You know that old saying about “you won’t be getting any second chances”, the one you’ve probably heard a thousand times from your teachers, your parents and your career advisor? Well, apparently, it’s not true because Ubisoft have provided us with a second chance to play one of most criminally under-appreciated games of the last decade in Beyond Good & Evil HD.
Originally released in 2003 to near-universal critical acclaim, Beyond Good & Evil was a joy to behold. Featuring lush visuals (for the time), wonderful characters and a refreshing take on the negative impacts of war. Unfortunately that critical success didn’t translate into much commercial success and the game quickly found itself removed from store shelves.
Thanks to the low-cost distribution afforded by digital platforms (in this case Xbox Live), Beyond Good & Evil is back, this time packing a glossy new HD coat and – for those interested in such things – a couple of hundred achievement points.
What’s funny is that for a game that’s now eight years old, Beyond Good & Evil HD feels remarkably fresh. The same elements that made it seem like it was ahead of its time in 2003 still make it feel that way today. This is the rarest of things; an ‘old’, previous-gen game that (visual tech aside) doesn’t feel at all dated.
It’s wonderful to play a game whose story revolves around war and yet manages to resist the urge to load you up with numerous assault rifles, plasma cannons and recycled, stereotypically voice-acted villains. Beyond Good & Evil HD manages to touch on how war is represented through the media, how war affects a population and how a young lady can team up with a half-human-half-pig-thing in a bid to help stop it.
The story is a simple one. I really don’t want to spoil it for you but the general plot revolves around an alien race (the DomZ) attacking the planet of ‘Hillys’; a ‘not-all-they-seem, supposedly friendly, security force (the Alpha Sections); a young photo-journalist name Jade and her sidekick ‘ uncle’ – a humanoid pig that walks around in specially made jeans that capture his farts and uses them to power his jet boots. Y’know, everyday kinda stuff.
What ensues is essentially a buddy-comedy in which Jade and her pig-of-an-uncle, Pey’J (pronounced ‘Page’), investigate the DomZ and Alpha Sections in a bid to unearth the truth behind the invasion. Jade, however, is no stereotypical videogame heroine; she has breasts that are (pretty much) in proportion to her body, she resists wearing clothes that look as though they’ve been pawned from a back-alley sex shop and, as a result, she feels impressively ‘real’ and well rounded. Of course, the feeling of ‘realness’ may just be a by-product of the fact that she inhabits a planet otherwise populated with talking rhinos, jet-boot wearing pigs and all manner of other weird and wacky creations.
Despite the new HD gloss, the reasons for playing Beyond Good & Evil are the same as they were eight years ago. The exploration element is truly involving as you progress through the game’s varied locations, the relationship between Jade and Pey’J is genuinely heart-felt, the aesthetic design is brilliant and it’s crammed with optional side-quests involving catching criminals and, among other things, racing your wacky looking hovercraft around Hillys water ways.
In addition to using your camera skills for the sake of incriminating photography, you can indulge in the optional quest of cataloguing the planet’s fauna. Playing into the ‘gotta catch ‘em up’ mentality made famous by a certain franchise featuring a deformed yellow rat, Jade can earn upgrades and rewards by taking enough snaps of the local wildlife. While the majority of ‘animals’ are fairly easy to find by simply playing through the story, some require a little more patience in seeking out – only appearing in certain places either at random or for only a brief moment.
However, no game is perfect. Beyond Evil & Good HD, for all its charm and finesse, does have its problems. For one, combat is incredibly repetitive. While much of the game is spent exploring, puzzle solving or playing out your role as photo-journalist, there’s still a good deal of fighting to be done. This generally means smashing the attack button to perform pre-set combos with the occasional dodge or retreat thrown in for good measure. Boss battles do mix things up nicely but it can sometimes feel like a bit of a slog to get there.
The camera is also far from perfect. All too often you’ll find yourself fighting with the viewpoint in a bid to see where you’re going, where you’re being attacked from or simply trying to look around and take in the environment. Yes, Beyond Good & Evil is eight years old and yes, third-person games still suffer from this issue but, nevertheless, it’s irritating to be constantly adjusting the right-stick in a game that is such a pleasure to interact with elsewhere.
Despite that though, Beyond Good & Evil HD is easy to recommend. Its positive aspects far outweigh its negatives and if you’ve got 800MS points to spend I can think of no better way of unloading them as, by today’s standards, the 10-12 hour campaign represents excellent value for money.
If you’ve already played it, get it. If you’ve never played, definitely get it.