Beyond Good & Evil HD
Back in 2003, Ubisoft released an action-adventure which came highly recommended by critics and the gaming community alike, or at least by those who actually got around to playing it. The title’s performance at retail could have charitably been described as ‘poor’ and brutally described as ‘dismal’, yet this failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the gamers it touched, who for years have cried foul at the injustice of it all. Fans should fret no longer, however, as plucky protagonist Jade and her band of cohorts have arrived on Live Arcade with all the HD trimmings of any good 2011 re-release, but have the ravages of time left this journey feeling less good, and more evil?
Beyond Good and Evil HD is very much the same game from eight years ago, complete with all the same strengths and weaknesses. Narrative is certainly one of those strengths, revealing how storytelling is one aspect of gaming that never truly ages in the same way that graphics and gameplay mechanics do. Likeable characters serve up some quirky and interesting dialogue, while the cutscenes (as unskippable as they are) never outstay their welcome due to the snappy pace of the proceedings. It helps that the voice acting is as strong as it is, playing on the game’s animated yet foreboding atmosphere, even basking in the cheesiness that the characters have to offer.
Essentially, you’re looking at a game that tries to nestle between the likes of Zelda and Jak and Daxter, providing a sweeping, but sometimes confusing outing with a focus on collecting pearls, items and money. Much of your time will be spent traversing the main hub – which is basically an overworld on water and split into sections – in an upgradeable hovercraft, while the largest chunk will be spent exploring small towns, mingling with the folk and traipsing through twisting dungeons. Certain enemies can be felled with a few simple taps thanks to Jade’s staff, while others will require the aid of a companion’s ‘super action’, and in the case of portly Uncle Pey’J, this involves slamming the ground hard to bounce foes up, making them vulnerable to a quick strike. This basic sense of teamwork extends to the boss fights, which are easily taken down once their patterns have been figured out – unfortunately these encounters are thoroughly uninspired and rarely make the impact they should.
Of course, the likes of Zelda and Jak have rarely focused much on deep combat (though that’s not a slight against Z-targeting), generally relying on satisfying gameplay and a strong sense of discovery to fill in for a limited move set. Jade is very much the same as she waves her staff around frantically, plus her movements can seem a little too floaty. A charge attack is available and the ability to shoot from a first person viewpoint comes in useful, indeed necessary in certain areas where the path is blocked and a switch must be triggered. The other major aspect of the gameplay is the stealth mechanic, which is simple, enjoyable but overdone on occasion; you shouldn’t go in expecting anything akin to Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid – this is stealth at its most basic, with the trade-off being that you can avoid trouble by dashing between areas and returning mere seconds later for another shot.
One of Jade’s most useful items is her trusty camera. As an investigative reporter, her job is to snap images of all manner of evidence to send to your friends at Iris. Taking pictures of locked doors (as well as fulfilling other criteria) will result in a password being sent, opening the route and allowing you to progress. In this sense, the camera is absolutely integral to the gameplay. It’s also used as a method of collection, more specifically for snapping pics of the wild animals and humanoid species littered about the world of Hyllis. Once a roll of film has been completed, another pearl will be earned and the film replaced for more adventuring; it’s a much more appealing concept than it may sound, given how the different animals behave as you attempt to get an angle on them.
Time hasn’t always been kind to Beyond Good and Evil. On one hand, this HD re-release has given everyone a second chance to experience the game, and provided fans with an excuse to play again with crisp, high-definition visuals. Textures haven’t been given a radical overhaul, though certain touches have been added here and there to ensure that everything pops as it should. The problem is; the niggles that were present back in the day, such as vague clues of direction, can get frustrating in this age of frequent waypoints and hint systems. The map and markers do alleviate this issue somewhat, but make no mistake, some moments will leave you scratching your head in frustration as you backtrack in the hopes of stumbling upon something new, and the short yet plentiful load screens do little to appease the issue.
If we were to say one thing about Beyond Good and Evil HD, it’s that we hope that it represents something greater – namely a precursor to a stellar sequel that will push the series into critical and commercial success, as well as onto the shelves of gamers across the globe. What you get here is a solid adventure game that will have you exploring, running, hiding and thinking across an engaging world of amusing characters. This is an eight year old game and it shows, with frequent camera issues that rear their head at the most inopportune moments, but to be too critical would be to do the game a disservice given its charm. Fed up of samey shooting games? Then this may well be the download for you…
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