December 21, 2009

Before Beyond Good and Evil 2

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , — Michael Tucker @ 6:52 pm

Title Image by WildcatJF via deviantart

One day, sometime between now and the end of eternity, Beyond Good and Evil 2 will be released. Other than that, no one outside of the development studio knows much about the title. Every other bit of information regarding the game has been given in a mosaic of brief mentions by those attached to the project and unofficial announcements from corporate Ubisoft. While the fact that a sequel to the original is even in production should suffice for the happiness of its fans, the endless wait accompanied by the shroud of secrecy surrounding the title is enough to make one’s frustration with Ubisoft climb into the stratosphere.

It’s been six years since Michel Ancel’s Beyond Good and Evil bombed, and the game has greatly spread as a topic of discussion since. Beyond Good and Evil was in no way a trend setter or even a pioneer in some new form of game mechanic, but it is nonetheless beloved by many and lately has been showing up on quite a few “Best Games of the Decade” lists. Rather than trying to presumptuously claim to know why Beyond Good and Evil is loved by so many gamers (I’ve seen many great articles discuss the game and somehow very few of them retread the same ground), I opt only to explain why it is appreciated so much by this gamer.

From the human to pigman, to a society of animal hybrids, it is the memorable, relatable cast of characters that Ancel crafted for this game that makes the experience of playing it such pure, unadultered escapism. Beyond Good and Evil presents a world inhabited by characters as appealing as any of Disney’s in a story as mature and mysterious as any of Miyazaki’s. Somehow these characters, regardless of their status as fictional species, have such an ability to evoke emotional responses from the player that we are given a personal stake in their conflict.

A lot has already been said about the game’s protagonist, Jade, an independent and attractive character who is an underground reporter that also manages an alien orphanage. Story-wise there is no attempt to overly sexualize her or opportunistically crank up her angst levels so that she has greater appeal to an adolescent crowd. Jade’s visual appeal is not based on her sexuality – the size of her head is by far her biggest exaggeration. Sure, you can see her midriff and her plate-sized eyes and glossy green lipstick are unapologetically feminine, but from the minute Jade opens her mouth the player is given more reason to care about her personality than her physical apperance.

It is perhaps her tomboy behavior which makes her most attractive to players, but it is clear that Jade is driven by a very specific purpose, and the story sets her up as an interesting guardian figure instead of soulless eye candy with a high poly count. She is perhaps even more daring than other memorable game heroines like Metroid’s Samus, who embodies bravery but is muzzled into silence by a story developed in solitude, and Faith from Mirror’s Edge, who suffered the unfortunate circumstance of being in a cheesy action movie which would have played out exactly the same regardless of her gender and character. In making Jade the lead in this game, Michel Ancel took a risk by presenting a female character in a role typically reserved for men – the role as lead in an epic-form story with a lot of weight placed on character development, but he overcame tradition and masterfully crafted a game that was stronger than its peers because of this well made decision.

But no matter how great or unique a character Jade may be, without a competent supporting cast we would never see many of her defining characteristics and again, it is here that Ancel and his creative team excelled. Jade’s “uncle”, an anthropomorphic pig called Pey’j, is a memorable and somewhat mysterious figure who watches over Jade and ultimately drives the story through the final act of the game. Double H, an acquired sidekick who is the archetypal figure of machismo one would expect to fill the protagonist role, is depicted as a well intentioned but somewhat air-headed soldier who embodies everything that Jade is not. There is also the AI Segundo, who acts as a more direct guide to the player akin to Navi in the Ocarina of Time. Then, there is the requisite villain and true villain, General Kehck and the DomZ High Priest respectively, one of which spews incessant propaganda to deceive and manipulate the public and one who manipulates the other to serve a greater, undisclosed purpose. As Jade, the player interacts with each of these entities throughout the course of the game and it is through all these encounters that we see our main character grow as the story develops.

When speaking of the original Beyond Good and Evil I can’t forget to mention the game’s setting, a crucially important factor in understanding the characters as well as being a wholly interesting aspect of the game itself. Shortly into the game we learn that Hillys is a world bombarded with propaganda from the militaristic group known as the Alpha Sections and that it is also constantly under siege by their enemy, the extraterrestrial force known as the DomZ. This is an environment where the player knows that whatever the truth is about the invading force and the nature of their “protective” overseers, it is not what’s told to them through the official channels. This then rationalizes the existence of the guerrilla news group known as the IRIS Network for whom Jade ultimately becomes a reporter, and it is her relationship with this third group which illuminates the significance of the game’s title. This story is not about the war between good and evil, or the perceptions thereof, but of those caught in the crossfire of that war who decide to seek out the truth. Michel Ancel himself concisely explained Jade’s motivation thusly:  “She does not want to kill the bad guys. She wants to understand.” (link)

Beyond Good and Evil ends on a cliff hanger, where indeed the truth is revealed but in the process of revelation many more questions are raised. However, it is an ending so well presented that in no way could it be considered disappointing, having instead left fans eager to learn and play more within that world.

So then where is Beyond Good and Evil 2?  Despite a number of hints about the progress of the title over the past few years, including an actual teaser trailer back in 2008, the present state of the sequel is unknown. In early 2008, Ancel mentioned to JeuxVideo that he was working on the sequel, which had yet to be approved by Ubisoft, with a small team of around a dozen people. (link) Finally, during the Ubidays event the following May, Ubisoft revealed an official teaser trailer which showed Pey’j and Jade stranded on a desert planet. (link) It wasn’t much, but it was confirmation that the rich universe established in the first game would not go to waste.

In the year and a half since that teaser there has been no official word regarding the title. There have been rumors that it’s been put on hold and other talk refuting said rumors, but Ubisoft has yet to reveal the truth of the matter. Ideally, we’d be due for another reveal of the title sometime in the near future, but given the tumultuous nature of the games industry such an event could still be years away.

Beyond Good and Evil is a cult classic among games. It has one of the most realized worlds in gaming even if it only exists in a yet-to-be realized series. I think that the community should consider ourselves grateful for the promise of further exploring its universe considering our failure to support the first title. However, given the amount of love that the original has received from those who have played it and the eagerness with which we all wait for the sequel, I suspect that we won’t make the same mistake the next time around.

1 Comment »

  1. I just found my copy of Beyong Good and Evil for Gamecube since my brother had misplaced it after I lent it to him a few months back.

    The game should release by the end of 2010, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority release for Ubisoft at the moment…

    Comment by EdEN — December 27, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

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