When it comes to landmark titles in video gaming, there are few as universally praised by reviewers as Beyond Good & Evil. Originally released in late 2003, it was a brilliant game that had the potential to launch a franchise for Ubisoft. Although the game was greeted with critical acclaim, Ubisoft's marketing department more or less ignored it, preferring instead to focus on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The net results were poor sales and deep discounting by retailers. Now, with rumors that Beyond Good & Evil 2 is on the horizon, Ubisoft has gone back and given the original title a once-over in an attempt to introduce Jade and company to a new generation of gamers.
If you've played Beyond Good & Evil before, then you know exactly what to expect here. Gameplay hasn't changed one bit, so every trick, tip and hidden item is just as you remember. What has changed are the visuals and sound. Both have gotten an overhaul, resulting in a game that looks and sounds great, even though all of the content is eight years old.
In comparing Beyond Good & Evil HD to a current-generation game, the primary difference that you'll notice is model complexity. While the textures are vibrant and clear, none of the models in the game are incredibly detailed as far as polygon usage goes. Had the game attempted a realistic look, this may have been a problem, but given its fantasy flair, the net result is more like an animated film. It's a look that meshes well with the content and complements the experience nicely.
The cinematic intent isn't just limited to the look of the game, but is infused throughout its presentation. This is obvious from the start, as the player's very first battle is presented with a slow-motion segment, complete with muted audio for dramatic effect. All key conversations in the game are voiced, and the musical score changes genres constantly, depending on your location and current actions. In short, the production values were immense for their time, and they still hold up well today.
Driving the story is a plot that weaves a tale of invasion, war and rebellion. The evil DomZ aliens have invaded your planet and are kidnapping people at an alarming rate. Military forces known as the Alpha Section have taken control of the government and are ostensibly fighting the DomZ, but an underground resistance network known as IRIS claims otherwise. Playing as the main character Jade, it is up to you to figure out who's telling the truth and help stop the invasion, no matter what it takes.
What makes Beyond Good & Evil stand out from similar games is how it mixes together varied play styles of combat, exploration, puzzle solving, racing, role playing and stealth. These disparate elements are masterfully blended into a single whole, always keeping the play experience fresh because Jade is never stuck doing any one thing for very long.
Areas within the game are naturally gated, with more and more of the world slowly opening up as Jade completes the necessary tasks to power up. There are no specific "levels" per se; however, leveling up in the traditional sense is pretty much exactly what you're doing as you purchase various upgrades.
One standout element of the game is Jade's role. Yes, she knows how to fight, but hand-to-hand combat isn't the defining element of her character. That would be her camera. In something of a departure for a video game hero, Jade isn't a superwoman who can take on all comers; rather, she is a striking photojournalist who is recruited for the job because of her ability to capture photographic evidence of wrongdoing and make it available for the masses. It's a stylistic choice that is a refreshing change from the typical hero.
Given that there were no changes to the gameplay, there are a few issues with Beyond Good & Evil HD. Thankfully, most of these are minor, such as the small size of each playable area and the occasionally persnickety camera that doesn't always track the way it should. The former simply means you'll see a lot of (short) loading screens, while the latter requires a bit of manual hand-holding when in confined spaces.
There is one big problem with the controls that is sure to annoy many game players out there: the inability to invert a single axis. Beyond Good & Evil HD only allows you to invert both at the same time. It may sound like a minor issue, but for a gamer who's spent years playing with a normal X axis and an inverted Y axis, being forced to play with both normal or both inverted can induce nausea. Yes, you get over it after an hour or two of playing and forcing yourself to learn the controls, but it is going to be an unnecessary hurdle for many. Given all the work Ubisoft put into updating the game, it is a real shame that the development team choose not to implement this one option, which is standard fare on today's titles.
No doubt inspired by Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, Beyond Good & Evil HD is an ambitious title that deserves to be played. It may not be groundbreaking today, but it is a key title on any essential list of video game gems. If you can force yourself to adapt to the controls, the experience is worth the hassle.
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