Opinions: My very conflicted thoughts on Beyond Good & Evil’s future

As you’ve probably seen, UBIsoft been in some shit lately. I won’t get too deep into that mess here, as this is meant to spiral off into a topic I’ve been wanting to address for some time anyway: the future of Beyond Good & Evil.

As I stated in the linked article:

As for me, this hurts. Beyond Good & Evil is my favorite game of all time, and while Michel Ancel or the team at UBI Montpellier haven’t been implicated as of the time of writing, just knowing that some of the aforementioned horrible execs helped in its creation to some extent sickens me on a deep and profound level. The game is about exposing corruption, standing up for the truth, and taking down those in power who tyrannize their people — perhaps an all too accurate portrayal of how UBISoft as a whole has devolved since 2004. Through this article, I have evoked the courage of my favorite character Jade to cast a light on these deplorable men who deserve the absolute destruction of their professional careers. While I may be disappointed in knowing Hascoët and others listed above may have their names in the credits, they cannot take away what already exists — BG&E is a game that rises above them.

In other words, nothing can take away the original brilliance and underdog tenacity of BG&E to me. It is a game that defies the corporate mandate to keep women out of leading positions, a game that truly challenges the status quo UBIsoft has developed, and serves as a hypocrisy spotlight through Jade’s efforts to uproot corruption and deceit. Even if Serge and Co. were working in UBIsoft at that time (and I am sure they were), they couldn’t snuff out the power of BG&E to say something political with a woman of color lead and a “down with tyranny” mantra.

However, now we have to come to the CURRENT UBIsoft.

The one that just had several execs kicked out or resign because of abuse at best and sexual assault at worse. Casual racism, homophobia, misogyny, the fucking works pouring out of multiple white men in power’s mouths towards their employees. The destruction of women having lead playable roles and the many excuses that corporate tried to spin to justify it. The near forced rape gameplay elements. THAT is CURRENT UBIsoft; the bed it has laid itself upon.

Beyond Good & Evil has tried to have a sequel before, but it was not to be.

It began with this trailer, teased in 2008. Clearly starring Jade and Pey’j, this show the duo past the events of the first game struggling on a seemingly new planet. It has humor, updated but apropos visual design, and a fair amount of intrigue. How did they get themselves onto this planet, how did their car break down, how long have they been there (51 flies worth of time?)…it was a perfect reveal for me. I was hype to the moon.

It was the last time the public saw this version of the game.

Press, meanwhile, did get the opportunity to see some gameplay, but you can see the corporate stranglehold already getting a grip on its gameplay:

Jade’s exploits in this city are no longer confined to the control scheme and mechanical structure of the original; it has been reconfigured into the UBIsoft template Assassin’s Creed had begun to establish. Jade is more fluid, able to leap and climb buildings, through windows, and fights in a manner not too far from one of the assassins in that franchise.

However, for reasons never fully disclosed, this version of the game was quietly canceled and the team shifted over to working on the two Rayman titles, Origins and Legends. A proper sequel would not come to pass for Jade, but around the mid 2010s or so, after I’m sure a lot of internal arguing with higher ups, Michel Ancel got a second opportunity to work on BG&E2, but everything previously designed and developed was scrapped. The game became a prequel with ambiguous design — something I go into here, so I don’t have to retread too much water. At E3 2017, the first thing UBIsoft showed off was this:

I still feel that the tone of this is too distant from the original game — there was no cussing in BG&E, for instance — and the visual design skews way too realistic for me…but I was still hype at the time.

A year later, another trailer:

This one brought in more familiar elements: Pey’j, the Alpha Sections, JADE…it even name drops Shauni as our pilot. Definitely reading the reaction that there wasn’t much to connect the first trailer to the core game, and looks quite a bit closer to a modernized spin on the visual artistry of the first game. STILL a little too mature. But it was better.

However, UBIsoft has made some bad calls with BG&E2. The collaboration with HitRecord to attempt to incorporate fan artwork into the game fizzled very quickly when people noticed UBIsoft would basically be getting free artwork without any compensation to the artists. HitRecord and UBIsoft both quickly tried to mend the fence, but the damage was done. It was a poor PR move that undermined the game’s stunning trailer at E3 and frustrated fans who were already concerned about the direction of the prequel. The other major hurdle is the scope of the project. From what we’ve heard from Ancel and his team, the game takes place in a vast galaxy with fully explorable planets with civilizations and ecosystems; while this Eurogamer article is well before the E3 trailer salvos, it remains perfectly on point with the vision of this game. The problem is, there’s very little else about BG&E2 that can be pointed to because of this huge ambition. Demos have been difficult for the press to parse, and the public have yet to see gameplay for this. As we head into the next generation with PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s possible more concrete details will show, but it’s been a silent two years since 2018 with only occasional small updates provided through the Space Monkey Program fan group UBIsoft created for the game.

I now understand Ancel’s direction. It took a shitload of UBIsoft sexual harassment and assault revelations to make it all come clear, but I get the big picture now that all that came out — the team was effectively shut down for a sequel with Jade as the lead. Serge Hascoët had established a mentality in the past decade that women wouldn’t sell (despite evidence to the contrary), and Hascoët had full creative override on any project. This likely came about following BG&E’s relative failure at release, dumped alongside UBIsoft’s own Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and a packed 2013 holiday season with no real marketing push — a cruel self fulfilling prophecy. So Ancel pulled back and decided to go big or go home. The game would be retooled into this massive galaxy exploration game that would reveal Jade and Pey’j’s origins versus their continued adventures, and with a customizable protagonist they could get around that tricky woman lead question with Hascoët. But by dreaming for the stars, UBIsoft Montpelier has created a monster of a project that has taken two full console cycles to come to fruition because the current gen consoles weren’t powerful enough.

And yesterday, following all of the scandal brewing within UBIsoft, a Netflix movie based on the original was announced. It seems to be a way to retell the events of the game for audiences unfamiliar with it (which, given BG&E HD was not brought to Switch, PS4 or Xbox One, is pretty likely) to help give this lofty prequel some foundation to generate hype. And I WANT TO GODDAMN CARE but I just can’t get entirely behind it. Because…………………UBIsoft royally missed the fucking boat on what made the original game what it is!

Jade is the point. Jade is what made BG&E work in 2003, and her character arc, developed carefully into a mesmerizing revelation of who she truly is (on multiple fronts), made for captivating gaming. Her journey to unearth the truth is beautifully executed, and while development was crunched what made it in was so well done I adore every second of it. And the team, desperate to return to this world, has had to go entirely AROUND this premise to bring a new game in its universe to bear. And I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of interest in a game whose tone wildly breaks from its forebear just so it has more mature appeal; a game whose gameplay loops no longer match what was set in place long before this UBIsoft corporate-approved open world action stew is tossed out of the oven to conform to everything else they do; a game where Jade is no longer central to the plot but an accessory to a custom character that has NO bearing on what happens in the next documented narrative point, i.e. the original game. These all concern me. And the realization that Hascoët did this — crushed the dreams of the original sequel and demanded such a pivot that the result barely, if I squint, resembles anything approximate to my personal choice for GOAT — really just drives home how confused and disappointed I am in UBIsoft. How the fuck could things go so awry?

I want to say I am excited for the movie, and for the prequel, but I just can’t give out that energy any more. This is not BG&E2 as originally envisioned, and even then, it wouldn’t have likely been the proper and deserving sequel it should have been thanks to misogynistic management meddling. I hope the team at UBI Montpelier are at the very least having fun (and not being sexist abusers, like so MANY OTHER UBIsoft people) with establishing their new approach to this universe. That’s what I can wish for. That the team is happy with what they’re building.

For me, for what I seek from another BG&E, I realize now I would have never gotten a proper evolution for Jade. And I’m okay with that knowledge. Her adventure is still on my shelf and on my PS3, and it’ll never leave my heart. Even as its continuance leaves me behind.