Monday, March 7, 2011

Beyond Good & Evil HD Review

I, like many, didn’t get to play Beyond Good & Evil when it first came out in 2003. I was busy playing GTA. And in some ways Beyond Good & Evil is like Grand Theft Auto…in the sense that there is a hub world, where you drive a vehicle and explore various locales. Other then that though this game is difficult to quantify.

Beyond Good & Evil takes many different gameplay ideas and combines them with varying degrees of success. The first portion of the game is centered on cooperative gameplay (your companion is controlled by the AI); the first half of the game is structured like Zelda. The areas you explore have simple puzzles; turn this lever here; push this crate that way, the standard fair that is seen in most Action Adventure games.

I wish the co-op aspect was much more of a dominant gameplay addition. Jade tends to get separated from her companion (Pey’J an anthropomorphic pig, who is your Uncle; and eventually Double H, a soldier of the rebel group IRIS). Because of this you are frequently on your own throughout large chunks, and it didn’t really feel like I was a team. 

Like I mentioned before the gameplay veers in different directions. But some things remain throughout. Jade, the main protagonist (and probably my favorite female lead to a game in a long time), is an investigative reporter—or at least she becomes one rather quickly. Regardless, I found the photography in the game to be probably the most compelling part. There is a lot of wildlife on the planet of Hillys (the alien world where the game takes place), and I enjoyed searching every area for new creatures to photograph. 

Pey'J up, ho's down!

Photography and investigation are the ways in which you gain Pearls (think Stars in Mario or Jigsaw pieces in Banjo Kazooie). With Pearls you can upgrade your hovercraft and explore the world of Hillys. And there are a good variety of things to do: races, bandit missions where you hunt down criminals; and the hovercraft allows you access to some areas that aren’t reachable on foot. Collecting these Pearls and upgrading your hovercraft is essential to progressing further in the game.

As the story progresses you learn that all isn’t right in Hillys. There is supposedly a war between the Alpha Sections (the peacekeepers) and the Dom’Z, a hostile alien race. The “S” hits the “F” quick and Jade finds herself wrapped up in a tangled web of rebellion. Well I won’t spoil the story, it becomes apparent quite soon that the Alpha Sections are hiding something big. Jade has to join forces with the rebel group called IRIS and get the low down on the Alpha Sections.

There is a lot to like in Beyond Good & Evil…until the final 50% of the game kicks in. The last half of the game is dominated by stealth sections that really don’t hold up well in this age. We’ve come a long way from--alert a guard, run fifteen feet away, hide in the shadows, and he’ll act like you were just a figment of his imagination. It’s dated. This is an older game, so you have to take the good with the bad. It’s just unfortunate that these stealth sections make up so much of the game, especially when my favorite section isn’t repeated nearly enough.

I’m speaking about the free running/ pseudo parkour sections of the game. Here you run towards the screen (I know that usually is a gaming no, no), and you have to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge your way past lasers, the Alpha Section pursuers, and other obstacles that are strewn in your path. The camera angles aside, I found these parkour moments really fun, and I have the feeling that Ubisoft wanted to make this a bigger feature in the game. I say this because of the leaked Beyond Good & Evil 2 concept trailer; where Jade can be seen fleeing and running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop Bourne Ultimatum style. It seems though that the tech at the time couldn’t allow Ubisoft to expand upon this free running style—here’s hoping it’s a major part of the sequel. I only counted 2 of these free running moments but I wished they were a bigger focus. 

Pictured: Stealth

The updated visuals are nice, and textures are crisp and clean. And the beautiful color pallet of the game really shines. Each character you run into has a unique look, be they talking cats, pigs, moles, birds—this game has an odd sensibility about it, but it's quirky and fun.

Beyond Good & Evil ends up being a mixed bad. Some sections like free running, the companion aspect (when you’re an actual team that is), and photography are really enjoyable. But the dated stealth sections that take up so much of the latter half of the game are really a drag.

That being said, Ubisot was trying to get people interested in Beyond Good & Evil 2. In that sense I think they succeeded. Before I had just a passing interest in Beyond Good & Evil 2, now I’m all in. I love the variety that is in Beyond Good & Evil, but there needs to be a better balance. Remove the stealth section entirely or rework it, but make stealth a lesser feature overall. Give Jade the ability to run and scale walls like Assassins Creed or Prince of Persia, two of Ubisoft’s other titles that feature a parkour exploration style. And make the co-op AI partner aspect a bigger feature. Pey’J is an interesting character…but you lose him within the first 3 hours of the game—what’s up with that? Still Beyond Good & Evil HD did its job. Get people excited about Beyond Good & Evil 2; hopefully we’ll see it at E3 this year.

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