Game Chang­ers: Beyond Good & Evil

Crit­i­cally ac­claimed, com­mer­cially un­suc­cess­ful, and yet still an im­por­tant touch­stone for the evo­lu­tion of ac­tion games. We take a look at why

Games TM - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper: Ubisoft Pub­lisher: Ubisoft Re­leased: 11 Nov 2003 Sys­tem: PS2, PC, Xbox, game­cube

Crit­i­cally lauded and com­mer­cially stunted, Ubisoft’s am­bi­tious ad­ven­ture has still gone down in his­tory as a ma­jor pil­lar of gam­ing’s ma­ture evo­lu­tion as an art form. We re­flect on why that has hap­pened

NOT All game-chang­ers are ma­jor suc­cesses. Alas, some­times even time doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily prove their fi­nal qual­ity, but some­how, against the odds and their own na­ture they help to shape the fu­ture of games, and be­come a must-play ex­pe­ri­ence for the im­pact they ul­ti­mately had on all that fol­lows. Beyond Good & Evil is one such game.

michel An­cel’s am­bi­tious ad­ven­ture had its is­sues and it would be fair to say that time has not been kind in some re­spects, but the rip­ples its re­lease sent out through the in­dus­try can­not be de­nied. An­cel and Ubisoft mont­pel­lier’s sin­gu­lar vi­sion, its art di­rec­tion, its com­mit­ment to a par­tic­u­lar tone and to the clear def­i­ni­tion of its char­ac­ters have left a last­ing im­pres­sion on the games that have dared to fol­low in its foot­steps. It may not have man­aged to com­plete the jour­ney it set out on, but it cer­tainly lit the path for oth­ers to fol­low.

So, let’s be more spe­cific about this path. Com­ing off the suc­cess of Ray­man, An­cel put together a team of about 30 peo­ple with a wide range of cre­ative back­grounds.

There was game-de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, of course, but also team mem­bers with back­grounds in an­i­ma­tion and comics. There was a clear fo­cus on world build­ing and nar­ra­tive co­her­ence – things that had been ex­plored, cer­tainly, but per­haps not in some­thing quite so out­landish and not com­bined with such a sim­ple,

WITH SO MUCH OF THE WORLD AND STYLE OF BEYOND GOOD & EVIL BE­ING SO OUT­LANDISH, IT IS JADE WHO GROUNDS THE EX­PE­RI­ENCE

clear fo­cus: to give us as play­ers a pure feel­ing of free­dom and ex­plo­ration.

Now, those con­cepts are rather ab­stract and per­haps free­dom seems like an odd thing to cite when Beyond Good & Evil is a rel­a­tively lin­ear ex­pe­ri­ence, but this isn’t free­dom in the sand­box sense. What An­cel wanted to im­part was a sense of a free-form world where you were mak­ing move­ments and choices within set pa­ram­e­ters that felt or­ganic and nat­u­ral­is­tic, de­spite all of the out­landish things hap­pen­ing around you, and that was fun­nelled through the game’s hero­ine, Jade. Your ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing as Jade is so mul­ti­fac­eted and di­verse that it can’t help but feel free­ing com­pared to the more re­stric­tive abil­ity sets and ac­tiv­i­ties of most ac­tion games prior to Beyond Good & Evil. While the 3D Zelda games cer­tainly achieved some of this, Jade did it in a very dif­fer­ent style to link.

With so much of the world and style of Beyond Good & Evil be­ing so out­landish, it is Jade who grounds the ex­pe­ri­ence with her ap­proach and toolset. She’s a highly ca­pa­ble in­di­vid­ual, but there’s not much about her that seems im­plau­si­ble in re­al­ity. her fight­ing style is based in some­thing recog­nis­able as mar­tial arts. She doesn’t use a gun, but a stick, which im­plies she’s not com­bat trained in the tra­di­tional sense, but per­haps has some self-de­fence knowl­edge in­stead. She moves flu­idly and with great agility, but not su­per­hu­man lev­els of ei­ther.

In fact, there are many sim­i­lar­i­ties in how we would de­scribe Jade to what we would also say about some­one like Nathan Drake (apart from the firearms use). Both are ca­pa­ble, but not im­per­vi­ous. Both are pro­fes­sional, but of­ten in way over their head. And both of­fer deep and abid­ing con­nec­tions to not only them­selves, but the char­ac­ters around them. Per­haps one area in which Jade greatly dif­fers from Drake, how­ever, is in the fact that she can’t bring down the huge con­spir­acy

she helps to un­cover sin­gle-hand­edly. The best she can hope to achieve is to con­trib­ute to its down­fall through her ded­i­ca­tion and brav­ery.

Which re­ally brings us to Beyond Good & Evil’s defining game me­chanic and the one that has had a pretty sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing im­pres­sion on the in­dus­try: Jade’s cam­era. As a pro­fes­sional pho­to­jour­nal­ist Jade takes it every­where, and it is si­mul­ta­ne­ously her best source of con­sis­tent in­come (which you’ll need for up­grades through the game) and the weapon she needs to utilise to bring down the Domz. Ubisoft mont­pel­lier was beaten to mar­ket by Metroid Prime with its scan­ning tech­nol­ogy, but Jade’s cam­era feels far more re­lat­able thanks to its prac­ti­cal­ity. Through the lens of this de­vice you see the world as she does while si­mul­ta­ne­ously hav­ing it re­vealed to you. It might not be as densely pop­u­lated and emer­gent as worlds that would fol­low, but it is di­verse and strange enough to of­fer sur­prises along the way.

many of the top­ics and ideas that Beyond Good

& Evil tack­led were not nec­es­sar­ily new to gam­ing.

Po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, con­spir­acy, alien in­va­sion, se­cret so­ci­eties and rev­o­lu­tion have all had their role to play in ac­tion ad­ven­tures and fu­ture dystopian fic­tion, but the com­bi­na­tion of th­ese ideas with such a unique lead char­ac­ter, with such a re­lat­able world that was at once alien and fa­mil­iar, was new. While graph­i­cally the game may have dated, its art di­rec­tion, char­ac­ter de­sign and set­ting re­main in­cred­i­bly strong. It felt more like a Stu­dio ghi­bli world than some­thing we had seen from Ubisoft be­fore, and that was spe­cial.

Beyond Good & Evil im­per­fectly at­tempted to do a lot of things, but like so many games that at­tempt to merge many gen­res and me­chan­ics into one co­he­sive whole, the sum of the cre­ation is greater than its parts, and in the at­tempt it helped to form a new bench­mark for ac­tion games. It was a game about sto­ry­telling and im­mer­sion in a game world per­haps more than it was about puz­zle solv­ing or com­bat, and that shift in bal­ance was sig­nif­i­cant for the games that would fol­low. michel An­cel lit the way for those who would fol­low, and that’s a big rea­son why BG&E is so beloved.

Beyond­good&evil Konggame.

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