Beyond Good & Evil
In one sense, it's easy to describe Beyond Good & Evil, the latest game from Rayman creator Michel Ancel. Its core game play is very similar to recent Zelda titles, especially the generally excellent The Wind Waker, with puzzle-laden "dungeons," vehicular transport to different parts of the game world, an intuitive combat system, and even heart containers. Add to this plenty of stealth levels, hovercraft racing, classic shooting sequences, and even some platformer-style elements (though somehow without the frustrating jumping). Then wrap it all up with a sophisticated story involving rich characters in a vivid, beautifully realized game world. Quick summary? It's Zelda for grown-ups, without the annoying fetch-quests.
You play as Jade, a spunky 20 year old scraping by as a freelance photographer. Her home, the island city of Hillys, is under attack by a sinister alien race, the DomZ. Hardly indifferent to the war, Jade has taken in a group of kids whose parents have been lost in the attacks. Jade and the orphans share their lighthouse home with Pey'j, a portly half-hog, half-human. Pey'j is essentially Jade's adoptive uncle; he's raised her almost from birth, her parents mysteriously disappearing years ago.
As far as the people of Hillys know, their only defense against the DomZ attacks is the Alpha Section, an elite military force apparently fighting valiantly against the aliens. Soon, though, Jade learns about the IRIS network, an underground organization working to prove that the Alpha Sections are not at all what they seem. It's not long before Jade is recruited to help IRIS expose a massive conspiracy and try to put an end to the war. She and IRIS will have to counter the Alpha Sections's propaganda, spread by a corrupt media, by disseminating evidence of the truth. Along the way Jade learns that the deception is even deeper than she had imagined.
And How It's Told
Through most of the game, Jade has a friend with her, whether it's the charmingly gruff Pey'j (whose genuinely funny banter with Jade is one of the highlights of the game) or Double-H, an IRIS operative and gentle parody of sci-fi action hero cliches. Not only are both characters well developed, offering clever remarks and helpful information, but you'll also rely on them to solve various puzzles. There's another Zelda parallel here, obviously, but thankfully, Pey'j and Double H have far more personality and charisma than a bird-girl or a talking leaf. Rather than feeling like yet another item to be used, as Zelda's companion characters did, Jade's cohorts are active, lively characters with minds of their own.
Beyond Good & Evil's mix of disparate game play elements would seem to invite disaster, or at least incoherence. As it turns out, it all succeeds rather brilliantly. You'll be doing plenty of combat on foot. Jade's lithe with her dai-jo stick, and pulling off combos or back-flips is intuitive and fluid. Sure, this isn't a deep fighting system, but it's far from the shallow slash-fest it might have been: it feels just right for the game. Enemies aren't all the same either, and just slapping everything with your stick won't always get the job done. There are several boss characters, and what they may lack in dramatic hugeness they make up for by putting up a good fight.