Beyond Good & Evil Review
Ubisoft has delivered an excellent game right under the nose of unsuspecting gamers with their action/adventure game Beyond Good & Evil. It's recently been in the gaming news because Ubi has decided to cut its price down to bargain bin levels, and I'd have to say that after playing it, anyone who likes a Zelda-style romp would be doing themselves a real disservice to pass this game by.
BG&E was directed by Rayman creator Michael Ancel, and while there isn't an obvious connection between the two, a comic style (along with some pretty decent humor) is shared with the classic platformer series. This game is more like the recent hit Zelda: The Wind Waker than the marketing would have you believe, but in my opinion this one does even more things right than Nintendo's flagship title.
Ubisoft has been treating PC gamers well recently with ports of the type of games that usually only make it to consoles. These ports are generally pretty well done, but they always lack a little polish when it comes to the PC platform. The first patch for BG&E added anti-aliasing support to the game, although it's only available from the game's setup program - forcing it inside your video card's control panel software will cause problems. Still, it works just fine, and the game looks quite a bit better with FSAA on.
The bigger problem here is the game's serious issue with refresh rates. Anyone that uses a program to force higher refresh rates for their CRT monitor in Win2K or XP is likely to have the game refuse to run for them at first. You'll probably have to screw around in whatever refresh rate utility you use to make the game even start up correctly. How this problem didn't get fixed in Ubi's first patch, I have no clue.
Aside from this, the game runs beautifully with no crashes that I could find, quick load times, and a very solid frame rate. I tried it out at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with most of the eye candy on, and everything looked excellent - on top of this, it was all delivered at 50+ FPS. BG&E wouldn't allow me to run it in a window or even Alt-tab out of the game, but I was able to do a CTRL-ALT-DEL and then switch back to it without incident.
BG&E oozes style out of just about everything you can see or touch in the game, and the interface itself is very well designed. The biggest issue I have with it all is that most of the general interface keys can't be reassigned and some of them are just bound to non-intuitive settings. The left mouse button selects, and the right button backs out of menus most of the time - but not all of the time. There are another couple of minor issues with this, but it's easy to get used to, and frankly, these problems are worth it when considering how good the actual game is.
What I can't understand is why Ubi decided to completely leave out any gamepad support at all. The best idea I could come up with was to use JoytoKey to force certain things onto the gamepad, but once I realized that I wouldn't be able to control the game's camera like that (it's forced onto the mouse control), I scrapped the idea completely. Considering how much this game plays like it belongs on a gamepad, Ubi should really consider adding the ability to use one to the PC version.
BG&E uses a cartoony style without looking like a kid's game or using cel-shading. This seems to be a pretty hard thing to do, as many game developers teeter the edge and get it wrong - even some of the industry giants have made this mistake with recent action/platform games. But here, we get a semi-futuristic atmosphere, great environments, extremely well- animated characters, and a huge variety of visuals all at once that doesn't feel like it's mashed together haphazardly.
The atmosphere generated by this game is definitely better than I expected, and the game's use of pixel shaders and other advanced features really helps this along. I've seen quite a few PC games recently with plenty of nifty visuals that really just fall flat because they don't help the gameplay or atmosphere. While BG&E's gameplay isn't necessarily
And then there are all the little touches that make the game world and characters that much more believable. Ubisoft really has an eye for adding just the right flourishes and animations to create a cohesive world, and BG&E has countless little things that make the game more than the sum of its parts. Game developers would do well to pay attention to these things as this publisher-driven industry becomes more about sales and less about doing high quality work. Ubisoft has done an excellent job over the last couple of years in creating fleshed-out game worlds, and while the gameplay hasn't always been that great (example: XIII), at least they're doing this right.
BG&E manages to do so many things right while narrowly avoiding those frustrations that usually come along with a Zelda-style adventure/action game. While you will be collecting cash and pearls, it all gets used to power your character and your hovercraft up. The game doesn't stop near the end and force you to recover your steps to fetch more floating, round orbs (even though that's basically what the pearls are), and if you lose a big fight, you get to restart that fight over instead of loading from your last save.
All of this is surrounded in a pretty decent plot on a world where human-animal hybrids are part of the natural order on the planet, and an invasion force of aliens called the DomZ have been trying to take over. The big plot mechanic here involves the planet's own military and police force, the Alpha Section, and how they're actually conspiring with the DomZ to kidnap people and rule the planet. Your character, Jade, will get caught up in figuring out the conspiracy, and presumably destroying whatever evil is really out there. Her sidekick is a grizzled old half-pig called Pey'J who has a knack for fixing things. Jade will also sometimes team up with a bumbling hero called Double H. Most of the characters are pretty unique, and the animation along with the voice acting really make them come alive.
You'll spend your time in BG&E split between doing some on-foot adventuring and driving around in your hovercraft (as well as another vehicle later in the game), and honestly, this is so much more fun and interesting to me than The Wind Waker's boats. The game world isn't quite as big, as the adventure is kind of short - about nine to twelve hours - but it has plenty of hidden and bonus stuff for you to enjoy.
As is the style nowadays with the genre, BG&E includes a few mini-games. The hovercraft races are very well done and quite fun to try, and the tabletop game you can play is also pretty well done. These feel a bit weird with the mouse-and-keyboard controls, seeing as they are really better done on a gamepad, but it only takes a couple minutes' adjustment to do fine.
Jade will fight monsters with a staff-type weapon and gets plenty of cool-looking attacks, but most of these are just triggered by button mashing. As is the standard with games like this, the difficulty is in timing your hits while dodging the enemy's attacks. You won't just be fighting on foot, though; some of the game's most hectic action sequences come while you're in the hovercraft. And while I found The Wind Waker's boat system to be a hassle, the hovercraft is much more fun to drive around in. The fact that I can also participate in races or fight in some action sequences with the hovercraft rounds out the game that much more.
There are a few stealth levels in the game, but these are mainly used to break up the game's usual light puzzles & melee action during the dungeon sequences. They're not particularly hard or frustrating, although I still have to question the reasoning behind not giving people the additional option to fight their way through the situation every time.
The pearls the player collects will go towards major upgrades for your hovercraft, while the cash you earn (which can be won in many, many ways) will buy health-restoring food, minor vehicle upgrades, items to detect pearls, and even upgrades for your staff special attacks. One of the best ways to make money is to explore and take pictures of the game's many species of life - while the camera becomes an important part of gameplay pretty early on, you should always be on the lookout for new creatures to take pictures of.
This may remind you of the need to scan items in Metroid Prime, but it's the cash rewards that make this different enough to feel new. The camera can actually also be used to truly "scan" things, which will give up bits of info on all sorts of items in the game world. Finally, you will also get an upgrade that allows you to aim and shoot discs from your first-person camera view. This becomes a pretty integral part of gameplay as you move along.
It's the smoothness of gameplay that really shines through in Beyond Good & Evil, as well as the atmosphere that you'll see in just about every corner of every level. Combine this with solid voice acting and tight controls, and you'll wonder why people didn't snap this game up before it was reduced in price. Now consider the price, and this game becomes a must-have for anyone who enjoys platform action games. The story is engaging but not what I'd call an instant classic - still, I think it's good enough to keep most people playing.
With BG&E, Ubisoft has paid far more attention to detail in sound than most game developers do. Not only is the voice acting pretty solid, but the sound effects are excellent. There are quite a few jokes in the game, and while only a few got more than a chuckle out of me, that's more than I can say for most games' attempts at humor.
The music in the game is highly varied and it's all pretty interesting stuff. The ambience in the adventure areas, as well as the strange "Propaganda" song in the bar (which also plays during the game's install) were the highlights for me. These tunes are a bit strange at first, but they really grew on me after a while.
Ubisoft has delivered a great sleeper title with Beyond Good & Evil despite a couple of control and technical issues. It avoids many of the problems in the action/adventure genre while creating a unique atmosphere. It borrows plenty from other similar games, but the new presentation (as well as the interesting characters and environments) are what make this game a winner.