Beyond Beyond Good & Evil

So I finally finished Beyond Good & Evil HD. Finally. It was good, I think.

See, I’m not that sure anymore. Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games that has an incredibly vocal fan-base. For some reasons, they often turned out to be the kind of people I value the opinion of. I heard the game had some innovative characters, deep storytelling and a rich world. Perhaps my expectations were to high.

It’s certainly nice to have a female protagonist for a change. I often heard praises how the team designing it avoided a lot of clichés. On the other hand, I found Jade quite bland. So bland that she feels out of place in the world the game portrays. It’s a exaggerated, cartoony world inhabited by weird human/animal hybrids. Even the other human characters have stylized proportions and physiognomy. Among this freak-show, Jade sets itself oddly apart by being more realistic and just… normal. Playing the game, I was often reminded of 80ies shows where a human protagonist is transported into a fantasy world inhabited by crazy characters.

But her blandness is not only superficial. There is actually not much depth there either. What are Jade’s weaknesses? What are her guilty pleasures? Describe her character without mentioning her occupation or her role in the story? Sadly, Jade is barely a notch above an anonymous silent protagonist. A flat goody two-shoes driven only by the desire to save the children. Oh god. Won’t anybody please think of the children.. Yes, she may avoid a lot female clichés. But that’s only because she also avoids any meaningful statements as well.

Which brings me to the story. With a game called “Beyond Good & Evil”, I was expecting something that transcends the tired notion of… well… good vs. evil. This is not what the story of this game is about. It’s the same noble rebellion vs. evil empire we’ve seen a million times now. There is no point in the story where it’s not clear who the bad guys are. Hint: they wear dark, intimidating armor and speak with a low, menacing voice. Funny enough, the game hardly ever gives good reasons to dislike them. The story is runs almost solely on established clichés and self-explanatory character design.

A good example of the many shortcomings of the storytelling is the part where (spoiler) the lightning house is destroyed by the evil dudes. The children living there have being kidnapped (how does Jade know? She just does). In an effort to summon some character depth, Jade has an emotional breakdown because she wasn’t able to protect the children (the children! THE CHILDREN!). What was meant to be a major point in her character arc left me completely cold. Jade is never shown interacting with the children. She spends a vast majority of her time away from the lighting house having awesome adventures. It makes no sense for her to be sad that she failed at protecting the children because she never did anything to keep them safe in the place. There was nothing to do with the children anyway. They just roamed mindlessly the lighthouse level, giving completely forgettable and irrelevant one-lines when approached. I probably cared the most dog. He gave you a heart container when you chased him around the house. But ironically, the dog is the only one that is not being kidnapped!

And finally, the world is not very rich either. It is tiny. Claustrophobic almost. I finished the game in 10 hours and I took my sweet time to collect every pearl and take a picture of every animal. There are 4 dungeons and the last one is basically a boss fight dressed in a lot of cut-scenes and some meager puzzle leftovers. This isn’t necessarily bad. I like how brief the game is, actually. But putting this amount of content in an open-world structure is spreads it unconvincingly thin. I could literally see the game developers struggling to come up with enough content to make the world barely stand. Every time I upgraded my hovercraft I felt disappointed how little difference it made. Yes, I can fly now. But there is nowhere to go.

But maybe it’s just my expectations. The game is certainly solid. It has perhaps the one of the most polished collectibles systems I’ve ever seen (review coming up). The photography mechanic was a refreshing break from the usual fighting and they found a surprising amount of uses for it. And even if the content is thinly spread, the stuff that is there is always polished and never recycled (*cough*Bioware?*cough*). The story is nothing special but it has some good parts too. While the plot twist with the kids fell flat, the one with Pey’j worked perfectly. Jade may not have exceptional depth, but neither do her male counter-parts like Mario, Jak or Ratchet.

I think there are cases where too much critical approval may perpetuate a myth the actual work can never live up to. Beyond Good & Evil is hardly a unique, enlightening, genre-defying masterpiece of interactive storytelling. But it is a cute, short, above-average action-adventure.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

5 responses to “Beyond Beyond Good & Evil”

  1. Ava

    I agree! Only I didn’t find the length a weakness

  2. sirleto

    why isnt this a game design review / postet there?
    not enough for a review?
    … to be honest: im a bit sick of the LBP dick at the “starting page” of this blog for nearly a year now ;)

  3. Christophe

    I just buy the game too after all the praise I’ve heard about it.
    I feel the same about it : it’s not that it’s a bad game … but it’s far from the cultural masterpiece I was expecting.

  4. Christophe

    also, the camera system really sucks.

  5. Mark

    I just completed the game 10 minutes ago, It taken me 39 Hours of gameplay so I can say that it depends on the person on how long it actually takes to complete the game. Although I did sit through the credits just to see the kids back in the light house but that didn’t happen to much of my disappointment. The way of travel is nice and the orb hunting and animal hunting, wasn’t really happy with camera angles at times as well as the remaining pearls that cant be used for anything. But the combat system is fun, and takes some determining on how to solve it’s puzzles, It should still be on a good shelf price despite its graphics because the game is very refined.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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