A lot of guys at work had been talking about this game, but I didn't really know what it was until I tried it.
A science-fantasy Zelda. It's all here: the landscapes with animals, children, and heroic figures (see the Feb 12 post); the hero in green; the roleplaying lite; the puzzles; the different kinds of gameplay (combat, puzzles, stealth, and vehicle). It's like suddenly discovering that there was a secret stealth Zelda released that only a select few know about, already at bargain prices.
And that's a good thing. It takes balls to try to make a game like Zelda. Beyond Good & Evil is big, there's a variety of gameplay, and there's a lot of terrain.
So, how did it fare on the wife test?
"This is the best game I've ever played," she said after I brought it home and she played it for four hours. She's not a gamer, mind you. The only game she's devoted more than a couple of hours to was Animal Crossing. But after BG&E she may have crossed into the ranks of casual gamer. This is only partly because there were no big frustrations in the early game -- one of her biggest frustrations was not realizing that the consoles where you save your game are also the consoles that you read messages on -- an example of functional fixedness? Mainly, I think, it's because you play a girl -- a girl who doesn't have huge breasts -- with a camera.
I read somewhere that Wal*Mart did a study and discovered 50% of woman shoppers have a roll of undeveloped film in their purses.
Games have had cameras before: Metal Gear Solid 2, Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Dark Cloud 2, for example. But never has it been such a focus. One of the first things you learn how to do is take pictures. This pleased my wife to no end. She was beaming. Her first reaction on seeing a new enemy - even a menacing boss - was always to take its picture.
Later, when the game started getting harder, she'd hand the controller to me to get her through the hard part. Which says to me: this game must be alienating just about everybody. Most teenage boys would get alienated by the femininity, by shooting photos instead of shooting guns, and the girls will be alienated by the boss fights and stealth levels.
The stealth gameplay, by the way, reaches a new level in Stealth Lite. Zeldas have frequently had stealth sections that were usually the weakest part of the game. (Except for the sailing.) Beyond Good & Evil did these sections very well: they were room-by-room; when you fail they weren't too punishing -- you only go one room back; the patrol paths were short, so you didn't have to wait a long time for your opportunity to move; you aren't forced to sneak past but the guards are hard to kill, so sneaking is optimal; and the guards shoot very visible beams of light out of their eyes, so it's easy to tell which way they're facing even when they're far away; when there's just one or two guards you can exploit an achilles heel for a stealth kill, but when there's more than that it becomes infeasible.
Speaking of sailing, instead of a sailboat you have a hovercraft, which is much more fun. Instead of being in open seas, you're in lakes and rivers and chasms -- terrain matters -- and there's a high density of stuff to interact with. There are a few racing levels which at first seem like extraneous bonus gameplay but actually become tied to the story. A hovercraft is a great choice from a coding point of view, also: easy to simulate.
This is yet another game that successfully breaks my "Don't have computer controlled allies" rule. One of the main staples in combat is using your ally to set up an attack, bouncing enemies into the air so you can slam them into walls or each other.
One of the best moments I'd seen-- and you may want to stop reading now because this is a spoiler -- was hanging on the side of a crate as a crane picks it up and carries it, and you, to another area of the room, without the guards noticing. Some simple elements -- guards, crates, cranes, and wall-hanging -- combined to make a very cinematic moment, a moment that was contrived but not prerendered. Magicianship at its best.
Eventually Cathy gave up and I kept playing. I was hooked. But now we come to the sad part of our story. I get to a door I cannot get past. Thinking I'm not meant to get past that door yet, I move on, solving other challenges, and saving over what will turn out to be my last valid savegame. Eventually I return to the door, the only area in the level I have not yet been. It is the second time I have to consult Gamefaqs after about twelve hours of play. Gamefaqs says one of the enemies I had beaten should have dropped a key. I realize that I slammed that enemy into the very door I need to get past, and somehow the enemy dropped the key on the other side.
Bugs like this happen all the time. We had one in Spider-Man, caught not by Activision testers but by Capcom testers when they localized it for Japan. In Spider-Man, you could web-yank a thug holding a key through a waterfall that the key was supposed to open. Same sort of thing. Of course, you could always restart the level, and you wouldn't get to a save point until you had. With my BG&E situation, where I'd saved over that last happy save game, I am doomed. I can either quit playing or restart from the beginning. This is the worst kind of bug to ship. It is worse than a crash, because you only lose up to your last save game with a crash. The only thing you can hope is that only a small fraction of your users will get hit. (Even if it's a one in a thousand thing, and your game sells a million copies, that's still one thousand players who now hate you. A meaningless statistic but fun to say.)
So that's where my notes end.