As regular visitors to Eurogamer will attest, we like Beyond Good & Evil. In fact, a couple of months back, Tom was moved to give the PS2 version a coveted 9/10, mentioning Michael Ancel's latest creation in the same breath as the revered The Wind Waker. So seeing as Ubisoft kindly sent us a preview version of the forthcoming Xbox version I took the opportunity to have a play through this critically acclaimed game myself.
Although Mr Mugs was happy to wax on about the similarities with Miyamoto-san's Cube classic, there are plenty more influences evident, such as the narrative/puzzle-led ambience (and visual grace) of Broken Sword, a hefty slice of the obsessive stalking mechanic of Pokemon Snap along with a dash of Jak II futurist kleptomania for good measure. Whatever the source of its many inspirations, it's a mixture of gameplay styles that succeeds in having the kind of broad appeal that ought to ensure its success, but as you probably know by now, BG&E flopped so badly that Ubi was forced to discount the product long before Christmas in an attempt to deal with serious overproduction issues, with reports across the Atlantic emanating this week that it was on sale as low as $9.99.
An accident waiting to happen
But these things happen, and a recent interview with Ancel in Edge revealed that he knew full well it wasn't going to be a mass market hit. After all, it took years for Rayman to fulfil its potential, and history has proven again and again that certain titles only succeed once they're available at a budget price. As the Frenchman admitted, introducing a new character franchise successfully in this license and sequel obsessed era is a huge challenge, and he knows it will take time for BG&E to sell. But we'd have to question the wisdom of releasing such a title slap bang in the middle of the peak Christmas period, while simultaneously giving the title such little pre-awareness and marketing that it was practically invisible to anyone but the committed hardcore gamer - and even they were busy being distracted by a dozen or so other games that had been hyped to the max, but promising to put BG&E on their ever growing list of games to buy.
The evidence so far is that the vast majority of you still don't view this as a priority purchase, and that's absolute madness. If this game had been released by Nintendo, it'd be revered, and currently near the top of Cube charts. Some of you still can't seem to come to terms with the fact that Ubisoft are making some of the very best games around at the moment, because, well, it's Ubisoft. A bit like admitting you quite like the look of that Skoda, but, well, you'd never actually buy one. What would the neighbours think?
Anyway, enough ranting about the fact that you're all nuts for not buying it. If we were consumers, we'd probably do the same [did I not buy my copy? -Tom] as there's something about the box art or the lead character or the by-the-numbers near-future setting that just doesn't seem to be that exciting at first glance, but you have to trust us on this one.
Letterboxes are for letters
What is impossible to deny is the stupendous quality of the art, and although the differences between this and PS2 version are almost imperceptible, it's without question one of the most beautiful looking games ever made. How they did this on the PS2 I'll never know, but it's no less impressive on its faithful transition to Xbox. I have to agree with Tom that the letterboxed format is a real puzzle, and it's exactly the same here. What is even more of a puzzle is that they didn't just give widescreen owners the option to fill the screen. God only knows why they did it; maybe technical issues, or a pretentious desire to lend it a filmic air. Whatever, it's just as unacceptable as playing a dodgy NTSC to PAL conversion, although in truth you learn to ignore it once you're engrossed in the game.
And it's hard not to get sucked in by the game more or less immediately. There's a pleasant unhurried ambience to the proceedings and so many non-essential things to do that it's possible to play for hours just snapping the many hidden animals or being stealthy in the pursuit of yet more pearls without ever actually playing one of the many 'proper' missions. And rather in the style of Broken Sword, the action is never a frustrating succession of death-by-jumping, with the necessary jumps and shimmies occurring automatically, while the puzzles are - in the main - logical and satisfying. But it's the dialogue, production values and storyline where BG&E shines magnificently and make the 6/10 we awarded BS appear even more justified in the light of the excellence on display here. Where BS' dialogue appeared stilted, clichéd and horrendously hammy, BG&E's is charming, with far more appealing characters that never once irritate by trying too hard to be funny. Similar to the Jak and Ratchet games, you warm to the cast and find yourself genuinely pulled through the game to find out what happens next.
It's never going to be the longest game in the world, but there is this J&D style urge to go back and hoover everything up because, well, it's enjoyable. Part of this enjoyment has to be credited to the sympathetic checkpoint save system. Rather than arbitrarily dump you back to the start of a level, any progress you make is checkpointed at regular intervals, meaning you're unlikely to be hurling your joypad in frustration and spending wasted hours stuck on the same part of an unenjoyable section. Like Pandora Tomorrow, Ubisoft has recognised that it's important to keep a gamer's attention right to the end - and risking losing your audience through a hateful difficulty spike is unlikely to be an issue here - hence the alleged 12 hour completion time (although this is 12 hours in Tom's world here - more like 20 in my bumbling experience).
It's a nine out of ten all day long
The version we've been given to look at only offers the first half of the game, but in all other respects this a finished version - after all, it's been out in the States for a while now. It's slick, bug free, the camera's occasionally an issue, but in almost all other respects it's close to perfect. If we could change one thing about the game it would be to have a map shortcut, as having to go into the menu and manually select it is a pain in the arse, given how regularly you use it. Aside from that I'd have to agree with more or less everything Tom wrote in his review including the score, and state that Xbox owners (and Cube when it turns up) owe it to themselves to place this firmly near the top of their must-buy list. Is there such thing as a cult mass market game? Er, there is now.