Beyond Good & Evil – Throwback 20

There’s a trend in gaming where when a game is successful with critics and players it tends to get a sequel, often going on to spawn a series that produces more and more entries in an ever expanding franchise. There are some games that start off strong and end up petering out after a sequel or two, but these tend to be rare. Rarer still are games that are critically beloved, feature on lists of greatest games ever made, and who have big fan followings, that never receive a sequel. Beyond Good & Evil is, so far at least, one of these games.

Originally released on Playstation 2 and XboxBeyond Good & Evil takes players to the distant future of 2435, where humanity has expanded beyond Earth, and is inhabiting the stars. On the remote mining planet of Hillys, humans live alongside anthropomorphic animal people under the harsh rule of the Alpha Sections, a military dictatorship who oppress the population, claiming that it’s needed in order to protect them from the DomZ, an alien race that drains people life force.

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It’s on Hillys that players take control of Jade (Jodi Forrest), a young woman who lives in an island lighthouse with her best friend, the boar-like Pey’j (David Gasman). The two of them take care of orphans who have lost their parents to DomZ attacks, and do their best to keep them safe and secure. However, money is tight, and when the defensive shields can’t be powered due to lack of money, Jade accepts a photography job to try and pay the bills. This job soon leads her to getting involved with the local resistance group, the IRIS Network, who are trying to oppose the harsh rule of the Alpha Sections.

When Beyond Good & Evil was first revealed at E3 in 2002, showcasing the a different design for Jade and a much more linear and constricted game structure, it was not met well by the industry. This caused the development team at Ubisoft, under the direction of Rayman creator Michel Ancel, to rethink the approach to the game.

© 2003 Ubisoft.

Beyond Good & Evil is something of a dungeon crawling adventure game that takes some elements from The Legend of Zelda, that fans of that franchise will be familiar with, yet also combines exploration elements, photography side missions, hovercraft mechanics, and lots of stealth into a game that feels kind of fresh and original in its approach, despite being a weird chimera of things other games have already done. The player controls Jade from a third-person view, taking her through the world of Hillys, trying to discover the truth being hidden by those in charge.

Main game-play elements are stealth and exploration, and players will find themselves crouching and slowly making their way around a lot. However, these parts of the game are broken up by some puzzle-solving elements and environmental traversal such as jumping over pits and climbing that make the game feel as much of a platformer as it does a stealth-action experience. Whilst there are a lot of different elements in the game this was something that was initially criticised in some press outlets, who felt that it was never really able to go too deep into one area, and became a ‘jack of all trades, master of none‘.

© 2003 Ubisoft.

Whilst the game had some mixed to positive reviews, financially it did much worse. It sold poorly upon its release, and sales failed to pick up on the approach to the holiday season. Some retailers dropped the price, up to 80% in some stores, yet sales failed to materialise. At the time, Ancel blamed the fact that big name franchises were being released, and that people weren’t as willing to try out a new series: he said that it would take time for the game to be appreciated, and this turned out to be quite true.

Despite the low level of initial sales, to the point that the game was deemed a ‘commercial disappointment’, over time a cult following began to form around Beyond Good & Evil. The lack of sales didn’t stop award nominations, and the game was nominated across a number of awards, featuring on game of the year lists. It appeared on numerous lists for best games on its release consoles, and best games of all times lists. Fans would often bring it up in discussions, and it spread through word of mouth as more and more people recommended it.

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The popularity resulted in interest in a sequel, and a second game was announced in 2008. After the announcement, however, things went dark for Beyond Good & Evil‘s sequel, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the first trailer for the game (a cinematic trailer that showed no game-play) was released. It was also revealed at this time that the new game would be a prequel, not a sequel. Again, little news was released over the coming years, until Ancel left the studio in 2020, where he mentioned that it was still in development but without him. After his departure it was revealed in the press that Ancel had been connected to the accusations of rampant abuse at Ubisoft, and that this alleged behaviour was in part to blame for the long development time of the series. In 2022 it was confirmed that the sequel/prequel game was still in development and may take several years. It now has the longest development time for a video game, of more than 15 years.

Beyond Good & Evil is a mismatched game, one that combines elements from others, that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Despite this, it is an enjoyable experience, and the release of HD remasters has helped a new generation of gamers discover the fan favourite. Whether another game in the series will ever actually be released remains to be seen, but until then there’s always time to rediscover the original.

Beyond Good & Evil was released in the UK on 14th November 2003.

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