Beyond Good & Evil (BGE) is the rare gem that comes along only every once in a while: a wonderfully fresh and unique game that spans across multiple genres and manages to be better than the sum of its parts.
BGE is a true labor of love for Michel Ancel, creator of the popular Rayman games, and his many years of work pays off in spades with a masterpiece that is full of character. The excellent review at Zengamer.com of the X-BOX version echoes my thoughts almost perfectly, so I will quote it here:
"You play Jade, a young girl and a budding photojournalist on the planet of Hillys. Jade lives in a lighthouse with her uncle Pey'j, a curious man-pig hybrid, and acts as a surrogate mother to several orphaned children. The game begins with Hillys under attack by the Dom'z, an evil alien race intent on conquering the planet. The game immediately throws you into combat, which is somewhat misleading as the majority of the game will be spent avoiding fights. Regardless, after you beat off the Dom'z attack the Alpha Section arrives to 'help' after the fact. It appears that the Alpha Section is a special unit created by the government to protect against Dom'z attacks, but it quickly becomes obvious that there might be more to the Alpha Section and the Dom'z attacks than meets the eye.
There are two primary ways to get around on Hillys. The first is by foot, walking from place to place and exploring new areas. The only way to get to some new areas, however, is to use your hovercraft. The hovercraft can be used to take you to the capital city, visit shops, deserted islands, pirate coves, and much more. The hovercraft also has a useful compass feature, which puts markers that show you what direction to travel in to get to most of the major landmarks in the game. Combat in BGE is simple and relatively basic. When you approach an enemy, Jade automatically pulls out her combat staff and assumes a combat stance. There are only two attacks, one a basic move by pressing the attacking button and letting go, and the other a super attack by pressing and holding the attack button to power up your staff. Your super attack can be upgraded, but it makes only minimal difference to the way the game plays. Fortunately combat is pretty fun and entertaining. While there are only a handful of different enemies in the game, they are creative and fun to fight. Jade will also be accompanied by her Uncle Pey'j early in the game, who will tag along on missions, fight with her, and interact with the environment with Jade to help solve puzzles.
Another element of the game is Jade's camera (in keeping with the whole "budding journalist" theme). Early in the game you will be contacted and told that you will be paid for each picture of an organic creature that you take. Taking pictures is easy and actually surprisingly fun, and I only missed a couple my first time through the game. It adds a pleasant challenge where you always consider taking pictures before randomly killing your enemies, and each new area you explore offers the opportunity to find new creatures. With the money you earn through photographs, killing enemies, and other things, you can purchase a number of different items, including health packs for Jade, repair kits for your hovercraft, turbo boosts, and others. The final element of the gameplay are pearls. Pearls are an illegal and rare form of currency that are highly valued on Hillys, and to buy the cool gadgets that you will need to advance to the key areas of the game you must have plenty of pearls. You can buy pearls from a few locations, you can win a few playing mini-games, you receive several for completing missions, but you will get most of your pearls by visiting certain areas in the game and collecting them. The whole collection process is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the game (much like the photography), and fortunately never becomes a burden or turns the game into an unbearable collect-a-thon."
While most "puzzles" in the game consist merely of figuring out the right posture (sneak, squeeze behind walls, crawl, etc.) to get from point A to B, or firing the disc from your camera to toggle switches, they are never tedious or boring - because you will be too drawn into the world of Hillys to care about one more ledge. Plot development is consistently fresh and original, and you will come to care so much about the various characters through the game (as well as superb cutscenes) that certain scenes near the end will bring a tear to your eye. I especially like the use of a few Indiana-Jones-esque action sequences that add a lot of fun adrenaline rush to the game in addition to propelling the plot. Even little things like the hockey-style game you can play inside the bar ooze character, originality, and atmosphere. I don't care much for graphics in a game, but it must be mentioned that graphics in BGE really lifts the game from great to absolutely stunning. Everything is crystal clear on my Compaq notebook with Radeon Mobility 9600 card, and numerous touches from sparkles in the water to the smooth passage from day to night make the game a wonder to behold. Although the game will take an expert action gamer around only 10 hours or so to complete, it will draw you back in for multiple replays, especially since there are many surprises and hidden areas (you don't have to find all the Pearls to finish the game, for example, but it is fun to find all of them), as well as lots of strange alien animals to photograph. Definitely one of the finest games ever made, and a well-deserved entrant into our Hall of Belated Fame. Here's hoping we'll see a sequel sometime from Mr. Ancel. A must have!