Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 04/29/11

Cult classic

The tragic thing about cult classics is that they are considered "cult classics" because they are ofentimes obscure, don't sell well, and rarely, if ever, spawn successful franchises. While there are notable exceptions to this rule, most of the time, cult classics are criminally underplayed and their potential is never fully reached. Beyond Good & Evil was a game from the sixth generation that, despite being released on all three of the major consoles, didn't sell worth a damn. I played and thoroughly enjoyed the game last gen, but never had a chance to finish it. I was ecstatic at the news that an enhanced port of the game was set to release for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, with improved graphics and achievements added, so I could go back and finish the adventure that I started with my PlayStation 2.

Beyond Good & Evil is essentially a Zelda clone, with an emphasis on story, stealth elements, and NPC interaction. The game is an intelligent conspiracy tale with likeable characters and heavy, emotionally-intense plot twists. Jade is the primary protagonist, a young woman that lives on a small island with a bunch of anthropomorphic animals, including her uncle Pey'j, a large warthog. Jade and Pey'j quickly get entangled with a group of conspiracy theorists known as the IRIS Network that believe the current military occupying their planet of Hillys aren't who they say they are. Meanwhile, the planet keeps getting bombarded by attacks from a violent alien species known as the Domz.

The planet of Hillys is a lively one, with unique architecture and a refined culture. It is populated with a wide variety of alien species, all living together peacefully. There are humanoid cows, humanoid sharks, humanoid goats, and more. The Beyond Good & Evil universe is an engrossing one, with so much untapped potential that it hurts. This game should have seen an accompanying novel; it should have had sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and so much more. Beyond Good & Evil has a universe that deserves as much attention as the one featured in BioWare's epic Mass Effect saga. The atmosphere truly is wonderful.

Exploring Hillys is fun. The planet is packed to the brink with secrets and side-areas. Even so, it's not overwhelmingly large like the environments in Zelda games can become. Beyond Good & Evil HD is small enough to remain a realistic and appealing challenge, but not small to the point that it becomes painfully linear like Final Fantasy XIII. The world that Ubisoft has created is one that really, really needs to be revisited. If there's not a sequel to Beyond Good & Evil, the gaming world will suffer greatly for it.

However, Beyond Good & Evil HD is not without flaws. The presentation was never an issue. Whether it's on the new consoles with the potential for high-definition graphics or if it's played in standard definition on the GameCube, the PlayStation 2, or Microsoft's original Xbox, Beyond Good & Evil is a game with an excellent atmosphere. The storyline speaks for itself. The problems arise in other areas...

One area where these problems are apparent is with the visual design. While the colorful sections of Beyond Good & Evil HD are vibrant and exciting, with delightfully original character models, excellent animation, and complemented by an incredible atmosphere, the game suffers when it comes to the lighting. There are areas of the game that are painfully dark, to the point that it's impossible to see anything at all really. Beyond Good & Evil HD's technical problems don't stop there, unfortunately.

For one, the camera really is not your friend in this game. Platforming segments and solving puzzles are seriously hindered by these camera issues. The camera is controlled with the right analog stick, and it's extremely sensitive. The slightest tilt in any direction makes the camera jump in that direction. It really is quite annoying, and unnecessary. I wonder why this simple issue wasn't fixed during the port to current-generation consoles, but oh well.

Another issue is the menus. The menus are awful. The map is difficult and confusing to navigate, going through the inventory is a pain in the ass, and it really hurts the game. These technical issues are unfortunate, considering how avoidable they are, and there was an opportunity for these wrongs to be righted with the port. Granted, Beyond Good & Evil HD is priced at a very reasonable 800 Microsoft Points, so maybe it's asking too much to hope for these changes, but at the same time, what's the point of porting over a generation-old game if the small, easily fixed issues, are left ignored?

With that being said, the core gameplay that Beyond Good & Evil brings to the table remains intact in this port, and it's fantastic. The Zelda-esque gameplay is a treat, with clever puzzles and a variety of "dungeons" to explore. Jade even has a companion for the large majority of the game, similarly to how Link is followed around by a fairy in the Nintendo 64 classics, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. These companions are used to solve puzzles, as well as for combat purposes. They rarely become a nuisance, though the occasional AI glitch made the companion NPCs in the game a bit of a pain in the ass at certain points.

Unlike Zelda, the gameplay doesn’t evolve by Jade collecting new gadgets and weapons. For the most part, Jade is stuck with a very small arsenal. She carries around a bow staff for combat, is equipped with a camera, and can throw discs at enemies that are too far away for her to reach with her staff. That basically covers the extent of Jade's abilities throughout the entire game. I feel that this results in a well-balanced and well-paced adventure that doesn’t take too much from the Zelda franchise, and helps Beyond Good & Evil carve out a name of its own. Dungeons don't rely on using new gadgets and weapons to get through, and often require thought, and the aforementioned stealth that the game demands.

Beyond Good & Evil places a decent amount of emphasis on stealth. Ubisoft is no stranger to stealth, having crafted games like Splinter Cell and Assassin's Creed, and the stealth in Beyond Good & Evil HD works very well. While the game is hard-pressed to compete with epic stealth games like the Metal Gear Solid series, the stealth that is here helps build the game's atmosphere and humanizes the characters (yes, even though some of them have tusks and horns). What's nice is that these stealth sections are often broken up with solid puzzle-solving and a few intense action sequences that are sprinkled throughout the game to keep tensions high and things exciting.

Beyond Good & Evil is unique with the camera mechanic that it uses. Jade is required to take pictures of certain events she encounters in the game to expose the underlying conspiracy and help the oppressed people of Hillys. Plus, players can also use the camera to analyze maps that are hanging on the walls of dungeons. On top of that, all of the different species encountered in the game can have a quick photo snapped of them that can be uploaded to a science center for extra cash and the occasional pearl. Oh, right. I should talk about pearls, huh.

With the implementation of pearls, Beyond Good & Evil almost feels like a cross-breed between Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time. The game, despite including heavy adventure, action, and stealth elements, also is a platforming collect-a-thon. The game demands players collect enough pearls to upgrade the hovercraft in order to reach new areas of the game and further the story along. Pearls are earned by taking pictures of new animal species, completing tasks given to Jade in the storyline, and by accomplishing side-quests and exploring secret areas.

The hovercraft is how players get from place to place. This speedy little vehicle gives the gameplay even more variety and is pretty fun to use. Over time, players will be able to equip the hovercraft with a variety of upgrades obtained by collecting pearls and spending them at the Mammago Garage. The hovercraft is easy to control, fun to use, and a great way to make sure that the game is constantly providing new and exciting experiences.

The gameplay is not perfect. There is plenty about it that I absolutely love, but the small technical issues pile on and bring the experience down. The storyline is great, the presentation is solid, and yes, even the audio manages to impress. Featuring an epic orchestrated score and awesome voice-acting, Beyond Good & Evil truly is one of the most polished (in terms of presentation) video games that I have ever played in my life.

The game can easily be beaten in under ten hours. While this is unfortunate, the replayability is boosted by the challenge of taking pictures of all the different animals, collecting all of the pearls, playing the various fun mini-games that can be found on Hillys, and of course, the achievements. Unlike most achievements that go to the extremes, Beyond Good & Evil HD doesn't force players to collect all of the collectables that are hidden in the game. I like this achievement model, and I hope it is implemented in the future by other developers. One thing that severely hurts the replayability of Beyond Good & Evil, and this goes for Zelda games as well, is the lack of a new game+ option, or simply the ability to keep exploring the world after the final boss is defeated. It's so disheartening to finally complete the storyline, only to be kept away from the rest of the game. Many people don’t bother with side-quests and all of that jazz until after completing the story, so a large portion of the replayability in this game is severely undercut. There's really no reason why not to include a feature like this, considering Okami did it and did it with flying colors. What's made worse is that there is a point of no return in Beyond Good & Evil HD, which means that if you get too far in the storyline, you'll miss out on all of the extras, unless you start over. The pressure to have to collect everything before beating the storyline is uncomfortable and out of place in a gaming world that seems to have its focus currently on convenience.

Beyond Good & Evil HD is a faithful port of the cult classic Beyond Good & Evil. However, it is perhaps a bit too faithful. While the core Zelda-clone gameplay is still excellent, the atmosphere is compelling and engrossing, and the storyline is damn near perfect in its execution, there are the minor gameplay issues, replayability issues, and other technical problems that hold Beyond Good & Evil HD back from its full potential. People that have already played through this game aren’t going to find much to do, but at 800 MSP, there's no reason for newcomers not to enjoy this cult classic.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Beyond Good & Evil HD (US, 03/02/11)

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