Beyond Good & Evil is the upcoming original multiplatform action game from Ubisoft, that is being developed by veteran developer Michel Ancel at Ubisoft's Montpellier studio in France. The game marks a distinct departure from Ancel's previous work, and it's an assured and surprising mix of unique gameplay, technically and artistically impressive graphics, and a rich story that deals with deep themes. With the game's release quickly approaching, we took a much more complete version of the title for a spin and are pleased to report that the game is being polished up nicely.
The game's story is set in the year 2435 and follows the adventures of a young woman named Jade, who lives on the planet Hillys, in a remote corner of the galaxy. The beautiful world is under siege from an aggressive alien force known as the DomZ, which threatens the population. The people are kept safe from the DomZ by Alpha Section, a military force that is viewed as the best defense against the alien threat. However, the simple premise is turned upside down when Jade becomes involved with a resistance movement that is trying to expose a conspiracy within the government. The resistance is trying to prove that the government is in league with the DomZ and is actually helping them abduct people. To do so, the resistance needs Jade to get photographic evidence that can be used to prove the startling claim. But even that isn't as cut-and-dried as it seems, and the story takes some interesting twists as it unfolds.
While the story winds up being a complex web of intrigue worthy of an X-Files episode, and it could potentially scare off gamers with short attention spans, it's presented in a very accessible manner. Reasonably short real-time cutscenes and conversations are spaced out well and do a fine job of moving the story along. One of the coolest touches is how all the little graphical and sound elements used to bring the environments to life complement the narrative. For example, you'll hear propaganda-style radio transmissions from the government on your travels, which take on ominous significance as you get deeper into the story. The same holds true for posters and video screens, which you'll see strewn throughout the environments. You'll learn not to take anything for granted as you go through the game, and you'll begin to develop a healthy sense of paranoia and skepticism.
Beyond Good & Evil offers a unique gameplay experience that somehow manages to blend stealth mechanics, action role-playing, platforming, and vehicle combat into a cohesive package. While the game is a far cry from Ancel's work on the Rayman franchise, Beyond Good & Evil definitely manages to be similarly accessible. Jade's move set will include the standard range of actions, such as running, jumping and attacking, and she'll also have special stealth and camera abilities. The team has even managed to include a picture-taking subgame that works in the context of the story. In addition to Jade, you'll be able to make use of secondary characters such as Pey'j, a humanoid pig uncle that we'd like to think isn't a blood relative, and a rogue member of Alpha Section, whom she encounters later in the game. The secondary characters come into play as you go through the game--they offer tips on how to solve puzzles, and they can physically help you deal with obstacles. In some cases puzzles will revolve around finding a way to let your secondary character access an area that you've managed to get Jade into. Aside from the third-person adventuring you'll be doing, Beyond Good & Evil will send you cruising over land and sea in a hovercraft that will evolve into an airship as you upgrade it over the course of your adventures. However, no matter how varied the action gets, you'll always be able to get a handle on it.
Beyond Good & Evil's graphics are an eye-popping marriage of art and technology. The world of Hillys is brought to impressive life via a mix of the powerful graphics engine--which renders the large world and the characters that populate it--and a unique art style that gives the game an assured sense of style. Jade and all the characters you'll encounter in the game feature stylized designs that are expressive but don't overextend the game's nicely managed polygon budget. All the human, animal, and alien folks that you'll meet in the game look good and feature distinct personalities that are conveyed via animation and quirky voice acting. The environments follow the same aesthetic and showcase a very cool art style that brings together a variety of disparate influences, including contemporary, classic Asian, and industrial art, to create a very organic world. Everything from local wildlife to pedestrians going about their business to a standard day-and-night cycle are used to bring the world you'll be adventuring in to life. The end result is a dynamic, visually engaging environment that you'll definitely want to explore.
The development team has achieved some technical victories in its effort to develop the game across the GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. The powerful graphics engine is tailored to take advantage of each platform's strengths and offer the best visuals possible. As a result, the game looks quite outstanding across the board. The PlayStation 2 version, which presented the greatest performance challenges to the team, is shaping up very well. The game features a generally high frame rate, with just a few inconsistencies that have been optimized some since the last time we saw the game, resulting in more stable performance. The GameCube, Xbox, and PC versions are shaping up just as well, offering more technical bells and whistles, such as an improved frame rate, higher detail, and more effects in some spots.
Another key component of the sense of life in Beyond Good & Evil is its audio, which is a strong complement to the visuals. The game's soundtrack is a cool hybrid of a variety of styles, with a heavy Asian influence, and it frames the action very well. The voice acting is well done and manages to suit the eccentric character designs surprisingly well. You wouldn't think that a Jamaican accent would suit a humanoid rhinoceros, but a visit to the Mammago Garage in the game may convince you otherwise. Voice is also important to the ambient sound in the game, which includes the expected ambient effects and animal cries. The ambient voice in the game plays a unique part in the story--if you choose to pay attention, you'll notice that the conversations you can overhear relate to what's happening.
Now that we've had the chance to spend more time with the game, we have to say that we're especially impressed by how polished the whole thing is. Despite Ancel and his team's experience, there really wasn't anything in their portfolios to hint at the sort of game that Beyond Good & Evil is turning out to be. The subject matter is especially encouraging--if the game ends up fulfilling the potential we've seen in the versions we've played, it could be a significant entry on Ancel's resume, and it will be an impressive display of Ancel's maturity as a game creator and will ensure that he'll be more than just "the Rayman guy." As an added bonus, the game could easily become a cool new franchise.
Based on what we've seen so far, Beyond Good & Evil is shaping up to be a very cool original game. During a fall season when sequels and movie tie-ins are the order of the day, it's always good to see a game like Beyond Good & Evil on the radar. With polished gameplay, strong visuals, and a cool story, the game offers a fresh experience that should be worth checking out. Beyond Good & Evil is currently slated to ship later this month.