Revisiting Beyond Good & Evil in HD is like slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes or hooking up with a hot ex after an amiable break up. The attraction is still there, so you instantly want to dive right in, but for those of you not familiar with the title, let me slow it down, light a few candles and take it back a notch.
The year was 2003. The Iraq War was in full swing, Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant were ducking various allegations, and Ubisoft Montpellier, under the watchful eye of Michel Ancel (the guy behind Rayman, not literally), was releasing one of the greatest games never played, Beyond Good & Evil.
A magnificent blend of gameplay styles, humour, conspiracy theories and charming characters, it seemed to have it all and garnered critical acclaim. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always equate to financial success and by and large, it flew under the radar of most gamers.
Finally responding to a small if dedicated number of fans waving the banner for re-release, an HD revamp has just hit Xbox LIVE Arcade. While it’s possible Ubisoft are merely testing the waters for a sequel to the original, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up one of the most complete and memorable gaming experiences around. True story. Now here’s the rub.
The peaceful district of Hillys has become a hotbed of intrigue and invasion. A meteor shower decimates the landscape and many of its inhabitants have been swept away by an unknown alien menace. It’s up to our hero, the gorgeous and capable reporter Jade, to uncover the mystery and save the lives of those she loves. With a lighthouse filled with orphans under her care, she and her pot-bellied pig uncle, Pey’j, head off to root out the source of this new evil.
To this end, you’ll be travelling via hovercraft to various locations and islands around Hillys District and neighbouring areas to uncover a dastardly government plot, align yourself with a resistance network known as ISIS and thwart the otherworldly entities known as the DomZ. To access those areas you’ll need to upgrade your hovercraft with pearls, one of the in-game currencies, and there are many different ways to procure them.
Some are as easy to locate as walking into a shop, such as Mammago’s Garage – run by friendly Rastafarian Rhinos – and parting with some cash. Others will be donated to the cause and passed on by the resistance, a few can be won playing side games, there are races to win legitimately, and a few not-so-legitimate ones. You can even get your “David Attenborough” on and use your camera to catalogue many of the world’s wild and wooly species for your contact at the local science centre.
Indeed, one of the key devices to moving along the plot are the photographs you’ll take of any incriminating evidence you discover as you infiltrate key Alpha Sector (military police) facilities – but you won’t do this alone. You’ve always got some boisterous character watching your back.
Jade’s no pushover. Agile, nimble and armed with her trusty Dai-Jo stick, she can take on most challengers by bashing them repeatedly, or charging up for a debilitating spin attack. Occasionally, she’ll call on her partner, either her lovable pig faced Uncle Pey’j or the stalwart and muscle-bound Alpha Sector-guard-turned-freedom-fighter Double H. They’ll help her push objects, trigger co-op door mechanisms or even launch a ground pounding strike that slows down time and lets her line up adversaries for a coup de grace. Beautiful!
As you get closer to understanding the DomZ’s diabolical plan, you’ll run the full gamut of gaming genres. There’s collecting with the species photography, mini-games like the Three Shells or Table hockey, constant combat, hovercraft races, stealth missions, some of the best interactive set pieces seen at the time of release and a very healthy puzzle component.
What makes the puzzles such noodle-scratchers is that they don’t baby you through it. They let you draw your own conclusions or get hints from your partner rather than bash you over the head with the solution. That’s a nice change of pace.
However, as much as you may admire this title there are some caveats. There is absolutely no new content, so those hoping for variety will be sorely disappointed. The graphics are vastly improved, in a sharper, retro kind of way, but the mouth animation is a little archaic, resembling the same depth seen in a ventriloquist’s dummy. The camera gets jittery at times too, failing to pan as smoothly or as freely as you’d like.
Gamers are also used to a greater freedom of movement nowadays. It’s a pity there wasn’t a bit more tinkering under the hood to elevate this title to truly legendary status.
That said though, there is a distinct and undeniable charm to Beyond Good & Evil HD that goes well beyond the sum of its parts. It has a deep, compelling story, great humour, more gameplay styles than Hugh Hefner has girlfriends, and one of the crackingest final boss battles to boot.
At a mere 800 Microsoft Points, it’s hardly a difficult financial decision. If you’ve never played it before, we can’t recommend it enough. Even with its faults, even if you’ve played it in the past, do yourself a favour and have another go of this much loved classic.
You won’t regret it.