A sharp hybrid of gameplay styles and an interesting open world prove that this cult hit was worth a second outing in high definition. Originally created for the last generation of consoles back in late 2003, Beyond Good & Evil was unquestionably a commercial failure. No-one is entirely sure why this was, although I think that the challenge of introducing a new IP and the unexpected female lead may have been partly to blame.
Nevertheless, over the years the title has gained a small fan following that is desperate to find out if the franchise has a future. Whilst a rumoured sequel hangs in the balance, the original has been created in full HD on XBLA and PSN. It’s slick, has fantastic visuals and a heart that is hard to replicate.
Jade is a photojournalist who lives on an alien planet called Hillys. She doubles up as the owner of an orphanage, caring for the children whose parents have been abducted by an alien force known as the DomZ. Uncle Pey’j is a pig interested in mechanics, fixing up their home and the hoverboat that they use to travel into town. Together they’re quickly whipped into a political conspiracy involving a national task force called the Alpha Forces and a resistance group called IRIS. Despite its vibrant setting and pleasant animal residents, there is an unexpectedly serious undercurrent of slavery, kidnappings and propaganda.
Uncovering the conspiracy is entrusted to Jade. Enemy outposts including a factory, slaughterhouse and space station are set up like dungeons, forcing the player to explore each level and snap specific photographs undetected. Generic combat is mixed in with some brilliant stealth sections, forcing players to sneak around and dispatch guards with more than a few nods to Assassin’s Creed. Hitting guards’ weak spots can be a little unresponsive and a tad unrealistic, but it generally works well and provides a good mix of pacing.
Pearls are used to buy hoverboat upgrades, thereby unlocking the next section of the story and new areas of the map. They can be picked up from shops, boss battles and optional mini-games, but also by photographing the wildlife in Hillys. This creates a fresh way of finding collectibles and emphasises the importance of using Jade’s camera to take in your surroundings. Some of the mini-games are pleasant distractions (hoverboat races) but others are borderline mundane (the tabletop game with Francis?!). Thankfully you never need to complete all of them to proceed.
The lack of textures and character details shows the game’s age, but it’s spruced up by a great colour palette in high definition. The effect is similar to Windwaker – it might not be the most technically beautiful game, but it has a creative and conceptually attractive look. A fantastic score using tribal drums and grand piano really compliments the setting of Hillys and constantly reminds you that this this is an imaginative fantasy world.
Loading windows are incredibly frequently, but are thankfully sped up by the new hardware. The camera can also be a little tough to handle, often yanking itself across a battle unexpectedly or inverting when you want to peep over the top of a piece of cover. The worst moments surmount to glitches in the game. On three occasions I found myself in an eternal abyss of black, forcing myself to exit the game and restart from my last checkpoint. I also found that some puzzles were poorly signposted, with solutions which I had tried but failed to execute just right.
For all of its minor technical hitches, it steps forward with ideas that were innovative for its time. As an example, I would argue that photography has never been used this well in a video game since. The idea of rolling news bulletins was also a great tie in to the work you were doing and its affect on the people of Hillys. The co-operative moments with Pey’j and Double H were simple but also intuitive, combining attacks and button pushes so that Jade could proceed or allow another character to continue.
The plot and voice work is also a considerable step above most contemporary output. Jade is a great lead character, matched by the comical Double H (“Carlson and Peters!”) and lovable Uncle Pey’j. They’re all eccentric but ultimately heart warming and memorable. The plot is simple but quirky and enjoyable to watch, ending the game with a couple of unanswered questions. Oh, and the last act has an intense, old school boss battle. Take plenty of Starkos, because you’re going to need them.
Beyond Good & Evil has aged over the last 8 years, but you can see its impact on Ubisoft’s recent output such as Assassin’s Creed and Naruto: The Broken Bond. This is fantastic value at 800 Microsoft points and a perfect chance to check out the game if you missed it first time round. A great mix of gameplay genres and interesting characters makes this an enjoyable HD downloadable title.