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May 28, 2008

Beyond Good & Evil Returns: Should We Worry?

Posted in: Games

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.

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