Beyond Good And Evil

Year: 2003
Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Adventure
Review Date: 1/2/05
Rating: ****

Jade is a young female reporter living on the peaceful planet of Hillys. Recently, Hillys has been attacked by a race of alien creatures known as the DomZ, and Jade offers shelter for children whose parents have been lost to the DomZ menace. Shortly after the invasion, the mysterious Alpha Sections showed up to protect the planet from the DomZ, but are they really helping? When money gets tight, Jade accepts a mission to photograph all of the animal species on Hillys, which draws her into a web of conspiracy and political intrigue. Who are the Alpha Sections and to what extent have the DomZ invaded the planet? Is anyone safe? With the help of her uncle Pey'j, Jade unravels these mysteries and provides photographic evidence for the people of Hillys.

Critically acclaimed and considered one of the best games of the year, "Beyond Good And Evil" was a huge commercial failure, and only weeks after it came out, retailers were desperately trying to dump the title at drastically reduced prices. Was it poor marketing, or the fact that it was buried in an avalanche of other higher profile holiday releases? Is the game too deep for the average gamer, or not sexy enough? Does the fact that it's a French game alienate American sensibilities? Does the "teen" rating doom the game to the wasteland demographic of "too juvenile" and "not juvenile enough" entertainment? Does the varied gameplay make it impossible to classify the game as a specific genre? I personally think that it was Jade's hideous green lipstick that drove potential customers away - it's simply repulsive. But under the green lipstick is an excellent and well developed female character. She's cute and very athletic, well designed, and superbly animated. She's also feisty as well as feminine, and has a heart of gold. Her companion Pey'j is an endearing pig-man who loves Jade like a daughter, and he's a lot of fun to run around with. Later in the game, Jade hooks up with another reporter named Double H, but he's not nearly as likable (and he also annoyingly obscures the camera with his height).

Technically, the game is excellent. The level design and art direction are superb, the controls are slick and mostly intuitive, and the soundtrack is wonderful. The biggest problem I had with the controls is that you can only set the camera options when you're playing the game, and not on the main options screen. I wasted a good two hours of fighting with frustratingly backwards controls and poor documentation before figuring out a workable solution. The character designs are very cute and cartoony, and definitely have a European feel (for better or worse). As far as English voice talent goes, Jodie Forrest gives a superb performance as Jade, and Robert Burns makes for a lovable Pey'j. Unfortunately, the rest of the voice cast falls a bit flat and is often downright irritating. Gameplay consists of a seamless combination of exploration, photography, stealth, hand-to-hand combat, racing, and puzzle solving. The difficulty ramps up considerably in the second half of the game, but most everything is doable with enough patience. I, of course, have neither patience or skill, and was eventually forced to switch to the PS2 version so I could cheat (I should have done this with the sadistically punishing "Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time" (2003), but I had already wasted too much blood, sweat, and tears on that one to start over). Graphically, the Xbox version looks much better than the PS2 version, and the controls are much nicer (the analog accelerator makes a world of difference). Strangely, the video compression on the Xbox is awful, so the prerendered scenes on the PS2 look much better. Overall, "Beyond Good And Evil" is a sorely underrated and overlooked game that is definitely worth a shot for anyone who enjoys female oriented action/adventure games.