The dichotomy of the title describes Beyond Good & Evil perfectly – when it's good, it's very good, but when it's bad, it goes beyond just being evil - at least in terms of difficulty.
Set on the mining planet of Hillys, a once peaceful colony which has been attacked by the evil Dom-Z aliens, Beyond Good & Evil sees you playing as Jade, a normal civilian, doing all she can, along with her 'uncle' Pey'J (who, for some reason is a pig) to protect a gaggle of children who've been orphaned by the alien invasion.
Yes, my uncle is a pig. You got problem with that?
The game opens as Jade's lighthouse, which they've been using to house the orphans, comes under attack from the Dom-Z aliens, throwing you straight into combat as you defend your house, and the orphans, from the aliens. Only when Pey'J and Jade have seen them off, do the planet's so-called "guardians", the Alpha Sections show up, ready to claim they've done all the work.
With the Dom-Z threat having temporarily abated, Jade's concerns turn to more pressing matters - namely, her money. It was already running short, and with nothing to power the shield that protects the orphanage from attacks, things are looking grim. Jade had no choice but to go looking for work, and soon gets a job photographing the various species that inhabit the planet for the Science Centre. However, no sooner has she taken her job than she gets contacted by the IRIS Network – a group of rebels, who're convinced there's more to the Alpha Sections than meets the eye, suggesting they may even be in league with the Dom-Z. As a now-trained photographer, it's up to you to find out the truth, and discover who's really working for who.
One of the questions I always ask when looking at a game like Beyond Good & Evil is, is it like Tomb Raider? The answer comes in two parts. Yes, in as much as you're playing as a woman, getting attacked by baddies and doing a spot of platforming, but at the same time, Beyond Good & Evil isn't as fast paced, and is much, much more free form than Tomb Raider's ever been. And Jade doesn't come with two of her own built-in flotation devices.
So what is Beyond Good & Evil actually like? It's a hot-dog game if ever there was one, blending Tomb Raider-ish action and adventure with stealthy sections and button-mashing combat, courtesy of Jade's main weapon, a long stick thing, which she uses to smack enemies. Combat, though, isn't actually the main part of the game, but rather a means to an end. The key thing here is getting photos of the evidence you need to prove the Alpha Sections' corruption, and that means getting into places the IRIS network tips you off about (courtesy of some cunning puzzle solving and observational skills), and snapping some shots - for example, one of the first things your tasked with doing is infiltrating a Factory and getting some shots of what's in some suspicious looking crates, and a picture of an Alpha Section guard without his helmet on. Along with simply being used to take pictures, your camera is your way of communicating with the IRIS network - take a picture of a strange barcode on a door, for example, and they'll be sent off, translated, and the code you need to crack it sent back. Later on, you can even use it to fire little purple disc-shaped projectiles, which are useful for hitting those hard to reach buttons.
I think I like them better with their helmets on...
It's difficult to say exactly how Beyond Good & Evil plays, as there are so many different facets to it. One second, you'll be infiltrating the various Alpha Section and Dom-Z strongholds, sneaking round and taking incriminating pictures, the next you'll be defeating a boss or two, and the next, you'll be taking part in a Hovercraft race as if the war had never started. It's relatively free form in how you approach it, and you can usually do things in whichever order you choose within the general outline of the story, with plenty of little asides to keep you busy. Along with the aformentioned hovercraft racing, a kind of crazy, almost air hockey-style game, and animal photography, there are 88 pearls to find hidden around the place – which in turn can be exchanged for hovercraft upgrades at Mammago's, the rasta-rhino repair shop. Throw in a decent story and some funny characters, and Beyond Good & Evil is the sort of game that will keep you going for a good long time...
When mamma don't go, try Mammago's!
… Especially when you consider it can be quite difficult at times. It does have a fair few 'what the heck am I meant to do now?' puzzles, where you wander round for an hour or two because you didn't realise you had to push a crate through an electric barrier so you could get past the electric unscathed. Another part that stumped us was when we needed to get a lift working in a factory – talking to Uncle Pey'J reveals that you need to do three things to get it to work. First, the motor needs to be balanced by setting Pey'J on the crumpled mass of metal to the left of the lift by pressing Y. Then you need to acquire a fuse from somewhere – going through the door marked 'Electricity', you'll pass under some dangling live cables, into a room that seemingly contains only a locked door. Look up, and you'll find a partially broken fan – shooting this twice will make the fan rotate, which hits a wire, and electrifies the box on the wall, opening the locked door. Defeat the enemies inside the previously locked room, and you'll be able to nick a fuse, which you can then place in the fuse-shaped hole on the right of the lift. Now, Pey'J tells you you need to give it some 'shock treatment' to wake it up – shooting one of the aformentioned overhead cables will make it fall onto a blue electric barrier, which will then power up the lift. Phew!
Sometimes, it can feel like the enemies are way too competent for their own good, too – I found myself dying a fair amount, especially at the start, where Jade only has two hearts. You do accumulate more as the game goes on – I currently have about half a dozen – which does make it a bit easier, but it's quite a steep learning curve when you're just starting out. The stealth sections, too, are pretty tricky – such as a recent time when I had to take out two soldiers whose weak points are their green air tank things on their backs. Hitting these tanks once makes them wonder round as if they can't breathe, and hitting them a second time kills them. Taking one of these enemies out is quite easy – sneak up behind them and kick them twice – but the problem comes when there's more than one of them, because, no matter how you attack the one's tank, it seems nigh-on impossible to take out the other one's at the same time. So I end up with one in a semi-vulnerable state, while the other one's killing me with lasers, and then I die. I did manage it eventually – somehow – but it just seems way more difficult than it needed to be, and really put a downer on the game I'd been enjoying till then.
In the end, Beyond Good and Evil's an enjoyable mix of platforming and adventure, with more than a hint of Tomb Raider-y goodness to it. While it certainly gets a bit challenging in places, it's more than made up for by the storyline, characters, and general fact it's 800 points, or around £6.80. Well worth a look.