I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean. I remember first stepping into the wet sand near the ocean and watching as it collapsed around my feet. The water ran fast around my ankles only to head back out to sea a few seconds later. I was 6 years old and my grandparents had just moved to Florida. Because I associate the ocean to this time in my life, it has always been one of my happy places. I have never ventured into the ocean meaningfully though. Documentaries such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet are always great watches, but that is the extent of my underwater exploration. Which brings me to Beyond Blue, a game that hinges on letting you explore the sea to your heart’s content.
Story and Gameplay
You play the role of a professional diver named Mirai, who is part of a small research team. This team also has a side-hustle in live streaming. This is a non-intrusive component to the game that opens the underwater world up to viewers on the web. On certain dives you will turn on your camera and talk to the audience. Generally, the focus is current research. But you also answer ‘viewer questions,’ which really is a vehicle to understanding the science aspect.
There are hundreds of fish, sharks, dolphins, whales and more to find and explore on your dives. They are all unknown to you until you scan them with your built-in technology. Scanning one doesn’t label the rest of the species, as each school of fish or pod of whales can be individually identified.
Most of Beyond Blue is built around using sonar buoys to find various animals. Activating one of these will allow you to triangulate an approximate location of an animal that you need to investigate. As mentioned, you can scan anything but the game really focuses on whales and their story. During the first dive you locate a mother Sperm Whale giving birth. That moment sets up the core storyline of the game.
Beyond Blue isn’t just a game of find, scan, repeat. You also have a few tools and special tasks that evolve the world around you. One tool is a stingray drone that allows for a closer look at the various species. Despite the controls on this being quirky at times, the tool makes sense in evolving the story. Generally, you are collecting bio samples or detecting illness. All of which helps your research.
Another related task is collecting swabs from underwater coral, plants, and rocks. Again, this primarily exists to advance the story but I definitely enjoyed learning more about what I was doing. An interesting bonus in the game comes after each dive in the form of a short video. Running only two to three minutes, they depict real-life researchers doing the exact task or research Mirai just finished. And perhaps more importantly, the videos give the real life consequences of Ocean degradation.
These clips are straight from the documentary Blue Planet II. Beyond Blue is more than just a video game. It’s a history lesson and a call to action. The game itself has very few consequences. You can’t be bitten by a shark, swallowed by a whale, or attacked by piranhas. But the biggest consequence is real, the destruction of our oceans.
The story itself is not very long, clocking around 4 hours depending on how much extra scanning and exploring you do. As short as it may be, I certainly enjoyed playing and learning more about what these researchers do.
In between dives, you return to a closet-sized submarine that you call home. Before your next dive you must make a series of phone calls which move the story forward in a couple of ways, including a relationship with your sister. The player chooses from a few responses in conversation, but this ultimately has little impact on the story or character.
Overall, the gameplay is simple yet intriguing. The story certainly kept me interested and wasn’t ‘too sciency’ to understand. And with the importance of the message, it’s a story everyone should experience.
There are very few controls in Beyond Blue which makes it easy to pick up and play. You control scanning with the bumper buttons. The triggers control rising up and swimming down. There’s an option to swim fast that is not paired with a stamina meter, and I truly appreciated that.
The drone I previously mentioned has the same controls as your scanner, but sometimes it is tough to scan the specific point of an animal. The camera also plays a part in this and the two together need improvement.
The in-game menu is fairly straightforward and offers a map and science log. The map I did not find particularly useful, and mainly used the HUD while swimming. The science log on the other hand allows you to track how many species and the number of each you have identified. For the completionist gamer, there are certainly a number of achievements available for just scanning all the animals.
The underwater world is beautiful. I found myself just swimming around to look at plants, follow fish, and try to get pictures with sharks often. I do wish there was a picture mode within the game, as you often have to try and capture the perfect screen shot while the animals are moving.
There are three main depths of water in Beyond Blue. The top layer is very blue and everything is fairly visible. The next layer is called the twilight zone where your visibility range shrinks and there is very little blue. Finally there is the deep sea, where it’s mainly black with the exception of your mounted light and various light-producing animals.
While I enjoyed these different depictions of the sea, it would have been neat to see them dynamically available in the game. Unfortunately, it’s one or the other as the game caps your elevation with each depth. There’s also no option to surface above water which was a bummer!
On your submarine the graphics are a bit rougher around the edges. But as you spend a minimal amount of time on the sub, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game.
While the visuals are lacking on the sub, the sound choices make up for them. You have the option of playing music from a tablet that includes 12 songs to start. This includes indie rock songs or pop/dance influenced ones. You also unlock a few more songs throughout the story that in-game characters send you. It’s a small touch but a nice one.
Time in the ocean is often ambient. When approaching a pod of whales, you hear them singing. If you encounter a group of dolphins you may be reminded of the 60’s TV show Flipper. Outside of animal sounds, the backing sound is what I would describe as spa music. This, paired with the eerie darkness of the deep sea really makes you feel on your own and enhances the experience.
Other Game Modes
At the time of release there is no multiplayer mode in Beyond Blue. You do unlock a free swim mode after completion of the story though. Here you can explore one of the various areas from the game and continue searching to identify unscanned wildlife. I did find myself slightly intrigued to play beyond the story to find more animals, but that is really the only replay argument. I doubt I will play through the story again.
For such a short game, Beyond Blue achieves quite a bit. It highlights the importance of ocean researchers, and calls to action the gamer themselves to help save our oceans. The real world consequences of not protecting the ocean is very clear, and immersing yourself just scratches the surface of the work ahead.
The happy place of everyone involved in this project, whether the fictional Marai or her real life counterparts, is clearly the ocean and its inhabitants. They are discovering new wildlife, organisms, and bacteria for research every day. Beyond Blue really just helps us non-researchers visualize and put it in perspective.
Note: We received a review code from E-Line Media