Following on from the likes of Endless Ocean and Subnautica, Beyond Blue is an underwater exploration game in which you control a human diver. That diver is Mirai and, along with a team of fellow marine scientists, it’s her job to investigate various underwater landscapes with the hope of better understanding the diverse marine life living there.
Working alongside the BBC’s Blue Planet II team, E-Line Media has crafted what is a unique virtual insight into the ocean’s ecological wonders. Gameplay revolves around diving into various regions of the ocean, beginning with flush coral reefs filled with vibrant life and culminating in the inky depths of the dead zone, where the torches on Mirai’s futuristic diving suit are your only source of light.
Each marine biome is home to an ecosystem of aquatic life unique to that area and, because Beyond Blue skirts the line between an educational experience and exploration adventure, there’s the option to learn more about everything you encounter. Approach marine life and you’ll be encouraged to press L1 so you can focus a reticule over a given creature in order to scan it. Scanning marine life brings up information about each species, including their scientific name, the number of individuals you have encountered in the game so far and, vitally for the game’s story, the relative health of each creature you meet.
Once the game’s conservationist narrative begins to unravel further, the scanning tool will be upgraded. Now you’ll be able to use UV lights to reveal a new side of each creature and orbit an underwater drone around larger animals such as orcas to identify sensor tags and record snippets of their songs. Scanning also relays information back to a Science Log that Mirai can study in the safety of her submarine.
The more creatures of the same species you scan, the more information will become available, and the Science Log will offer more educational insight, including 3D models for you to scrutinise. With such a diverse array of aquatic life on offer, the scanning mechanic encourages you to spend time swimming around each biome, scouting out all the different types of marine life living there.
Regardless of the setting, Beyond Blue always retains the same atmosphere. The game conveys the tranquil ambience of the ocean perfectly, and a beautiful score warms even the coldest, darkest depths. When music isn’t playing, a talented cast of voice actors narrate the adventure, which involves Mirai live streaming to the Internet from her wetsuit and investigating the noise pollution upsetting her beloved whales.
Of course, Mirai has her own backstory interwoven with the plot which reveals the reasons for her being so dedicated to protecting the whales she studies. At the end of each dive, Mirai can access the helm of her submarine, open messages, and talk to her team and her younger, college-student-sister Ren. Compared to the main plot, Mirai’s family storyline is a little underdeveloped, but it’s still a welcome addition to proceedings.
During conversations, dialogue choices allow you to shape exchanges and even pick dive locations, and this adds replay value. Additionally, after the final credits have rolled roughly 4-6 hours in, you’ll be able to access free diving mode, which opens up all eight biomes without story and dialogue unfolding during the dive. This mode is perfect for completionists who want to tackle Beyond Blue’s Trophy list, or for those who fall in love with drifting peacefully in the sea and just want that relaxing experience to continue.
For such a rich world centred on scientific realism, it would have been nice to see some more variety in the 3D models of the individual marine life (especially the whales), which remain largely the same give or take a few exceptions. In particular, it would have been much better if you could differentiate the sick whales and sharks visually via their behaviours and appearances, instead of having to use the scanner all the time, especially in such an otherwise biologically accurate game.
Talking of realism, documentary-style clips recorded by the BBC’s Blue Planet II team are incorporated into the game to further inform and educate inquisitive players. These clips are unlocked through gameplay and the short snippets of video are incredible insights into the real-world settings that inspired the biomes in Beyond Blue.
Beyond Blue excels in presenting gorgeous marine environments stuffed to the brim with fascinating ocean life and interesting places to explore. Whether you’re swimming with humpback whales or exploring underwater caverns, this is an experience that really does make waves.