Beyond Good & Evil Returns: Should We Worry?

Beyond Good & Evil is back! We thought creator Michel Ancel AWOL when he hadn’t been seen or heard from since Rabbids launched with Wii, but talk about a fine excuse. Our favorite realistically endowed “are you sure you’re black?” heroine has returned, with Pey’j in tow. (Could Double H be far behind?) This is good news.

Still, you have to worry. After all, even with so much going for it, the original BG&E bombed. And that title didn’t help. I mean, let’s face it, even the most devoted fans couldn’t figure out what Nietzsche had to do with Jade’s exploits. Everyone else wasn’t interested in a game written by a 19th century philosopher. Is Beyond Good & Evil 2 simply a working title? Let’s hope so.

But there’s something peculiar about the game, too. Even though I have fond memories of Jade’s world and its inhabitants, I remember less of what I did there. Where other favorites like Ico and Rez have big moments you just can’t forget (the windmill puzzle, a running man set to Rock is Sponge), BG&E leaves you with something different. Edge puts it this way:

There’s nothing memorable, nothing meaty in any of the game’s set pieces. It’s a game you finish in a happy haze, entranced by your time in Jade’s world, but hard pressed to remember a single fight, puzzle, race, or stealth challenge that stood out. And it’s this, more than anything, that is Ancel’s secret. […] Ancel may not be a master of story-writing, he may not map out the most sophisticated character arcs, and he may not have the instincts to set taut and rewarding game mechanics at the heart of the experience he creates, but he has an ability to create characters with instant resonance — and, if you doubt that, you only need to hear ‘Carlson and Peters!’ echo in your memory to convince you. In a videogame world — where those characters will be acting under their creator’s control for so much less time than in other media — this is unusually vital. (Edge 157)

More than that, BG&E creates a living world — not in the GTA sense but in how your actions interact with and change the place in ways that carry weight. Few adventure games take these kinds of risks when so much time has been put into crafting a world that’s just so. Even fewer dare to swap the central mechanism of affecting change from the pistol to the polaroid. These risks make BG&E great, but they also create confusion. Hopefully, all that pre-production research for BG&E2 has sought to better communicate atypical directions rather than blunt them altogether. What does it mean for BG&E to be “more casual”? We’ll see.

Michel Ancel followed BG&E with a muddy mishmash called Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Raving Rabbids, which matched hysterical characters with one-dimensional gameplay. In the former, Ancel was charged with making some else’s world interactive and in the latter he created characters without much of a world. In a lot of ways, then, coming back to BG&E feels like coming home to the place where so many of his strengths lie. After a few years of creative and monetary missteps, though, does Ancel still have it where it counts? If the fabulous trailer released today is any indication, he has indeed lovingly taken Jade & co to the next level. We want to believe.

Don’t miss the BG&E2 trailer. We last wrote about BG&E in The Sounds of Great Game Places.

2 Responses to “Beyond Good & Evil Returns: Should We Worry?”

  1. 1 David Simon

    Even though I have fond memories of Jade’s world and its inhabitants, I remember less of what I did there.

    A lot of the gameplay was a bit self-similar, folding into a mish-mash of “Okay, so there’s this room, and there are three guards that follow preset paths, and if any of them see me as I attempt to Pac-Man my way across, then I’ll have to hide in a ditch for 45 seconds until they forget me and then I can try again…”.

    But, I also have some fond memories of when the game broke free and did purposeful, amazing things. Remember the rising elevator stealth sequence, followed by that rooftop chase? Remember when you could finally fly into space? Remember walking into town and hearing “Propaganda” throbbing dully from the bar blocks away?

    Those were all very cool, very memorable set pieces to me, as much so as in other high-quality games.

    All games have this same setup. There are the basic mechanisms, the gameplay you keep on doing over and over: shooting headcrabs with machine guns, finding the map and compass, hiding in lockers until the alert passes. And then, there are also the specific, punctuated moments that you really remember: meeting Alyx, drawing the Master Sword for the first time, “Scissors! 61!”.

    I’m beginning to think that many people experienced Beyond Good & Evil very differently from me. Why was the game so much blurrier for you and for many others (including many of my friends), when I remember its climactic moments as clearly as for all my other favorites?

  2. 2 Jason

    Good questions, David. I’m not sure what makes a moment more memorable than others, but clearly the main things I remember most fondly from BG&E were the amazing characters and a world I’d love to live in. It’s cool that you had a different experience — and interesting.

    A friend of mine in the game industry once wondered aloud about why Jak & Daxter felt so much less memorable than Wind Waker (he’s a huge Nintendo fanboy, so it was a big deal that he’d acknowledge such a question could be asked!). They each have richly detailed worlds, the play mechanic is arguably similar, and J&D is richer in some regards — particularly in terms of pure seamlessness. But somehow Wind Waker wins out. Is it the raw tactile feel of the controls, the unusual art style, the syncing of sound to your motions, the feedback you get from the world? The easy way out, I suppose, is to argue that it’s all of these. But, you know, perhaps that’s the right answer, too.

    For the most part, Zelda has game mechanics pegged. Even missteps like Wind Waker’s laborious boat navigation get fixed right quick (Phantom Hourglass). But what kept me coming back to Jade’s world was different. I didn’t much care for her staff fighting, the stealth was fun but a bit loose, and I didn’t find any of the bosses that memorable. For BG&E, it was mostly the fabulously drawn characters (and world) that I just wanted to spend more time with. I don’t suppose that’s such a bad thing but maybe it’s different from some (many?) of our other favorite games.

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