There are two ways games are announced these days. Either we hear about them when they’re practically being loaded onto the pallets ready for shipping, or long, long before, when they’re little more than a logo and a twinkle in their creative director’s eye.
Beyond Good & Evil 2 belongs to the latter camp. Even its current - and let’s hope final - iteration is likely years from release, having emerged at E3 2017 on “day zero” of its development.
While it’s lovely to see a little more of the game as each E3 rolls around, it’s hard to know where to put all that preemptive energy in the meantime. I suggest ploughing your appetite for talking monkeys, space, and spirituality into these excellent games. Stick all of ‘em in your mouth at once and they’ll taste like Beyond Good & Evil 2.
Giants: Citizen Kabuto
Jetpacks are a standard part of your equipment in Beyond Good & Evil 2, just as they were in Giants: Citizen Kabuto, which sets you adrift across the surface of a Pacific-styled planet. But this cult classic had more than equipment in common with Ubisoft Montpellier’s vision for action-adventure among the stars.
It’s got a comedy crew - cockney troublemakers, like BG&E2’s hybrid monkey in the crow’s nest, Knox. In fact, Giants is one of the funniest games ever made: a Monty Python-esque journey between set piece sketches. But it doesn’t let the jokes get in the way of its sense of wonder.
Like Jade’s 2003 adventure, Giants was born from a time when triple-A budgets weren’t high enough to make publishers especially risk-averse. That led to one-off jet ski races, RTS-lite base building, and godzilla-like monster sequences. Yep: Beyond Good & Evil 2 won’t be the first game to play around with scale.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty!
Michel Ancel and his team managed to blend goofy science fiction with some very serious political subtext in Beyond Good & Evil. Which is exactly what another leftfield auteur, Lorne Lanning, has long done with the Oddworld series. Although New 'n' Tasty! is ostensibly about a faraway planet where googly-eyed Mudokons plod about wielding telepathic powers, that distance breaks down pretty quickly once you consider that much of the game takes place in ‘zulags’ - meat processing plants where Mudokon slaves work to improve the profits of a cruel company. Profits aren’t good enough, and so the Mudokons themselves become the central ingredient of a new ‘n’ tasty product.
This anti-capitalist satire could’ve been heavy-handed, but during play it’s so slapstick and inventive that its message slides easily down the throat, like something that comes in a tin from RuptureFarms. And despite its origin in the ‘90s, it’s more relevant today than ever.
Before Beyond Good & Evil 2, Ancel and his team rebooted Rayman in wildly successful fashion with Origins and Legends. What had once been a rather unforgiving 2D platforming series became a freewheeling co-op masterpiece about holding down the sprint button and never letting go.
While the bulk of Ubisoft Montpellier moved on to BG&E2, a subset of developers struck out on their own as Magic Design Studios, creating a combat-centric platformer that builds on the lessons of modern Rayman. In truth Unruly Heroes doesn’t quite reach the sublime heights of Rayman Origins, but it has the same raucous energy and love for music that distinguished this team’s past games. What’s more, like BG&E, it has a mythical edge to it. Based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, Unruly Heroes casts you as both a monkey king and spectacularly rotund pig - just two of the characters you switch back and forth between in battle.
While the original Beyond Good & Evil promised the stars as its endgame, space travel is sewn far more convincingly into the fabric of its sequel. Early demos have shown a player zipping up between the high-rise temples of Ganesha City and out through the atmosphere into orbit, from which vantage point they can use their spyglass to determine the site of their next adventure on the ground far below.
It’s still hard to imagine precisely how that interstellar element will emerge in the finished game, but one marvellous precedent springs to mind. The game that Chris Roberts worked on before Star Citizen, Freelancer strikes a successful balance between ambition and accessibility. Rather than sticking you deep in a cockpit like the space sims, it pulls back for mouse-controlled combat - yet still indulges in the fantasy of trade between galaxies and asteroid field piracy.
Beyond Good & Evil didn’t arrive from nowhere. To understand its origins you need to return to the far more commercial game that came before it. Rayman 2 was Ancel’s first foray into 3D games, and more than that, the birthplace of the coherent worldbuilding and themes that came to fruition with BG&E.
Both games feature a militaristic group responsible for abducting and imprisoning the citizens of an idyllic land - in Rayman 2’s Glade of Dreams, butterflies flutter and even the mushrooms dance giddily. Only here the enemies are robo-pirates, clanking steampunk villains who even draw the skull and crossbones on their self-piloting cannonballs.
Rayman 2 is a simpler platforming affair than Beyond Good & Evil’s genre mashup, but you can see the DNA in everything from Rayman’s Pey’j-like companions to the seemingly Buddhist spirituality of his world. If any game can claim to be the prototype for BG&E, it’s this one.