The Kotaku Game Club is back.

I first mentioned the Kotaku Game Club here a year ago. After being active for a short time, the game club went on a long hiatus. But now, Brian Crecente has revived it. This week they will be playing Beyond Good and Evil, a highly-acclaimed game that you can download from Steam for $10.

Beyond Good & Evil

If you’re interested in participating, you’ll want to download and play the game soon; they’re discussing the game in four parts, and the first discussion happens on July 7.

In case I didn’t make it obvious enough, the Kotaku link introducing the new Game Club assignment is here.

Coincidentally, I just downloaded Beyond Good & Evil a few weeks ago when I was procrastinating prior to the final Braid crunch. And I played exactly up to the point Brian has set for the first discussion. I have to say that I don’t like the game very much, and I don’t understand why it’s so acclaimed, except that it has a personality and style that is different from most games. But a lot of people do like it; and it’s worth keeping in mind that I dislike almost every video game that gets published these days, so if you like a lot of games, I am not the person to listen to. This game also does not strike me as being especially meaningful, so I’m not sure why it is Game Club fodder; but then, I’m still early through the game, and there’s definitely still time for it to get deep. (When one chooses to adopt the title of one of Nietzsche’s most famous works, one is sort of expected to live up to that, you know?)

22 thoughts on “The Kotaku Game Club is back.”

  1. I think you’re the only person I’ve seen publicly state that they don’t like BG&E. Which is nice, because I didn’t like it either, and am kind of bewildered as to why it has this cult status. Ah well.

  2. Maybe nobody has ever played it, but they hear from people in the In Crowd that it’s a great game, so they repeat that it’s a great game, thereby becoming In?

    Heh. I’m sure people out there genuinely like it. But yeah, I don’t get it.

  3. Sign me up for publicly not liking BG&E. I bought it for Gamecube back in the day and didn’t like it.

    Parts of it are admirable. Like, I remember the world being expansive in a cinematic way, and the graphics being really good, and there just being a distinctive feel to the whole thing.

    But the game structure felt like Zelda sort of nerfed and funneled into a chain of set pieces without any strong rhythm/rules to the quest.

    Also a lot of the characters were painful. I wanted that pig to die from the beginning, and then eventually he gets leveraged for emotional involvement. Didn’t really work on me.

    Oh, and the Rasta rhinos?

    Most offensively, it opens with a long cut scene, lets you play for three seconds, then goes to another cut scene. What an awful way to introduce your game mechanics. Just throw a HUD up for three seconds with a bunch of crap you don’t understand, let you fumble around, and then take control away. And there are all these big decisive events happening around you in the cut scenes that have nothing to do with any of your actions as a player.

    It did have its own personality, and there was a lot of care put into certain things. The fact that it failed in the market sealed its place as a sleeper hit, or a diamond in the rough, or what have you. It is overrated, though.

  4. I played it too a few months after it got released because it seemed everybody was raving about it. I don’t remember much of the actual game, but I remember thinking I took a wrong turn somewhere and got the mundane ending. The game does a good job of faking freedom in the early parts, but it’s not long before you release you don’t really have any choice.

    The game really wasn’t at all meaningful. I think the art style and the hope that the good would come out at some point kept me playing until the end. At which point I concluded that the game was really overrated. Maybe the game club will come to the same conclusion, or point out the brilliance that I failed to grasp.

  5. I don’t dislike BG&E, but it’s little more than a fun Zelda-like with a different art style. Not “deep” in any sense of the word, but you could be spending your gaming time on much worse things. It got bonus points from me for being one of the few Zelda-likes on PC.

  6. I like the game. It’s enjoyable.. my guess is though, that I will forget it rather quickly.

    It is worth noting (if I remeber correctly), that the game did not sell very well.

  7. I think the thing about BG&E is its personality, as was mentioned. I agree the beginning is unfair with the cut scenes, and the game itself could be seen as Zelda-lite, with nowhere near the depth. All that to say, if it grabs you it grabs you, and it did me. I actually like the characters – including the pig – and was moved by the story. May put me in the “not-so-deep” category. That’s cool. It is interesting that so many people are calling it overrated. Isn’t the fact that it tried something even a little new, as far as gameplay is concerned, admirable?

    I’m not a programmer. Just like games with interesting stories. Thought this one had a good one.

  8. @pkt-zer0: I didn’t hate the game perse, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. Which were based on the word of mouth, that made me believe that this was the most awesome game ever. It turned out to be mediocre at best.

    @Tim: I actually really like Psychonauts. The core gameplay mechanics aren’t that great or innovative, but the individual level design makes up for that in full. Especially the middle part in the asylum is great.

    @Little Boot: While it’s been a while since I’ve played it, I think that if there was anything new I would’ve remembered. I agree that doing something new is admirable, I just don’t see how it applies in this case.

  9. Perhaps using the word “new” was not exactly accurate. More appropriate may be the word “different.” I was thinking in terms of your character being a photo-journalist, and the integration of the camera into the gameplay. It was different than standard “weapon” games, and gave BG&E a slower feel than most games, which I think is nice. Modern games are always shoving you forward, forward, forward. BG&E wasn’t exactly pastoral or anything, but it did have the most laid-back feel of any apocalyptic, hero-must-save-the-world game I’ve played. (Although I haven’t played more than the first few hours of FF X – that was WAY too slow for me, and too cut-scene heavy!)

    Obviously whether one likes the game at all comes down to personal taste. I definitely agree, Jonathan, that anything borrowing a title from Nietzche should probably be mind-blowing, and this game doesn’t fall into THAT category. The comparison with Psychonauts is apt. The overall package is the thing with both games, not just one aspect.

    Just think: soon we may be having discussions like this about BRAID! I know everyone gushes all over these pages; I guess I just couldn’t help but ape ’em, since I can’t recall a game I’ve been anticipating this much!

  10. Also, I got the game years ago at the bargain $20 price. I thought it was better than other games for which I paid a lot more. That may have colored my perception. Although I have gone back and played it three or four times.

  11. I admire your courage, sir. I’m glad someone did not fall in line with the prevailing counter-counter-culture culture.

    To me, like Psychonauts, BG&E is one of those commercially unsuccessful games with – yes – something sweet about it, which is dishonored after its death by those who would posthumously enlist it as a martyr in their counter-culture agenda.

    I don’t doubt your sincerity at all, but the canonical role of BG&E and Psychonauts doesn’t acknowledge their significant shortcomings. Probably because they are most often mentioned by people who enjoyed them and are disappointed by their market failure, and naturally only mention their better qualities in the recommendation.

    My experience with both those games was decidedly mixed, and it’s with respect to BG&E’s achievements that I say it was kind of a pain in the ass.

  12. I’m surprised to hear people trash this game. While I would rate it about one below Okami and Psychonauts, (it gets repetitive in its later portions) it is still a fine game.

    I think the reputation of the game rests on two points:
    1) The pixar-ish, charming storyline
    2) The variety of the gameplay (as you mention, there’s nothing new here, but I think the game combines its various elements– driving, stealth, combat, photography, and an open environment– effectively.)

    I think this game’s merits fall under the “well-executed synthesis” category rather than “revolutionary leap forward” category. There is room for both of these games out there.

    Also, I am genuinely surprised to hear people bag on Psychonauts. While many its gameplay concepts had been done before I think the game really made creative use of them with the level and enemy design.

  13. This blog must about the only place on the internet with so little liking for BGE; not that there’s anything wrong with that.
    However, I don’t know what these “shortcomings” you mention are. I like the small, multi-use map (as opposed to the wide open time-burning spaces found in Okami and Zelda), the innovative story (for a game, anyway: you don’t save the world solo, but build a propaganda campaign), the smooth integration of all the (derivative) gameplay styles and the fact that there was no filler (such as one finds in most other single-player RPG/adventures in the last decade). As Boot says, the appeal of these facets depends on your taste, but I think it’s a stretch to say BGE or Psychonauts had “shortcomings.”

  14. Setting aside the appeal of BG&E, I do like the idea of a game that just sets you in an open world with a camera and newspapers that buy photos, and lets you change the world by choosing what photographs to sell, and what to keep secret.

    Taking pictures seems like a mechanic very suited to open worlds, since it’s as simple an interaction as shooting a gun, but, unlike shooting a gun, it only means anything if you shoot something that would be plot-relevant. I mean: if you shoot *anyone* with a gun, that’s a problem in a realistic world, but if you snap a picture of anything uninteresting, there’s no expected reaction to that, the game can just not have any newspapers interested in the picture and it will make sense. (I guess the standard ‘open world’ alternative to this is to trivialize human life, reducing guns to angry cameras, but it’s nice to think there are more comfortable options.)

  15. David, I totally agree that, too often, if a game is well-reviewed and sells poorly, it becomes anathema to mention the game even had shortcomings. I think this is a disservice to these games. I appreciate that most reviews of Okami mentioned how repetitive it gets toward the end, that it’s basically a Zelda-like (to borrow the phrase) – yet still gave overwhelmingly positive marks. A thing is a thing not in spite of its’ shortcomings, but because of the whole package.

  16. BG&E and Psychonauts, to me, have a lot in common: both have premises that are probably too complicated, both have a unique art style, both hide narrative in the art design (Jade’s design is fascinating to analyse considering the last-minute plot relevations concerning her origins, while Psychonauts builds entire narratives out of the art design of some of its levels, particularly the Battleground/Brain Tumbler/Meat Circus set and Black Velvetopia), both have significant gameplay problems (BG&E is a stealth game without the freedom of a Thief or Metal Gear Solid crossed with a Zelda-style adventure without that game’s sublime combat engine, while Psychonauts is kind of clunky as a platformer and doesn’t have much variety in combat) and both only start getting good after about half-way through the game (BG&E really only gets going once you start into the stealth sections, halfway through the second level – of four – while Psychonauts improves significantly once the camp is left behind and the game can get to its core premise of representing mental struggles as bizarre metaphors).

    I still think they’re relatively interesting, regardless. BG&E’s ecosystem is easily the best in gaming, mostly due to the players not being able to interact with it and thus exposing its artificiality. It is surprising how much wildlife, particularly insects and marine life, makes a difference to making a world feel ‘real’ – too many levels feel a little antiseptic despite the fact they’re supposed to be jungles or grasslands or what have you. Psychonauts is still worth forcing one’s way through the early levels (or finding some cheaty way to skip them) to get to Lungfishopolis and beyond to take a look at how they’ve taken plot metaphors and turned them into gameplay, something honestly games should be doing by default instead of sticking them in cinemas and text dumps outside the gameplay. Not a complete success, as without the context the game provides via dialogue many of the metaphors would go over players’ heads, but much better than most games manage.

  17. Well, put me in the Beyond Good and Evil fan category. And I’d also like to mention how very happy I am that it isn’t heavily based on Nietzche’s stuff, given how little I think of that man. I’m guessing Ancel was simply inspired by the title, and decided to craft a game about good and evil not being where authorities told you it was.

    What I liked about Beyond Good and Evil was its lack of ambition, actually. It wasn’t a revolutionary game; it was rather a streamlined one. It removed a lot of the excess that you find in most action-adventure games and replaced it with better pacing, more realistic characters, a story that was simple but involving and gameplay that was just deep enough to last the few hours you used it. It also employed some nice techniques from movies visually, such as blurring and slow motion, a more context-sensitive soundtrack, without breaking interactivity.

    It was the creation of a designer who I think understood the need to move closer to interactive storytelling, but only knew how to draw from previous existing elements. It’s a lot like someone who builds a piece of modern technology out of some random odds and ends on a deserted island; it may not be ideal, but it’s remarkable and charming for what it manages to be given what it has to work with.

    It’s a game that I really liked back in 2003, and ended up liking more in subsequent years. I’m excited, and rather shocked, that there’s going to be a sequel.

    But what do I know? I’ve been brainwashed by the counter-culture. Or is it the counter-counter-culture? Either way, I’m incapable of thinking for myself. 😛

  18. To me there is a big difference between BGE and Psychonauts:
    BGE is extremely poorly written and cliché in its story line and dialog, while Psychonauts manages to have funny situations and dialogs.

    – Both games shipped with what I would consider class A bugs that can totally ruin the experience.

    – After the first “dungeon” it’s very clear that BGE has been rushed and later levels aren’t as througly tested, they have horrible camera angles and behavior. And the last level on the Moon got me saying “WTF, are you kidding me, that’s all?”. You’re going to the f moon to the enemies’ f HQ, so your expecting that a whole army is going to be there, and instead there’s just no one. You get two screens of stealth mechanics and maybe 5 ennemies. Then boss, the game is over, yay ! They clearly didn’t have time to finish it.

    – Psynchonauts’ level of polish is a lot more balanced, it’s not a line that goes steadily down as the game progresses as in BGE. Some levels have horrible bugs, but most of them are fine, so they managed to get the END of the game mostly right, which is the feeling that stays with you when you’re done playing it. The mood in the Asylum level is thrilling and awesome, things build up nicely to the climax, the things that happen to your character near the end are clever and interesting.

    Psychonaut is to me a much more polished game than BGE will ever be, with a lot less cliché shit (OMG BGE’s opening sequence with the gratuitous use of slowmotion got me sick).

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