Beyond Standard Definition
While PS3 owners will have to wait for some point specified only as “later in the year,” Xbox 360 owners can enjoy the high definition revisit to Beyond Good & Evil right now. It’s a game with a lot of history and a small but loyal fanbase that claims that its 2003 release didn’t get the reception the game deserved. Now, eight years later, it returns to a new generation of consoles, tweaked a bit for an HD audience, but essentially unchanged. It manages to hold up.
The Perils Of Photojournalism
Beyond Good & Evil is the story of Jade, a struggling photojournalist, running an orphanage on the planet Hillys. The DomZ, an alien race bent on conquest, attack Hillys and are once again repelled by Alpha Squad, the protectors of the planet. But when Jade investigates the matter further thanks to a freelance job from the IRIS network it turns out that all is not as straightforward as it appears on the surface.
In many ways, BGE is a pioneer, tackling themes and devices that would be developed in greater depth in games as varied as the Metal Gear Solid series with its concerns about the morality of the military and Dead Rising with its photojournalist hero Frank West. The story is ambitious, but simply told, with a boisterous, comic flair in keeping with the tone of the game. It also ends with a lot of provocative questions that have had fans demanding a sequel for years, something that may still be in the cards in the near future.
Graphically, there is a definite improvement to this last generation cult favorite. The obvious change is that it now happily functions on widescreen, HD televisions without letter boxing. The frame rate is absolutely rock solid throughout, and draw distances are much farther out compared to the original PS2/Xbox versions. Textures and lighting effects have also received tweaks to keep them sharp and the audio has gotten an upgrade as well with more body and richness to the music, dialog and, of course, explosions and gunfire. BGE was always a unique title, with a distinctly French flavour to its visual and aural presentation, and this HD re-polish of the material serves it well. In some ways, it now has the feel of a current generation console launch title, since the performance and presentation is so smooth, though the number of polygons being pushed isn’t comparable to today’s heavy hitting games. All that aside, for a 2003 game, it’s looking and sounding surprisingly good.
Living Dangerously On Hillys
Beyond Good & Evil takes several pages from the school of Legend of Zelda to present an action-adventure game that incorporates a lot of different gameplay elements that rarely outstay their welcome. Simple third person combat is combined with some puzzle solving, hovercraft racing and even stealth gameplay to create a novel game with a lot of varied activity that manages to keep it all integrated in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, some of the design elements are starting to show their age. Camera control was still being worked out in the early 21st century, and that lack of finesse remains in this 2011 edition of the game, with awkward control and a lack of decent customization options, such as the inability to invert the Y-axis without also reversing the X-axis at the same time. The combat has also remained much the same, but this hasn’t aged as badly as people might suspect. Plenty of recent games have gone the streamlined route of relegating combat to one button press, so BGE’s then radical stance on combat has gone mainstream in the intervening years.
But the real pleasure of Beyond Good & Evil HD is the varied gameplay. The photojournalism aspect was a surprising addition when players first encountered, but it retains its fun both as a way to make cash in the game, and as a meaningful tool for Jade to advance the story and feel like her actual lifelong profession is critical to the plot rather than a nuisance element of her backstory. The hovercraft sections work as a way to explore the world, fight certain enemies and even get involved in racing for fun and profit. As for the base-gameplay, this is pure Zelda at work. Players will explore “dungeons” fight enemies and use various tools to overcome environmental obstacles, and collectables abound in the form of photos for cash, hidden pearls for hovercraft upgrades and bonus items to increase your life meter. All the familiar mechanics of a Link adventure are here, except put into a unique, distinct, science fiction setting with few contemporaries in the gaming world. Also back are some of the surprising chase sequences that delighted gamers when BGE first hit, wonderfully designed and still an inspiration to game designers for a good way to break up predictable gameplay structure that adds some cinematic value to the proceedings.
What it all comes down to then, is the question, “Is this game worth it?” For 800 MS points, or roughly $9.99 when it finally hits the PSN, the answer is “definitely.” You’re getting a full length game that will run you a dozen or more hours depending on how diligent you are with its content, which is a considerably hefty lifespan for a game that’s downloadable. You’re also getting the prettiest, most up to date version of a forgotten classic which is a big bonus for people that no longer have the machines to run the original game. For fans hoping for closure, the purchase of the game also means showing Ubisoft that there’s still a demand for the series, and every purchase brings the sequel closer to reality. And finally, for people who have never played the game before, if you’ve heard anything about the game, now is your chance to finally play it. It’s not a title will go down in the pantheons of gaming like Half-Life or Shadows of the Colossus, but it is a good game that didn’t get a fair shake when it first hit the shelves. What it lacks in fine polish, it makes up for with charm and personality.