Something of a curiosity even when it originally launched in 2003, Beyond Good & Evil is a flawed-but-intriguing gem of a game. It falls very neatly into that cult-classic category of left-field games that were critically acclaimed at launch, but ‘had difficulty finding an audience’ — publisher-speak for ‘it tanked’.
BG&E is fondly remembered by those that discovered it on launch, and again by those who played the 2011 HD remake (still available digitally on PS3 and Xbox 360, and still really playable).
Now, with the official announcement that a sequel is in development after years of rumour and speculation, let’s revisit the original, and explore what made it unique and ahead of its time with some of its features.
No, it’s not exactly completely unique to have a number of different genre influences within a game. But to do it properly, blending each genre-type into a satisfactory gameplay whole, is far from easy, and something BG&E manages really well. There’s the Zelda-ish third person action and melee combat elements, the Tomb Raider-like exploration and block-pushy puzzle solving, the open-ended RPG feel of the overall game world (complete with upgradeable vehicles with which to traverse it), and even a photography slant that is heavily reminiscent of Pokémon Snap. And each element is implemented in a way that makes it feel natural to the way the game unfolds. Nothing feels tacked on or added in
The gaming industry is criticized (often quite rightly) for not having enough believable, three dimensional female characters. BG&E gave us Jade, a realistically-proportioned, believably motivated, resilient, female lead, and it did it 13 years ago. For comparison, in 2003 Lara Croft still looked more like an inflatable sex-doll than a credibly-shaped human woman.
We empathise with our protagonist, Jade, as she undertakes her journey of discovery, even despite the surreal nature of the setting and characters around her. Because some thought has been given to her motivations, her plucky, can-do attitude feels earned, rather than inserted just to drive the story forward, so we’re along for the ride, even when Jade puts herself in danger.
In the current gaming climate, modern gamers hungry for a meaty, story-focused single player game can feast on any number of titles, with the indie sector in particular pushing boundaries in this area. Go back a few years, and it wasn’t always easy to scratch that itch. BG&E stood out because, even back then, it got how important narrative is.
The game introduces Jade, and the weird and wonderful, cheerfully Gallic world she inhabits, and without much explanation…just gets on with it. It’s a game confident enough in the quality of its story that the player will become invested and pick up the info they need as they go. You, know, like some of the best movies in history.
Beyond Good & Evil is one of gaming’s truly great oddities, and it’s fantastic that it’s getting a sequel, especially because a current-gen remake/remaster may have made more financial sense when you take into account sales of the original game. I’m genuinely interested to see how developers can expand on this distinctive universe with the latest hardware, and how they can bring their unique brand of narrative to a new generation of gamers.