A Whale of a Time
When David Attenborough's Blue Planet II dropped anchor in 2017, it made a huge splash. Exploring the oceans and showing rare creatures, it was a record-breaker and a chance to glimpse a world that most of us will never get to see in person. Expanding on that idea, the BBC teamed up with E-Line media to produce Beyond Blue, a game that aims to bring the ocean even closer.
Making a Splash
The story of Beyond Blue follows diver Mirai as she finds and tracks a pod of sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean over the course of several weeks. Her “mission control” companions are Andre, a conservationist and researcher who developed most of the tech that Mirai uses in her dives. Also on hand is Irina, a former biomedical company owner who now studies ocean plants and animals in order to further the study of medicine as it applies to humans. Between dives, Mirai also talks to her sister, Ren, a college student taking a break while she looks after their ailing grandmother.
The narratives of the sperm whales’ journey and that of Mirai’s grandmother intertwine as time goes on but in a heavy-handed way. Two parallel narratives are laid out. First between the baby sperm whale, Andrea, and her mother, who are the focus of Mirai’s fascination with the pod, and the second between Mirai, Ren, and their grandmother. The stories are laid out clearly, but the game limits itself with a short time span of only a few weeks, leaving no room for subtlety.
Gameplay in Beyond Blue is pretty understandable. You control Mirai when she’s diving and you “scan” different creatures to find out more about them and count them. All of your objectives come via audio communication from Andre, and map markers pop up on the screen showing where you need to swim to next. If you feel like dillydallying you’re welcome to do so. I took swim breaks to scan several schools of fish. Later on, it introduces the mechanics of UV light in your dive suit to see different patterns on sharks, but the mechanic is then forgotten about for the rest of the story.
Whale, Whale, Whale
Mirai and especially her zoom scan drone both proved difficult to control, which ended up being my main gameplay issue. She doesn’t swim in a straight line, she swims towards where you point the screen. At first, I tried to look down at the fish while swimming ahead to my target and that resulted in what were probably several concussions for Mirai before I figured it out. The manta drone that you control let's you use a "zoom scan," where it tracks on a fish or mammal. Both joysticks are used to control the camera while you attempt to fix the drone's scan on a particular point of the animal. It was unwieldy at best and I found myself twiddling around the joysticks randomly until they worked. If the manta drone wasn't tracking the animal, I doubt I would've been able to get past that section. As it was, the zoom scan and the level of complexity used for it felt like a waste of time, with gameplay time better devoted somewhere else.
One of the major themes of Blue Planet II was the human race's devastation and havoc to ocean ecosystems everywhere. From climate change to plastic waste and overfishing, our actions have serious ramifications on the ocean, the life within it, and our own lives as well. Unfortunately, Beyond Blue barely touches on this topic, which feels like a real missed opportunity.
To be fair, one plot point deals with Mirai investigating illegal underwater mining and some of the damage it causes, and there is trash to be found on the seafloor, but neither she nor her companions go into much detail as to the real consequences of what this does to the environment. Mirai also has a tendency to clam up and shut down when she gets emotional, which doesn't work very well in a game protagonist. I think I saw more emotion when California banned plastic straws last year and a few states banded together to eliminate plastic bags.
Beyond Blue’s exploration and learning about the different sea creatures is fun, though it’s severely limited by its timeline and its commitment to realism. Not that I’d want to find pink Amazon dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, but Mirai and the player only explore one atoll, a portion of the open ocean, and two deep-sea dive locations. There are about 40 to 50 creatures to scan and discover, which is disappointing. With so many diverse ecosystems in oceans and seas and rivers all over the world, being tied down to a very small portion of one feels, well, limited. On the other flipper, I do appreciate the commitment to scientific accuracy, and how much we get to learn about the animals that we do get to interact with, it’s quite fascinating.
The biggest issue Beyond Blue has is its playtime of approximately three to four hours to finish the story. There’s only so much you can cram into such a narrow time window, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. It’s a big wide ocean out there, with lots to explore, and we only saw a fraction of it. If you’re looking for a game with the scope of Endless Ocean, you’re going to be disappointed. The short playtime impacted almost every other aspect, from the limited story to the small sample of fish you encounter. After you finish the story you do open up a Free Swim mode, but you can only go and explore places you have already been.
Beyond Blue Review | Final Thoughts
Beyond Blue was a fun, if short, experience. Gameplay and exploration were far more fun and relaxing than the actual story, which felt forced at points. While the scope and the number of animals you get to see are extremely limited, the scientific accuracy is commendable. In addition, every animal you do encounter looks gorgeous. If you’re looking for a fun distraction for a couple of hours and love the ocean, Beyond Blue might just be right up your alley.
TechRaptor reviewed Beyond Blue on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Free Swim Mode
- Scientifically Accurate
- Only 3 Hours Long
- Limited in Scope and Explorable Areas