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Beyond Good & Evil HD

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Few games deserve the HD re-release treatment more than the original poster child for brilliant commercial failures: 2003's Beyond Good & Evil. And with the release of Beyond Good & Evil HD on Xbox Live Marketplace, there are no longer any excuses for those who missed out on this gem. Here is a cinematic action adventure that has aged so well, it can stand alongside modern releases. Remember, this is an eight year old game we're talking about, here.

As the title implies, Beyond Good & Evil HD is sharper and more well-defined than ever. However, that was never really a problem in the first place; that's because the game's art style held up the entire production without even trying. Hillys is a science-fiction world like no other. On the surface, it's practically just like our world, but the presence and presentation of the game's many anthropomorphic animals are truly inspired. It's like Miyazaki meets Star Wars. Back in 2003, protagonist Jade was a giant step forward for female leads in video games, and in 2011, she's still ahead of the curve. She's feminine, but kicks ass with the boys. Her intelligence, integrity, and independence are valued above her sex appeal, but the game doesn't make her one of those nasty in-your-face women's lib stereotypes.

The first half of Beyond Good & Evil HD runs very smoothly with almost no problems. However, in the latter half of the game, the dungeon design becomes more cramped and the camera system's intrinsic flaws are completely exposed. Vertical adjustment is a nightmare in this game, and when so much of your success depends on character/trap placement and enemy lines of sight, that's a problem. Fortunately, when the camera works, it really works; some of the cinematic work here is simply ahead of its time.

Beyond Good & Evil HD's sound design gets just about everything completely right. The soundtrack is at its best when it's subdued; the gentle piano melodies are a perfect fit for the Hillyan countryside, and it's a great accompaniment for trekking across the harbor in the hovercraft, too. "Propaganda," the funky song playing in the Akuda Bar, is almost as identifiable to me as the Mos Eisley Cantina song. The voice acting is also great; Jade isn't a generic heroine, Pey'j sounds about right for a middle-aged talking pig, Double H's over-the-top superhero antics will keep you grinning, and the Rastafarian rhinos at Mammago's Garage will keep you laughing.


Gameplay:

Beyond Good & Evil HD is, at its core, a conspiracy story. It takes place on an Earth-like world known as Hillys, where many of the animals possess humanoid features and intelligence. It's not a great place to be, as it's the site of an invasion by an alien force known as the DomZ. The government-run Alpha Sections appear to be the good guys in this struggle, but an underground investigator cell calling itself the IRIS Network claims that there's more to the story than that. You play as Jade, a bright-eyed young photographer (and martial-arts expert) who is recruited into the IRIS Network and given a special task: take pictures, unravel the conspiracy, and unite the people against the combined threat. The story isn't airtight at all, and it features a plot twist at the end that will make you shake your head, but the characters are sympathetic enough to pull you in and get you invested.

Beyond Good & Evil HD does several things, many of them very well. It's built like The Legend of Zelda, but it introduces several different gameplay types at once. For starters, you'll almost always be accompanied by a secondary hero, whether it's Jade's lovable porcine Uncle Pey'j or amnesiac IRIS operative Double H. Dungeons feature simple environmental puzzles, but in between these puzzles are a number of stealth sequences. The game plays well enough, though the different gameplay styles meet with varying levels of success. The pacing is a bit uneven as a result, and that doesn't mix well with the relative short length of the game. These nitpicks aside, this is a game that deserves to be played.


Difficulty:

Beyond Good & Evil is an easy game to get through. Puzzle solutions are usually quite obvious and don't require much thought at all, and most of the game's combat situations can be passed with simply button-mashing. Some can't, and require heavy use of the dodge mechanic. However, you'll be more than familiar with the different enemy types, and you'll know when to use which strategy.

If you want to grab every last Pearl and photograph every animal in the game, make sure you stop at Ming-Tzu's in the Pedestrian District and pick up some readers. Furthermore, you also might need a bit of luck with the tricky map system. This is one of those games with multi-level dungeons, and if you can't find your way around each dungeon after your report is done, you might find yourself in a bit of trouble -- especially if you consider yourself a completionist.


Game Mechanics:

Much of the gameplay in Beyond Good & Evil HD is simple, but most of it isn't overly so. The combat could certainly use a lot more depth, but the animations are so much fun to watch that I'll just cross my fingers in the hopes that the sequel addresses that complaint. For its time, the combat was great, and it still feels fine right now. It's just not satisfying like it is in so many other action-based adventure games this day and age.

Stealth is a big part of Beyond Good & Evil HD, as well. The Alpha Sections have heavily-armed patrols that traverse predetermined patrol routes. They aren't bright at all, but they have some seriously powerful technology on their side. If you escape after being spotted, they call to authorize a zone clearing. A robot is dispatched to your last known position, where it shines a tight web of fiberoptic lights; if you are in those lights after they turn bright red, you will be riddled with instantly-lethal gunfire. Other situations are much more punishing; if you are so much as spotted during some sequences, a camera-mounted laser cannon will kill you instantly. Enemy Artificial Intelligence is very poor, and they fail to look in obvious hiding places; that's not too big of a problem, since those are usually the only hiding places you're given.

Beyond Good & Evil HD features a simple economy system that is sustained on your end with a fun gameplay diversion. Jade is an expert with her camera, and the local Science Center pays good money for good pictures of the local wildlife. Each species can only be photographed once, but once you reach a certain point in your photography career, you'll earn Pearls for each completed roll of film. And what are those Pearls for, you ask? They can be spent at the Mammago Garage on hovercraft upgrades.

You won't spend as much time in your hovercraft as you will on foot, but it's considerable enough for mention. The hovercraft has firing capabilities, and whether you're using them against the DomZ or the Alpha Sections' "security precautions," they pack quite a punch. In another enjoyable diversion, you can earn Pearls by winning a number of Slaughterhouse Races. The racing isn't good enough to really make an impact on the game, but when a game like this is better than the sum of its parts, that's okay.

If you've already played Beyond Good & Evil, try the demo before buying. If you find yourself pleasantly surprised by how well the game carries its age, go for it. If you haven't played the game at all, what are you waiting for? This is a game that no self-respecting action adventure fan should pass on; too many people did just that eight years ago and never had a good enough reason why. Here's your chance; let them know the world really wants Beyond Good & Evil 2.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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