Reviewed: March 29, 2011
Released: March 2, 2011
Looking back at all the many thousands of games that have been released over the years, right there in amongst the piles of big-name action series, heaps of sports franchises, and mounds of match-three puzzle games – there lies a stack of games that stand out as truly artistic standalone releases meriting themselves a must-have for any true gaming collection. |
Buried deep within this stack is 2003’s critically acclaimed Beyond Good and Evil, in which a fledgling investigative reporter and her porcine sidekick as they try to uncover a heinous alien conspiracy that is threatening their beloved homeland. Beyond Good and Evil was a truly innovative title for its time; successfully blurring the lines between action/adventure, platforming and RPG, and in turn paving the path for many titles to follow.
While Beyond Good and Evil is widely regard as Rayman creator Michael Ancel’s greatest work to date, it is no secret that the title failed miserably in sales figures. This often blamed on Ubisoft’s poor decision to release Beyond Good and Evil simultaneously against their own Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. But that correlation is not completely accurate.
The gaming masses (those most likely those not reading this review) have made it quite clear that they are either completely ignorant of, or could care less about, the artistic aspects that make titles like Ancel’s Beyond Good and Evil, Tim Schaffer’s Psychonauts, and Lorne Lanning’s Oddworld franchises so creative and special. This has left the publishers weary of investing in creative projects, pushing folks like Tim Schaffer to the world of smaller episodic gaming, and driven other folks like Lanning out of gaming altogether.
Beyond Good and Evil fans have been longing for a sequel for nearly a decade; the periodic release of teaser trailers and only acting as salt in the wounds of those folks who yearn to return to the lands of Hillys. With the promise of a sequel on the way, the folks at Ubisoft have seen fit to re-release the original Beyond Good and Evil title in glorious high definition, in an obvious attempt to rekindle interest in this gaming masterpiece. Does Beyond Good and Evil’s gameplay still measure up? Yep.
Beyond Good and Evil follows the story of Jade, a 20 year old resident of a lighthouse orphanage on the planet Hillys. As the oldest resident of the orphanage, Jade has assumed the maternal role – watching over the half a dozen or so younger inhabitants with her adoptive uncle, a walking and talking porker (yes a pig) named Pey’j (pronounced Paige). The year is 2035 and Jade’s planet Hillys, has survived centuries of conflict with a group of alien invaders, the DomZ. Through a series of strange occurrences, Jade – a part-time “action reporter” – finds herself deeply entrenched in the IRIS underground resistance, armed with only a camera and dai-jo staff (and later a disc-glove), on a mission to expose the DomZ for the horrific invaders they are, and in turn free the peaceable inhabitants of her home planet.
Beyond Good and Evil infuses elements from a number of other chart-topping games of its time; a huge GTA III inspired open-ended living environment, heavy doses of Sam Fisher-worthy stealth moments, Wind Waker-like water based vehicular navigation and controls, Panzer Dragoon-esque serpent battles, Prince of Persia slow-mo combat, hovercraft racing a’la Quantum Redshift, even a little Asteroids space shooting. It is a veritable beef stew of gaming; a rather common occurrence now, but at the time it was really quite special.
Jade and her companion (generally Uncle Pey’j, or IRIS Agent Double H) receive hints and/or missions directing them to a location. They travel to said location via Hovercraft, generally encountering some form of conflict along the way (meteor attacks from the DomZ, sea serpents, etc.). Once they have arrived at the assigned location, they exit the hovercraft and continue on foot. On foot exploration is pretty straightforward, although gamers will have to get used to the auto-jump feature which was coming into acceptance in 2003.
By and large, the combat consist of one and two-button dodge-and-slash combos of the dai-jo stick. Companions can be directed to utilize special moves to help eradicate enemies or trigger switches. Jade will often be called to solve puzzles to get to new areas. These puzzles range from the simple, to the cerebral, to the down-right perplexing – they can get tough, but always rewarding.
Even with the upgrades in visual quality in this HD remake, Beyond Good and Evil looks a bit dated by today’s standards, and the bright, colorful, detailed areas don’t seem so spectacular anymore. Still, there is no denying that Beyond Good and Evil drips with quality and craftsmanship that had seldom been matched at the time. Everything from the architecture to the controls, from the the character design to the voices have been carefully selected and sculpted to welcome the gamer into the world of Beyond Good and Evil with two open arms.
And because the atmosphere is so inviting, so captivating, it’s really hard to leave. You begin to feel emotional attachment to the characters – a feeling that you really are freeing the people of Hillys. In fact, I was cruising through Hillys on my Hovercraft, aimlessly firing away with my craft’s cannon, and I accidentally shot a passing motorist…and I felt guilty. Now that’s immersion. Jade controls like a dream, especially with the updated character modeling. Movement is smooth and lifelike, with the triggers buttons mapped for seamless transition from walking to running to stealth crouch. The control of the hovercraft has also improved with the update, making the necessary racing a bit more consistent.
A big part of the gameplay lies in the photography. Jade is hired to photograph the wildlife of Hillys for a certain biologist who pays for the photos in pearls, which can be exchanged for Hovercraft upgrades. Throughout the game she encounters a menagerie of animal life – some voracious, some benign – which you will need to photograph. For the benign wildlife, it’s simple point-and-click affair. However, when under attack from the more voracious types, it’s a bit more difficult to set up one of those Kodak moments as the photos have to be framed and focused correctly a while being slapped silly.
Beyond Good and Evil was known for its excellent soundtrack, which is used in such a way that it fits the scenes perfectly – beautiful melding from orchestral backgrounds to reggae-inspired romps to tribal drum rhythms, matching each setting and deliver the appropriate level of intensity. The voice acting is top-notch and the intelligent dialog never seems forced; truly a feat for a title that was originally written and designed in French. The voices sound genuine and endearing with the only cheesy voicework belonging to the purposely cheesy characters (Jade’s holographic data keeper, Segundo, takes the cake here). Really, I only had one issue with the voicework – there’s not enough of it. Most dialog-heavy scenes start with voiced responses, but soon regress to a text-box dialog trees.
From start to finish, Beyond Good and Evil takes about 8 hours to finish the storyline. However, there is so much more to do in the world that the game could easily stretch to 15 or 20 hours. The photography element alone is a game in and of its own, as gamers will need to inspect every nook and cranny to photograph all the creatures in the game and earn all of the coveted pearls.
In closing, it has been nearly a decade since Beyond Good and Evil first graced our consoles. The world of gaming has evolved significantly since those golden days – in many was because of the innovations that Ancel and crew introduced with both Rayman and Beyond Good and Evil. Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Kameo – they have all benefitted from the work of Ancel. And while some of the more unique aspects of Beyond Good and Evil might not seem so unique by today’s measure – there is no denying that this game is a masterpiece that should not be missed. Get this game, it may be the best eight bucks you spend this week.