Every form of entertainment has its under-appreciated gems, pieces of work that are adored by critics and those fortunate enough to get their hands on them, but, for whatever reason, never manage to reach a wide audience. For many gamers, Ubisoft Montpellier's Beyond Good & Evil was the definition of an overlooked classic when it was released in 2003. The game was praised for its unique art style, well-developed characters, and lively world that all combined for an experience unlike anything before it. To much adulation from fans, Beyond Good & Evil has been given new life, in the form of a downloadable HD edition, updated for the modern age.
For those of you who, like myself, missed out on Beyond Good & Evil the first time around, here's a little background on the original before we get into the HD improvements.
Beyond Good & Evil is set on the remote planet Hillys, whose residents have been engaged in a brutal war with a mysterious alien race, known as the DomZ. These aliens are widely feared for their systematic process of enslaving Hillyians. During this chaotic period, two local factions - the Alpha Force authoritarian guard charged with official defense, and the IRIS rebel group looking to overthrow them - wage fierce media campaigns against each other, both claiming to be the true defenders of Hillys. Jade, the game's protagonist, is an ordinary citizen trying to run an orphanage, who is reluctantly thrust into the heart of the conflict to protect the children under her care.
The storytelling definitely draws you in early on, with many subtle touches that make the absurd world, filled with talking animals, magical abilities, futuristic machines, and classic architecture feel cohesive. This immersive approach is demonstrated in your ability to interact with citizens and explore the world freely, having your actions - for example, taking photographs - represented in propaganda messaging, and traveling with a band of memorable companions. In addition, Jade is significant for being a strong, female lead, something that remains rare in gaming to this day.
While Beyond Good & Evil's intriguing plot is a strong point, the game has a lot more to offer. It's a very ambitious undertaking that combines elements of platforming, puzzle solving, photography, stealth, racing, combat, and more to create an experience that constantly introduces fresh ideas. The game cleverly connects these diverging mechanics in a way that makes each one feel important. For example, it's advantageous to take pictures of alien foes, as you frantically fight for survival, to gain currency, thereby unlocking vehicle upgrades. It certainly promotes the whole, risk and reward, mentality.
However, Ubisoft Montpellier's admiral ambition can be a double-edged sword. Gameplay variety largely comes at the expense of depth, as every element introduced stays surface level. Also, the game's opening act implies moral ambiguity and player choice will be significant in determining Hillys' fate, neither of which ever fully materialize as you play through the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the game sets players up for some disappointment in this way and game designers even struggle to deliver these grand promises to this day, let alone in 2003.
In terms of the specific HD edition's improvements, Ubisoft Shanghai clearly put a great deal of attention into this product. Alongside delivering sharp HD visuals that nicely complement the timeless art style, Beyond Good & Evil HD alleviates any performance issues and runs smoothly the entire time, adds achievements and online leaderboards for replay value, and rebalances a few difficulty spikes throughout. It's a solid package that should entice many fans to revisit Hillys.
Beyond Good & Evil HD is a carefully remastered version of a revered classic. Much more than a simple visual touch-up, the game adds value for both devoted fans and first-time players. Coming in at a decent launch price, there's really no reason to avoid Beyond Good & Evil HD - the content speaks for itself. In the end, it's great to see this title get another chance to reach gamers. Hopefully renewed interest in the series will bode well for the ever illusive sequel.