Platforms: XBLA | PS3 Version TBA
They don't make 'em like they used to.
Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games. Every time a group of jaded gamers discuss the state of our medium nowadays, the smart money is on Ubisoft's beloved cult classic being trotted out order to illustrate the lack of variety that we tend to see in the marketplace. Beyond Good & Evil was a sales flop when it released back in 2003 despite rave critical reviews, and Ubisoft rightly blamed themselves for their lack of marketing. Will this new HD re-release atone for their mistake?
The wild and wacky world of Hillys is populated by both humans and anthropomorphic animals, and provides one of the most exciting left-field settings for any game in recent memory. Unfortunately it's also ravaged by ferocious attacks from the extraterrestrial DomZ, who ruthlessly abduct helpless citizens for purposes unknown. The 'heroic' Alpha Section military purport to be handling the incursions... but as investigative reporter Jade and her porcine sidekick Pej'J soon discover, there's a whole lot more to the situation. Players will assume the role of both characters as they explore the beautifully fleshed-out planet and unravel a terrifying conspiracy.
In raw gameplay terms, Beyond Good & Evil is extremely difficult to pin down to a particular genre. You'll spend the majority of your time in a third-person adventure format; occasionally indulging in some light staff combat and stealth sections. However, the story is worthy of any RPG; and an all-important photography minigame provides a steady influx of money as well as important information about your surroundings.
Just to further confuse the issue, players will frequently hop into a hovercraft for some vehicular exploration and combat. Rather than diluting the experience, these disparate gameplay elements all work extremely well and come together into a single cohesive package. There's a case to be made that each individual component lacks the depth of a fully-focused title, but there's no denying that it feels like a whole game rather than a bitty selection of genre staples.
As mentioned above, you'll spend the lion's share of the experience exploring the world of Hillys on foot- which is where the true joy of Beyond Good & Evil really shines. Level design and progression is spot-on: providing the illusion of freeform exploration without ever losing focus on the main objective. Light cooperative puzzles take advantage of your piggy pal's devastating wrench and hilarious rocket boots, making the experience much deeper than a simple hack 'n' slash outing. The photography minigame is also both addictive and integral to the experience (Jade is a reporter after all).
Jade and Pey'j are relatable and likeable protagonists despite the odd bit of hammy (no pun intended) VA, but the real star is Hillys itself. The art design and mix of hard sci-fi with cute anthropomorphic denizens is quite unlike any other game on the market- and the campaign delights at throwing new bizarre characters and situations at the player. Your computer is a suave latin lothario. A shark will challenge you to a game of air hockey. Beyond Good & Evil has that rarest of gaming gifts: its own personality. There's nothing else like it.
Brendan has provided a full graphics comparison with the PS2 and upscaled PS3 version later in this review, so I'll keep it brief. Beyond Good & Evil HD has some seriously improved textures (especially on computer screens) as well as some slick new particle effects. Clunky level geometry and hopeless lip-synch betray its age from time to time, but it's a lot easier on the eye than many HD remakes I could mention.
There are a couple of minor technical niggles that spoil the proceedings every once in a while - but none are more obtrusive than the camera. Without hyperbole, the camerawork is absolutely distastrous and makes navigating tight indoor environments a real chore. Frequent screen transitions abruptly change your direction of movement and exacerbate the sorry situation. It's a crying shame when players have to fight the mechanics as well as their virtual enemies.
The other issues are much smaller and will go unnoticed by the majority of players. Southpaws should be aware that it's impossible to invert both camera axes individually, meaning that inverting the pitch also reverses the left and right direction. It'll take a while to get used to. On top of this, there's also no D-Pad support for menus, which is admittedly a personal pet hate rather than a gamebreaking flaw.
Graphics Comparison: 360 vs PS2
Brendan: Such is the pain of Microsoft's points system and my own stingyness I decided to see how the 360's Beyond Good & Evil HD compares with the PS2 original with multiple setups.
After playing the 360 demo of the remake I went and booted the original up on the PlayStation 2, using a Standard Definition, non-widescreen TV, the standard for many gamers in 2003. After the opening cutscene and the first fight I was surprised by how good the game still looks today.
However, the black borders above and below the picture are quite off putting. Imagine my surprise when I pop the game into my original PS3 (that plays and upscales PS2 titles) to see them still there, wasting vast amounts of space, even on a widescreen HD TV. So, what about the new HD version of the game?
The borders are gone, as some extra magic has been sprinkled with the image now covering a full screen on a widescreen TV, no black borders and no unsightly image stretching. A good point of reference to the original is during the opening cutscene with Jade and goat-thing meditating near the sea. The sun now has rays stretching out towards her instead of a muted glow and the draw distance is greatly increased with a reduced fog effect in the background.
When Jade comes across her first enemies, there are no longer any blocky textures on their skin. When Pey'j jumps out of a window to save Jade, it's all much smoother than before as the window-frame and bolts all looked very pixelated in the original. The only areas where it becomes difficult to spot the differences is the cutscenes that focus on Jade's face, as her details and smooth skin are only mildly improved. That's mainly because they were so excellent in the original.
- A wonderful blend of clever ideas and gameplay elements
- Unique art style and game world
- Strong storyline
- Catastrophic camerawork
- A few little mechanical gripes
- Shallow combat
The Short Version: Beyond Good & Evil HD is a capable remake of a game that everybody should play at least once in their lives. At 800 points, you simply don't have an excuse not to buy it this time around.
Second Opinion: Now that you can play the game on a full screen with no wasteful black borders I'd have no problems recommending this over the original version on a visual perspective. I've just convinced myself to buy it (again) and suggest you try it too, whether you're an old fan or a lucky sod about to play for the first time. - Brendan