Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Beyond Good & Evil (PC)

Super Adventures at Christmas 2012 - Game 7:

Beyond Good and Evil PC title screen
The last game on my Christmas list this year is Beyond Good & Evil, which wasn't quite as critically acclaimed as the other games I've played this week (and definitely didn't sell as well), but people seem to want me to play it, so I did.

I'm sick with a cold right now though and miserable so I'm likely going to be harsher on this than it deserves, especially after all the trouble I had to go through to get the PC version running right, setting CPU affinities, disabling hardware vertex whatevers etc. Plus it doesn't even support a controller on PC so I needed to set up joy2key to get around that. I'm in the mood to rant about something basically.

(Click the pics to view them big.)

The game opens with a TV news report. War has apparently arrived at the gates of Hillys (pronounced 'Hillis') This peaceful mining planet in sector 4 has been complete encircled by the DomZ armada.

You can tell this is a world under siege just by looking at it. People performing tai chi under a setting sun with a gentle sea breeze rustling through the tree leaves and a woodwind melody playing in the background... it's a fucking warzone down here.

Oh hang on, the sky's turned a foreboding shade of green and something's coming through the atmosphere. Fortunately this island has a forcefield to hold them off, so it's not a huge concern.

Or at least it wouldn't have been a concern if they'd paid their electricity bill. The meter runs out and the shield fails, allowing sinister meteors to rain down around them.

The lighthouse is apparently home to a group of children, looked after by a woman called Jade, but they made the mistake of standing by front door when this alien... thing crashed into the ground next to them. It smashes a hole in the ground, taking them all down with it while Jade watches, helpless to save them.

Oh this can't be good. Each one of these alien creatures is a living stasis pod, and they're carrying away the children.

Jade grabs a burning stick, dramatic music kicks in, and it goes straight into the action.

Yeah, see I knew that hitting the monsters was the smart thing to do, kids or no kids. Once I crack them open the children are free to escape and I haven't even accidentally set any of them on fire yet.

Combat in this is very straightforward, I've got an attack button and a dodge button and that's it. Jade seems to automatically lock on to the right enemy as long as I'm pointing her in the right direction so assigning the hurt is very intuitive. Jade flips between enemies fluidly, with my crude button mashing translating into a flurry of graceful swipes and somersaults.

Then as they start to surround her and things start seeming bleak, the game shifts into slow motion and the music drops out leaving only a choir singing a hymn of desperation. Basically, it's awesome.

I saved all the children, but it took a fat anthropomorphic pig in jeans to save Jade from this giant creature growing inside the hole. The helpful pig man is called Pey'j apparently (pronounced 'Page') and he had the forethought to bring down Jade's daï-jo staff so that she's got a fighting chance to take the creature out. Somehow.
Boss fight! The staff has a charge attack if I hold the attack button down long enough, but the boss is sweeping across the floor with a laser eye beam. I've just got to hope I've got the time to use my attack before his reaches me.

Damn that's a nice charge attack. Jade spirals 8 feet into the air, inflicting pain the whole way up. And then we're back to phase one again, as I try to charge up my attack while his laser circles around towards me. Boss fights always have to be based around routine don't they? They never let you get away with doing things once, when they can make you do it three times.

Well that all worked out in the end. The monsters are dead, the children are safe, and the boss even dropped a pearl for our trouble. Fortunately Jade's bag can store any item digitally so carrying it around won't be an issue. It's also got a weird Spanish hologram living inside it to give helpful info.

At last the Alpha Sections' crack troops arrive to protect us from the DomZ, just a few minutes too late to be any use whatsoever. Thanks guys. Actually that's not entirely fair, as they did bring a lift to get us out of this hole, and I'm not seeing any other way out of here.

I can chat with NPCs using multiple choice dialogue, but weirdly there's no voices, it's text only and I miss them. It makes me realise just how good the voice acting had been so far.

Damn, I know she's called 'Jade' but that doesn't mean she has to wear green from head to toe, even down to her lipstick (yeah I know the boots are brown, but she probably wears green socks).

Well the kids are safe for now, but we're still left with the problem of having no electricity, no energy shield, and no cash to pay for it.

Fortunately the little man who lives in Jade's bag has a cunning plan. Actually he's just heard that a science center wants a complete inventory of every species of animal living on this planet, and seeing as I'm apparently the only person here with a camera and nothing better to do, they're willing to pay me considerable sums of money for each photo I take.

Hey, a game based around taking screenshots, I've been training for two years for this! It doesn't seem like I get any extra cash for good framing though. Either I have an acceptable shot, or the picture is a complete failure.

This creepy looking horn bug didn't earn me enough cash to pay the bills, but it didn't take long to find a couple more animals to snap and get the shield running. Now all the electric doors work again my next job is to go out and get my hovercraft fixed. It's a wreck right now because the garage only accepts pearls as payment, but it just so happens I picked one up in that boss fight.

Typical, just as I get my hovercraft working a DomZ monster falls out of the sky and starts trying to blow it up. Man, look at the reflections in the water. That does not look bad for 2003.

It actually took me a few tries to kill this thing, because I was determined to get a photo of it before blowing it to pieces. No regenerating health or armour in this it seems. Fortunately the game saved a checkpoint as I left the garage so I wasn't sent all the way back to the last save point... which was also at the garage, but that's beside the point.

With the monster dead I thought I'd check out the nearby town before heading off for my first mission, and this place ain't so bad looking either. Much prettier than most mining planets I've seen, that's for certain.

It's a shame it's not actually that big. It's pretty much just a crossroads, with the exit behind me, another exit in front of me, a racetrack to the left, and some streets to the right.

Wait, a racetrack?

You know, as hovercraft racing minigames go, this isn't actually so bad. Besides the terrible music I mean. Though I might just be saying that because I'm actually doing well. The controls are pretty twitchy, but then I am steering this thing with digital keyboard controls mapped to an analogue stick. I'm sure it's better on a console with proper controller support.

Winning the race got me another pearl, which makes me think that maybe this wasn't as optional as it seems. I need the pearls to upgrade my hovercraft to reach new areas.

I took the right hand path this time after leaving the race, and walked down to a pub. It occurs to me that people are a species too, and in this place where every other person is a different kind of alien I could get a good number of snaps for the science center just by photographing drunks.

I suppose I'll grab a shot of Pey'j first though, seeing as he's determined to get in my way. He's even waving at me!

Alright enough screwing around. I got a job offer earlier from a mysterious man named Mr De Castellac who wants me to travel to the Black Isle and photograph a pair of these creatures. Incidentally 2003 was the year that acclaimed game developer Black Isle Studios were shut down, COINCIDENCE?

Well, yeah of course it is. Duh.

Somehow I wasn't expecting there to be so many bubbles down in this mine.

My path seems to be blocked by crates of dynamite, so I'm going to have to find a way through them. I'm thinking that hitting them with a stick from close up probably isn't the correct solution. Not that I could anyway, as Jade only gets her staff out when an enemy is nearby.

Ah, the solution was so obvious! I just had to ask Pey'j to use his bio-methane powered jet boots to carry him into the air, so he can drop his fat ass back down onto the ground with enough force to send everything else nearby bouncing up. Then I can use my super slow motion aimed staff swipe to send one of these balloon things flying off into a box of dynamite to detonate it. Simple.

You know, it's a shame this doesn't have co-op, considering this guy's going to be following me around everywhere anyway.

Hey, I've finally found some monsters down in this mine! They're not the pair I'm looking for, but each new species is still worth money to the science center. Also, I can still use Pey'j's special drop attack to bounce creatures up, then fire them off into other enemies. Or just off the edge if I want rid of them.

Each kill gets me money, but they never drop any health items for me. Though even with this many enemies on screen the combat isn't exactly what I'd describe as being challenging. And yet somehow I am still entertained.

Pey'j, I can't help but notice you're in the way of my shot again.

Actually I can't be mean to Pey'j, the guy's awesome. Sure he's a funny looking bloke who invented fart boots, but he's not an irritating comedy sidekick or someone who needs escorting around. He's smart, helpful, likeable, and is basically Jade's foster dad, always trying to look out for her. Plus he keeps saying things like flagnabbit and cramity when he's frustrated.

I'm not sure I want to eat food I've found in an vending machine in the depths of an abandoned mine, but I'm definitely grabbing that extra heart. Man these are so much easier to come by in this than they are in the Zelda games.

Finally I've found those happy little pair of creatures I was sent her to photograph. I can send this off to the science center too, complete two jobs with one snap. Though for some reason they insisted I had to get both of them in the same shot.

Oh... they were just the eyes of a giant floating snake thing. Well okay then.

Unfortunately we're trapped on this pillar of rock now, and it seems pretty determined to kill both of us. I don't want to sound like I'm picking on the games, but playing Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time this week has made me appreciate how far game cameras have come since the 90s. The camera keeps the whole creature on screen at all times, with no messing around on my part, leaving me free to worry about how I'm going to get away from it.

Turns out it just took a few stomps on the head and a little bit of stick violence to sort it out. I mean Pey'j stomped on it, not me. Like Link in Ocarina of Time, Jade doesn't have a jump button, and can only leap automatically across small gaps.

Huh, the guy had a floating taxi hidden inside his floating limo? Why? How? Why?

The man reveals that this was actually a test of my skills to see if I'm good enough to be recruited into into the IRIS Network, a rebel group working against the Alpha Sections. There was never really a Mr DeCastellac, the limo was actually a clever trick.

Nope I still don't get it, why put a taxi inside a limo?

It seems that I only have one choice here, and it's to go work with the rebels. I can't go and work with the Alpha Sections instead to hunt down the insurgents and save the planet from the DomZ.

They want me to break into this Nutripils factory and take some photos on the inside to find out what the Alpha Sections are up to. It's a shame to call a game 'Beyond Good and Evil', and then make one side obviously good and the other obviously evil by the end of the first mission. Barring any twists of course.

I didn't much want to pick a fight with the Alpha Sections before I was absolute certain of their dastardliness (I can't believe that's actually a word), but this drone thing keeps picking me up and carrying me away whenever I get close to the factory entrance. I suppose it's time to see if this new homing shot I've just bought works.

Well I'm inside the factory, but now I'm stuck. I'm pretty sure I need to knock this broken ceiling fan around so that electricity can arc across to the door switch, but it's too high for me to reach. Which is annoying because I need to find a fuse to fix a broken elevator, and that sealed door has a big 'electrical stuff inside' sign on it.

I suppose I'll scan that map in with my camera and check my other options.

Damn, this place looks like another dead end. My new animal detector says there's a species I haven't snapped yet in here, but all I'm seeing is rats and... ugh, melted cow. Not proof that the Alpha Sections are evil perhaps, but they sure are shit at health and safety.

Hey wait, is that it? The thing I'm here to photograph... sticking out of the dead cow's nose? Man, that's gross.

Ah, finally, I've found a puzzle I can solve. I'm being harassed by an indestructible security robot, in a room blocked off with lightning fences. Let's see what happens when I forcefully combine the two.

I just hope there's no security cameras in here. I'm only here to take some photos, I wasn't planning on becoming a wanted fugitive over this.

Hey, that's an IRIS agent being tortured by one of those creatures that snared Jade in the intro level. Not a damn thing I can do about it though, as it's too high up for me.

Oh wait, I just found a Gyrodisk firing glove weapon in a locker, so now I can shoot things in first person camera view. Okay I'm just gonna break this guy out, then I'm running back down to sort out that bloody ceiling fan.

And then I ran straight into another boss fight. This time he won't let me get close enough to hit him, as he's always jumping across the room and putting up barriers. I guess now that I've got a ranged weapon, I have to prove I know how to use it before continuing.

This isn't a shot from a cutscene by the way, this is actually gameplay. I'm controlling Jade right now, trying to dodge out of the way before he lands. For most of the game I've been steering the view with my mouse right analogue stick, but when the game takes control, it always gives me the angle I need.

You know I hate boss fights more than anyone, but these fights haven't been so bad at all. Once I've figured out what I'm meant to do they're usually over with pretty fast.

Damn, this was such a cheerful upbeat game a few minutes ago, now I've stumbled across a human processing plant. It looks like each of these boxes contains someone kidnapped by those DomZ monsters I fought off in the intro. Our heroic protectors have been working side by side with the aliens they're here to save us from.

Time for me to shut down this operation and... actually I can't do shit, I'm just one photojournalist in a base full of bad people. The best I can do is take my photos and get out in one piece.

And then the game turned into Metal Gear Solid. Up to this point I was sure it was Zelda; I've been going around a world map, travelling to dungeons, collecting keys, solving puzzles to open doors, then fighting the big boss at the end. Of course Ocarina of Time had a tiny bit of stealth in it too, but at least in this I can clearly see which way the enemies are facing. Plus they've got a big 'kick me' sign on their back for when I get in real trouble.


This really isn't going to stop being Metal Gear Solid any time soon is it? It's even got the camera shift when I press up against walls. Well that's okay, as a bit of stealth makes a change from the puzzles and combat. I do like hitting things with my stick, but too much of a good thing is going to get tedious.

I've been spotted once or twice, but running away reset the enemies pretty quickly. This doesn't seem to share Metal Gear's 'if you're seen, you're fucked', philosophy.

Man this is a complicated layout. I'm really glad the game has a proper map screen, and that I spent a small fortune investing in that animal detector. I should've been checking this more often though as it seems like I've missed one. Well fuck that guy, I'm not backtracking through all those enemies just for one photo.

Yeah, I think we can confirm that the Alpha Sections are basically the Combine from Half-Life 2. They're just better at hiding the fact that they've invaded this planet and they're slowly wiping us all out.

Still, that's what I'm here for, exposing the truth. Time for some heroic action photojournalism as I bravely dodge security fences and creep along ledges to get into a position where I can photograph his ugly face.

Beyond Good and Evil Pey'j Watchmen badge easter egg screenshot
Oh crap, they've got Pey'j and they're shipping him out in one of the crates! I need to do something!

Wait, is that a smiley face on his shoulder? Does Pey'j have a Watchmen tattoo?

Oh wow, that really IS the Watchmen badge. Well I guess if any comic was still going to be popular in the distant future, it'd be that one.

Sadly before Jade could even think of a way to reach Pey'j, this DomZ creature formed out of pieces of the level and started shooting yellow deathrays at me from its pearly eye. So we're doing two boss fights a dungeon now?

The trick to taking this guy out is perfectly obvious: I just take out both its legs at once. Kinda hard to do when my sidekick's been pignapped though. Fortunately the captured IRIS agent returned to help me out, and between the two of us we took this thing down in like 20 seconds. Well I got my photos, time to get the fuck out of here.

The report on the Nutripils base was published by the IRIS network under Jade's alias of 'Shauni', and it actually seems to have had an effect. Sure the people haven't risen up to evict the Alpha Sections just yet, but protests have started. Of course even if the Hillyans did evict their evil mercenary overlords, that'd still leave them with the problem of that DomZ armada they were supposedly saving them from. Not my problem though, as I'm turning the game off now.

So is Beyond Good & Evil actually any good, or did it really deserve to bomb as badly as it did?

I think the biggest problem with the game is that it promises more than it can deliver. The title hints at a depth and moral ambiguity to the story that just isn't there, and the mystery is uncovered pretty early. The first time I got out onto the ocean in my hovercraft I thought there was a huge world to explore, Elder Scrolls style, but there really isn't; there's a bit of water and a few islands, and that's the game. Plus the one and only town is actually just a crossroads of canals and a handful of streets with like three shops in it.

I suppose I could whine about the combat getting a bit boring as it went on as well, and surprise stealth levels are never the best way to win me over, but I don't want to hate on this game. I love this game! The levels are a good mix of exploration, combat, puzzle solving, (and later sneaking), and the science center photography job gives you a good reason to always keep your eyes open and pay attention. The story is basic but involving, thanks to the likeable characters and well crafted world. Even the children don't come off as annoying, which is a big achievement.

Plus it looks fantastic for a ten year old game, and the music's just as good as the visuals. Good art design and a cartoony style helps keep it from looking too dated, and it's modern enough for the animation and voice acting to be at a level where they can convincingly bring the characters to life.

Honestly, it's not the best game I've ever played... but it's definitely my Game of the Year 2003. Here you go BG&E, have a gold star.

Actually I'm in a good mood, so have a trophy as well!

Oh, and Merry Christmas!


  1. PROPAGANDA! Did you miss me? :D I totally forgot to visit all blogs I read usually, playing League Of Legends. Nice reviews! I have plenty of time to read you again :)

    1. I had a feeling Beyond Good & Evil might lure you back. Or at least I was hoping it would, seeing as you're the one who requested it all those months ago. I may take a while but I get around to games in the end!

  2. Lol! i've never left! I just forgot to read all my blogs :P Other stuff going on and bla bla bla.


Semi-Random Game Box