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Review: Beyond Blue is a Love Letter to the Ocean

 

Screenshot: Beyond Blue

I loved Subnautica and Soma. They’re two very different games, but they’re both terrifying glimpses into the deep unknown. But those games were built to scare, and weren’t so much about the ocean as the scary things that you can find there. I wasn’t sure what Beyond Blue was, at first. But it turns out that it’s attempting to educate people about our world’s “blue heart”—and that it’s a love letter to the ocean and its inhabitants.

Beyond Blue is an adventure game set entirely under the ocean. You play as Mirai, a scientist working under the ocean tracking animals, and carrying out various other tasks across eight dives. Her home base is a cool futuristic sub from which she launches her dives. And while she doesn’t interact with anyone directly, there is a small cast of support characters that talk in her ear throughout, progressing the story and giving interesting tidbits about the ocean and its life. And some of those tidbits are delivered through a “livestream” that your character does as part of her scientific duties.

Screenshot: Beyond Blue

The livestream that Mirai conducts is a bit of an excuse for the game to teach you about the ocean. It’s all presented in digestible and fascinating ways. But gameplay-wise, there really isn’t much here. You can swim around in third person. You can dive and ascend. There’s a scanning mode, and a regular mode; fast swimming and slow swimming. You can’t die, or really fail. You mostly just explore and scan while the story is told around you. The gameplay consists of you travelling to a waypoint, and interacting with an object—and that’s really about it. But it’s where the story takes you, and what sights you see that are what’s impressive about Beyond Blue.

Fortunately, Beyond Blue is a pretty game, even if the graphics aren’t cutting edge. The water looks great, and the various sea life you’ll encounter is all quite impressive. Unfortunately, at least for me, the third person perspective takes a way a bit of the sense of scale. But there are some moments—near volcanic vents, swimming over the brine pool, and others—that really show the ocean off as a beautiful, but terrifying, place. Beyond Blue is not trying to scare you– it’s about endearing you to, and educating you about, the ocean.
For every dive, there is a companion video or two that shows real video footage of underwater life with some information that usually expands on something Mirai encountered. I ended up watching every video, despite thinking I would skip through them (though I did skip the video that was essentially an OceanX commercial.) And, I daresay, I learned a thing or two.

Screenshot: Beyond Blue

But that’s the thing. Beyond Blue is right on the line between ‘regular’ game and being (gasp) edutainment. It is certainly educational, but there is a bit more of a story beyond just “learn about the ocean”—just barely. Most of the story, as I’ve mentioned, is conveyed through voices in your ear. Luckily, the small cast is great, and the voice acting is top notch. The story manages to be interesting, but mostly in ways that aren’t dealing with whatever immediate thing you’re doing on screen. There is a parallel between Mirai’s family and a family of whales that she is tracking whose members are getting mysteriously sick. Loud mysterious sounds deep down in the abyss lead you on deeper dives to uncover mysteries, but these mysteries have mundane real-world answers. Beyond Blue, besides its near-future setting, is grounded in the real world.

Once you’ve completed the story, you’re given the opportunity to play through each of the dive locations at your leisure in the free dive mode. There’s really no reason to dive back in beyond checking out the sites, and maybe completing the scans of all of the fauna in each area. But the missions don’t really force you to any specific objective within a set timeframe, so most missions you can casually explore as you want anyhow.

Screenshot: Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue is an important game for its efforts to educate about the ocean. Unfortunately, as a game, there just really isn’t much there. It taught me a few things about the ocean. And even managed to make me think about the earth’s vast “beating blue heart,” but it perhaps spends too much time trying to educate instead of entertain. If you want to swim with whales in a serene underwater setting while learning more about the ocean, Beyond Blue is the game for you.
Beyond Blue is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows.

 

 

 

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