It may surprise you to see Beyond Good and Evil have its own Forgotten Game article. You've almost certainly heard of it. You've probably seen the cover art. Hell, you may have even played it.
But trust me when I say that no game in the last three years has been as underappreciated as Beyond Good and Evil. To my knowledge, no other game has combined so many game genres as effectively as BG&E does, or with as much finesse.
Why You Probably Haven't Played It
Frankly? Because it looks like crap. Honestly, look at this screenshot:
Does this look like something you would be even remotely interested in playing? Some kiddie game with a talking pig and a stick-wielding, fully-dressed woman as the protagonist? It almost looks like educational software.
While there are those of us that pay a lot of attention to game previews, actually attempting to know what a game is like before we play it, the main game-purchasing audience doesn't really care about all of that. Casual gamers either look for a familiar franchise, a self-explanatory name, or kickass graphics. Beyond Good and Evil had none of those things.
Additionally, it had a confusing ESRB rating that made it rather difficult to assess how the game would be: officially, the game is rated Teen for "violence and comic mischief"--with that simple rating, BG&E seems too kiddie for a hardcore gamer and too adult for a child.
Worst of all, the game's greatest strengths actually work against it in the marketing department. What makes BG&E so fantastic is that it combines vehicle combat, stealth missions, exploration, and fighting into one neat little package. Now, if you've played it, you know that this is true, but if you've never heard of it before, almost every single subpar game on Earth boasts about combining exploration, stealth, and fighting, along with a dozen other bogus features that are either half-assed or completely nonexistent in the final game. As a result, the marketing department for BG&E had its hands tied--trying to point out the game's true strong points seemed like the standard BS posturing that every game is guilty of.
Now, combine all of this together. UbiSoft tells you that they've got a great new game with a bunch of features you've heard of from other games. Then they tell you that it's called "Beyond Good and Evil," which means nothing to you.
Then they show you a screenshot of an anthropomorphic boar holding a monkey wrench, and they tell you that this is your character's sidekick.
Needless to say, you probably don't end up purchasing it.
Why You Really, Really Should Play It
Because everything that seems potentially awful about it turns out to be really damn cool.
Firstly, the graphics are indeed pretty childish-looking, but you have to consider them in the context of the story. While BG&E's story is, at its basest form, pretty cliche (aliens attack and try to harvest all life forms on the planet to extend their own lives), it tackles some reasonably heavy issues. In addition to themes of moral relativism and the quest for truth, BG&E's main plot also focuses heavily on government corruption and the use of propaganda in a totalitarian state. Not to mention the game's title is borrowed from a book by Friedrich Nietzsche. I'm pretty sure no other game can say that.
So, while the graphics do look like something out of a children's game, its juxtaposition with these serious themes and ideas makes the game feel really...different. Not surreal, or even absurdist, just different. And for anyone who has been playing most of the tripe churned out by the industry in the past few years, different is most definitely a good thing.
As has been mentioned several times, BG&E's strength comes from its ability to effortlessly combine multiple game genres into one seamless experience.
For example, in order to travel around the map, you use a hovercraft. At first, it seems like a typically useless bit of transportation (e.g., the sailboat in Wind Waker), but as the game progresses and you add more and more upgrades to it, you eventually use it for fighting , platforming, and, at one point, racing.
Then there's the fighting system. The fighting works like a stripped down version of any of the 3D Zelda games, but with an added fluidity reminiscent of Princes of Persia: Sands of Time. It's difficult to describe, but it feels like it uses the lock-on system from Ocarina of Time and then meshed it together with the swordfighting from Prince of Persia.
The photography system also figures heavily into gameplay: at the beginning of the game, Jade gets a camera and an optional quest from the local museum to find and photograph all of the different species of animal on the planet. Photographing a certain number of these animals yields you money and pearls (the game's rare, collectible currency which is needed to buy ship upgrades, which subsequently allow you to access new areas, which then forwards the plot). It sounds gimmicky, but before you know it you'll be trying to capture as many shots as you can of a distant bird, or dormant whale under the ocean, or a small bug crawling up a cavern wall. These animals are literally EVERYWHERE in the game, and exploring the world to find and photograph all of them is a great deal of fun on its own.
Most notable are the stealth sequences--notable because they, surprisingly, don't suck. Unlike almost every other game to attempt to implement stealth sections into a predominately action-oriented game, BG&E truly gets it right. Getting seen doesn't result in an automatic "MISSION FAILED" screen, the guard AI is neither abnormally smart or disgustingly stupid, and if you screw up and die, you don't have to start all over: you just have to restart the room you were just in.
Typing all of this out, I realize how ineffective it is at describing how truly funBeyond Good and Evil is (not to mention, there's almost too much to write about in terms of the different game genres available: I didn't even mention the two platforming levels). Seeing a description of a bunch of different gameplay aspects is one thing, but playing them in the game, where they are seamlessly connected, is totally different: it feels immersive, and polished, and fun.
So, in the end, the only way to really experience this gem is to go out and play it: rent it, ebay it, do whatever you have to. Beyond Good and Evil isn't revolutionary, or epic, or even that original, but it takes many existing gameplay elements, and combines them with an interesting story.
The result is one of the most polished and downright fun games I've ever played.
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