Beyond Good & Evil

I finished Beyond Good & Evil today, thus making it first up on the "topics for 2004" roster. So what did I think? BG&E almost slipped through the cracks for me this holiday season, but I had an old coworker stay a few nights in the spare bedroom while making his holiday rounds and he brought a copy over (thanks Chuji!). I played a few hours while it was here and decided I liked it enough to grab my own copy. He brought over the PS2 version, but I bought Xbox. Both SKU's seemed pretty similar, PS2 was cheaper, but Xbox brought progressive video and Dolby Digital audio to the party. Interestingly, it's the first game I can think of that plays at 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so it letterboxed even on my widescreen TV.

I'd describe it as a "stealh platformer" I guess. That's not a very good description, it doesn't play very platformer-y but it does have collection and exploration as it's main goals drawing you through the game. There is really very little fighting throughout the game, you spend more energy sneaking past guards than anything else. They do have a nice visual design that allows the guards to sport a light, conveniently defining their vision cones. You end up timing your motions to sneak past them, a la Metal Gear, but without "playing from the radar", like MGS did. (BG&E doesn't have a radar, but hopefully you take my point.)

The developers get some neat mileage out of the whole story conceit, where you're an investigative reporter, and the levels consist of getting to key spots and taking pictures to reveal the wrongdoing of your enemies. There is an ongoing side quest involving taking pictures of all of the animal life as well. It made the story a lot more coherent than many platformer games.

Well, if there aren't jumping puzzles, and there isn't fighting, is it ALL just sneaking? There is also a strong puzzle element in BG&E. Nothing too mindbending, but more of the "How do I open that door over there? Maybe if I climb up this mechanism here . . . oh look a vent." variety. You have a sidekick who can get through some security mechanisms you can't but isn't as agile as you. A lot of the puzzles are once you get into an area you need to figure out how to get your sidekick there. You might shimmy across a narrow ledge, and then find a switch to lower a bridge for him, for instance. Then once he catches up he can go through a laser trap that would fry you, but then turn it off allowing you both access to the levels beyond.

Overall, I thought it was a good game, and I'd recommend it if you like stealth or platformers. It definitely has a few rough spots, and it's not an "instant classic" by any stretch of the imagination, but you could do worse for a game purchase. The game never got super-tough, but it did provide a nice level of challenge. I rarely felt frustrated or stuck, which is pretty cool. It's a bit short (I ended up taking about 10 hours with it.), and the stealth gameplay certainly gets repetitive. Stealth is a cool mechanic, but it's hard to provide penalties for errors short of "start over!". The game at least just restarts you at the beginning of that room, instead of some stupid "reload your save" kind of thing, but it still has a few points where I got tired of running through the first three challenges of a room, just to experiment with the fourth one again.

There was also a bit of poor visual grammar where the enemies all have a weak point on their armor. In SOME rooms you can disable an enemy from a distance with this. In other rooms, it's simply impossible, and they'll move or turn as soon as you fire a projectile. I ended up doing this just by trial and error during my playthrough. Actually while writing this, it just occurred to me that there MAY have been a way to distinguish, but it's too subtle if it doesn't occur to me until I'm done with the game :-)

The final boss fight I thought was cheap (they actually reverse your controls for part of it), and the final story leaves a lot of loose ends about, in my opinion. (And they are obviously setting up the sequel - isn't that a branding nightmare? What is that called? "Really Far Past Good & Evil"? "Let's Revisit This Good & Evil Thing"? "Man you can't even SEE Good & Evil From Here"?)

In conclusion, if you bought only one video game last year, it shouldn't have been BG&E. (Hmm. What WAS game of 2003? Zelda maybe? Discuss in comments!) But if you're looking for a solid game, and one that will be rewarding without dumping 40+ hours of your life into it, this is a good one. The story is solid, but not so complex you need Cliff Notes.