Xbox Live and PlayStation Network are all about second chances, which is nothing if not what Beyond Good and Evil deserves. The game, which was released in 2003, was critically acclaimed but a commercial failure and the trilogy envisioned by designer Michael Ancel (best known for the Rabbids series) seemed uncertain. The series has emerged stronger than ever: Not only is Beyond Good and Evil 2 in the development pipeline but the first Beyond Good and Evil is up at bat again with a shiny new coat of HD graphics.
Does it withstand the test of time when so many games from generations past have aged badly? Read on to find out.
The mining planet of Hillys is a fantastical and quirky setting that blends fantasy, modern, and science fiction. Humans and anthropomorphic animals of a variety of ethnicities live in a world with credit cards, E-mail, and aliens. Hillysians are under siege by a mysterious race of conquering aliens known as the DomZ. A military regime known as the Alpha Sections has taken control of the planet but suspicions are immediately raised and fanned by the underground IRIS network about the connection between the Alpha Sections and the DomZ.
The story isn’t the philosophical discourse that Nietzsche’s borrowed namesake might suggest and a few early plot twists can be seen coming from the opposite end of an ocean. I’m sure just mentioning a military dictatorship coexisting with an alien race spelled it out for most of you. The game seems to want to go beyond good and evil and be morally ambiguous but all that really happens is the perceived good guys and the bad guys switch roles. I guess the title “Guys Portrayed as Good and Evil who are Actually Evil and Good Respectively” wouldn’t have looked good on the box art.
What’s more interesting is the unique presentation of Hillys, the European art style, and the characterization of Jade and Pey’j, who are introduced as living in a converted lighthouse with orphaned children from the DomZ invasions. The slow start is offset by having more focus on Jade and Pey’j rather than the initial conspiracy revelation between the Alpha Sections and the DomZ, and what results is a well paced and enjoyable story. There are bits of charming direction and macabre humor, like an entertaining scene in the beginning where a vital shield to protect the lighthouse dies because Jade’s account is out of credits to maintain it.
The game also has fun with its characters. Jade has often been held up as an example of a strong and non-sexualized female character in an industry saturated with sex objects, but beyond that she’s just a very likeable character. She’s thoughtful, caring, perceptive, and quick to answer a call of duty by IRIS. Her nature is congruent with her profession as a photojournalist, which always seems to be driving her to find the truth. Her banter with her uncle-figure, humanoid pig Pey’j, is funny to listen to and Pey’j’s fatherly and somewhat bombastic nature makes him and Jade a great tag team.
Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games that got generically lumped into the “action adventure” genre but it defies conventional genres and does a lot of experimenting. It dabbles in stealth, racing, platforming, and puzzles in an open world in a way that makes the game feel broad brush in a good way. There are vastly deeper games of every type that Beyond Good and Evil juggles but the genre-blending is what makes the game stand out, and the variation of activities and diversions makes the experience a lot of fun.
The game takes place in an impressively sized hub world which comes to life through a lot of little touches. Local passersby aren’t that frequent but can be chatting about what’s going on and you regularly receive E-mails such as newsletters, IRIS propaganda, and data updates from your allies. You can wander freely around in a hovercraft that’s also used for races and disembark in areas that you can explore on foot. There’s a massive amount of side content to partake in and a lot of fun little mini-games can net you credits or special items.
Combat examined on its own is lackluster with most enemies requiring little more than several swats of Jade’s staff with the single attack button with stylish but nonetheless repetitive attacks. Instead combat is made more interesting by using light puzzle elements in a lot of situations, like needing to use your computer controlled ally. Pey’j, for instance, can ground pound enemies and leave them vulnerable to attack. Other times Jade may need to knock enemies into electrical circuitry to defeat them. Bosses generally feature less actual combat and more emphasis on finding a particular pattern of when to attack or use your teammate, and fights are short enough that it doesn’t become tedious.
Platforming and puzzles come together in interesting way too. There’s an interesting sequence in a factory where you need to maneuver up, down, and across multiple conveyor belts while dodge rolling over and ducking under security beams, then finding what conveyor belts to jump onto in order to get closer to the opposite end of the room. There are context specific actions that make use of your computer-controlled teammate, such as having Pey’j ground pound part of a platform to make the other end catapult Jade up to an unreachable area. It makes trekking through the rich, diverse environments all the more worthwhile because you’re constantly on the lookout for the access point to your next area, or just a secret passageway that can net you extra items.
Certain context-specific actions seem a little too obscure, like when a mine shaft was dark enough that I could barely see the metal gate that I needed to have Pey’j open for me. I wound up stumbling awkwardly around for a good few minutes the trigger action popped up. The game also lacks direction at points, with certain missions lacking objective markers or just not having them outside of the immediate area where you need to go, which would seem to defeat the purpose of having them.
I’ve also heard fans of the original game gripe about the camera, which hasn’t been improved for this HD rerelease. During combat in small areas or in the middle of races the camera has a tendency to freak out and swerve wildly, and despite the solid camera controls the unpredictability of it can make the camera a more threatening antagonist than your enemies or race opponents. During a pivotal race you may need to let other racers ahead of you when you take several seconds to rework the camera.
Stealth segments are where the game doesn’t age as well. There are some creative level design choices like moving behind boxes on a conveyor belt to avoid guards, but most of the time you’ll find that enemies see no more than five feet in front of them or spend a disproportionate amount of time staring at walls or standing rigidly still. Later on the game also goes the cheap stealth route by making certain stealth sections instant game overs if you get caught. There are enough checkpoints that this is never a big problem but it seems strange when earlier stealth sections let you just manually attack the guards if they spotted you.
The photography aspect of the game is something else that works surprisingly well, particularly considering I generally find photography in games to be distracting. Jade can use her camera to photograph NPCs, wildife, and hostile enemies and for every new specimen she photographs she gets a credit reward. If you fill an entire roll if film you also get a pearl, which are special items that can be traded for plot-specific items you need to advance the story. The simplicity of photography makes it something you can easy do and fights are casual enough that you don’t need to worry about enemies leaping in and taking away three quarters of your health when you take out your camera for a split second.
I didn’t play Beyond Good and Evil when it came out so I don’t have the fond memories from nearly a decade ago. The fact that I can play Beyond Good and Evil after so long and still enjoy it speaks to how well the game has aged in terms of both gameplay and visuals. The game manages to be a lot of fun despite and possibly because it lacks focus on a particular conventional genre. Give it a chance because despite its flaws, Beyond Good and Evil is fun, charming, and very imaginative.
Beyond Good and Evil's unique, cartoony visual appearance has aged beautifully, and the world of Hillys is creative and thoughtful
|How does our scoring system work?|
Gameplay modes are diverse and the game blends conventional genres in interesting ways, although some gameplay components haven't aged well
The musical ensemble is pleasant if not awe-inspiring and voice acting is well done all around
The story lasts several hours, but there are a lot of fun diversions and mini-games as well
Beyond Good and Evil has aged very well, looks great in HD, and continues to be a fun, charming experience