First arriving in 2003, Ubisoft’s Beyond Good & Evil has to go down in history as one of the best games that no one played. On its original release, this fantastic title simply didn’t get the attention it deserved, despite gaining much critical acclaim. Because of this, the game, created by Michel Ancel (of Rayman fame), disappeared from the videogaming world with little event, with any possible sequels following in its wake. And, despite seeing some surprising next-gen CG footage of the possible sequel, rumours abound that the project may be cancelled, or at least put on hold.
So, when it was announced that the original game was to be given a second, HD-equipped chance, fans all over rejoiced. This was not only a chance to play the game again in glorious HD, but also a chance for the game to make the impact it should have done all those years ago. Hell, with a little luck, if the game sells well enough, maybe Ubisoft will get the sequel back on track.
So, what’s it all about, and why should you buy it?
Beyond Good & Evil is an action adventure with light RPG elements and some stealthy play thrown in. It stars Jade, a photojournalist living on the planet Hillys, which is under attack by an alien race known as the Domz. Jade lives in an old lighthouse with her uncle Pey’j, a humanoid Pig (yeah, I know, don’t ask). The two have set up an orphanage of sorts and look after children who have lost their parents in the war.
As the game begins, we’re shown an idyllic, peaceful scene that’s quickly shattered by a Domz invasion, which Jade has to help fight off lest the children end up captured by the Domz. After a successful defence, Jade and Pey’j embark on a quest to earn some much needed cash to pay their electric bills (to power their defensive shield), and they soon become caught up in a global plot to stop the Domz and to fight alongside the IRIS resistance.
Played out in third person, BG&E shares a lot in common with games like Zelda, thanks to its open world, smooth, lock-on combat and the need to collect and use various equipment to advance into previously inaccessible areas. It also blends in plenty of stealth, which is handled very well, and features a host of other gaming elements and mini games, such as shooter sections, hovercraft races, shuffle puck games and much more. It’s a packed title, and one that’s never dull.
You start the game relatively weak, and as you progress and explore the world, you acquire both credits and, more importantly, pearls. These pearls are used to unlock a good deal of the game’s items, many of which add functionality to Jade and Pey’j’s trusty hovercraft, which is used to travel around Hillys. Upgrades, such as a lock-on cannon, jump jets and more can be purchased, each allowing access to new areas and missions.
Early on in the game you’ll join the rebellion, after which you’ll be given a series of missions which lead to Zelda-style dungeon crawling, as you explore enemy facilities to find new items and uncover the conspiracy.
As Jade is a photojournalist, one of her main abilities is to use her camera to take pictures of the conspiracy, which are then sent to the resistance to further the story. This camera has far more uses, though, including taking shots of door codes so that allies can decrypt them to provide passwords, and it also serves as one of the game’s main side quests.
The Hillys science academy wants to catalogue all life forms on the planet and will pay Jade handsomely for any shots. As you explore the planet, you’ll come across all sorts of life, and by taking pictures of them, you can earn credits, extra items and even pearls. What’s more, life forms are everywhere, and include NPCs, and even Uncle Pey’j himself. It’s a great diversion, and some life forms can be tricky to track down and photograph, with some requiring certain abilities to reach them. It certainly beats collecting flags (pay attention, Ubisoft!).
Combat in the game isn’t the main focus, but is handled well. Jade is armed with a staff that can effectively deal with foes and can be charged up for a jumping, spin attack. She also acquires other offensive abilities too, such as a spinning disc launcher, which gives her some ranged attacking prowess.
Combat is very similar to Zelda, and uses a similar lock-on mechanic seeing Jade circle foes, with the ability to quickly dodge or roll backward out of danger. During combat, you can also call on your current ally, such as Pey’j, asking them to use their special abilities.
Pery’j, for example, can smash into the ground, launching enemies into the air, allowing Jade to smash them into exploding barrels, off cliffs and into walls. Some enemies require the use of both Jade and Pey’j’s attacks, and outside of combat, the ally abilities also come into play, helping to solve many of the game’s puzzles.
You can’t see me!
Despite Jade’s combat ability, she’s still a reporter, and not a muscle-bound hulk, and so a good portion of the game’s main missions require stealthy tactics. Although quite linear and planned out, these stealth sections are handled very well, and the mixture of stealth and puzzle solving is used expertly to create a truly enjoyable and original take on Nintendo’s series.
What’s more, stealth sections are never annoying, and even if you get detected, you can always recover and continue if you’re good enough, something Metal Gear Solid of old never let you do. (Well, unless you stood in a locker for 5 minutes.)
Boss fights are plentiful too, in both on-foot and vehicle sections. Whilst none are particularly difficult, they’re always impressive and entertaining, and most require the use of various abilities and ally skills to overcome.
When outside of main missions there’s always plenty to do and see. Exploring the world of Hillys (once you have the abilities to do so) leads to all sorts of extra side quests and tasks. One moment, you’ll be chasing down a looter ship through a trap laden cave, and the next, you’ll be competing in Wipeout-style hovercraft races to earn money.
The urge to find and photograph all the various life forms is also a real pull, keeping you exploring and ensuring you delve fully into the world.
On top of all of this content is a truly inspired level of production. Beyond Good & Evil is one of the most lovingly created games I’ve ever played. Everything from the lush and varied world to each and every superbly designed character screams polish, and you’ll quickly become absorbed into the world of Hillys. The audio direction is spot on with great voice acting and ambient music, and some of the combat music is suitably epic.
I remember thinking, back in 2003, that this was as close to playing a Disney Pixar title as I’d ever seen, not just in visual appearance, but in design, so well thought out and developed is the game world. And now it’s in HD, it’s even better.
That said, don’t expect the kind of visual fidelity you’ll find in today’s releases. This is a simple HD scaling up of the original game, and as such, very little has been done to update the visuals save for a higher res and less jaggies.
Visually, the game is almost identical, with no new textures. Some may find this to be a bit of a letdown, but I don’t mind this one bit, as it keeps the game’s original charm, which I find to be a very important part of the game.
It has real character, and adding in next-gen graphical touches for the sake of it would ruin this. Leave that for the sequel, if it ever arrives.
I can honestly say that, just as it was in 2003, Beyond Good & Evil is a game with almost no faults. It really is that good. If I had to pick out any issues, I’d have to say that, once again, as with the original 2003 incarnation, the game is a little on the easy side, with little challenge for serious gamers. This isn’t a major issue, though, as the game is so much fun. But a little extra toughness would have been welcome. The only other problems are an occasionally iffy camera and some graphical glitches, but these are by no means big problems to contend with.
For a mere 800 MS points, Beyond Good & Evil HD is a total no brainer, and I can’t recommend the title enough. This is a game that deserves to be played, and Xbox owners who like a varied and absorbing adventure would be fools to miss out on this second coming. Get it. You won’t regret it.
Beyond Good & Evil HD is out now and available on XLBA and PSN.
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