PlayStation

Beyond Good & Evil: 20th Anniversary Edition Review (PS5)

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It’s strange to think that Beyond Good & Evil was a failure on release. It was critically well-received but sales were poor, and it took years to gain a cult following. Now, it’s revered as a masterpiece, gathering a devoted fan base that still pines for the sequel that’s all but passed into legend.

Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, BG&E is the brainchild of Michel Ancel, a highly influential designer. He’s responsible for Rayman and hugely underrated adaptation of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. He also created the Rabbids, but nobody’s perfect.

BG&E is a game that tries to do a lot of things and succeeds at most of them. A bright, pastel-coloured adventure, it’s easily accessible for all ages, but presents dark and complex themes to anyone that looks for them. This pristine remaster, Beyond Good & Evil 20th Anniversary Edition, arrives to remind fans of the original’s charm, and hopefully garner a new generation of followers.

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The story puts you in the functional sneakers of shutterbug activist Jade. She juggles running an orphanage with her uncle Pey’j (who happens to be a grumpy old pig man), and a freelance photojournalism job. Kicking things off with a bang, the peaceful child refuge comes under attack from a creepy insectoid race called the Domz. After taking a research gig to help pay for repairs, she’s hired by the rebellion group IRIS. The rebels are trying to uncover a conspiracy surrounding the Domz and planetary peacekeepers, the Alpha Section. Jade takes on infiltration missions for IRIS, gathering intel with support from her porcine uncle and kindhearted ex-soldier Double H.

It’s tough to assign BG&E a genre. It’s part adventure, with a semi-open world to explore. Wildlife photography is the backbone of the game’s economy, so almost every new area will have you pull out your camera and try to get a good shot of something that may or may not want to eat you. There’s combat and boss encounters, with Jade employing a fighting style that feels like a precursor to the Arkham games. A large chunk of the main IRIS mission involves rudimentary stealth and mild puzzling. Then there’s hovercraft traversal, complete with high-speed water races and vehicle combat sections.

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All those systems might suggest an overstuffed endeavour, choking on its aspirations. However, Ancel’s opus never feels bloated or messy. At its heart, it’s a simple adventure game. The exploration and progression are linked to the collecting of pearls, which can be traded to upgrade Jade’s hovercraft and open up more areas of the map. You can acquire pearls from currency exchange, exploration, side activities, and your photos. Navigating the plot is linear, but the game gently nudges you into diversions, which always feel rewarding once discovered.

Beyond Good & Evil remains an audio-visual treat even to this day. The vibrant art style of the Rayman series translates well to this cartoony science fiction fable. The designers at Montpellier present the planet Hyllis as a cultural melting pot, with species of all kinds scraping a living in the floating population centres. Flying cars zip by as you explore the city canals. Propaganda plasters the walls of every home, while protesters decry the despotic rule of the Alpha Section. The areas Jade infiltrates are creepy industrial sprawls, filled with pollution and deadly creatures.

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Created during a time of great political turmoil, the game takes its title from the moral and ethical writings of Nietzsche. It’s an experience that tries to squeeze in some challenging ideological subtext amid the air-hockey minigames and Jamaican rhinos.

But how does it hold up today? The 20th (technically it’s the 21st) anniversary edition comes with a fresh lick of paint, revamped audio, and a collection of extras. For those of us who remember the original PlayStation 2 release, the controls are tweaked just enough to be meaningful. Interact has now been moved to its own button and dodge feels more comfortable in parallel to attack.

The visual update is largely great, with resolution and performance modes offering 4K at 60 frames-per-second with noticeably improved textures. There’s the odd bit of inconsistency; humans still have a cloudy complexion, while animals like Pey’j have eerily detailed skin texture. Hovercraft sections look good, but races have a tendency to chug, not quite coping with the speed and screen clutter.

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The fantastic score by Christophe Heral has been re-recorded, so there are crisp new versions of earworms like ‘Akuda House Propaganda’ and ‘Mamago’s Garage’. Expect to hear them in your head for months to come.

Supplemental galleries offer gorgeous concept art, cut level footage, and insight into the game’s creation. It’s a lovingly curated set of materials, which also includes tantalising morsels indicating Beyond Good & Evil 2 might still be alive. This sequel teasing extends to new collectibles scattered across the main game, containing extra lore linking to events outside of this story. It’s clear that this return to Hyllis is meant to drum up excitement for what’s to come.

Capping off the goodies in this edition are extra outfits for Jade, Peyj, and Double H, as well as a speedrun mode that should extend its lifespan beyond the main story.

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If there’s any criticism to be levelled at this fascinating and still enjoyable game, it’s that it feels like it was made in 2003. Movement is floaty, the camera struggles to cope in cramped interiors, and stealth sometimes feels like trial and error. Combat straddles the line between graceful and clunky; the Dai-jo staff and Gyro-disc launcher are imprecise tools that lack a sense of impact.

Yet despite creaking in its old age, this is definitely an experience worth having in 2024. Jade is still a great protagonist, and the world of Hyllis is a unique environment to explore. This is an adventure game that focuses on investigation over combat. Design, music, and good writing work together to create an atmospheric experience with a real sense of place. Its influences are obvious and its imitators numerous, but there’s still nothing quite like Beyond Good & Evil. Now, pretty please Ubisoft, can we have that sequel now?

Conclusion

A bona fide classic remastered with love and care. This edition brings smooth visuals, a beautifully recreated musical score, and well-presented supplemental materials. It certainly shows its age, but like all great art, Beyond Good & Evil weathers the test of time with grace.


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