E3 2002: Project BG&E hands-on

The creator of Rayman has been working on this unique adventure game for three years. Check out our hands-on impressions of the game.

Ubi Soft has Project BG&E on display at its booth at E3 in playable form, and we were able to spend some time with the game. The result of three years of work by Rayman creator Michel Ansel and his team, Project BG&E is an ambitious game that follows the exploits of an investigative reporter named Jade. Jade is also a photographer, and she is given a special project to photograph elusive animals that can only be seen at certain times of the day or night. Ansel's ambition is to create a game that is so full of amazing discoveries that the player will not stop playing in hopes of seeing what's next.

Jade can travel in three different ways, and it's a good thing, because the world of Hyllis is absolutely monstrous. She has access to a vehicle that can transform from a hovercraft to jet plane at the press of a button. You begin the game by shooting out of Jade's abode in the hovercraft, but to upgrade it to the jet craft, you simply find the jet craft part floating in the water, get near it, and press a single button. The hovercraft will then automatically attach itself to the jet craft part and take flight. While flying in the jet craft, you'll be able to access new areas that you couldn't reach while at the helm of the hovercraft. During the demonstration, the jet craft was flown into a volcano, where it landed. Jade then jumped out, ready to explore. If you want to switch back to the hovercraft, you simply press the same button again and the jet part will be detached and remain floating where you dropped it. In order to use the jet craft again, you'll have to return to the floating part and attach it. This method of travel is used quite often in the game's huge overworld, and it adds a great deal of strategy to finding new places to explore.

Jade is no pushover where combat is concerned, as she has a wealth of magic at her disposal to ward off the horrific creatures of Hyllis. She can perform simple magic to take out the easier creatures or cast impressive spell attacks that fill up the entire screen with their blast radius and send enemies flying. She can also perform melee attacks or struggle to break free while being pinned down by enemies. The puzzles in the game come in a wide variety, and one example that was shown to us was particularly interesting. In one room, there were a number of enemies with sharp spines on their backs. If Jade attacked them using her melee skills, she could send them flying into the wall, where their spines would stick, leaving them suspended in the air. If Jade knocked enough of them into the wall, their weight would eventually pull it down to create a new path.

Project BG&E also uses an extensive sidekick system that eventually becomes the crux of the gameplay. The first sidekick you run into is a huge pig who walks upright and speaks English. At first, the pig serves as little more than an annoyance, because it's Jade's job to protect it. If the pig dies, so does Jade. Enemies will attack in hordes, so if Jade becomes too concerned with her own safety, chances are the pig will get gang-tackled by enemies. At first, it's hard to tell exactly what purpose the pig serves--until he comes across a pair of wire cutters. Once the pig has the wire cutters, he will be able to cut the grates off crawlspaces and open up new areas for exploration. There will be four or five sidekicks in the finished game, and all of them will follow Jade around the levels as a small squadron. It will be her job to protect them all, but Ubi Soft hinted that the sidekicks will eventually be able to hold their own and will even end up protecting Jade before all is said and done. Beyond using items to open new avenues, sidekicks can also perform location-specific physical tasks. You can take control of a sidekick by pressing a single button, and if Jade is standing in an appropriate location, the sidekick will automatically take care of business. One particular section of the game asks Jade to bounce on an odd-looking bulbous creature to destroy it and make a hallway passable. But she's not heavy enough to do the job, so she must employ the services of her pig sidekick.

But all the adventuring with the sidekicks is just a means to an end. And that end is taking photographs of exotic creatures. When you manage to photograph creatures, you're rewarded with cold, hard cash. The cash can then be used to purchase health for Jade or one of the sidekicks. But capturing images of rare creatures requires that the player be thorough and look in every last nook and cranny. Even then, creatures can still be elusive, because some can only be seen with the lights off. One particular room Ubi Soft showed us appeared to be empty until the lights were turned off. A quick glance at the ceiling revealed wildlife that looked very similar to the strange creatures that live in the deepest depths of the ocean. Photos of creatures such as these are worth more cash than those you can easily photograph out in the open. Ubi Soft stated that it wants to include the option to send photographs to friends online, but it's presently not sure if it will be possible.

Ubi Soft was only showing the PlayStation 2 version of Project BG&E, but it's easily one of the most visually impressive games on the platform. The Hyllis overworld is covered predominantly in water, but the horizon stretches on for what seems like miles, and you can see mountain vistas far off in the distance. The enemy and animal design is quite inventive, and some of the areas feature enormous creatures that look like caterpillars that will pin Jade to the ground. Up to 10 enemies were shown onscreen at once with no noticeable hitch in frame rates. It will be interesting to see if this will hold up when Jade and five sidekicks are onscreen at the same time. Transparencies and particle effects abound, and some of Jade's magical attacks are sure to make jaws drop the first time they're seen. It's quite obvious that the game has been in development for some time, as the attention to detail in the visuals is an obvious clue. The way the water reacts to the hovercraft passing over it and the eerie settings with subtle lighting that permeate the game leave a lasting impression. The game's story is moved forward with impressive real-time cinemas, complete with streaming dialogue and impressively animated faces. The character models are constructed of so many polygons that the smallest nuances of their faces can be seen. In all, it's hard to see Project BG&E running and not come away impressed.

Much like Peter Molyneux's Project Ego, Project BG&E is an ambitious game that should be highly anticipated by connoisseurs of video games. The only difference is that BG&E is already playable. While the demo of the game we were shown was brief, it was more than enough to generate excitement for the final product. The graphics are some of the best the PlayStation 2 has to offer, the gameplay is unique and varied, and the stories and characters are both interesting and likeable. We'll have more on Project BG&E when Ubi Soft makes it available.

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