Thursday, August 14, 2014

VGR Beyond Good and Evil

Having replayed through Beyond Good and Evil recently, here's the review I wanted to do but never did until now!

Science-fiction, adventurous reporters, interplanetary alien invasion and conspiracies await you in the world of Hillys!

Michel Ancel's cartoony hero gets reviewed Eyz-style:

VGR: Beyond Good & Evil or alternatively Beyond Good and Evil or simply BG&E
From Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft Entertainment
Played on GameCube
Also available on Xbox, PS2, PC, Xbox 360 & PS3

Type Action adventure game
Year 2003

Developed concurrently with Rayman 3, Beyond Good and Evil was another beloved pet project by "Rayman's dad", famous Ubisoft creator Michel Ancel.

After spending so many years on the Rayman series, Ancel wanted to explore something different for a well deserved change.

Seeking to explore other horizons at time, Ancel wanted his next video game title to cover different ideas, several which he imagined through his career. While he opted out of Rayman 3 leaving the franchise in the hands of Ubisoft Shanghai,.Michel Ancel basically decided he would put all of those ideas in his magnus opus - "Beyond Good and Evil". Originally titled "Project BG&E" which actually stood for the working title "Between Good & Evil".

Beyond Good & Evil's development was lead by Michel Ancel, most of the game designed by Ancel and other Ubisoft alumni Sébastien Morin along artists Florent Sacré and Paul Tumelaire. Michel himself wrote the story of the game with long time collaborator Jacques Exertier and the project was directly produced by Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft.

The game was originally released in late 2003 for the GameCube/PS2/Xbox generation of consoles.

For the game Ubisoft developed the proprietary Jade engine, head-developed by Michel Ancel's team in Montpellier. The Jade engine was tailor-made for this specific game but went on being used in almost every big Ubisoft title. The engine was very flexible, generating huge environments, inhabiting them with life and able to handle tons of animations and physic mechanics. Also it was really easy to port to any "128-bit" systems, making it Ubisoft's engine of choice for a while for multi-console titles. It was of course named after the main character of BG&E. It was able to handle all kinds of gameplay styles and smooth transitions from gameplay into animated cinematics rendered in-game. Ubisoft would be using it for the Sands of Time Trilogy (PoP Sands of Time, Warrior Within and Two Thrones) as well as the Peter Jackson's King Kong game and most Raving Rabbids games.

The game took over 3 years of production, developed by a very small development team personally assembled by Michel Ancel.

He wanted  a break from Rayman, to be able to make something completely different. The idea was make this huge playable universe to explore on single CD. While most had to be cut down from the final product, the game still gives a big sense of freedom as you visit these places, featuring a meaningful interesting story. The game also draws a lot from Miyazaki's films!

The story takes place in the year 2435, on a mining planet.

It's the future. Inter-stellar travel has been made possible, but most people on the planet Hillys are confined to the ground. The population is under constant attack by aliens, the DomZ, and the government has punt a ban of spaceships and restricted most areas. Plus the non-stop DomZ attacks have trapped everyone in this space sector.

Often making quick raids and kidnapping people.

To fight the invader a special task force has been put in place, the Alpha Section forces.

Beyond Good and Evil follows the adventure of Jade, a girl that lost her parents at a young age, now living with her "uncle" Pey'j, a half-pig mentor figure that is also her best friend and partner in crime. The live in a lighthouse located on a small island and mostly rescue orphaned children from the DomZ attacks.

At the beginning of the game the lighthouse loses its shield in the middle of an attack. The Alpha Section comes too late to save anything. They need some money to buy new protection.

Always passioned by photography, Jade takes a freelance job helping scientists to take a census at all the native fauna inhabiting Hillys - a job made harder by all the Alpha Section restrictions and the incessant attacks by the DomZ.

Jade is then contacted by members of the "terrorist" organization, the IRIS network. IRIS wants Jade to help them expose the corrupt government.

Under the alias of "Shauni" she joins them as a reporter. Slowly but surely a resistance movement begins to arise.

Will they expose this planet-wide conspiracy? Is the government working with the alien invaders?

As Jade, you'll meet plenty of memorable figures and allies to help defeat this quasi-dictatorship. Jade Including an ex-Hillyan Army sergeant named Double H with a wide array of military quotes and your trusty helpful AI and virtual helper Secundo who resides in your S.A.C, your atomic-compressed backpack carrying all your items and AI.

You will even get to control those allies through order when partnered up with them during the story.

A revolution is coming to Hillys!

From the first minute of the game, it really seems like Michel Ancel put a lot of personal investment into crafting Beyond Good & Evil. The game carries a lot of personality and identity from the start.  

Following a peaceful introduction, you get treated to a boss about 2 minutes into the game!

The game quickly establishes these Alpha Sections forces as ineffective at protecting the citizens. Or is all this done on purpose...?  Jade then proceeds to introduce us, the player, to this world as we soon find out and join IRIS. The officials are involved in a conspiracy and it all revolves about exposing the truth!

Our young photographer Jade and her companion Pey'j (and later Double H) are recruited into this big epic plot, starting with infiltrating the Alpha Sections!

Hillys is inhabited by all these different species all trapped together in this world.

A lot of work was put into crafting the game's main protagonist alone. Michel Ancel seems to be credited as Jade's main creator. She is voiced Jodie Forrest in the English release and famous French actress Emma De Caunes (Mr. Bean's Holiday) in the original French version. Actually Jade's overall appearance was mostly based on Emma and with also some of Michel Ancel's own wife in her for good measure.

Michel Ancel didn't want to rely on the same old cliché usual main video game character for BG&E. but actually create someone that looked like a real person. Not just your generic run-of-the-mile sexy action heroine.

Jade is not just a great female game character but easily one of the best (and my favorite) video game protagonists in ages.

She has such a charming individuality from her tomboysh nature to her green-theme going on. Also they didn't hive her any clear ethnicity, making her racially ambiguous (hey, she's from the future, from another planet!) makes her easier to relate to as many players as possible.

She's one of the most tasteful characters I've ever seen, not just eye candy for horny teenagers, which gives the whole game a better proper "mature" tone than just throwing in F-bombs around like so many other games out there nowadays. It all goes to help make this whole experience feel like your witnessing an actual story.

Beyond Good & Evil is an action-adventure game. Think modern Zelda games or Star Fox Adventures.

Ancel cherry-picked various type of classic gameplay elements at the time to really make the experience unique.

The game is played from a third person perspective and has elements from action games to your typical beat 'em all. Some stealth, puzzles, racing and even platform!

Whenever you are in the presence of enemies you can attack back. Our freelance journalist is also skilled in jôdô. Beginning with a first DomZ attack and a quick boss battle at the start.

Jade is a trained martial artist!

You can fight nearby foes with your staff as melee weapon and shoot energy discs for your long rage attack through your camera view.

Most of the game is done through the exploration of the gorgeous world of Hillys. They really went all the way, BG&E is one of the best showcases of the technology available at time. Sometimes exploring these places feels like going through concept arts at times. Watching the beautiful sunrise or the impressive factories never cease to amaze.

The main city works as your principal HUB leading into several smaller portions (think of it as the land of Hyrule leading you to the dungeons). Beyond the city there is a world and nearby places to explore, several areas, caves and places to explore.

To solve these puzzles the game has you mostly playing around the other secondary characters. Using this single player co-operation to solve your quest.

The photography aspect is the other big gimmick of the game. When it's not taking pictures of shady government types in their headquarters you can also take several kinds of personal photos and pictures of animals living in the world of Hillys. Photos can also help you find some clues.

Your companions can be used around puzzles but also act as "strikers" of sort. You can "order" them to attack, like rushing head first into enemies or bouncing stuff around. Be careful, as they also have their own health bar. Hearts represent health in this game, you can share food (health items in BG&E) with your friend to regain health. 

Taking photos is also the best way to obtain some money quick. You can then spend it at either the local shops or at Mammago's garage which can be used to repair or upgrade your ship. You can buy all sorts of  items and gadgets.

The game has a ton of mini-games both integrated into the plot or as sidequests. For example Jade will be forced to enter a racing competition at one point (only to ditch it out in mid-race to find a secret entry into the enemy's complex). You can then proceed to do more races or not. The other way way is to search for treasures around the islands, or find the secret hideout of pirates and beat them in short races.

Speaking of your hovercraft, it's not only used for these racing minigames but also your principal main vehicle to explore Hillys. You will later on unlock a spaceship, the Beluga in the final act of the game, opening the rest of the entire world to you.

Most of the collectibles in the game revolve around getting M-Disks with special informations/videos to also be used at savepoints. And the extremely rare (at first) pearls which are the only currency used to upgrade both ships. Those can be find either hidden in the story-segments, secret caves and a couple of foes also contain those.

Finally the ring-styled menu system is a pretty simple and original to have all the usual information and menus in the game simply presented on screen.

Getting money for taking shots of the fauna in this world, locating pearls and animals along your objectives in your in-game map. The game was cleverly designed to make "adventuring" be the main focus of the gameplay.

There's also a dialogues you can have with your companions and NPC.

Beyond Good & Evil features a gorgeous original universe. There's also some highly memorable chases sequences breaking the rythm from time to time (which might be as well the origin of all the parkour Ubisoft has been using in their games ever since).

The game also features a couple of Rayman references and parallels. It's really easy to spot the parallel between the DomZ and Rayman 2's robot Pirates. Both in combat and design, Including a cameo from the famous cartoon-eyed mosquito from the Rayman series as one of the creatures you can find.

BG&E has a captivating musical score through beginning to end. Really unique and basically an essential part of the entire game. It really goes to show how much thought and work was put into every aspect of the game.

 The music was composed by French film and video game composer Christophe Héral, chosen specifically for his background in films. It brings this final French touch to the game. A breath of fresh air in gaming. Composed of orchestrated pieces along some digital beats here and there. Every place in the game has its own tone. There's some Cold War-esque era Soviet-style compositions here, some Indian percussion for Hillys' free spirits. Even some light metal for the DomZ (in a track appropriately titled "Metal Gear DomZ"!). And some chants for the bigger picture tale. A shame an official soundtrack was never released!!

Overall, Beyond Good & Evil is a cult classic. This goes without saying, it is an Highly Recommended to any gamer out there, a sure classic and a great game!

The game has such a wide palette of styles, ideas and concepts. It's a very interesting and captivating. It feels like a great original interactive animated feature film

Living up to its title, never confined to a single type of experience and beyond!

The game was received to a fantastic reception back then. There really never had been nothing this unique and ambitious at the time (others like the Prince of Persia trilogy would follow later on). Winning several awards along the way, still highly considered and membered fondly to this day.

But it also was a big commercial failure. Actually one of the biggest flops Ubisoft has ever known. Some blame a poor marketing or bad timing. Never mind, it mostly went under the radar for most games. 

And that is why to this day despite the critical acclaim and praise and fond memories from many players, Ubisoft is still very hesitant to work on a sequel despite the evident possibilities you could go with this game. 

Michel Ancel has been on and off working on a proposed sequel titled for now Beyond Good & Evil 2. Ssupposedly in work, we still get to hear some news every year or so, Ubisoft still claiming the game to be in development... That is, if this will ever get made.

In 2008 an official statement was made along a teaser trailer showing some actual gameplay footage of a more Assassin's Creed-inspired Beyond Good and Evil sequel. Ironically the plans for the sequel had to be put on a break for Michel Ancel's return to the Rayman series with Rayman Origins

Meanwhile you can go back to the original, Ubisoft Shanghai was put in charge of Beyond Good & Evil HD, a re-release of a remastered version of BG&E for Xbox Live and PSNetwork released in 2008. This HD upgrade featured bigger resolution, improved models and textures, and a slightly modified soundtrack.

All in all,

I give it:
3 / 3 Bruces!

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