Backlog Burner Episode 11: Beyond Good And Evil

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The one that got away. Serial killers and gamers have that in common. That one game you always put off for the next day. “Eh, it looks cool and all but I’d rather play something else”. In my case, there is not one, but hundreds of them that have gotten away. There is a reason why I call my Steam library ‘the fortress of regrets‘ or ‘the wall of shame’ (yes, yes I have a penchant for being overly dramatic. Deal with it). I often wonder what a shame it would be if I pass away without playing even 25% of the games in my stockpile. That’s what Backlog is for right? Clearing your library, one game at a time and all that jazz?

If it wasn’t for one friendly boy (boi?), Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil would have been nothing but another member in my ever-increasing wall of shame. I might have been a little reluctant at first, but at the end of the day, I have nothing but gratitude for this fella. After 12 hours of playtime, Beyond Good and Evil easily made it into my top 10 games of all time (all right, fine! top 20), a list occupied by classics such as Fallout, Torment and Gothic. Is BGE that good? I’d bet my left testicle on it.

Inspired Yet Original 

The brainchild of Rayman creator Michael Ancel, Beyond Good and Evil is marketed as an ‘action-adventure’ game following the escapades of Jade, a reporter/martial artist as she fights to free her planet from an alien conspiracy. BGE is, at surface level-a third-person action adventure with a heavy emphasis on the story, boasting a sizeable world separated by loading screens. Now now, before you start shouting at me with stuff like “duh, Legacy of Kain and Zelda did it years ago”, let me explain. it’s hard to lock BGE down to one particular genre. The game takes inspirations from almost all genres of video games as well as other entertainment media. BGE elements from action, open-world, stealth, puzzlers, racing and combining it with aspects from fantasy, sci-fi, detective fiction and spy thrillers. Legend of Zelda, to Resident Evil to Anachronox to No One Lives Forever- all serve as its video game inspirations, while the various spy thrillers and sci-fi fantasy flicks from the 80’s to the turn of the millennium forms the rest of BGE‘s organs. BGE weaves a gameplay perspective that is both familiar, yet novel. It’s as inspired as much as it’s original.

The way BGE switches from one genre to the next is as seamless as the technology of the early 2000’s could offer. At any given moment in the story, you could be exploring almost surreal environments, photographing enchanting looking creatures at your own pace, and in the next, you can find yourself cautiously and graciously avoiding fatal lasers in thrilling set pieces that would make Ethan Hunt proud. Rather than just throw one scenario after the next at your face, BGE works the magic of organic pacing, something that is profoundly lacking in many of the modern games. What’s more impressive is that BGE did it all before it was cool. I can’t think of that many games from the early 2000’s that stepped out of the confines of pre-established norms. The one game that comes close to achieving what BGE did so well as Ion Storm’s Anachronox, a game we talked about before.

Aged Like a Fine Wine

If I had a rupees for every time someone said that a game I usually recommend has not aged well, I would probably have the money to buy 1 litre of petrol for my motorcycle for every day of the week (bad political joke). As much as it pains me to admit it, a lot of 3D adventure games from the late 90’s early 2000’s has not aged well. But that isn’t the case with Beyond Good and Evil. From the art design to gameplay, BGE still holds up. In fact, it plays better or is on par with many of the AA games released today. The controls are spot on and fluid, combat- although limited, is fun and engaging and there are no labyrinthian level design or outdated mechanics to be found within. All you have to do to get it running on modern hardware is to follow one or two Steam Community guides that don’t take up more than 5 minutes. In every sense of the word, Beyond Good and Evil has aged like a fine wine.

Immersion is the Middle Name

It’s hard to find a similar game from the early 2000’s that goes all out to provide a totally organic sense of immersion than Beyond Good and Evil. The game puts a large focus on translating player inputs to the in-game presentation. Almost every action the player takes is translated in-game through organic interaction between Jade and the environment. Want to save your game? Then you have to guide Jade to an Mdisk Decrypter and watch as she opens her bag, pulls out an optical disk, put it in the reader and logs in to the computer to save the game. It may sound tedious in words, but in-game, the process is seamless and natural. Opening doors, accessing stores, picking up items, taking photographs- everything is well animated and goes a long way to provide that sense of organic immersion. Almost everything you want is laid out in the environment and the UI. Hence you’re not required you to go through multiple menus to find what you need. This level level of immersion which was later found in Ubisoft’s own Far Cry 2.

Another Place, Another Time

BGE is the rebel prodigy of Ubisoft, a relatively obscure beacon that constantly reminds us of the creative freedom and sheer brilliance the company once held. Many people consider Prince of Persia as Ubisoft’s magnum opus and with good reason. But if you ask me, Ubisoft knocked it out of the park with Beyond Good and Evil, an effort that is widely underappreciated and underrated. It’s a shame that the limited technology of the time severely hampered what more it could have been. In some places in the game, you can almost smell the disappointment of the developers, being unable to push it to the next level. From the name of the title and its application in the story to the technical limitations of the world design, there are concepts didn’t come to fruition. It was born 10 years too early. Perhaps another place, another time, and you could have been so much more. Despite its shortcomings, BGE doesn’t hold back and throws everything it has to you. There’s no denying the fact that it’s a game way ahead of its time.

In short, BGE the kind of game that makes you feel alive. It has so many things going for it and it and all these elements work combine together and give birth to something truly enchanting. All the more reason to be excited about Byond Good and Evil 2.

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