Beyond Good & Evil HD
What's It All About:
Ubisoft released the original Beyond Good and Evil, created by Michel Ancel (of Rayman fame), to overwhelming critical acclaim and minimal sales back in 2003. Though the game was a failure in stores, it won over a loyal following thanks to its engaging story, advanced aesthetics and varied gameplay, and retains a place among the best games ever in many fans' and critics' minds. With development underway on a sequel to the game, Ubisoft has given the original a fresh coat of paint and released it as a low-cost downloadable title, giving the game another chance to impress the fans who missed it the first time around.
Games that make you want to play more because of the story that's unfolding before you are truly rare, and unfortunately, they remain that way because it seems that they don't sell particularly well. For the most part, if there's a game that's particularly beloved by fans and critics alike, it more than likely sat on store shelves and has a small core fan base sharing remembrances of the good old days online. Taking a top spot on that list is Beyond Good & Evil, a finely-crafted adventure game that features as entertaining a story as just about any animated film. Here, you take the role of Jade, a photojournalist watching over a gaggle of orphan manimals, with the help of her half-pig/half-man uncle Pey'j. Her home of Hillys is under attack by a ruthless alien race known as the DomZ, and they aren't getting much help from the government group the Alpha Sections, who are supposed to be stopping the DomZ. So when she's enlisted by IRIS, a rebel group looking to expose a conspiracy inside the Alpha Sections, she takes on the job, with Pey'J tagging along to help.
As you explore the world around you, on foot and via a hovercraft, you'll take on a number of missions, including an ongoing assignment to catalog the local exotic animals (which helps fill your pockets with money to buy goods), a hunt for evidence for IRIS and various collection quests, including the key pearls you use to buy big upgrades. It's the variety of the gameplay that makes exploring this world so enjoyable, as you keep finding new opportunities to play in different ways, including fun gambling mini-games, vehicle races and plenty of stealth missions and puzzle solving. It's rare that you'll be doing one thing for very long (even if the sneaking can get a bit monotonous) and with a somewhat non-linear method of play, your desire to explore is rewarded, with lots of hidden areas and items to find.
Though you can choose to play much of the game in whatever order makes sense to you, there is still a story to tell, and it's told very well, via cut-scenes, dialogue menus and discoverable video discs, to the point where you'll likely find yourself playing a bit longer than you might have planned, just because you want to know what happens next. While you'll want to know everything that happens in Jade's world, the main mystery of the storyline is a bit obvious, in your reviewer's humble opinion, and the ending is a bit underwhelming. Thanks to the polished way it's all told though, it's not hard to forgive these transgressions.
The game will run most players between 10 and 15 hours to complete the main plot, but it's unlikely you can accomplish all the game has to offer in that time. The actual main gameplay is a bit too easy, with combat that requires little more than button-mashing and occasional smart movement to position correctly, and an extremely forgiving platforming system. You barely need to think about jumping, as it's often handled for you, almost like a quick-time event, without the immediate deadline. The puzzles found throughout can be far more challenging, especially when there's a lack of guidance in places. A number of times I would find myself in a location and not know quite what I was supposed to do, and sometimes I would have to do something random in order to proceed. If this was an attempt to extend the gameplay, it was a bad idea, because without these blemishes, this would be a just about perfect game.
There is no online play, though there are leaderboards and a neat online integration where a code given in-game (based on your progress) gives you access to a game on the web. From there, you can get a code that gives some bonus gameplay. But you can't compete online, if that's what you're curious about.
The controls in this game play a touch loose, especially during the racing segments, but overall you'll feel fine moving Jade through the game. The attack system is simplistic, with just one button press for hits and one for evading, and there are no "moves" to learn, which is good for pick-up-and-play purposes, but bad for anyone who likes deep combat. The system by which you swap items and companions is well-implemented, as are the photo and targeting tools, which makes utilizing these important elements seamless during gameplay and using the gyrodisc weapon is genuinely fun.
There are 12 achievements that have been added to the game for this release, for a total of 200 points. They range from the simple (like winning three gambling games) to the long-term (collecting 80 pearls), with several tasks tied to game progress.
Here's where players will experience the biggest change from the first release, as the quality of the graphics have been given an HD polish. The game's beautiful and unique art style looks even better now, especially with the game's improved smooth frame rate. Whether you're zipping along in a high-speed hovercraft race or taking on a room full of bad guys, the animation moves smooth as silk, a nice jump from the slight jitter of the old version. Unfortunately, one thing about the way the game looks hasn't changed, and that's the camera, which frequently serves to aggravate, as your control of it is wildly inconsistent. There are a number of scenes where you end up with the camera facing you and the path in front of you is unseen. Get into a tight spot, and the camera can go haywire, making it hard to tell what's going on. That there are moments where you don't even have control is beyond frustrating.
There's a lot to like about this game, but nothing is as impressive as the sound, which has been remastered for this release, making a good thing even better. Between the quality sound effects, the top-notch voice work, which remains as impressive as it was in 2003, and the soundtrack, which is as good and varied as any big-budget film, this game bathes you in aural beauty. Honestly, there were moments where you'll just want to listen to the music, while the quality of the voice acting helps to sell the storyline. It's hard to come up with another game that so effectively uses all elements of game sound.
And in the End...
A number of factors made this game a sales loser when it came out, but the passionate cult that gave it its high-quality reputation has a legitimate chance to grow now with improved graphics and a budget price as a downloadable game. There is absolutely no reason why newcomers who enjoy a fun adventure shouldn't check it out, though fans of the game's first release might not get enough new out of it to warrant a download. If you have good memories of Beyond Good and Evil that you want revisit though, the game's never offered a better experience.