Monday, May 1, 2017

Game Talk #17: Beyond Good & Evil

This game is just...unreal.

I don't even know where to begin.

I guess with the premise, which should give you an idea of how out there this game is. It's the future and you are Jade, a photojournalist living on a distant world called Hillys, which is caught in the middle of a conflict between the dark, mysterious, and very alien DomZ and the human government, the Alpha Section. On this planet, humans live alongside many anthropomorphic people. They've got everything here from an air-hockey obsessed shark guy to a group of Jamaican rhino mechanics. Yes I said that.

Jade lives on an island with a lighthouse with her adoptive uncle, Pey'j, a middle-aged overweight, badass pig man, where they take in war orphans. Near the beginning of the game, a lack of funds leads you to lose power during a crucial moment: during a DomZ attack. After defeating them, (Jade is a badass with a combat stick, called a Daï-jo), she decides that they need money, badly, and she manages to pick up a job from the local science institute, who needs someone to photograph and document all of the various species that inhabit the planet. This ultimately leads her into an underground rebel network intent on uncovering a dark truth behind the war.

And that's the set up to this game. Seriously.

I kind of feel like this game was made near the end of the era where publishers were willing to take more of a chance on the weird, out there games that don't easily fit into a certain kind of genre or narrative. Maybe I'm showing my ignorance or age, but it seems like most AAA titles are getting a lot more cookie cutter. And I honestly get it. I mean, it sucks, but video games are becoming absurdly expensive to make, and the price isn't really reflecting the rising costs, not that I'm necessarily wanting to pay more for video games, but I can understand why some people would hesitate to sink a hundred million dollars into a game that wasn't pretty damned certain to sell, and sell big.

But anyway, Beyond Good & Evil is a unique game.

It's action-adventure game with lots of stealth elements. Or that's what people say about it. And it's largely true. But there's a lot more to it.

I'd like to say that I played the game way back in the day, when it came out in 2003 for the Xbox and PS2, but I didn't. And, in a way, I think that's actually for the best. In 2011, the game was given an HD makeover, both on the visuals and audio design, and released onto the XBLA and PSN. Somehow, we ended up with it, and I saw my wife playing through it.

I thought it looked really weird and interesting.

So I gave it a shot, and despite the fact that it had some...annoying gameplay aspects, (I suck at stealth sections and don't have the patience for them, plus this is from the era where stealth wasn't much of a thing and it was often half-baked at best), I beat it. And did almost every side quest. I don't do that unless I really like the game, especially if it's annoying.

One of the things that stood out was, despite the fact that everything has kind of a cartoony feel to it, and there certainly is a lot of comedy in the game, the plot gets very heavy and very serious at times, but not in a way that a lot of people think of as serious, where everything gets unrelentingly 'grim and dark', but they actually tackle some heavy issues in a fairly mature way.

Now it's time to talk about what I think is the most significant thing about this game: Inclusion.

Although it was just as big a problem back when the game was being made, if not more so, inclusion in gaming wasn't really being talked about. (Or maybe it was and I just didn't notice, but it seems like this is a discussion we as a society are having far more often and openly now.)

But there are so many different types of people in this game that it's just impressive as hell. People don't feel very cookie-cutter. And although most of the characters are anthropomorphic, Hillys feels like a realistic cultural melting pot. It's clear that a lot of work went into all the various characters.

And another great aspect of the game and plot is the main character herself: Jade. It's obvious that most form of entertainment struggles with female characters. I'm not really sure why, there seem to be a lurid cocktail of half-assed reasons, but that's the way it is. Jade is a great example of how to do it right, not just in her character, but in the way the game, the plot itself, treats the character. Jade ends up doing some extremely risky, dangerous things, a lot of them, and no one questions if she can do this based on the fact that she's a woman, no one is overprotective for this reason.

In all honesty, her gender never seems to be taken into account. It's almost as if being a woman has nothing to do with her capabilities, her resolve, her role in the larger plot.

There's a lot to say about Beyond Good & Evil, but it's better to experience it yourself, instead of having someone tell you about it. I'd highly recommend it. Right now, you can get it for 10$ digitally. I'd suggest at least getting the demo, because although this is a great game, I can also understand that it's really not for everyone.

Final piece of news: They're making a sequel! Beyond Good & Evil 2 has been in and out of production for years and years now, but as of October 2016, it is official, the sequel is being worked on full force. And as for how that's going? Well, just read this quote to see how insanely ambitious the team is: "Beyond Good & Evil 2 is a very serious development for Ubisoft, big questions that are so big you can't know the answers because no physics engine can handle all of the dimensions and speeds and things like that, It's like 'Okay, if no physics engine can do it, how can we achieve that? It's crazy and difficult to explain to people how technical making a game is. Now it's not anymore about polygons and things like that, it's about millions of behavioral AIs, systems, and giant spaceships crashing on big planets."

So...yeah. Obviously it's going to be a huge game. I'm looking forward to it.

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