Inspired by the Blue Planet 2 series, Beyond Blue is the perfect example of how to make a game about making a documentary, but not much beyond that.
Developed and published by E-line Media, Beyond Blue is a single-player underwater simulator where you play as a marine biologist, tracking a pod of whales and studying their habitats. The game is meant to be both fun and educational, and what it lacks in the former it compensates with the latter.
As a student of marine life myself, I am familiar with most of the topics presented in the game. The experience even drove me into investigating further into areas I previously wasn’t interested in. I don’t mean to say that the game’s target audience is only other fellow marine scientists, but there’s just no denying that those who are already fascinated by aquatic life have a lot more to gain.
Streaming While Swimming
You play as Mirai, an aquanaut with a special relationship with her grandma, who suffers Alzheimer’s disease. You will get to explore with her, and her newly-formed research team, a few aquatic environments while streaming your dives online using advanced, sci-fi-ish scuba suit, scanning gear, drones, and more.
The main focus of your expedition is to study the relationship between a juvenile whale and her mother. Through a short story campaign of about 2-3 hours, the whale pod’s matriarchy becomes an analogy for Mirai’s own family and their issues.
Through most of the game, you will be swimming freely through each unique habitat. When you’re not busy experiencing that sweet sensation of freedom, you will be scanning every living thing you’ll come across to learn more about them.
The swimming is just smooth enough to get around relatively easy once you get used to it, and it’s better than what we experienced in Giants Squids’ Abzu. Other mechanics, such as operating the Manta-Drone scanner, are simple enough to pick up, though they could prove a struggle for less experienced players. An option to lock on your target while scanning, for example, would’ve made the game more accessible to a broader audience.
Beyond Blue deploys you on multiple dives, each set in a new location or a different time of day. In between those “missions,” you walk around your submarine and talk with your crew through a radio. You can also go back to previous locations you explored, or examine all of the data you uncovered up to this point.
Just like in In Other Waters, you’ll be collecting data on the fauna you encounter on your dives. There are about 50 different species you can catalog during your short adventure, which is just a few more lifeforms than those you can find the big underwater exploration-survival game Subnautica. These vary from the common moon jellyfish to the more exciting orcas and octopuses. Each creature you scan will be added to your collections, and each successive scan of the same species will unlock more data on it. You can then enjoy watching them all on the holographic pad back in your sub.
Scanning everything the games tells you to is the main gameplay loop, and there isn’t any action, or puzzles, or anything like that. After the first few dives, I started to get bored with chasing fish and trying to scan them, but then I was introduced to the Manta-Drone. It is a robotic underwater drone that looks like a manta ray. You can use it for swimming around a specific specimen or exploring hard to reach nooks and crannies. The drone adds another layer to the exploration but nothing too drastic.
After each dive, you unlock a series of short videos that teach you about something you saw or encountered. All of them are narrated by a marine studies expert or feature interviews with scientists. I have gotten more from just sitting back and watching these videos than actually playing through the game and scanning random stuff. The educational part of Beyond Blue is definitely its strong point.
Most of the marine life doesn’t make many sounds, except for little whooshes when something big swims by. The creatures that do communicate with sounds are depicted authentically with how they sound in real life. The most obvious example is the whale songs.
At times, when you scan the sonar of a whale, you hear nothing. It might be a bug, or it just might suggest that we can’t really hear the frequencies of the whale songs. Either way, the songs I did listen to gave me goosebumps. They are stunning and captivating, and everyone should get a chance to hear them. I highly recommend playing Beyond Blue with headphones on.
Apart from the whale sounds, most of what you’ll hear are conversations with your crew through the suit’s radio. And when you’re aboard the submarine, you’ll listen to relaxing tunes that fit the underwater vibe perfectly.
Going Way Beyond Blue
The game’s best feature is its visuals. The graphics are beautiful, better than any underwater zone in any open-world game I encountered. While swimming around, you will come across the wreckage of drowned ships or even containers. These are the things that made me want to explore more and more as these are the things you’re not expecting to find when you first start your dives.
Look around while you’re swimming, and you’ll start noticing little things floating around, like the plankton in the water column. These small details are the direct result of the developers consulting with a team of marine scientists while working on Beyond Blue.
As in the real ocean, the levels or regions you explore are vast and open areas. There is no visible end – no matter what direction you swim towards, except maybe “up.” I even tried swimming as down as I could until my character slowly disappeared into the depths.
The visuals were so stunning that I couldn’t stop taking pictures, and I must say – most of them are wallpaper-worthy. Overall, the view is probably the most critical aspect in an exploration game, and Beyond Blue nails it.
With breathtaking underwater areas, a lot of educational value, and a mesmerizing soundtrack, Beyond Blue is a beautiful game that’s always satisfying to
sea see and hear. Its gameplay will lack the “fun factor” for anyone that is expecting to play another Subnautica, but this game is a must for anyone who can’t wait to explore the ocean’s depths freely, even if it is just for a few hours.
Developer: E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Release Date: Jun. 11, 2020
Our Beyond Blue review copy was provided by the developer.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.