Have you ever played Beyond Good & Evil? Drop whatever you’re doing and go play it. It’s just ten bucks on Steam, and I promise it’s worth every penny. I can just tell that you’re longing for a game about government conspiracies and investigative journalism, full of interesting characters and funny dialogue, set on an alien planet with a complex, non-sexualized, utterly kickass woman protagonist of ambiguous race. Oh, and there’s an ongoing side quest where you go around taking photos of alien wildlife for cash. Seriously, just go play it right now. This post can wait.
Sadly, wonderful as it is, Beyond Good & Evil does have one major flaw: its developer, Ubisoft. No, I’m not talking about their self-declared incompetency when it comes to animating half the human population (though more on that later). I’m talking about how they gave us the first installment in a three-part story, halfheartedly made vague gestures of support towards the production of its sequel, and then wandered off to more exciting things like rendering beard stubble for the next twelve freaking years.
Beyond Good & Evil was released in 2003. It’s now 2015. (Half Life fans, I feel your pain.) Although rumors of the game’s continued development still surface from time to time, the signals are growing fainter with each passing no-show at E3. Is there still hope for Beyond Good & Evil 2? Or has it been lost forever in the mires of development hell?
Well, I’m an incurable optimist, and this is one of my favorite games ever made. So, once and for all, here is my rant list of reasons why Ubisoft needs to take a quick breather from trying to churn out a new Assassin’s Creed game every six months, and let creator/developer Michel Ancel finish what he started over a dozen years ago.
Beyond Good & Evil was originally conceived by creator Michel Ancel as the first installment in a trilogy with a cohesive story that extended over the course of three games. In keeping with this sort of story arc, the first game not only ends with a major cliffhanger, but leaves the player with a heap of unanswered questions. I won’t discuss specifics to avoid spoilers, but wow. What just happened? Is everyone okay? And are those last couple seconds of the post-credits scene a new twist, or a new angle into every single thing that’s happened up to this point?
The most recent sign of life from the game was in 2014 when Ubisoft told Engadget and IGN that Beyond Good & Evil 2 will be a game which “aspires to push past the boundaries of a proverbial sequel.” What exactly that means, if anything, is debatable, but to me it implies a game which continues, expands, and complicates the story from the first game, rather than just sending off on a new set of adventures. How thrilling! Now give it to me!
A lot of my love for this game springs from my love for its protagonist, Jade. From the moment the game starts, we’re given scenes that offer us a wonderful sense of her character. She’s bold, witty, skeptical, and capable of handling herself in a fight—but she’s also protective, caring, and burdened with adult responsibilities. Jade takes advice from others, but makes her own decisions, careful to learn all she can about the different factions at play before she picks a side. And, most importantly to me, Jade is allowed to show emotion. Jade experiences not just laughter and joy, but also sorrow, failure, and utter despair. While many adventure/thrillers would gloss over these moments, Beyond Good & Evil lingers on them, giving them their full weight and legitimizing Jade’s feelings by slowing the pace of the game until she’s ready to continue.
Apart from a little bare midriff, Jade is a refreshingly non-sexualized character dressed for action in long pants, comfortable shoes, and a tough but stylish jacket. Jade is a brown-skinned woman from the planet Hillys, and canonically “does not belong to any race,” according to the game’s PR manager in a lost interview from 2004. Whether this racial ambiguity is a positive thing, allowing players of many races to see themselves represented in Jade, or a negative thing, robbing players of a canonical woman protagonist of color, is open for discussion.
I could go on about how fab Jade is for a few more hours, or I could just let this Feminist Frequency video do the work for me and get back to my regularly scheduled ranting.
Sure, the stealth sections get pretty dang tiring after a while, but Beyond Good & Evil isn’t primarily a stealth game. It actually manages to find a strange fit between a whole lot of genres of video games, sampling each one without truly allying itself with any. At different times and places, it’s a puzzle game, a racing game, a fighting game, or an arcade game. Perhaps the one obvious genre it’s missing is an open-world component, which Ancel deliberately avoided because of his dislike of the mechanic in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. As a fan of exploration and open-world games, I’m hoping the “bigger and better” pressure of sequels will actually work in a positive way here, giving us a slightly bigger taste of Hillys and beyond. Leaked footage from a few years ago also suggests that the sequel may also add some foot chase/parkour elements reminiscent of all the best parts of Assassin’s Creed, which has me very excited.
And then there’s what is perhaps the most well-known and beloved mechanic of the game: Jade’s camera. I can only think of one or two other games, such as Portal or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which feature a single tool that is used so frequently and with such versatility throughout the game. Although Jade does acquire an upgrade that allows her to shoot little discs from her camera to cause minor damage, its primary function is not as a weapon. Jade uses her camera to gather evidence of corruption, to decrypt door codes, and to earn money by cataloging unique alien species. Jade’s camera is such a fundamental part of the first game that it seems inconceivable to me that they’d leave it out of the second. As to what new upgrades it’ll receive, we can only speculate.
Gonna be blunt here: Ubisoft still has a bit of a scuzzy cloud hanging around their name as a result of their whole “women-are-too-hard-to-animate” gaffe last year. I’m not particularly in a mood to give them any help with fixing that that, but putting their support behind a series with a well-written, non-sexualized woman protagonist might be a big step in the right direction. Ubisoft, your whole excuse for not giving AC: Unity a lady assassin was that you would’ve had to create a whole second set of animations from scratch. Guess what? With Beyond Good & Evil 2, you wouldn’t have to! Jade already exists! And you’re the ones who made her! Do something with that!
Beyond Good & Evil has a loyal fanbase even after all these years, and I still come across posts and tweets from people who’ve only just discovered the game for the first time. I only discovered it three years ago myself. The audience for this sequel is already ready and eager, but twelve years is a long time to stand in line for a ticket, and if Ubisoft doesn’t raise the curtain soon, people are eventually going to give up and go stand in line for something else instead. We can only wait so long before we decide it’s simply not worth it, and move on.
If speculation and leaked screenshots aren’t enough to convince you, just check out the gameplay trailer that was leaked in 2009. And if that was what the game looked like, unfinished, six years ago, then I truly can’t wait to play whatever it looks like as a finished game in 2015. Or 2016. Or 2017 …
Ubisoft? It’s your move.
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