Speaking at this year’s Game Developers Conference, Heavy Rain creator David Cage delivered a contentious speech, in which he urged developers to write off over two decades of design expertise for the sake of narrative integrity. If video games, as Cage suggests, have become bound by the shackles of mechanics and convention, how can we ever hope to tell sophisticated tales? As it turns out, we needn’t have worried. If Beyond Good & Evil HD is a reminder of anything, it’s that the syntax of the traditional video game has never been more conducive to storytelling.
Cutscenes, boss fights and fantastical creatures have come to characterise Beyond Good & Evil, and yet Michel Ancel’s 2003 cult-classic remains one of the wittiest and emotionally affecting games ever created. From the mournful piano that accompanies an opening orphanage trek, to the affectionate banter between its lead protagonists, it’s safe to say few games exude such a warm sense of humanity as Beyond Good & Evil.
Unfortunately, despite widespread acclaim, Beyond Good & Evil fell painfully shy of the sales figures it deserved – and this updated version will hopefully go some way to rectify the situation. Still, while HD visuals and a couple of hundred gamerpoints will likely sweeten the deal, it’s the sterling foundations laid down by the original game that truly shine here.
Beyond Good & Evil takes place on the quaint mining planet of Hyllis, a semi-futuristic land in which Rastafarian walruses, sharks and holographic Spaniards coexist alongside your run-of-the-mill humans. The game’s protagonist, a young photojournalist by the name of Jade, is of the latter category – although you’d not know it, given her bloated, Lesley Ash lips. Which also happen to be green. Still, Jade is a brilliant piece of character design; smart, attractive and feminine - but never overly-sexualised - she’s up there with Alyx Vance as one of the finest female leads in gaming.
Scouted by an underground news network to investigate the Alpha Sections – a military organisation that’s supposedly protecting the inhabitants of Hyllis from extraterrestrial attacks – Jade soon realises that not all is as it seems. The aliens, known as the DomZ, are in fact in cahoots with the Alpha Sections, and it’s up to Jade to expose the truth to the people of Hyllis. But she’s not alone in her quest. Plodding alongside Jade for much of the adventure is her adopted uncle Pey’J; a flatulent hog, quirky inventor, and the source of the game’s myriad one-liners – which delight and amuse for the game’s twelve hour duration.
If the game’s exposition - which introduces third person combat, photography and vehicular sections – leaves you in any doubt as to what the remainder of game entails, it doesn’t take long for the those action adventure roots to shine through. Each of the game’s four investigations takes place in a Zelda-esque dungeon, filled to the brim with puzzles, collectable items and enemies to defeat. Much like Windwaker, you’ll also have to travel from A to B via the seas - with Hyllis serving as the game’s central hub.
Jade’s hovercraft can also be used to locate many of the game’s hidden side-missions – which include everything from chasing bandits through mines, to competing in timed hovercraft races. Side-missions reward you with precious pearls (much like Mario’s stars), and these are often vital to your progression in the game.
Jade’s role as a photojournalist isn’t merely a plot device, either. At various points in the game, Jade will need to capture evidence of the Alpha Section’s activities, and send it to the IRIS network for publication. This unique mechanic not only helps to further the game’s narrative, but ensures that player interaction is never lost.
Jade’s camera – which can be accessed via the LB - also has secondary function to catalogue every last animal populating Hyllis. While this is usually just a case of pointing your camera at a never-before-seen creature (this being Beyond Good & Evil, probably an anthropomorphic ferret...), some creatures require a little more elbow grease to photograph. Certain creatures need to be forced out of their habitats with items or specific actions, whereas others – like the whales that only leap out of the sea once in a blue moon – require both speed and precision to capture.
It’s little touches like these that ensure Beyond Good & Evil is as entertaining today as it was during its heyday. But even so, there’s no denying that some of the game’s mechanics haven’t aged quite as spectacularly. The distinct lack of a mini-map, for example, forces players to consult the map screen on one too many occasions, and seems almost alien in today’s hand-lead world of game design. Similarly, the game’s camera is all over the shop, often rendering mission-critical objects (such as levers, switches and pearls) hard to find. The camera can be tilted using the right analogue stick, but doing so whilst guiding your hovercraft can be a royal pain – especially whilst trying to avoid bombs.
To write off Beyond Good & Evil on the count of such trivial issues, though, would be folly. Michel Ancel’s seminal action adventure remains one of the wittiest, most charming and intelligent games on the market, and you absolutely owe it to yourself to give it a go if you haven’t already. The game’s stylised aesthetic lends itself wonderfully to HD, and the improved character models and textures mean that Beyond Good & Evil has never looked better. At just 800 points, you’ll be treated to one of the finest action adventure titles ever created. As well as a stark reminder that a little charm can go a long way.