Beyond Good & Evil HD Review
Game: Beyond Good & Evil HD
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only (PlayStation Network version to be released later this year)
How many times have we heard the same story – creative, original game, critically adored but let down by poor marketing on its release. A lot of games will slide under the radar and never be seen again. However, it is the really great games that continue to bubble away under the surface. They establish a good word-of-mouth reputation, a cult following builds up and the game takes on a life of its own. It may never earn the publishers a whole lot of money, but second-hand copies of the game will fetch a hefty price on resale. Beyond Good & Evil was one of those games. Overlooked by the majority of gamers, it has grown to be loved by those more discerning. Ubisoft recently admitted a great sense of shame that the game never did well enough to complement the effort and talent that went into making the game. However, the recent fashion of HD remakes has given the title another crack at breaking the market. Should we return to the game or has it passed its prime?
STORY: Hysteria and paranoia has gripped the mining planet of Hillys. The year is 2435 and the planet, that was once a safe haven, is under attack from the evil aliens the DomZ. Inhabitants are disappearing by their hundreds as DomZ abduct them and use mind control to turn them into slaves or, worse, turn their brains into jelly to use as their power source. All is not lost however, the Alpha Sections are a group of protectors (lead by General Kehck) set up to deal with the DomZ problem and to protect the innocent.
However, not everyone believes in the Alpha Sections. A small group of resistance fighters see them as a military dictatorship, who are mysterious and never seem to be in the right place until things are already too late. This movement, the IRIS Network, begin to suspect that the so-called protectors are the real enemy and begin to find new recruits who can aid them in their fight for freedom, and to find the truth.
This is where our protagonists come in. Jade is a young photojournalist who – having lost her parents to the alien war – has taken those children orphaned by the DomZ under her wing, along with the help of her uncle and guardian, humanoid-pig Pey’j. They have the help of Secundo, the digitised personality that manages and scans all of Jade’s items, as well as the other IRIS Network members who you meet throughout your travels. Only you can help bring down the system that is controlling planet. Through espionage, conversation, exploration and fighting, Jade will use every means at her disposal to unearth the reality about what is really going on in Hillys.
GRAPHICS: When looking at this title, we must take into account that the game was originally released in 2003, and developed primarily for Gamecube and PlayStation 2, with Xbox and PC ports coming later. This HD makeover is simply that, a layer of finesse added over the top of the existing graphics and not an entire graphical overhaul. The in-game visuals may not carry the wow factor of some current gen titles, but they certainly have a unique style that (even after all these years) remains impressive. Instead of focusing on realism, the visuals represent a stylised version of the future, where architecture is inspired by Renaissance Europe. Characters use email and spaceships, but the world is inhabited by half men/half goat characters and martial arts.
The style employed has resulted in a look that may age somewhat, but maintains a measure of timelessness. Characters still look interesting, lip-synching is well represented and animations are simple, yet fluid. A game doesn’t have to look like an HD action movie to possess an impressive visual style, and despite its age, Beyond Good & Evil HD still looks attractive.
Backgrounds and vistas are where the game looks most impressive. The wide expanses of water, rolling hills and puffy clouds of the Hillys Bay still look beautiful. Despite advances made in the use of computer graphics, the HD tweaking makes sure that these images will still look crisp on a 42-inch widescreen display. The visuals probably won’t blow most people away, but the love and attention to detail shine through. The spirit and sense of humour the game possesses is mirrored in the fantastic dark and foreboding, cartoon-like world.
SOUND: What will immediately hit players is the phenomenal soundtrack. Christophe Héral (composer from TV and film) was hired to compose the original score, and the range of music covers a wide variety of influences. Soviet themes mirror the oppression and paranoia of the civilians, whereas African and Oriental music is used to emphasise the cultural influences on some of the characters you meet. Luckily, Ubisoft released the soundtrack for free download when the game first came out and players should still be able to track it down.
The voice acting is also top notch, it contributes a huge amount to both the humour and the emotion players will feel throughout the journey that the main characters find themselves taking. The voices succeed in making the protagonist all the more likable, opposed to other games where voices may in fact detract from the experience. You really care about these characters, you can feel the motivation and passion in their voices. Sound effects don’t let the package down either, with many authentic sounding animal noises and the realistic sounds of machines to accompany your explorations.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay is wide and varied, which makes summing the title up difficult. Jade can fight using her bo and martial arts, but can also earn power-ups such as a ranged disc-launcher. Combat works in a similar way to games such as Fable, where the control method is simple, but repeated melee button presses will result in more powerful combos. Aided by her compatriots, double-team manoeuvres can also be effectively deployed to take down heavily-shielded or tricky opponents. Dodging is also important, unless you want to be constantly buying and consuming health-giving snacks. The game is quite forgiving in fighting scenes too, so if you do happen to lose all of your hearts, it will usually just start you back from the beginning of that individual room or area. Simply put, continues and lives aren’t an issue in this game.
Others sections of the game will sway into platform game elements. Designed by Rayman creator Michel Ancel, it was almost inevitable that platforming would be present at some point. Crawling through tunnels, pushing boxes in order to reach a specific location and pressing buttons to clear the way for a friend are all quite basic and accepted conventions of the platform genre, and the game doesn’t often stray into areas that require much lateral thinking. There are small puzzles, but most are well sign-posted and won’t keep you stuck for long. However, if you do get a little stuck, you can always ask your in-game companion for a vague hint. Camera angles can be a problem in the platform sections of the game, but luckily there are no areas where you can really mis-time a jump and have to start over again, so the impact of this issue is minimal.
The most interesting mechanic employed by the game is that of photography. Very early on we learn, that as a photojournalist, the main way Jade is going to build up enough money to finance her war on the Alpha Section regime is by be a photographer. Players must quickly get the hang of snapping photos of all organic creatures in the game, as sending these off to the scientific institute will reward Jade with both credits (useful for spending on health regeneration items and power-ups) and pearls (the in-game currency that is accepted at mechanic’s shops in exchange for vehicle upgrades). This photography also comes into use for analysing maps and deciphering codes on locked doors. The photo mode adds a layer of exploration and discovery to the game, and encourages players to seek out new species they have yet to find. Modern games like Dead Rising surely owe a lot to this title.
The photojournalism jobs will also require a degree of undercover work, which means sneaking and stealth. Some areas of the game can be completed with out and out fighting, but it is far more rewarding to clear them by using a bit of stealth. Sneaking past guards and hitting their weak point when their back is turned is a fun change of pace from the basic hack and slash fighting method, and whilst it can be frustrating to be caught when you are trying to be a spy, you can usually duck into a hole and quickly be out of sight once more. Sneaking into restricted zones and using your camera to capture dangerous secrets is the only way to take down the DomZ and rescue Hillys. Not only that, it adds to the tension of these sections when you know you need to get the perfect framing and zoom on your image, in order to nail the bad guys.
Finally, the game does involve a degree of vehicle use. Both hovercraft and spaceship travel comes into play, and whilst this is usually reserved for getting from mission A to mission B, some quests will require you to escape danger or take down enemies whilst on board. You must also upgrade your vehicles using pearls earned during missions in order to unlock special abilities, most of which are necessary for progression in the story. Repair pods for damaged vehicles and speed boosts can also be purchased to help you keep up with faster competitors. The controls are quite light here and manoeuvrability isn’t too difficult, but camera angles can be an issue, much like the platforming sections mention earlier. For example, going down an incline can result in the camera looking so far down you cannot see what is in front of you. These sections are all quite short though, so it isn’t much of an issue.
LONGEVITY: Alongside the main story missions, there are quite a few side quests to embark on too. Hovercraft races can earn you more money and extra pearls to spend on upgrades and even more cash can be earned from tracking down escaped criminals and claiming the bounties. There are also some mini-games to be found in the Bar in Hillys, which have some corresponding achievements linked to their completion.
Like most XBLA titles, Beyond Good & Evil HD brings with it achievements and leaderboards, but neither of these feature will motivate you to come back to the game after completion. The majority of the two hundred achievement points can be unlocked during your first playthrough and the leaderboards only track your completion percentage. Fairly basic stuff, but the real draw to this title is the storyline and the emotional attachment players will feel for the characters. You will want to play the main quest again to see if there were any conversations you missed or animals you forgot to photograph. The latter can be quite challenging though, as you will have to remember to take a picture of everything you see, no matter how much it wants to kill you!
VERDICT: Beyond Good & Evil HD may not look as impressive as other recent releases, but thanks to overtones of oppression and sinister government regimes (subject matters which will probably always be relevant), the story has certainly aged really well. The game has a heart that so many other titles will search hard for and never find. Sure, the gameplay isn’t revolutionary and, yes, the camera isn’t perfect, but the setting, imagination and passion on display here all shine through so brightly.
The game is difficult to pigeonhole. Part platformer, part vehicle-based game, part hack and slash title. Maybe that made it a hard sell first time around – what is it? The intelligent subject matter may have hindered it previously, but with this digital re-launch, perhaps it will find favour with an older fanbase and pave the way for a deserving sequel. Maybe this time around gamers will finally appreciate its charms, it has so many.