If you had the chance to explore the ocean like never before, would you take it?
The ocean is vast, and so much of it has been untouched by humans. Being able to explore underwater – interact with a dolphin, hear a whale sing – is something not many of us will be able to experience in our lives. But Beyond Blue, from developer E-Line Media (the company behind Never Alone), gives players the chance to experience the thrill of swimming in the open ocean. E-Line Media has partnered with the BBC, OceanX and some of science’s leading ocean experts to create a gorgeous new title that just might take your breath away.
“…a gorgeous new title that just might take your breath away”
I knew that Beyond Blue would be something special from the moment I saw its first trailer. Not only because it looked visually stunning, but because I played Never Alone when it first released. Never Alone told a traditional story that is part of ancient Alaskan folklore and it was thoughtful and beautiful. And Beyond Blue’s narrative has been given the very same treatment.
Based in the near future, players step into the shoes (or diving fins) of Mirai, a deepwater explorer and scientist. Along with her research team, Mirai is tasked with using groundbreaking technology to interact with the ocean in ways that humans have never been able to before. You’ll use machines, like a manta ray drone to get up close and personal with whales, and underwater scanners that can tell you exactly where creatures are located in the area. Mirai uses this technology to observe the ocean’s animals and help her team with important research.
Beyond Blue throws you right into the water from the get-go. Your first task sees you locating a group of whales, one of which was recently pregnant. Now, the baby has been born and it’s a true joy to witness how it interacts with its mother. As you progress, you’ll record these whales’ songs and send the data to your team for analysis. You’ll even be able to play them back to the whales to see if their song changes based on your influence.
“Manoeuvring through schools of fish or alongside huge aquatic mammals is joyous”
If you think that Beyond Blue is just about the ocean, you’d be wrong. While the deep blue and the life within it is the forefront of the game, the main (human) characters have a story to tell, too. Mirai, voiced by the brilliant Anna Akana, has troubles above sea level with her sister who is helping to take care of their Nana. In between each dive, you’ll resurface and spend time on Mirai’s personal sub. Here, you’ll speak with your research team as well as Mirai’s family, getting an update on her sister’s schooling and their Nana’s health.
Time on the submarine also presents an opportunity to appreciate Beyond Blue‘s fantastic soundtrack. It includes none other than the vocal stylings of The Flaming Lips, The Edisons and more. You can also watch real-world documentary clips that highlight how real scientists learn and interact with whales and the ocean.
While Beyond Blue runs perfectly while in the water, I’ve had a few performance hiccups during the submarine sections. Playing on Xbox One S, I experienced some drops in framerate, especially when rotating the camera around. I also had a strange graphical glitch in the corner of my screen – a small rectangle of glitching pixels – that only appeared when inside the sub.
“It isn’t free of issues, but they don’t deter from the magic of diving into an unexplored underwater world”
Neither issue is a huge inconvenience, as the sections in the submarine are generally brief. They certainly didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the game, but it’s worth mentioning that players may encounter the same. Hopefully both of these issues can be be ironed out with a patch.
However, a couple of issues I came across while diving in the ocean did deter from my overall enjoyment of the game. The Manta Ray drone is often difficult to control. With it, you need to ‘zoom scan’ an animal by moving the camera up and down to locate all the areas to scan. It’s easy enough on a small creature like a fish or turtle, but on a huge whale it’s cumbersome. I also had to restart twice during my playthrough; when I was meant to be scanning a creature, it was nowhere to be seen. Reloading my game fixed the issue, but it also meant I was taken back to the beginning of the chapter, losing any progress I’d just made. Again, they’re fairly minor issues, but having to restart a chapter can be aggravating.
“The ocean in Beyond Blue feels real and alive; it’s almost as breathtaking as the real thing”
But the rest of Beyond Blue more than makes up for the few issues I encountered. Swimming through the ocean is silky smooth, and manoeuvring through schools of fish or alongside huge aquatic mammals is joyous. Working towards a goal is always fulfilling, but the best moments in the game occur while you’re simply exploring. You might run into an octopus in a cave, or see a crab skitter across a rock. It’s these little details that really make the game magical. The ocean in Beyond Blue feels real and alive; it’s almost as breathtaking as the real thing, and will enchant any player who dives in.
I loved my time with Beyond Blue. It’s incredibly relaxing being able to swim through the ocean, and mesmerising to reach depths that many of us will never see in real life. From its interesting story, fantastic soundtrack and admirable inclusion of educational elements, Beyond Blue is an excellent title that a wide gamut of gamers will enjoy. It isn’t free of issues, but they don’t deter from the magic of diving into an unexplored underwater world.