E-Line Media seems to be creating a niche for themselves. Their first title, Never Alone, drew inspiration from Alaska Native Culture for its story, but players also had access to documentary footage to explain the setting in more factual detail. The developer’s second title, Beyond Blue, takes a similar approach. Taking to the depths of the ocean, you get to join an underwater expedition as they study the local wildlife. Thanks to a collaboration with BBC Studios, the Blue Planet II documentary team, and the OceanX exploration initiative, there’s plenty of opportunity to expand on your knowledge as well.
Mirai is a deep sea diver living on a sub below the surface of the beautiful ocean. Tracking a whale pod, the trail begins amongst the shallower corals and caves, with sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water. As the mission continues, she dives deeper through the twilight zone and into complete darkness, well past the depth to which light can reach. Despite the inhospitable appearance of the thermal vents of the latter area, there’s always a sense of tranquility and peace. This game’s emphasis is on education, not avoiding the dangers of the ocean.
Beyond Blue Review – Relaxing in the Deep Blue Sea
The ocean depths are extremely species rich. Within a matter of seconds, you can find large species like sharks, dolphins, and rays swimming near the surface. Shoals of fish, giant clams, crabs, and seastars are hidden throughout the rocks. Then there are the whales, of course. Each species’ models are almost identical so there’s very little inter-species variation. Still, it’s always enjoyable to see just how many creatures you can find.
The game is set in the near future and has the technology to go with it. Mirai’s diving suit lets her move freely around the ocean without worrying about oxygen supply, water pressure, or light levels. She can even hook up her camera to a livestream so the audience can see exactly what she’s seeing. The suit also seems to offer her immunity from all of the dangerous species in the ocean. None of them seem to notice she’s there. There’s truly nothing to get in the way of exploration.
The story unfolds over the course of eight individual dives, each taking place in a small open world environment. Throughout the environments are beacons, with an on-screen indicator showing which is active and offering mission objectives. It’s up to you whether you head straight over to these objectives. If doing so, each dive will take just 15-25 mins. With no time limit, though, it’s well worth investigating each area. Explore the underwater caves, scan nearby wildlife, or just take a leisurely swim to absorb the beauty of the environment.
Whether it’s finding wildlife to study, recovering faulty sensors, or investigating strange signals, the objectives are simple. Once you’ve found them, scanning the wildlife reveals more information about them, such as their common name, latin name, and health status. More to the point for completionists, it also reveals the number of times you’ll need to scan each species.
Beyond Blue Review – A Study in Detail
The scanner can be turned on and off with L1. Unless you get irritated with the slightly smaller field of view, it’s worth keeping it on at all times. Animals that have been scanned are highlighted with a solid dot, while those yet to be scanned are shown as a hollow circle. Often you’ll see a marker show up on your screen before you’ve seen the actual animal off in the distance, making it somewhat necessary to leave the scanner on if you want to complete your collection.
While the normal scanner is quite useful and easy to use, its other functions are not so much. Several of the mission objectives require you to get up close and personal to an animal with a drone. The drone can match its speed with the animal but has a limited ability to rotate around its body to find the spot you need to scan. It makes these scans far more difficult and frustrating than they need to be. Other scanner upgrades involve UV lights, which are used briefly, and other functions whose purpose is still a mystery. They’re a missed opportunity to add another dimension to the game.
Each individual animal can only be scanned once, but you’ll need to scan every single animal in the game to collect all of the information available. At the end of each dive, Mirai returns to her sub. All of the information collected so far can be seen here. Each species has a series of 3D models that demonstrate its different behaviors. There’s also a science log that gives prominent facts, all presented in a way that’s really easy to understand. Elsewhere there are bite-size videos to watch that give more facts behind some of the real-life expeditions and people that inspired the game.
Beyond Blue Review – Conservation is Important Too
Unfortunately the story isn’t as well developed as the educational aspect. The conversation options seemingly offer choice as to how the story plays out, but in reality they make no difference. Some of the deeper conservation issues, like the effects of a toxic algae bloom or deep sea mining, are glossed over all too quickly. There’s also a more personal story involving Mirai, her sister Ren, and her Nana who is seemingly suffering from dementia. It’s underdeveloped compared to the main research story and seems like a strange addition.
A token few important points of the story are discussed with the other two members of the investigative team, Andre and Irina, while back on the sub. They make it clear these issues observed in the water can have dire consequences, but they also make it clear those issues can be fixed if we care enough to make a difference. More could have been done here, though.
Once the story is over, free dive mode allows players to revisit any of the eight dives. If you’re missing some scans, this is a great time to find them. All creatures needing to be scanned are marked on the dive map with a pale blue circle. Unfortunately when placed on a largely blue map, the markers are incredibly difficult to see. Any other colour would’ve made more sense. Alternatively, you can just spend more time admiring the ocean world.
Beyond Blue excels at being a relaxing experience set in a beautiful ocean. The waters teem with wildlife and its environments are diverse enough to tempt multiple visits. The result is a great educational tool to teach people of all ages about its wildlife. Unlike its partners, it misses its chance to drive home the importance of conservation, though. With more time devoted to the important issues it raises, it could have taught us so much more.
Beyond Blue review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.