Beyond Beyond Good and Evil

17 08 2011

I miss having a used game shop on the walk home from school. There it was on the road to the train station, a neat little place that wasn’t exactly the cheapest of the cheap but was always guaranteed to have something interesting on the PC shelf to the right. I picked up Knights of the Old Republic and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time from there, along with a few other random games that happened to catch my eye. Anyway, I’ve gone on this nostalgia trip because I bought a near 8-year-old used game for £1.50 yesterday, my first pre-owned buy for a good long while.

I’d heard many good things about Beyond Good and Evil, with the usual phrases like ‘cult classic’ and ‘best game evar’ popping up here and there, and despite a little bit of cynicism on my part I decided that one and a half measly pounds probably represented fairly good value for money. Even if the internet is prone to bouts of immense bias in both praise and criticism, there had to be some substance behind the plaudits the game has received.

There certainly is. It’s a classic action-adventure title that isn’t particularly challenging or complex, but provides plenty of varied stuff to do, from skimming a hoverboat around the city to earning money by photographing animals, alongside the main expose-the-conspiracy plot. Most importantly, it radiates character and individuality in every scene. There are still modern games that do this, obviously, but I haven’t played a game that does it in such a pleasant way for quite some time. Beyond Good and Evil is charming rather than striking.

What hits me most about it, though, is that I cannot see a game as inventive as this being released today by anyone other than an indie developer. It has that glorious balance, struck in the closing years of the previous console generation, with imaginative, very noticeably non-mainstream design on one side and the production values of a top developer and publisher, in this case Ubisoft. I’m not about to argue that there’s no innovation these days and proclaim that gaming is slowly dying, but it’s certainly changed a heck of a lot in the space of less than ten years.

Gaming needs more talking pigs.

An argument has been building steam for some time now that the cost of game production is so prohibitive, because of ever-more advanced and expensive technology, that only two types of developer will have success: those producing triple-A content and backed by the enormous wallets of the major publishers, and indies focused on much smaller packages sold on the cheap to mobiles or via services like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade. I’m fairly sure that those in the middle will not be squeezed out despite the doom and gloom, but Beyond Good and Evil really makes me hope that the mega-publishers and their hugely profitable studios will find time in between their hectic sequel-making schedule to once again try out a few more experiments. Who knows, they might create another cult classic and maybe the best game evar.

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