Let’s travel back in time over a decade to the most culturally barren era in living memory – the early 2000’s. The wallet chain is an essential fashion accessory, Pop Idol is still on TV, and my hair is irresponsibly long. For some inexplicable reason, I have one particularly vivid memory from those darker times; I’m sat on the floor of my living room, probably wearing a KoRn t-shirt and wondering why life is so unacceptably awful in every single way when, all of a sudden, this advert pops up on the TV.
Immediately I deemed that Beyond Good and Evil was going to be shit. I can’t say why exactly, but I think it’s because I suspected that the combat would be an unforgivable mess. While time may have proven me right in that respect, the opinions of a 13-year-old boy should never under any circumstances be taken seriously. It’s been a worryingly long time since those days and I don’t remember much else from those days but this one memory, or at least a broad interpretation of it, has stuck.
Presumably, millions of other people shared my same attitude to Beyond Good and Evil because it was a resounding commercial failure. Since then, however, it’s been blessed with the dubious honour of becoming a cult classic and a sequel was even announced in 2008. However, this second installment never appeared and Ubisoft has spent the last eight years coquettishly flirting with the fanbase as trailers emerge, rumors are denied, and Michel Ancel continues to make allusions to “interesting” projects when asked about the status of the Beyond Good and Evil 2.
The latest news comes in the form of a trademark for Beyond Good and Evil 2 with the European Union Intellectual Property Office. A quick search fails to bring up any results however. While I’m unsure what the significance of that might be, the news has aroused modest levels of intrigue across the internet.
To me, the real question seems to be less about when Beyond Good and Evil 2 is set to materialise, and more whether we even want it to? Honesty, I don’t think fans of the original want a sequel as much as they think they do which sounds patronising, I know, but I’ll be the first to admit guilt when it comes to letting nostalgia hijack my frontal lobe. Far too often I’ve lost my ability to think rationally as I’m overcome by memories of an idealized past that never truly existed.
I first played Beyond Good and Evil nearly five years ago now. It served as little more than a tool to help my waking hours expire and I made no effort to analyse or critique the game. I simply let it wash over me and it was pretty okay. It also had a camera so bad I got motion sickness and things only got worse as it essentially devolved from a hearty action-adventure romp into Gerudo Fortress from Ocarina of Time stretched out over 10 hours. Y’know, that dreadful bit where you sneak around the visual and gameplay equivalent of cold, gelatinous porridge, questioning why you even still exist, unsure what lies beyond this mortal coil but certain it’s better than what you’re playing in that exact moment.
More recently I took advantage of the free HD remake on PSN. I activated the fondness modules of my brain and gleefully dove in. The bits I remembered liking were still there, but they were fewer than I recalled, and certainly not nearly as good. Spurred on by the few shining moments that did little to compensate for the cringe worthy dialogue and tepid story, I begrudgingly made it all the way up the the shamefully designed final boss.
I know it was 2003, but for a game that is so fondly remembered for it’s likable characters, I find myself at an utter loss as to what is so appealing about Jade, Pey’j and their thoroughly tedious plight. Any sense of intrigue in the world of Beyond Good and Evil melted away before the end of the first act. Any new addition to the series would likely struggle to reclaim what it already cast aside.
What is interesting about Beyond Good and Evil however is the genes that it passed on to other Ubisoft titles. Michel Ancel himself noted that “In many ways, [Beyond Good & Evil] is an inimitable game–it appeals to all generations of gamers and is an inspiration behind many of Ubisoft Montpellier’s past and future games.” You can certainly see the similarities when compared with Assassin’s Creed and Ubisoft Brand Videogame Experience.
This is where we really get to the crux of the issue though (it took me nine paragraphs to get here, but it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do). We’ve seen how Ubisoft treats it’s intellectual properties in recent years; ceaselessly churning out one messy, identikit installment after another. Assassin’s Creed and FarCry have remained practically unchanged with each successive installment and new IPs are little better.
Perhaps you’re a big fan of Ubisoft’s endless stream of functionally identical games, and that’s fine, but the thing that endeared many to Beyond Good and Evil all those years ago was its uniqueness. Much like how AC/DC wrote only one song but kept successfully changing the lyrics , Ubisoft make one game but simply change the aesthetic of the radio tower you will inevitably have to climb.
That’s not to say that these games are bad. I liked Far Cry 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood but later installments in those same series lost any appeal after a few short hours. Why? Because they lost any sense of individuality, a sentiment that I have now extended to effectively all Ubisoft titles, even the Heroes of Might and Magic series; a franchise I adore and one that has been summarily pillaged by Ubisoft as they increasingly fail to understand what made HoMM good with each successive installment.
This isn’t the same studio that made that Beyond Good and Evil all those years ago. It’s the studio that releases a buggy Assassin’s Creed game every year and, when it’s not doing that, its outsourcing the IP to be bastardized by Hollywood. We all know how videogame adaptions turn out so lets not pretend this is going to be any different.
So what’s the appeal in a sequel? Is the story of Beyond Good and Evil so compelling that we need to experience the conclusion? Was the world so full of vigour and intrigue that we need to dive in once more? Was the game itself such an unmitigated delight that we simply must consume every drop we can? No. It was modestly interesting world let down by unlikable characters and a plot development so arbitrary it caused me emit a noise of genuine disdain. What few aspects of the gameplay that were enjoyable or interesting have since be chopped up and recycled in the mundane parade that is triple-A development.
It’s okay if you still want a sequel. It’s totally fine if you think I’m wrong and the original was the greatest game ever made. If anything, I envy your lack of cynicism, but Beyond Good and Evil has been put on an unworthy pedestal and any sequel will only disappoint. Move on. Let go. Be free.