Beyond Literary Allusions

Spoilers: Beyond Good & Evil.

When handled well, I enjoy stealth games, or portions of games that have stealth. I will reiterate ‘handled well.’ This meant that my recent playthroughs of both Alpha Protocol and Metro 2033 involved a lot of skulking about and taking out enemies unseen. Beyond Good & Evil doesn’t really have assassinating going for it, or at least, does not press the concern thematically.

Jade (left) a woman of color (though I'd hesitate to say which race), hides behind a vat while two guards in armor from head to foot stand (right) by an archway.

Jade (left) a woman of color (though I'd hesitate to say which race), hides behind a vat while two guards in armor from head to foot stand (right) by an archway.

Which is not to say it isn’t possible. There were a few times where knocking out a guard through his weak point, and then sneaking past were necessary. It wasn’t the focus of my game, however. Largely, it was one of photojournalist. I was Jade, breaking into factories and slaughterhouses to uncover an insidious plot. Jade, a champion of the people.

The world that Beyond Good & Evil presents is compelling, in that a large part of it is not told directly (and underscored with art that still speaks well of it). It requires paying attention to small bits of dialog, surmising things based on the environment, and even the animals that inhabit it. Using my camera to capture a part of this world not only provided Jade with monetary compensation, but allowed me to wonder what sort of ecosystems were in place in Hillys, and what levels of aggression could be found. It would be intriguing to note how many times I captured photographs of violent versus non-violent creatures, for instance (I want to say it tends more toward the latter).

Then there were puzzles. For me, a large part of playing as a stealthy character is figuring out the puzzle that is navigating the world unseen–there are typically patterns in the guards, or tools I have to use. Therefore, the majority of the time I spent with Beyond Good & Evil did not seem centered on combat at all (other peoples’ play may differ, I’m sure). Given the plethora of options the game presents, through the use of minigames, photography, stealth, the races, etc., most of my time in Hillys was spent enjoying figuring out the world and who Jade was, and what her place was in her world. A place that begrudgingly engaged in combat when presented.

Jade and Fehn, an orphan who is a mixture of human and goat, are engaged in joga on a cliff, the sun rising to their left.

Jade and Fehn, an orphan who is a mixture of human and goat, are engaged in joga on a cliff, facing away from the viewer, with the sun rising to their left.

Which is why the ending didn’t work for me. It felt like it was in the game simply because it was a videogame, regardless of the way it had achieved that route. Sure, the game had boss battles before, the Factory having two that recall themselves to my mind, but they seemed a footnote in regards to the other actions. They rarely felt like story stoppers, basically. They certainly did not stand out as the highlights of my experience.

Further frustrating me was the reversal of directional controls midway through the final boss battle. I believe I understand the goal that they were trying to present, Jade being disoriented and shocked, but it just felt a quick way to complicate the boss battle without putting in another puzzle to figuring out how to defeat this particular boss. No, it felt like a trick instead, one which didn’t take much effort to figure out once I was punished the first time. The effort became less about Jade’s resourcefulness, and more about my skill (note, it’s always about my skill, but even the illusion of Jade’s part to play seemed missing).

Storywise, I understand that they were trying to hint at the larger struggle Jade has in figuring out who she is for a sequel, but it was all too rushed in at the end. In hindsight, there was some vague foreshadowing, but of entirely too broad a stroke to make it seem like the twists they presented me at the end were ones I should have expected. In particular, the scene which packed the heavier emotional gutpunch: when the children of her orphanage are kidnapped. She proceeds to project her own feelings of inadequacy on to the dog, telling of a greater role in store for her; she was already on that track without the magical nature that was revealed, however. Granted, she did have strange connection sequences after some of the bosses, but they were only really resolved at that particular moment–there was no investigation to figure out anything more concerning it.

Again, it’s a point where I do not begrudge the additional powers that she comes by at the end, so much as how it felt all too much rushed in the final hour. Despite the end, I did enjoy the game, and I am curious as to the sequel, if it ever truly lifts off the ground.

N.B. I read both David Carlton and Dan Bruno‘s posts about Beyond Good & Evil before writing this. There are also plans to write further on this game, especially as regards race and species.

Also, the game has no actual allusion to Beyond Good & Evil by Nietzsche.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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