So, Beyond Good & Evil; the very definition of the term ‘cult classic’. Many who played the original back in 2003 speak of it with such reverence that it has become somewhat of a curio to the younger gaming generation. The news of an HD re-release has been met with much excitement; however we aren’t in 2003 anymore and have been spoilt by wonders such as Enslaved and Uncharted which have managed to mix wonderful stories with rich, vibrant worlds. Is BG&E’s light as bright as it once was? Or has this gem lost some of its lustre?[boxout]The game follows the story of Jade, a freelance journalist/photographer and founder of ‘Jade Reporting’. Jade currently resides on the mining Planet known as Hillys with her adoptive uncle Pey’j (who’s a pig, literally!). The whole planet is at war with a race of aliens known as the DomZ who drop from the sky at random to wreak havoc upon whoever is unfortunate enough to be below. Rather than kill, the DomZ raison d’être is abduction, leaving many children without their parents. Jade and Pey’j have provided shelter for many of the children who are in this situation but times are tough and money needs to be made fast in order to keep the shield surrounding the shelter powered up, thus stopping the marauding aliens from causing further damage.
It’s this quest for money that kick-starts proceedings in BG&E. The bank balance is empty, the shield is down and the DomZ attack. Jade pulls through by the skin of her teeth but the concern is what happens next time? Upon receiving a mysterious message promising handsome rewards, the duo set off and are soon embroiled in a conspiracy involving the DomZ; the Planet’s apparent protectors ‘Alpha Section’, and a rebel faction known as IRIS, who believe that the Alpha Section are actually on the DomZ payroll. Just who are the good guys here? Nothing is as it seems.
The story, which was widely celebrated back in 2003, still holds up well today despite losing some of its impact. Bucking the trend, Jade manages to portray both strength and vulnerability, and all whilst wearing an outfit suitable for exploring caverns (take note, Ms. Croft). The secondary characters are likeable, if not as fleshed out as one might hope for, but BG&E is still one of the best, if not the best, tale on Xbox LIVE Arcade.
BG&E is a third person adventure game, but to give you a full run-down of the game’s gameplay mechanics would be to describe an amalgamation of different games and genres. Zelda’s in there, so is Tomb Raider, with some stealth thrown in for good measure. This is then seasoned with a dash of combat, a sprinkle of racer, and a dollop of Pokemon Snap – yes, you read that correctly! One of Jade’s most effective weapons is her camera, which you must use to capture evidence of any suspicious behaviour, before transmitting it to the Governor of Hillys.
This camera also opens up one of gaming’s most addictive side quests which sees you photographing and documenting Hillys’ wildlife. Every new species snapped earns you money, and every roll of film you use up will earn you a pearl. It really is fantastic, to the point where I spotted a very rare whale in the distance, stopped what I was doing and just tracked it. When I finally got a picture of it leaping out of the water I was awarded with a hefty bank balance increase, and a feeling of smugness that lasted quite a while. Am I sad? Perhaps, but…well there isn’t really a come-back to that.
Luckily Jade is more than just a good photographer; she is also a highly skilled martial artist. When the need arises, she can use her combat staff to good effect, which usually involves her repeatedly whacking an enemy in the face. Yes, the combat is a tad easy, but in my opinion the simple one button attack scheme doesn’t do the game any harm. A bit later on in the game Jade also acquires a device that fires out discs, be it at an enemy or to hit a switch from afar. The secondary characters also have special attacks, which you decide when they use. This is a good decision as AI is poor, and is prone to doing silly things (such as running on the spot instead of stopping me getting my butt kicked).
The illusion of freedom within BG&E’s world is good but in reality everything is well structured. The planet is largely water-based, with Islands dotted about and you are limited to where you can go due to the condition of your hovercraft. At the start of the game it is a smoking wreck, and it’s down to you to build it into something monumental. This involves tracking down pearls, which is the only currency the mechanics accept. As an example, the pearl system is akin to Mario 64’s star barriers. In that game you could only enter a new area after collecting ‘X’ amount of stars, and in BG&E you can only enter a new area by, for example, leapfrogging the security lasers but in order to do that you need 15 pearls to buy the jump booster to fix to you craft. New areas mean new pearls, which in turn mean new parts which allow you to get into areas that progress the main story.
Accruing pearls can be done in all manner of ways, from hunting down and destroying looters, to entering hovercraft races and placing first, to sneaking into Alpha Section warehouses and pilfering their stash. There really is a decent chunk of stuff to do outside of the main story levels, although it is a case of ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’.
Visually the game is a notable improvement over its predecessor (well, the console originals anyway) but really comes into its own when you are blasting along the waterways of Hillys with the sun glinting off the sea. Character models are good for a downloadable title, although animations are still stiff. The game’s previous generation roots also show due to the fact that every new room you enter (and that’s not an exaggeration) requires a loading screen before you can access it. Personally this isn’t a game breaker for me but those used to traversing sandbox games uninterrupted will be in for a surprise. This is how we rocked it back in the day (slowly).
It’s just a shame the game retains the major issue that affected it several years ago; the camera. At times it can be absolutely horrid, flailing wildly all over the place. You can manually control it but in a fight situation it acts like it has something better to do and promptly heads off somewhere else. It’s bad; really bad and had it been fixed it would have pushed BG&E into the top tier of adventure games. Some of the stages can also be incredibly dark, and although this sounds silly, if you couple this with a spinning camera, not only is it dizzying but it can see you wander away in the wrong direction. I’m also still not a fan of the map system, which feels overly fussy.
- Great story
- Looks good (mostly)
- 12hrs+ worth of content
- Only 800 MSP
- That camera system
- Fussy map
- Occasionally daft AI
To echo part of my opening sentence: so, Beyond Good & Evil – what’s the verdict? Remarkably, time has done very little damage to the story and there is so much to do that it really does make a mockery of the surprisingly low 800 MSP price tag. I find myself in a similar position to when I had to give Enslaved a score. I desperately want to score BG&E higher, as it has taken me on a thrill ride which is better than 90% of the stuff on the shelves today. However, the issues mentioned do impact the game to the point where marks do have to start being taken off. To those who played the game back in the day, prepare to fall in love with it all over again. To those who never got the chance first time, and are planning to download this, you’re in for a treat if you can look past the wayward camera. Who knows, perhaps this time next year you’ll be reading a review starting with “so, Beyond Good & Evil 2…”