For skeptics and naturalists, what could a videogame look like? How about a game where one of the main objects of the game, is to photograph as many vanishing species on the planet as possible? How about using those photography skills to find solid evidence of a government conspiracy? A future where different races live together without strife?
Beyond Good & Evil is that title. Created by Michel Ancel, this game came out back in 2003, and won tons of praise from critics, and failed to sell enough to the public to warrant a sequel. I played it a few years ago, and now I'm photographing my way through it's pretty natural environments and industrial rust once again.
The setting is the planet Hillys in the distant future. Humans and other races based on animal-human hybrids inhabit the pastoral and island-dotted land peacefully. An alien invasion by a species known as the DomZ disrupts day-to-day life, the invasion consisting mainly of aliens crashing like meteors from the sky. An army known as the Alpha Sections attempts to protect the populace, usually arriving too late.
The protaganist is a brash and confident 20 year old orphan named Jade. Jade is presented in a much more realistic fashion than most women in games, and there is no need for a love interest for her to hang her feminity on. Her endearing, tough-guy adopted uncle Pey'j is a Sus Sapien, or pig-human hybrid. The pair live on an island in a lighthouse, struggling with money while taking care of orphans who've lost their parents in the war. Jade and Pey'j own a hovercraft, an airship, and eventually a spaceship. Jade works mainly as a photographer and reporter, taking stock of the planet's biodiversity before too many species are wiped out in the fighting. Eventually, she joins the Iris Network as a photographer, a pirate broadcast group trying to expose the government's lies.
The game still holds up graphically, and the soundtrack has some excellent music, latin techno and classical score, depending on the scene. I love just toodling around in the hovercraft, visiting different islands through the night and day cycle, especially after a long steathy trip through industrial buildings exposing the conspiracy taking place. It's one of those games that just makes you want to revisit it from time to time; hang out at the Akuda Bar, talk to the kids at the lighthouse, or just explore the oceans of Hillys.
The details in the game are interesting and scientific, though fictional. Aim your camera at the sky, and it will label the different constellations, even indicating how much radiation comes from celestial objects. Each new species, like the anemonia mutabilis pictured at right is fascinating, and many of them fly or hover through the air. You can interact to some degree with each animal as well, and you find them all over the planet. There are different whales in the ocean, nautilus creatures that float in the humid air, and even a trilobite crawling around if you look hard enough. This part of the gameplay, cataloguing the different species, is made to feel so crtitical, I even found myself getting bitten by more aggressive species in my unrelenting effort to take their picture.
(This whole idea of taking photos would be great in a game about prehistory and dinosaurs...as fun as the fauna in Beyond Good & Evil are, imagine a similar game where one had to catalogue dinosaurs from each era? Tutorial in the Devonian! Bonus level in the Pleistocene! Since Michel Ancel also made the prehistoric-looking King Kong game, he'd be just the guy to blend the two ideas. ) Evidence is a key to winning this game. There are occasionally some battles which Jade handles with her fighting stick, but methodical presentation of evidence and love of family are the main triggers to propel the plot forward. Rumour has it Michel Ancel might finally be returning to this story again - I hope! - and who knows what alien fauna might be found on the next planet? I hope Jade brings her zoom lens.