Version tested: Xbox 360
There's not much to complain about, writing about games for a living. We're not working down a coal mine, curing cancer or tinkering with the Large Hadron Collider. But as idyllic as the job can seem, there are some minor frustrations. The main one is that the games you want to play often aren't the same as the games you have to play.
I guarantee that every games reviewer has a pile of discs at home, a stack of games they're going to get around to just as soon as the current assignment is out of the way. But then there's another assignment, and another, and the "treat stack" gets taller and taller, until the ones at the bottom might as well be fossilised.
That's what happened to me with Beyond Good & Evil. Everyone said it was great. Everyone said I should play it. But for one reason and another, I never found the time. Somewhere, deep in the tangle of cables and dusty CD cases under my TV, there's an original Xbox disc of Michel Ancel's 2003 classic, untouched by human hands for over seven years.
This is why I love digital distribution. It delivers an overlooked classic into my lap and finally makes it my job to do something I should have done under my own steam a long time ago.
Can a game so shrouded in cult praise deliver so long after the fact? Surprisingly, yes. Beyond Good & Evil is still a wildly ambitious game, often beautifully constructed and with its own distinct personality. Stacked alongside its modern descendants, like the less interesting but equally commercially-challenged Enslaved, its pioneering qualities are plain to see.
It has elements of Tomb Raider's exploration and block-shoving puzzle-solving. It's got an enjoyably fluid melee combat system. It's also a stealth game. It's got an open-ended RPG feel, with complete freedom to explore the over-world in upgradeable vehicles and linear dungeon-style mission areas.
And there are multiple bonus objectives and mini-games, should you fancy a break from the main story. From air hockey in alien bars to hovercraft races and ongoing wildlife photography assignments, this is a game with no shortage of things to do.
Crucially, all these elements blend seamlessly into one another rather than clanking along as mismatched ideas. It all adds up to a rich, varied and lively gameworld that positively demands your attention.
And what a world it is. Beyond Good & Evil drops you into an extremely bizarre scenario and then leaves you to work out its peculiar wrinkles for yourself.
You won't find stodgy exposition or lengthy cut-scenes spelling out the back-story here. You're simply introduced to Jade, our hero, with the minimum of fanfare, and before you can ask why her uncle is a pig or why she lives in a futuristic lighthouse with a bunch of truculent orphans, the story is already tugging you along, filling in the blanks (or not) as it sees fit. It's bold, unapologetic and delightfully whimsical.
The broad strokes quickly fall into place. We're on the planet Hillys, a curious colony populated by humans and – for no apparent reason – anthropomorphic animals. The planet is under attack by alien invaders called DomZ. Protection appears in the form of Alpha Section, a rather creepy military force that inserts itself between the alien attackers and the population of Hillys.