If you played Beyond Good and Evil the first time round, then the opening moments of this HD Remix will fill you with unmitigated joy. Beyond the absolutely spectacular orchestral score and strong visual aesthetic, the initial moments of combat with well directed slow motion flourishes will leave you exalted. Moments later, when your gruff companion and series icon Pey’j bursts on to the scene to save you from a genuinely frightening unknown alien enemy, nostalgia, excitement and sheer joy mix into a heady cocktail that had me openly exclaim, “Fuck yeah!”. A strong opening then.
Originally released in 2003 on Gamecube, Xbox and PS2, BGAE sold poorly. A horrible front cover was blamed by some while others argued that an oversaturated market was to blame. It didn’t help that Ubisoft was more focused on marketing the equally brilliant Prince of Persia Sands of Time. Whatever the casue, the proposed trilogy was canned and Michel Ancel’s masterpiece became the next “best game no one played”.
Fast forward eight years and the time has come for critically loved but commercially unsuccesful games to be discovered by a whole new generation of gamers. While titles like Ikaruga and Rez are popping up on PSN and Xbox Live, ICO and Shadows of the Colosus are being repackaged and remade in HD to be sold all over again. Into this arena steps Beyond Good and Evil; polished, remastered and ready to be (re)discovered.
Those opening moments of heady excitement can’t last for more than a few minutes, but when they give way you’re left with the prospect of a beautiful world to explore and a well designed game to play. If you didn’t play the original then you won’t be blown away by the visuals, but the charm of the characters and the strength of the opening is likely enough to pique your interest and keep you playing as you learn the systems and unique elements of the game.
As you dive into the game world, one of the first things to hit you will be the soaring, epic score. It may be high praise to even offer a comparison, but BGAE’s music is reminiscent of Nobuo Uematsu’s work on Final Fantasy 7. It’s a style of beautiful, unapologetic audio that we don’t see in modern games and it’s evocative of nature and life as opposed to the gothic, booming soundtrack we hear more often in modern titles. If you can pick up the OST by Christophe Héral, it stands up well on its own.
When it comes to the gameplay there’s one reference point it’s hard to get away from: Zelda. It seems that while Zelda games themselves are fated to always sell well, games that follow a similar gameplay style will be doomed to fail. BGAE, Darksiders and Okami all owe a debt to Zelda’s dungeons-and-overworld style of gameplay, but despite some of these being arguably better games, they have all failed to sell well.
In BGAE the Zelda reference is a relevant comparison in their shared tones as well as their gameplay. While they both have exploring, bosses and health hearts to collect, they also both channel the better moments of Disney movies. While the cute anthropomorphic animals and fairytale-inspired storylines exist in both, BGAE has more darkness and shifts in tone than Zelda. From references to fascism, propaganda and Government cover ups to child abductions and personal betrayals, BGAE’s world and storyline explore real world issues and don’t shy away from scaring or even upsetting younger players.
This sophistication is present in lead character Jade too. Frequently cited in lists of “best female characters”, she’s strong while still being feminine; maternal but also capable and caring but also professional. Apparently based on Ancel’s own wife, Jade is the best type of female character; one who is both a woman and a strong protagonist rather than just a male lead whose genders been switched. In the same way as Ripley protects Newt or Sarah Connor fights for her son, Jade’s caring, female demeanour is both maternally protective to the orphans she protects and also strong and independent. She is the head provider and protector for her surrogate family and needs no knight to save her.
This feeds in to Jade’s career: a journalist. While you may spend some portion of the game fighting off enemies with your staff, much of the rest of the time you’ll be searching for rare animals to photograph. Long before Frank West was taking pictures of zombies for points, Jade was photographing rare species for credits. This encourages you to explore the levels and filling rolls of film with ever more exotic and hard-to-find animals is great fun.
The HD remix does a good job of bringing the game up to date. While no one would mistake it for a modern retail release, the charming curved, European architecture and stylised characters allows the low texture detail to be overlooked. The frame rate is more stable than the original and added water effects and other minor improvements make the game look better overall but there remains a sluggishness to Jade’s movement which takes some getting used to. As well as this, the camera can get very flaky indoors as it tries to find a decent position to view the action and some of the fixed angles it adopts make it difficult to see enemies. This is offset somewhat by the relative ease of the game. BGAE is many things, but one of them is not challenging.
There’s a scene relatively early on that’s a good litmus test for whether BGAE is for you. As you leave the island refuge your hovercraft breaks down and you are offered a tow by a friendly flying tow ship. This particular tow ship is painted yellow, green and red and the owner is Mama Go Garage, where the owners are Rastafarian animals with thick Jamaican accents. Throughout this scene, the Mama Go theme plays, a catchy reggae tune that’s as unexpected as anything else that happens in the rest of the game.
If this kind of zany European weirdness doesn’t put you off, (or even turns you on) then there’s a lot to love in BGAE. A rich, gorgeous world, a grown up storyline and great characters with a strong female protagonist are all waiting for you. Come on! If enough of you buy this HD Remix, they’ll make the rest of the trilogy!
9 Jamaican Rhino’s out of 10