August 19, 2011

Review: Beyond Good and Evil HD

Eight years have passed since we last saw Beyond Good and Evil in our original Xbox or PS2 disc trays.  It’s been that long, but Ubisoft is giving fans of the original a chance to experience one of the best and most underrated games ever.  I can see why though:  it features a female protagonist, a pig companion and passive gameplay with not a whole lot of combat.  She takes pictures of weird new animals and shit?  Yeah, not exactly on par with some of the other Xbox games that was released around this time (*cough* Halo *cough*).

But what Beyond Good and Evil lacks in combat and fighting grit, it makes up for with its engaging open world, its story and its characters.  The game was ahead of its time in these aspects.

Beyond Good and Evil tells the story of Jade, a feisty photojournalist with a weird fashion taste.  By that I mean she wears neon green lipstick. Who does that?  Jade is thrown into this violent war happening on her peaceful planet of Hillys, and is tasked with uncovering a government conspiracy while teaming up with an underground spy group called the Iris Network.  She teams up with her talking pig uncle Pey’j to go out and fight the invading alien forces that crash down on Hillys, while bringing the truth to the people about the government conspiracy through pictures and articles.  It’s definitely an original story I will tell you that.

The world of Hillys is vast and open for the player to explore (if you don’t mind a few short loading screens between sections).  Never before have I played an Xbox downloadable title like this and felt so into, so a part, of the world in which I walked.  It simply feels rich and alive.  Definitely different than many other titles where you can tell someone with a magical hand knew you were coming and “flipped the switch” on the market district before you arrived, bringing the area to life, then essentially turned out the lights when you left and “reset” everything.  Think of something like the Truman Show.  It’s kind of like that.

What’s also cool about Beyond Good and Evil HD is that it wants you to explore.  The game does lay out a mission for you to go do, but it also leaves a lot of the hidden gems out there for the player to find and uncover at his or her own leisure.  This is something that is often lost in newer games today – there are 13 collectibles in this map, find them.  The point is:  there are multiple ways to be drawn into the world of Hillys, and that’s a very good thing for an 8-year old game.  It just proves it still stands up to even to today’s standards, and that’s the making of a great game.

The other part of Beyond Good and Evil HD to take note of is the incredible balance of play-types the player can use to his or her advantage.  Stealth plays a major part of the game, as it allows Jade to sneak into government facilities and snap the photos she needs to complete the mission and blow the government conspiracy wide open.  You can also go in with your staff a blazin’ (there’s a weed joke in there somewhere) since Jade only has a stick to fight with (so no guns or knives in these fights) to take down guards if you don’t feel like sneaking around for too long.  These differing styles reminded me a lot of GoldenEye 007.  Where sure, you have the opportunity to feel like a secret agent and use stealth and silent kills to your advantage if you want to, but you can also go medieval on their asses with an AK-47 machine gun if you want as well.  The choice is yours.  Did I really just compare a game featuring a fat talking pig to GoldenEye 007?  Wow.

The only major issue I found with combat was with the final boss battle.  Like I mentioned, the game only sporadically asks you to fight enemies, and as such the final boss battle is somewhat broken.  It’s almost like they didn’t know what to do with it, and pieced together something at the last minute.

In the final boss battle it throws wave after wave of smaller enemies at you while also having the ability to knock you down and then hit you again before you even stand up.  It would be nice if it only did this to even the playing field if your whooping ass and raise the tension, but it does this over and over until you’re just…..well….dead.  This type of broken game mechanic really can leave a bad taste in your mouth at the end of what is an incredible original game.

There is also the problem with the camera movement while trying to be stealthy and sneaking around enemies.  To get things started, you can’t invert the Y-axis and keep the X-axis normal, or vice versa.  You just can’t.  Don’t ask me why, but this pained me to no end.  Pressing the stick to the left and having the camera move the opposite way was frustrating and took a little while getting used to.  I’m used to having the camera work for me in games - not against me - so I guess I just have a weird combination of camera settings.  This isn’t really a downfall for the game, just something I wish would have been fixed with the port to next gen consoles.

Other times when in tight quarters the camera just simply broke.  This only happened a few times in my playthrough, but the importance of the camera in those stealth situations is a necessity when needing to know where the next enemy is so you can make your next stealthy move.  It also popped its ugly head a few times during the hovercraft races, causing me to lose the valuable first place finish.  It’s a minor camera quirk, but it isn’t a game breaker by any means.

If you missed Beyond Good and Evil eight years ago and you’ve heard your buddies clamoring on and on about it in that 8 year span, now is the time to pick it up and experience a beautifully rendered HD port of the original game.  Sure, there are a few minor downfalls with the camera working in tight spaces and the final boss combat, but for those two tweaks, the rest of Beyond Good and Evil is still a shining gem of a great game.  It should definitely be in your gaming collection.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

o    Beyond Good and Evil HD: Xbox 360 (reviewed)
o    Release Date: March 2, 2011
o    Retail Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
o    Review copy provided by publisher