There is nothing more awe-inspiring, beautiful, powerful, or scary as the ocean. The little blue planet that we call home consists of 71% water, and yet we have only explored 5% of it. We have no idea of what lies beneath the waves, the life forms that exist, and the damage that we are causing in our day to day life. When I see a game has the tag educational, I’m usually instantly turned off, not because I think I know better, I assure you I really don’t, it’s just that I enjoy gaming to switch off, and wind down. I was offered Beyond Blue by E-Line Media, and I jumped at the chance without hesitation. A game that has been developed with the help of footage and information gathered by the BBC and inspired by Blue Planet II, this was always going to be more than a game, it was going to be a chance to educate myself in a topic that I’ve long been fascinated.
Beyond Blue is an educational title that allows the player to control the main female protagonist Mirai. Mirai is an experienced scuba diver who has an affinity for everything living in the sea, but especially the sperm whale. As a child her Nana taught her the skills to free dive, she would spend minutes at a time exploring the ocean depths with nothing more than goggles, flippers, and the oxygen in her lungs. One day she came across a sight that would stay with her forever. A family of sperm whales floats past her, sending out pulsing echoes that touches her soul, and makes her want to stay underwater forever. From this cutscene you are introduced to the main game premise. You form part of a dive team that has been asked to explore the ocean depths, searching out new life, while mapping the research area. The team must stream their findings live on the internet for the world to see, and as a side note Mirai gets to observe her family of whales, and ensure that they are safe and healthy.
The action is broken down into 8 main dives, which take place over 5 different regions, the teams lead researchers; Andre and Irina give instructions throughout, and help to commentate on the live feed. At the end of each mission you will be asked to check-in for debriefing, this allows you to understand your findings, and what you must do next, and you also get to speak to your sister Ren. Ren is much younger than Mirai, yet, she has taken the responsibility to look after Nana as she now suffers from dementia, this storyline adds an emotional element to the gameplay, and compliments a fantastic and well structured main questline. As you take on each dive you note that the species vary, and the environment changes significantly. You are asked to explore; The open ocean, the seamount, a brine pool, a natural vent area, and finally a coastal region. You must scan each species that you encounter, you will be asked by Andre to observe specific species or rescue damaged equipment. As you follow the instructions you discover that not everything is as it should be, and the world and animals that you truly love are under increasing threat from the greed of mankind.
The gameplay is punctuated with a number of educational videos, referred to as insights. For me, these were touching and quite frankly brilliant. The passion that is shown by the scientists and activists is inspirational. The snippets of information that you are given are delivered in a way that it doesn’t make you feel alienated, and I believe even a young child could understand the message, and yet as an adult it wasn’t patronising. Fans of both Subnautica and ABZU will feel at home in this underwater environment. The gameplay doesn’t play out in such an arcade-style, and there is no hint of survival play to be found. Beyond Blue focuses on being at one with your surroundings, there is no risk of being attacked by the creatures, nor do you have to swim for your submarine to find safety. You are free to float and explore to your heart’s content. Once you have completed all 8 dives, free dive mode is unlocked. This is where you will lose hours of your day floating through caves, looking at the weird and wonderful fish that hide in this mysterious environment.
When a game is inspired by one of the greatest wildlife programs to be aired, Blue Planet II, then you know that you are in for a visual treat. Even on my vanilla Xbox One the images used were vivid, clear, and crisp, I can only imagine how great they look on a higher-powered machine, and run through 4k. The environments that you explore are absolutely stunning. I jumped a number of times when a hiding octopus decided it needed to swim to a new area of safety, the animations used were lifelike and reflected the real-life footage perfectly. Mirai’s movement through the water was smooth, and the animals react to your presence with both fear, and intrigue. I was able to identify nearly all the species that I saw, this showed just how much work the developers had put into the character models. The colours that were used were great and really vivid. What caught my eye was the blues that were used, they were so piercing, and the use of light and shade reflected the loss of sunlight as the water got deeper, this all added together to make for a beautiful environment to explore.
When scientists provide you with all the real audio for the animals being shown, then there is no excuse to produce anything other than perfection. Again, E-Line Media delivered on this front. The click and hum of the whales as they communicate and the familiar noise of the dolphins as they swim past playfully are a joy to listen to. The sound of silence is delivered at the right level, allowing you as the player to feel calm and relaxed in the water. A large part of how the story is delivered is through spoken narrative, and this is also very good. I genuinely felt; happy, sad, and angry alongside the characters, it was an emotional roller coaster that was acted out brilliantly. To add to the chilled vibe, a selection of indie music is played in the background while you are relaxing in the submarine. The music wasn’t to my taste, but it worked well with the theme and Mirai’s personality.
When I’m playing a game that wants you to immerse yourself in its world, I don’t want to be thinking of what button does what, and I certainly don’t want input lag to slow me down. Luckily, Beyond Blue is as smooth to control as it is to look at. Moving through the ocean, and using the scanning tool is exceptionally easy. The developers have kept everything simple, and this ensures that you concentrate on enjoying yourself underwater. Occasionally I found that I would get caught on the rocks and in tight spaces, this was mainly due to my own failings, but on the rare occasion the controls failed to respond adequately to my request to swim in a certain direction. This happened so rarely, that it didn’t impact the gameplay in any way. You will find that you will be swimming with dolphins, and chasing evading squids as if you belong in the seas with them, it is an utter joy to experience.
The longevity of this title will be down to personal taste. If you happen to rush through the main game, with no desire to explore or observe your surroundings, then you will find that this is an extremely short play, maybe 4 to 5 hours. The extended gameplay is found when you just want to have the freedom to swim with no purpose. The free dive mode allows you access to all the dive sites, here you can search out every species of available life form, or just float around looking through caves, and along ridges. I found great pleasure in listening to my own music while swimming with weird and wonderful animals, I can’t place any figure on the potential game length, but if you want to look at just obtaining the 100% completion status, then I’d say you’ll probably have to put around 15 hours aside.
Beyond Blue is a brilliant, relaxing, and touching story that sensibly, and successfully balances exploring and adventure with education. The inspiration from the BBC’s Blue Planet II is plain to see, and the passion from the scientists in each of the insight videos has to be applauded. The underlying theme of this title is that mankind has no idea of the impact that is happening to its own oceans. If we kill off the creatures of the deep and destroy the seas, then we are killing ourselves. The ocean is the beating heart of the planet, it produces 70% of the world’s Oxygen, and removes high levels of CO2, without this healthy ecosystem we are tumbling towards our own demise. I can’t recommend this game enough, I enjoyed every minute of it, and will happily return, even if it’s just to listen to the whales singing their songs to one another. It’s time to put on that diving suit, remember every day is a school day, and don’t believe the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Beyond Blue is one lesson that you will be glad that you have experienced.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Beyond Blue Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 7/10
User Review( votes)
Beyond Blue is so much more than a game, it’s a chance to educate yourself on why we need to protect our oceans, and the creatures that live within them.
- Emotional, and well written storyline.
- Beautiful graphics.
- Touching audio.
- The right mix of education and adventure.
- A relaxing game that will make you want to play again, and again.
- A higher number of dives would have increased the story longevity.