Beyond Good and Evil Preview
We try out Ubi Soft's upcoming mutiplatform action game.
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Beyond Good and Evil is the upcoming multiplatform third-person action game from Ubi Soft. The game has been in development for the past few years in the French developer's studio in Montpellier, France, under the watchful eye of Michel Ancel, whose work on the Rayman franchise provided Ubi Soft with one of its first bona fide hits. We recently had the opportunity to visit Ancel and his team to get a look at the game's development firsthand and have come away impressed. Beyond Good and Evil is shaping up to present a compelling experience that offers a complete package of impressive graphics, strong audio, and solid gameplay, all anchored by a unique story.
Although the preliminary bits of story information that have trickled out on Beyond Good and Evil's plot have seemed to be fairly standard, there's quite a bit more to the game's tale. The title follows the adventures of Jade, a young woman from the planet Hyllis, who becomes involved in a rebel movement to expose a conspiracy within Hyllis' government that's tied to attacks on the planet by a mysterious alien force. At the start of the game you're thrown into things, as you take control of Jade while she attempts to fight off an attacking horde of aliens. However, in the wake of the attack, Jade is contacted by a rebel group, after being declared a hero by Hyllis' government. According to the rebels, all is not as it seems in the government. The rebels tell Jade stories of mysterious shipments of humans being, sent by the government, to parts unknown. They ask Jade for her help in discovering just what is going on. Although skeptical of the seemingly tall tales of conspiracy, Jade eventually sets out to investigate the odd goings-on in her planet's government and ends up getting considerably more than she bargained for. Fortunately, she won't be taking on her quest alone, as the game features a quirky extended cast of characters who offer support over the course of the adventure. You'll meet the first of such character's in the game's opening battle, when Jade is assisted by her "uncle" Pey'j, a pig-man. The other key member of her support network is Secundo, a virtual assistant in her PDA, who offers information and attitude on her adventure. As you progress through the game, you'll find even more colorful folk who will help and hinder Jade on her quest to solve the mysteries of Hyllis.
The twists and turns in Beyond Good and Evil's story are reflected in its gameplay, which starts out simple but ends up being something else altogether. At its core, Beyond Good and Evil is a story-driven, mission-based action game. Your first fight, at the start of the game, and the subsequent exploration segments that follow offer a good, albeit partial, idea of what to expect. Your time in the game will eventually be divided between exploration, combat, stealth, and vehicle sequences--with some minigames thrown in for good measure--that all blend together pretty well. You're eased into the various types of gameplay slowly, which should keep players from being overwhelmed when they start the game. (This is a good thing.) Beyond Good and Evil features a good measure of GTA III-style freedom that encourages you to explore Hyllis. Following your introduction to combat in the game's opening, you'll spend some time exploring and interacting with the people and creatures that inhabit Hyllis. This intro sequence also introduces you to one of the game's more unusual gameplay elements: Jade's camera. You're asked to help collect information on the wildlife of Hyllis, for a local museum, by snapping shots of the animals and insects that you come across in your travels. As you collect shots, you'll digitally transmit them back to the museum, and they'll wire you cash for your troubles. However, later in the game the camera takes on an entirely new use in the stealth sequences. You'll be able to use it to fire discs that can be used to trigger unreachable switches, or you can use it to make noise to distract guards so you can sneak past them.
Another, less portable, gameplay element is Jade's hovercraft, which serves as her primary means of transport around the waterways of Hyllis. You'll be able to upgrade the ship's propulsion and weapons systems by using your hard-earned cash. Then you can access more areas of the large planet. The hovercraft sequences range from basic travel segments, where you perform simple tasks like navigating to different locations, to combat sequences that find you facing off against some fairly large sea creatures. Finally, you'll be able to play assorted minigames, over the course of your travels, by talking to various locals who offer a change of pace from the main game. While you're pretty free to tackle Jade's adventure at your own pace, the game will help keep you on track by providing you with prompts from Segundo and by showing you newscasts from the local news that will bring you up to speed on current events and point you in the right direction.
While the various elements of gameplay may sound pretty involved, given the variety of things to do, Beyond Good and Evil's control mechanics are shaping up to be quite user-friendly. The same basic set of context-sensitive controls that you'll use when exploring will transfer to combat and the piloting of Jade's hovercraft. Combat is especially nice, thanks to a fluid and smoothly animated battle system that offers a great deal of freedom when taking on multiple enemies.
The graphics in the ambitious game are shaping up very nicely, thanks to the team's decision to devote a large chunk of the game's budget strictly to research and development of technology. As work on BG&E's technology progressed, some of its core elements were sent to Montreal to serve as the foundation for Ubi Montreal's upcoming, stunning new entry in the Prince of Persia series. The technology used in both games, called the Jade engine, is flexible and very powerful. It allows the development team to let their imaginations run wild. Artistic freedom is being put to good use by a team that has drawn inspiration from a variety of different media outside of games. The end result is a striking, detailed world that is quite immersive. You'll notice Hyllis has its own day and night cycle, as well as its own weather system, as you go about your business. Your exploration will also let you take in the richly detailed environments that are teeming with life. You'll find very little about Hyllis is static in Beyond Good and Evil. Just about any area you'll find yourself in will have people or animals going about their daily business--which goes a long way toward bringing Hyllis to life. The game's assured sense of style and place manages to sell you on a world where humanoid animals and people live together in relative harmony, alien attacks notwithstanding.
From a technical standpoint, Beyond Good and Evil brings Hyllis to life by making use of a generous polygon budget that's complemented by striking visual effects. While the game's unique art style is a bit cartoony, Jade's character model makes use of a good number of polygons and offers an impressive amount of expression in her face. The other characters in the game aren't quite as well done, although their animation manages to convey an equal amount of personality. The environments in the game are stunning and offer broad vistas that are paced with little details. The cities in the game follow suit, with the aforementioned activity and slick designs that show off their unique architecture. The game's impressive lighting and particle effects system do an excellent job of enhancing the visuals on display, offering a host of little touches that add a nice layer of visual polish. In addition, filters on the camera give certain sequences in the game a very surreal, dreamy look that complements the action.
Speaking specifically on each console, the powerful graphics engine was made to take advantage of each platform's strengths and to 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 are currently being optimized to ensure solid performance. The GameCube, Xbox, and PC versions are shaping up just as well and feature a few more technical bells and whistles, due to the unique strengths of each platform.
The audio in the game is still being fine-tuned, but we were able to get a taste of what to expect in the final game. Jade, Pay'j, and the rest of the game's cast all feature capable voice acting that suits the visuals very well. The voice in the game will also be used to provide audio cues--prompting you with hints and tips on what to do and where to go if you spend too much time doing nothing. The sound effects are still shaping up but should offer a rich experience. Aside from your standard assortment of sound effects for gunfire and characters running, the audio in BG&E will feature ambient sound, to bring the gameworld to life, as well as a dynamic soundtrack to complement the action and cutscenes. In terms of exactly how the audio will fare on each platform, the team is currently aiming to make the most of what each platform has to offer, so GameCube and PlayStation 2 owners can look forward to Dolby Pro Logic II support, while Xbox owners can get their receivers ready to pump out 5.1 sound.
From what we've seen so far, Beyond Good and Evil is shaping up to be a strong original title in Ubi Soft's fall lineup. While we're suitably impressed with the game's striking visuals and tight gameplay, we have to say it's the rich story that has us most pleased. Beyond Good and Evil is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months.