so well done, you hardly even notice that you're listening to samples. With sound effects, I feel it is best for the player not to notice them for what they are, but for him or her to feel so at home with them, that it feels natural.
UBI Soft has released another amazing game. A developer that was once known for Rayman and not much else, is now one of the best developers/publishers in the industry. Beyond Good & Evil serves to keep their image going strong. More importantly, Beyond Good & Evil is one of the best games this year, and one of the best action/adventure titles ever released. At a time when the action/adventure genre, in terms of quality gameplay, seemed limited to Nintendo's Zelda series, UBI Soft has released a gem that may make players question whether or not Nintendo has been beaten at their own game. This one is a must-have.
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