I’ve always been a really big fan of the ocean. There’s just something about the vast unexplored depths filled with beautiful and amazing creatures and unknown possibilities that’s excited me ever since I was a kid. So naturally, I have a huge fondness for video games that allow me to explore the ocean to my heart’s content. I’ve spent hours swimming around the depths in the old Endless Ocean series on the Wii, and now E-Line Media has brought similar ideas to the modern console era in the deep sea explorative adventure, Beyond Blue.
At first glance, Beyond Blue may look like one of those underwater documentaries, and that’s because it basically is. Beyond Blue opens up by telling us that it’s based on the Blue Planet series, and the developers really did their homework when it came time to do research for this title. So much so that they consulted with real marine biologists to make sure everything was as accurate as possible, which is really cool. You play as Mirai, a young woman who fell in love with the ocean at a young age, and is eager to explore it. She works with OceanX and aids in their research, while also cataloging the animals below the sea, and even performing some underwater livestreams. Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe for more Whitetip Reef Sharks.
Objectives in Beyond Blue never get too complicated. You’ll generally swim towards one of the underwater buoys, and use the equipment there to track down various sounds like faulty equipment or playful dolphins. Once you have your goals, swim to the closest one, perform a quick scan or minor task like collecting nearby coral samples, rinse and repeat before swimming to another buoy for another handful of missions. The main story arguably focuses on Mirai’s relationship with a family of sperm whales she’s been following and observing, particularly the newly birthed baby whale. As Beyond Blue progresses, you’ll gain access to new technology like a drone that allows you to scan more specific parts of larger creatures, to equipment that lets you dive deeper and explore the darker parts of the sea.
The mechanics are beautiful in their simplicity. The main thing the developers needed to get right in a game like this was swimming, and they absolutely nailed it. Swimming feels incredibly fluid, and the camera moves at a good pace if you need to look for that fish that just swam off or get your bearings using the compass. You’ve got a button to swim straight up, and one to swim straight down. When you activate your scanner, the camera does zoom in a bit, but this will allow you to see which fish you have or haven’t recorded in your log. For me, I never really saw any reason to turn the scanner off. Same with the designated sprint button, although I guess it’s not really sprinting if you’re underwater. Call it the designated “swim slightly faster” button. But again, I never saw much need to ever turn this off.
Beyond Blue is meant to be a game about taking in the beauty of the ocean, while also hopefully learning a thing or two. I love the mechanic of being able to scan ocean life and being given a checklist of how many of that animal there are to scan before you fill out your log. The log is filled with educational information about the creatures like their scientific names, what depths they hang out and other pieces of helpful trivia. If you’re not excited by the prospect of finding all six Splendid Alfonsino in order to learn that they can live up to fifty years and migrate upwards at night to feed, then this may not be the game for you. But for those who love the sea and get a rush from filling out a checklist, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth for the cost of this fantastic voyage. And if you’re looking for an extra bit of education in your deep sea exploration, Beyond Blue has got you covered with unlockable videos called Insights. These live action videos feature real marine biologists discussing subjects from the intricacies of whale songs, to all the new technology scientists are using to explore the dark depths. I’d also like to highlight Beyond Blue‘s cast. Anna Akana does a wonderful job as Mirai, and the performances from Mira Furlan, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, and Ally Maki all stand out as incredibly memorable. This is extra impressive considering how aside from Mirai herself, most of these characters exist only as voiceover, but still feel like real people who are dedicated to marine biology as much as you are.
The developers did a fantastic job of designing the undersea environments, as well. Certain areas have that foggy draw distance that makes you feel like you’re swimming in place because the ocean is really big. There are tight caves to squeeze through and rocks covered in sea stars or various mollusks. There’s even some garbage down there, because as depressing as it is, that’s just reality. The ocean is a beautiful landscape and you’ll find something gorgeous at every fathom you explore. The only issue I had with Beyond Blue – and mind you this may very much be an issue specific to me – is that I actually got a bit of motion sickness from playing it. On one hand, it’s not very fun to have to step away from a game because the underwater movements gave you a tummy ache, but on the other hand I think that in itself may be a testament to just how accurately they captured the sensation of diving.
Beyond Blue is definitely not a game for everybody. If you’re looking for a game where you can fight off man-eating sharks, or get into deadly tussles with giant squids, this is not for you. You might be better off with something like Subnautica, or to be on the other side, the recently reviewed Maneater. But if you’re looking for a calming, relaxing, educational narrative that lets you explore the ocean blue, and the idea of scanning 17 different Clown Triggerfish as you swim around a vast and beautiful sea sounds like a good time for you, then you might enjoy this game as much as I did.
John reviewed Beyond Blue on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on Xbox One, PC, and Apple Arcade. A Switch version has been announced.