Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ZA Critique: Beyond Good & Evil

I was inspired to pick BG&E up when Brainy Gamer's VGC started their play through but I found my pace of playing was too fast to stick with the conversation. I ended up finishing the game then waiting until they rapped up and reading their discussions.

This is a hard game to write about. Narratively it's a fairly unique theme for games: questioning authority and not trusting propaganda are always great messages for people to hear. The game design though...is really odd. There are over a dozen different applicable skills in the game, well beyond what something like Zelda manages, and they are all taught on the fly and used for a fairly limited number of times. Typically when a game tries to do this it has to teach the player the ability, show them when it's relevant, and then sprinkle that throughout the game to sustain the need for remembering the skill. Here, every puzzle is a kind of self-contained mini-game that varies itself only once or twice.

My initial impulse was to think this wasn't meshing with the narrative and it made the game feel jumbled. Although I'm not particular about which is emphasized, the plot needs to reflect the game design or the design needs to reflect the plot (or not have one, depending on what we're talking about). This changed when I got to the last level and the game chucked most of its mini-games in favor of a few tense puzzles and long walks across wide spaces. The pacing of the mini-game puzzles, much like the narrative, was layered in such a way that you sort through the lies and complexity to get to the simpler, humbling truth about Jade's origins.

A few gripes here and there, some pacing issues, but mostly praise.

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