Friday, March 20, 2020
For the past month or so I’ve been diving into my backlog of games, most recently with Beyond Good & Evil, and it’s a fascinating game to play over sixteen years later. Simultaneously of its time and ahead of it, you can see glimpses of Michel Ancel’s lofty ambitions each time the game is fired up. The very first image you’re met with is an entire galaxy of stars set against the backdrop of space, before even the Ubisoft logo appears, then, shifting to what looks like a black hole on the title screen. This opening invokes the grandeur of space, interstellar travel, big sci-fi ships and myriad planets, but it also belies the much smaller scope of the original Beyond Good & Evil. Now, over 15 years later, it looks like Beyond Good & Evil 2 may finally match that grand ambition in a game that appears almost unrecognisable from the original.
Playing Beyond Good & Evil HD for the first time, my mind kept wandering to the upcoming sequel. Until recently, I’d only really glimpsed trailers for Beyond Good & Evil 2 during E3 conferences, with no context for the original game, and finally playing through it raised more questions than I was expecting. What on earth is Beyond Good & Evil 2? The more I played, the more I searched out any information I could find about the follow-up, and I was stunned to find how big of a departure the upcoming next chapter seems to be.
The original Beyond Good & Evil, for all of its sci-fi trappings, is decidedly terrestrial. The vast majority of the game takes place in a small section of the planet Hillys, with players able only to visit a few islands and locations via hovercraft. Even Hillys City, the capital named after the planet itself, is nothing more than a collection of a dozen buildings and maybe thirty civilians. Eventually, you do break beyond the confines of the planet’s atmosphere, travelling to a local moon, but by then the game is nearly over. Beyond Good & Evil 2, conversely, promises a vast open-universe from the off, with massive cities to explore, your own space pirate crew to command, and the ability to go absolutely anywhere and everywhere. You can create your own character, and tell your own story. It appears to be a huge departure from what the original game was.
Looking at these details and rewatching the trailers and gameplay updates, I’m not exactly sure who Beyond Good & Evil 2 is for - is this massive open-world space pirate simulator going to please those who’ve been asking for another game in the series for so long? As a prequel, it doesn’t serve to carry the story forward, but instead flesh out the world of the games. Is that what fans wanted? Beyond Good & Evil 2 may not be just for the fans, though - it almost feels more like a passion project for Michel Ancel, a culmination of everything he wanted to do with the original game, but wasn’t able to at the time.
“We wanted to pack a whole universe onto a single CD - mountains, planets, towns. The idea was to make the player feel like an explorer, with a sense of absolute freedom,” the Rayman developer stated back in 2002, when the game was still in development and simply known as ‘Project BG&E’. However, restricted by technology, budget and publisher feedback, Beyond Good & Evil ended up a much smaller game than Ancel originally intended. A fantastic game for its time, the original BG&E was more cinematic than many of its peers, with themes of politics, facism and the power of journalism woven throughout. But it was not the grand open world that was originally envisioned. However, that original pitch does sound astoundingly similar to the premise for Beyond Good & Evil 2.
The deeper you dig into Beyond Good & Evil 2 and Project BG&E’s development, the easier it is to start to see the connections. The most obvious of those, of course, is the return of beloved characters Jade and Pey’j in the E3 2018 trailer. Based on Beyond Good & Evil’s finale, we know that these two characters have a mysterious past, one that Pey’j hid from Jade during her time on Hillys. The character we see in the prequel will not be the same kind, determined character we played as in the first game, and it does appear that we’re going to get answers about the mysterious DomZ alien force and the Alpha Section private military force.
These are answers players want, because the world of Beyond Good & Evil is so well realised, so confident in its sense of place, that the events that take place there mean something. In Hillys, where spaceships and human-animal hybrids exist alongside European-style canals and Asian markets, Michel Ancel’s talent for world building is evident. Should it really come as a surprise, then, that he decided to make Beyond Good & Evil 2 a prequel - to build down into the foundation of that universe, rather than building up?
There are smaller connections, too. The new spyglass tool, which allows you to spot enemies from afar and scan their abilities before taking them on, echoes Jade’s camera from the first game. Staff-wielding combat makes a return, and the introduction of co-op players makes a lot of sense, considering Jade was very rarely alone on her adventures, instead accompanied by characters such as Pey’j or HH. The heart of Beyond Good & Evil is there in the sequel, even if it’s hard to see at first.
Ubisoft has released a surprising amount of information on Beyond Good & Evil 2, including gameplay demos, concept art and developer commentaries on its E3 trailers, and piecing it all together builds an image of a game that could be incredible, a culmination of a vision Michel Ancel had nearly twenty years ago. Given the time, the resources and the technology of next generation consoles, we might finally see this come to pass. If that doesn’t excite you, then I don’t know what will.
Friday, March 20, 2020 @ 09:53 PM
Sunday, March 22, 2020 @ 08:24 AM
Sunday, March 22, 2020 @ 04:28 PM