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Beyond Good & Evil's just got a new edition - and the game's always been different every time I've played it anyway

Say when Jade!

A promotional image for the Beyond Good & Evil 20th Anniversary Edition remaster showing main character Jade.
Image credit: Ubisoft

Even if the series wasn't stuck in development hell I would still say this: if any game is its own sequel, it's Beyond Good & Evil. With the news last week that we're getting a remaster with a bit of extra stuff in it, I went back to the original - almost the original, the Xbox 360 port that still runs on my Series X - to play the game once more and remind myself of why I love it so much. It was an odd experience - the game had changed a bit, in that I was drawn to different things in it, and I feel like I played through it in a slightly different way. But every time I've replayed Beyond Good & Evil it's been a different game, I think. Let's explore that.

My early memories of Beyond Good & Evil are all about waiting. Ubisoft's sci-fi action adventure was originally only on PS2, and over in GameCube land a port was promised, but the timing was always hazy. I remember reading about this weird game in Edge, though, in a preview which had rather dark, under-exposed screenshots. Here was a game in which you weren't a soldier but rather a journalist. Your planet, Hyllis, was under attack all but secretly, and you were effectively fighting an information war to expose the truth. How different, I thought. How French! And the game's sci-fi world was European too, by turns classical, with all those canals on Hyllis, all that honeyed stone in the buildings, and silly, like a French comic strip filled with talking animals: pig mechanics, space whales. Moebius meets The Fifth Element.

So the first time I actually played it, I think it was just relief. Here was this game I had been after for ages, and what it seemed like, more than anything, was a Zelda game. The health system was similar, with the player collecting heart containers to give them more life. The combat gave you a melee attack and, eventually, a sort of ranged option. And you moved across an intricate, soulful overworld before diving into what amounted to dungeons. That first playthrough I think I was just marvelling at how the rules and rituals of Zelda had been carried across, re-examined, how the experience had been shifted from fantasy to science fiction, and how the narrative had shifted to a different kind of quest.

Here's a Let's Play of Beyond Good & Evil.Watch on YouTube

Second replay, I think I was looking over a girlfriend's shoulder. This was the first and probably only modern console game they'd played, and what gripped them more than anything was the story. So this was my story pass too. I was fascinated this time by the way it's a game about news media: the planet is being invaded in a sort of false flag operation that allows the real baddies to destroy everyone's freedoms and rob the place of its resources. But this means it's an action adventure in which there's always a TV blaring the news back at your hub. There's an idiotic anchor who travels around spreading lies and cutting short interviews when they get out of hand. Dungeons may have bosses and platforming challenges and stealth, but they build towards you taking photos, and, in fact, the hero Jade's main item in the game isn't the staff she wields in combat, but the camera she uses to expose conspiracy.

Third replay, I think I had just gotten into photography a bit myself, so the camera was my main focus. Jade's camera is a beautiful, chunky thing, with lovely grips and a massive lens, and you can switch to it at any point in the action with the press of a bumper. You use it for the main missions, but you can also just point it at whatever you like. Taking snaps in a video game works its peculiar magic here as it always does: it makes the world feel much richer, and it makes the player feel like they're really inhabiting this space.

Jade from Beyond Good & Evil 2.
Here's a glimpse of Jade in the sequel. Will we ever see more of this game? | Image credit: Ubisoft

Throw in a collection side-quest where you have to capture a picture of every form of life on Hyllis, and the camera really is the game, or it can be if you want it to be, if you're either deeply alert to each scene or a bit of a completionist. But the camera also led me through to an understanding of something else about Beyond Good & Evil and why people continue to love it so much. It takes its fiction very seriously.

And it does. On the camera pass, I noticed how much incidental detail there was in the world, how the health items, K-Bups and Starkos, really felt like snacks that people loved and hoarded - and that might, in one puzzle, tease a shy but hungry critter into the view of the camera lens. There's more though: the lighthouse hub where Jade lives is filled with clutter and storytelling details, and all of Hyllis has a sense of history, and of history as a thing that is built upon, and occasionally buried. As with Half-Life, the alien invasion is told through a clash of aesthetics, of architecture - one style bolted cruelly on top of another.

Even more though: your interface for the game menu, a dial-based approach, is also Jade's interface within the game. When you first get to use it, you see Jade's finger manipulating the virtual buttons before you get to. Just as the Starkos and K-Bups have a place in the fiction, you save your progress using a disc and one of the terminals scattered around the place, and as you select your save disc, you might select one of the other playable info discs you've found on your journey too. The whole game wants to be coherent.

On my last playthrough this week, I'd spotted all that. I'd pondered the impact of giving a hero a camera rather than a gun. I'd thought about how a well-deployed collectathon adds to the world's wonder rather than flattens it into a task list. I'd thought about all the ways that the game wants to be a place as much as a series of challenges and interfaces. So what was left?

Pey'j was left. This was the playthrough that was all about friendship. About 10 years ago or so games started to get really interested in companion characters - games like The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. I remember going on trips, doing interviews with tech people, talking about AI and animation and trickery. But back here, long before all of that, long before Kratos had a son or Nathan Drake followed a stranger through a village without speaking, there was Pey'j. Silly, knockabout Pey'j, a pig who is also a mechanic, a puzzle piece in certain situations when you have to push something or weigh something down, but also more simply a friend and ally. Pey'j is in this alongside Jade. He keeps you company, along with a few other cast members, through the game's challenges, and when it comes to upping the stakes, it's Pey'j the game puts in danger, and it's Pey'j who gets the cliffhanger.

The friendship between Jade and Pey'j seemed miraculous on this playthrough. Not because I was marveling at the tech or the animation or the way the designers fitted it all together. But because I wasn't thinking about any of those things at all. Pey'j and Jade were just natural companions, a natural double-act. They weren't smoke and mirrors. They were pure storytelling.

So. Do I want to play the new remaster and see what's new? I think it's safe to say I probably will - I must be on my sixth or seventh replay now and I should probably see everything. Do I want that sequel, if it ever happens? Yes, definitely, but with a caveat. The caveat being I've played this first game so many times and it's always been different. I sort of wonder if a new game can improve on that in any meaningful way.

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