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Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Unique, thoughtful, full of personality, completely wonderful.
This game is not selling well. In the UK at least, prices have been slashed dramatically. This is a huge shame, as Beyond Good and Evil is the best game of the genre that I have ever played. In game play style, it is closest to Zelda, but the characters and storyline are infiniteley better, with depth, and several twists throughout. On the surface, it's beautiful, you can almost feel the sea air on the lighthouse island where Jade lives, and the canal city is Mediterranian in look, sound and atmosphere. In stark contrast, the slaughterhouse and the factory are dark, disturbing and sinister, and the moon resembles the set of Alien. All this is secondary, though a strong contributer to the plot and the characters. Jade is not of the Lara Croft school of game heroines, she does not blast her way into places and knock enemies out with bazookas and breasts. She has a subtle femininity, she is quiet and thoughtful, she uses a camera, not explosives, and cares deeply about her home, and her uncle Pey'j (if you havn't read it somewhere else, he's a pig). This, and the fact that her quest ultimately leads her to a point of saving captured people from evil, gives the game the opportunity to become sugar-coated and sickly sweet. But it is saved totally and completely from this, by brilliant characters who you actually care about, and by the very disturbing fates of the people, which Jade has to report and show the remaining population. Victims are tortured, put in packing cases and shipped off to the moon, whereupon they are stored in pods so that their fluids may be drained away and used in the preservation of the Domz, grotesque monsters who have recruited their own human army, who the humans trust unconditionally. Jade's job is to alert the population and save those already taken. When bad things happen to the characters, you are upset. The cut scenes are not simply a method of getting from point A to point B, they blend perfectly with the rest of the game, and add to the feel of the game - the voice acting is spot on and the animation is faultless.
This is a game, which, sadly is at the moment enjoyed only by gamers who read reviews, it has no publicity, people don't know about it. I would strongly advise you to play it while you can, because something like this won't come around again for a long time.