Even after wading through some of the finest Xbox titles released since Beyond Good & Evil's arrival, Michel Ancel's baby remains my all-time favourite Xbox game.
So why do I get all fanatical and animated whenever it comes up in office conversation? Well, for one, I've never played anything like it either before or since. It's unique. From the lighthouse that doubles as an orphanage for the abandoned children of Hillys (wonder where their parents went?) through to the climactic 'reverse-control' battle at the end, the game plays out like a perfectly pitched, perfectly playable movie. Packed with diverse, fleshed-out characters and not videogame clichés, Beyond Good & Evil feels so much more than just a game. It's Muppet Star Wars if you like, a richly detailed universe where rebels fight against tyrannical overlords, and where the smallest details complement the arcing, ever-changing gameplay.
Enter a bar, go grab yourself a drink from the cow bartender feverishly polishing glasses, then stand and watch the patrons for a while. They'll invite each other to play pub games, some whisper in secluded booths and eye you suspiciously, others will try and fleece you out of credits in a game of chance. Place an item of food on the ground and watch as, for no reason, tiny, near-invisible mites sniff around it, then drag it back under the skirting to feast.
It's that kind of detail that other games would die for. The world is alive as much as the characters, and that is what makes Beyond Good & Evil so utterly absorbing. But it's not the only marvel by a long shot.
The gameplay is a stroke of genius. Most games, no matter how accomplished, start along one path, then just keep layering on the difficulty, forcing you to become better, faster, stronger, or whatever. Not Beyond Good & Evil. You see, it plays like a vast, sprawling funhouse of gameplay styles. Whether our heroine Jade is fighting, taking surreptitious photographs to expose the truth behind the Hillys abductions, racing a hovercraft, or simply indulging in a little Pokémon-inspired monster collecting (you'll snap their essences on camera to earn yourself a few spare bob), there isn't a moment where you feel as though you've already played a certain section, or that the development team is cheating you with similar missions or mirrored tracks.
Every turn, every new area of the game, be it a secret cavern, a factory line, a rebel HQ, the wild open waters of Hillys, the Rhino-refuelling station or Uncle Pey'J's garage, is rich with gameplay features. Some levels are vast puzzles in themselves, others are a labyrinth of laser-protected enemy hideouts, but you won't know what to expect until you're thrown into the thick of it.
Designed to be the first part of a trilogy, Beyond Good & Evil still deserves to be followed up like it was supposed to be. It sold abysmally thanks to poor marketing, but you can't keep a good thing down. The internet chat rooms, the fans, and the few people who bought it (despite the strange name) have all been responsible for keeping the legend of BG&E alive. In fact, at the time of writing, there was rumour of a next-gen sequel in the works, something that seems more likely the more people discover this hidden Xbox gem. Buy it and we assure you, you won't fail to fall in love with it.