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What could be better than a stealth guerrilla dystopian action adventure game? A stealth guerrilla dystopian action adventure game with anthropomorphic animals of course!
In 2003 Ubisoft released this title across nearly every platform that was available at the time. Its commercial success was not as high as anticipated but it performed reasonably well on the PC and the Xbox. Initially it was to be part of a trilogy, but its puzzling failure to capture a wide audience has tarnished the reputation of the franchise and its sequel has finally been delayed until next gen consoles are available, despite a teaser being released in 2009.
Michael Ancel, the creative designer behind Rayman, was responsible for the design and development of Beyond Good and Evil, he claims they approached the game much like a film, and for the most part that actually plays out true, the linear plot line is immersed in a very in-depth and well thought out universe, the story having a very definite beginning, middle and end.
In March 2011 an HD remaster of the original game was made available through the Xbox 360 Marketplace and this review pertains to that version. I mention this because that means it is now available to download and play whenever you want, and you should, right now. Seriously, I'll wait right here.
Characters and Story
You play as Jade, a dependable and generous photo journalist who runs a shelter for orphans. She has a passion for martial arts and a keen eye for a story. She has set up home on in the lighthouse of a town called Hillys. The town has recently been under attack from the dreaded DomZ, an alien force, threatening to overcome the planet.
Although the Alpha Sections military are sworn to protect the loyal citizens of Hillys, all is not entirely right with the world. Often the attacks come in the night, the DomZ kidnapping people and destroying buildings and disappearing after this shock and awe campaign. The Alpha Sections are often absent when they should be fighting off the invading aliens. You can be arrested for murmuring dissent and people have started to whisper in dark bars, behind their hands.
Such is the case at the beginning of the game. Jade's home is subject to an attack just as the lighthouse shield generator runs out of credits. She must save the kids, singlehandedly by whacking the glowing green alien nasties with her stick and frightening them off. Even so, it's not a pleasant experience and she's soon contacted by a secret agency of resistance fighters who want to expose the awful truth behind the Alpha Section's apathy and the timing of the DomZ attacks.
When Pey'j, Jade's adopted uncle (an anthropomorphic pig) is kidnapped too, Jade's mission becomes personal, now she only has herself and a clumsy, if upstanding Alpha Sections officer named H to rely on.
Beyond Good and Evil is a fun and often twitchy mix of stealth combat (ala solid snake) puzzle adventure and racing game. As Jade completes missions she has to navigate her way through mazes of patrolling bad guys and alarm trip wires that are set to blow up or alert guards if she touches them. She has only a glove that shoots plastic discs to turn on far away buttons or misdirect guards and her agility to do so. If things turn really bad she does have her stick and a pretty good punch, but to be honest, if she's fighting guards, you've probably approached that room wrong.
In order to finance her missions and the cause of the resistance she must collect digital pearls that are stashed away in various optional dungeons, most of which require a combination of fighting and puzzle solving to pass through. When she is with either Pay'j or H they can perform attacks together that are the key to getting through certain obstacles.
Jade has access to a little hovercraft that she uses to move around the island nation of Hillys that is occasionally forced into shooter style combat sequences during DomZ attacks that frankly I could have done without. There is, however, a plot reason to take part in the Slaughterhouse races, a kind of underground aquatic race circuit that you can compete in at any time. The courses are wipeout style, with zip pads and booby traps that are actually pretty fun.
The big side quest in the game however is a pokemon style photography task where, because of the attacks, a science centre has asked Jade to document every living creature in Hillys. Some are easy, like seagulls and ladybugs or the various anthropomorphic races to be found wandering the streets. Some are a little less obvious, and require you to solve puzzles, like kicking a generator in a dungeon to turn off the lights and coax out a brilliant bioluminescent slug thing to creep out from behind some crates. You have only seconds to capture these creatures on film before they disappear again. It's diverting, satisfying and fun!
A big selling point is that nearly 10 years on its graphic design and world are still incredibly pretty. Ancel opted for quite a cartoony style with the game, but to be honest it really works. It's well acted, well animated and don't be fooled by the cutesy graphics, behind all that colourful fun lies quite a dark dystopic story that really shines by the second half of the game.
The world that Ancel has designed is as creepy as it is cheery. The citizens of Hillys are downtrodden, but hopeful and not likely to lie down and take domination easily. It's a society you can root for, if you can ignore the big screens everywhere shouting about how the Alpha Sections are here to protect and serve and how everyone should just go about their business while their children and families are captured and turned into human batteries.
The other is the gameplay itself. Every room in Jades missions are set out like a puzzle, it should be possible to get from A to B without being spotted, if you have to make a run for it, you've probably missed something. However, half the fun lies in distracting the guards, the shooty disc ability, if shot at close enough range can take out the breathing tank of a guard prompting his buddies to come and help, at which point, if you've positioned yourself right you kick or shot his out too, leaving you free to mosy on past to the next room.
Drop puzzles where you have to time jumps and drops down a shaft without setting off alarms are fun and the camera angles are well thought out and rarely irritating. Unfortunately you can't move the camera, but to be honest in some puzzles that would just give away the solution. Dying a couple of times just to catch a glimpse of the next corner is always an option; the game will just kick you back to the start of the last section anyway. *
The big deal here is that it's not a combat game! You don't go in there guns blazing, you don't get weapon or gear upgrades, the only consumables are health foods and boat fuel, your job is to get in there without being seen and take pictures that the resistance will publish. The growth of said resistance from tiny conspiracy theorists to lobbying activists is actually tangible as you progress through the story. Slowly, people in the street start talking about their newsletter, then the photos you publish and finally, when things start heating up they and the rest of the citizens are out in the streets waving placards. It's very uplifting.
*Incidentally I always feel a bit bad about the guards, who are really just doing a job, when one of their buddies gets hit they always shout "Hey!? HEY? You OK??" really earnestly and I feel a bit guilty...
Although Beyond Good and Evil hasn't really dated at all, it's still as playable now as it was then, it's tough to see what this rerelease in HD actually brings to the game. There are no special features, no deleted scenes or updated menu options. Everything has been left as it was bar the fact that it's HD. I'm really ok with that expect for the fact that the old Xbox game isn't backwards compatible so I essentially had to buy it twice. There is an avatar package available however, should you wish to dress your little version of yourself up as Jade or have a mini pet Pey'j. I actually think this should have been included in the download personally, cool as it is; I'm not buying more stuff.
It should tell you something that I am willing to pay for this game twice. The HD rerelease might just be a shiny update but it's a cracking game, and one I am willing to recommend heartily. If you fancy something a little different, where you don't go in all guns blazing where care and attention has clearly be lavished on character and world design then if you haven't played this you should, if you have, did you know it's available again?
In Beyond Good & Evil the vast, peaceful planet of Hyllis has fallen under siege by a relentless alien race. After a desperate struggle to defend her island, a Hyllian named Jade collapses in exhaustion - only to be tormented by disturbing visions. Despite public assurances that the planet has been secured, Jade begins to suspect that there's more to these invasions than the government has disclosed. When a rebel organization reinforces her doubts, Jade begins a harrowing journey to get to the core of the conspiracy.