: Beyond Good & Evil
: UbiSoft France
: Late November/Early December, 2003 (North America, Europe PS2/PC versions), February 2004 (Europe, GameCube/Xbox versions)
Michel Ancel, creator of the Rayman series and this game, wanted to do something different and unique with this game:
"There were two different desires after Rayman. The first was using the virtual world. In most games the feeling of freedom is fake, there are walls. It might look like you can reach somewhere, but you can't. I won't say it's a revolution or anything. In a lot of games you can do a lot of things, but we did our best to let the player imagine that he can reach the moon, or another place. And he will go there. So we tried to imagine all the places and all the freedom that he would like. He might be like, "I want to do that," and if he can't he would be frustrated.
"The other idea is trying to tell something (meaningful). It's not just about beating everybody, it's about maybe getting something from the game. It's a bit pretentious, but... When you finish the game, you've got a good gameplay experience, but there ... there is a story you could like or not. But there is a story. There is a meaning. And to receive that, you must experience the gameplay."
Story and Characters
This is one of the key elements the developer desired in this game, and BG+E has delivered one of the most original plots of a video game in recent years.
The game takes place in the year 2435, on the planet of Hillys, a peaceful planet mostly covered by water that has been the target of relentless attacks by the DomZ, an alien race that has been bombarding the planet with bombs, unleashing flying worms, and kidnapping citizens for unknown purposes.
To combat this, the government formed the Alpha Section, an elite military unit separate from the conventional police and army. Despite frequent reports of the DomZ attacks thwarted by the Alpha Section, an underground network, the IRIS Network, claims that nothing is as it seems.
You play the role of Jade, the first child raised at an orphanage on an island near the main city. All grown up and working as a freelance photographer, Jade now assists "Uncle" Pey'j in the running of the orphanage. One day, Jade gets a job that leads her on a quest to find the truth.
It's really the characters that make the story, though. Each one has a unique personality and is accompanied by suberb voice-acting and animations. They range from a friendly and overly paternal Pig (Pey'j) to the calm human supervisor of IRIS network to the by-the-book ex-soldier Double-H. Every character you encounter has at least something to actually say, and all have much more words in text form. The interactions are real and believable, and your actions have a realistic effect on the land and people of Hillys, which highly involves the player in the plot.
This game takes place in a very complete virtual world, and closely resembles The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The game has a main overworld that you travel on a hovercraft. You embark onto islands on foot, and fight through dungeons. Since you are a photographer, you spend lots of time taking pictures of various things.
The game takes place mostly on a small section of Hillys that is surrounded by Alpha Sections defense towers "for your own protection". You travel between and along the 2-3 main landmasses with your hovercraft, which you usually dock near land so that you explore further on foot.
The game has a few dungeons in the same style as Zelda. They are normally much larger, though. They always have lots of sneaking elements where you must avoid detection by Alpha Section guards. Detection usually means death, as their shields, grenades and hammers are more than you can normally handle.
If you must fight, Jade uses her staff to knock back enemies. The basic strategy is to press the attack button as fast as possible while steering Jade towards your opponents, but the inclusion of a team-mate (Pey'j, and another) often requires a bit of strategy when engaging tougher enemies. In fact, many of the puzzles in the game involve coordinating your actions with your friend. You do not directly control them, but instead give them instructions with a context-sensitive 'go-ahead' button. Jade also finds a disc-shooter during her adventure that she can use to hit targets from a distance. While the combat and puzzle solving is less frustrating, it can descend into a simplistic button-mashing experience.
Being a photographer, your camera becomes an important tool in the game. Your mission is usually to sneak into a dangerous place and take incriminating photos to promote your cause. You are also constantly on the look out for animals, as taking pictures of different types of animals scattered throughout the game will earn you pearls, a valuable reward in the game.
There are also many mini-games and challenges in the game, such as racing, gambling, hunting down pirates, and finding secret rooms. It is possible to purchase locators in the game that help you track down the elusive remaining animals and pearls.
BG&E was created using the Jade engine, which was specifically developed for this game. The engine was also used for UbiSoft's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Sadly, despite glowing reviews by many critics, and the widely held notion that it was in the top 5 of games released in 2003, the game did not sell well initially at retailers. The price was slashed to 20 dollars in the US, and a similarly low price-point in Europe. It most likely failed due to a lack of presence in the overcrowded holiday rush, as UbiSoft did not push the title as much as the franchise-based Prince of Persia. It is still widely available, and is most likely a bargain at your local store. This game is an excellent example of why the gaming industry is often afraid to build new franchises at great cost.