I've heard it called one of the greatest games never played. I too was one of those that never got around to playing it, but Ubisoft's 2003 adventure-action classic, Beyond Good And Evil, is giving everyone a second chance with an HD version that is available since March on XBLA and just last week on PSN. The 1.5GB download contains the full game that sees Jade, a photo-journalist and martial artist, and her allies, unravel a massive conspiracy on their home planet.
The HD revamp touches up the character models, increases the res of the textures, adds Trophies/Achievements, and offers a tuned up soundtrack. If you missed this game the first time around like I did, do yourself a favor and jump on it before this year's holiday rush starts.
Beyond Good And Average
This game has a tremendous amount of charm. Within a half hour of playing, I was pulled in and invested into the story and its characters. Players control Jade, a young, determined woman who helps run an orphanage near a lighthouse with her uncle Pey'j, who is literally a personified pig (one of many interesting characters and creatures). At the outset of the adventure, the DomZ are invading the planet and the apparent heroes in staving off this initial attack are the Alpha Section. Another key faction, introduced early on, call themselves IRIS. They aren't so sure that Alpha Section is as good and honest as they have everyone believe.
Jade and Pey'j have reason to question the Alpha Section too after they thwart a small DomZ invasion
during the first few minutes of play. The Alpha Section arrive shortly after and proclaim themselves heroes to the citizens of Hillys, but Jade and Pey'j know better.
The mystery of the DomZ, Alpha Section, and of IRIS makes for a strong and engaging story that unfolds over the course of a dozen or so hours. Throughout that time, a variety of gameplay mechanics are used to make a really well rounded experience. First and foremost, I consider Beyond Good And Evil (BGE) an adventure game. There are a lot of nicely developed characters, many with unique and entertaining personalities, that Jade will interact with. Puzzles abound, although they are more straight-forward and accessible than traditional point and click adventure games, but puzzles nonetheless. Jade's camera, which is used often to help figure out the conspiracy and to catalog the dozens of species on the planet, adds a prominent and unique adventure element as well. Locations, characters, and story are the driving force behind this game, which reminded me an awful lot of those classic Lucasarts adventures from the 90s.
BGE has plenty of action to along with all of that adventuring. Jade uses what you might call a bo staff as her melee weapon, and several hours in she picks up a device that shoot projectiles out from her wrist. Jade often fights alongside an NPC, such as Pey'J or HH, who do a good job of handling themselves in combat. All characters have a Super Attack too, which can be upgraded along with maximum health via items known as PA-1s. It's up to you to decide how you want to distribute these health items -- you can give them all to Jade, or to the NPC you are with. Futhermore, you can remove these upgrades from one character and transfer them to another at will.
Jade is an agile character and as such you can dive roll, side step, jump, climb, and also wall-hug to get her around. Often times, Jade will have to get to an area and open up a simpler path for Pey'j, who is mechanically inclined but not in the best of shape. Some puzzles involve platforming and object manipulation, such as pushing an object or using your projectile attack to hit a button or move an object that is out of reach. As I play through BGE, I liked how the developers were able to seamlessly introduce these puzzles without having to resort to over-the-top hints or cutscene flybys of the area. Granted, some of that happens, but more often than not the puzzles are simply presented right along with the rest of the game.
Stealth is another key component of BGE's gameplay. The developers did a great job in keeping you honest when it comes to combat -- Jade can handle herself pretty well, but keeping an eye on your health and health items in your inventory is vital. Jade is not able to take on every enemy head-on, and some areas require you to be stealthy. Of course that really adds to the photo-journalist angle of Jade's character. Jade is able to walk slowly while crouched and hug walls to get by unnoticed. Attacks from behind will give her the upper hand, or you can often avoid attacking altogether which is even more rewarding.
Adventure, action, puzzles, platforming, stealth, and even vehicular elements are all apart of BGE's large palette of gameplay. One of your first objectives is to leave the lighthouse and head over to a mechanic's shop to upgrade the old hovercraft that Pey'j keeps. Adding a hovercraft to get Jade and Pey'j around does wonders for making the world of BGE feel that much larger. Plus, it adds racing and unique combat that you cannot get while on foot. Additional inventory items and craft upgrades add to the experience, too.
All of these different gameplay elements blend potentally for a fun and 'keep you on your toes' experience. I thought the developers did a good job with the controls for all of this as well. I liked how L1 puts you in aim mode, but whether that aim is for your camera or for you projectile weapon is up to you (depending on whether you press R1 or R2 next respectively). I liked that hugging a wall did not require waiting for a button prompt, and in fact, all button prompts are tucked away in the top left corner of the screen. That cleans up the gameplay area far more than a lot contemporary games do these days which often litter the playing field with contextual prompts. Controlling the hovercraft is smooth too; about the only major point I could make is the lack of a block button, but that would probably have tipped the gameplay a little too much in the 'action over stealth' direction.
Great story, characters, gameplay elements, controls -- there's a lot to like about BGE and very little that bothered me. It's a smooth flowing game that is accessible to all ages and yet optionally challenging enough for hardcore gamers, too.
I only have vague memories of playing BGE when it first came out in 2003, so I can't really offer you a direct 'then vs now' comparison of the presentation quality. I can say that this HD version of BGE looks and sounds perfectly competent for a modern day release coming off of XBLA or PSN. This isn't the kind of game that will blow you away with its visual fidelity, but there's as much room to say you won't find anything really wrong with it either. From an artistic standpoint, I think it's hard not to be impressed with the creativity that Ubi achieved. The environments and creatures have a unique charm and intangible quality to them that is intriguing.
The audio presentation is very good, especially the voice-acting. Not all dialogue has voice acting, and on a similar note, the cutscenes are not subtitled, which I found odd. Between in game chatter and cutscenes, there is a lot of spoken word and the job here is highly commendable. Jade has a virtual assistant of sorts who is a character all to his own; his use of French kind of caught me off guard and it's "funny" to hear him call Jade 'Yade.' Anyway, voice acting is outstanding throughout, with a cool, fitting
soundtrack and great sound effects (love the 'success' jingle) to boot.
From the main menu, there is a 'Making of' option that I was intrigued by but it turned out to be really disappointing. It's a very short (I timed it but lost my note, I think well under two minutes), un-narrated 'feature' that shows some production art and things before abruptly ending. It's too bad there wasn't more content to this feature but I suppose it's better than nothing.
With that, let's head to the summary...