Beyond Good and Evil – “Beyond Genres and Conventions”
Videogames are a means in constant evolution; with every passing year, new conventions emerge, design philosophies shift, and tiresome old mechanics are refreshed with new ideas and conceptualizations. Sometimes, time flows by with such ease that we forget that things are in constant rearrangement, and how videogame paradigms are always being reshaped. Michel Ancel (creator of “Rayman”) seems to be one of those designers that is acutely aware of the ongoing changes in videogame history and “Beyond Good and Evil” is a proof of that. At glance, it seems like a typical Mario-esque 3D platform experience, with a cast of endearing and expressive characters, most of them with the expected animalistic characterization that is so common in the genre. It also proposes a fable-like, surrealistic world with sci-fi traits, bringing it closer to a “Jak and Dexter” or “Ratchet and Clank” aesthetic, filled with wide, open environments, adorned with gorgeous lighting and neon color palettes in tones of green and purple. But if all this builds up to a consistent and nostalgic platforming mood, the game avoids the simplistic characterization by throwing a lot of seemingly out-of-place elements. From the start, there’s the narrative, a tale of political and sociological concerns, about war and media manipulation, encapsulated with pure B-movie sci-fi madness codes, as pod monsters, evil empires and menacing, disgusting looking aliens. Though the plot has nothing to do with the presumptuous title (a reference to one of Nietzche’s darkest essays on the relativity of morale and philosophic reasoning), it oozes style and substance, with likable, humorous characters that actually make you laugh and a series of interesting twists. The game-world also deviates from what you’ve come to expect from the genre, as it is open enough to be mistaken with a small sand-box game. Also, a lot of game activities and mini-games are spread out throughout the scenarios, copying effectively the model laid out by GTA (albeit in a smaller scale). The gameplay itself, also makes some odd turns into the genre. Jumping for instance, is very rare; stealth portions on the other hand, are very common. Environmental puzzles abound, most of them easy enough to be enjoyable, but still warranting some thought. Combat is nice, simple and as straightforward as platformers go, though made all the more frenetic thanks to the accompanying score, a merger of frantic electronic beats and classical orchestrations, fit enough for any action-packed movie.
By merging a lot of different twists proposed by modern currents of videogames, Michel Ancel ends up creating an interesting mix of of flavors, a gaming buffet if you will. Neither of “Beyond Good and Evil’s” elements are particularly fleshed out or especially deep, but they’re all perfectly implemented and work in unison to create a coherent, pleasant gaming pastiche. At times it can seem a bit over simplistic, and it hurts the pace of the game that at times, it forces you to try every little game-mechanic through a series of manichaeist design choices (one thing is to have mini-games, the other is to force you into playing them). Apart from those minor flaws, I still can’t quite puzzle why the game didn’t do well in sales. It’s not as if it’s hugely pretentious or mature (like “Killer 7”), or infantile looking for the adolescent demographic (as “Ôkami”). Maybe people thought it was a mere kids game, but it’s much more than that. “Beyond Good and Evil” is like a Pixar animation: a charming story for all the family, with a cast of gorgeous characters, framed in a lovable aesthetic, and above all, an unwavering fun-ride all the way till the end. What more can one ask?