I’d like to preface by saying that this review comes by way of my partner, who always wanted to be a marine biologist. When I told them that I was about to play a game where you explore the ocean, they jumped at the chance to play it themself instead and then give me their opinion. So everything I’m about to say here is on behalf of them, who I imagine is more the game’s target market than I.
Beyond Blue comes by way of developer E-line Media, whom you may know from the 2D platformer Never Alone that released a few years back. And much like said game, this one is not only a player-driven experience, but also educational!
You play as Mirai, a deep-sea explorer, who (along with her two-person crew) occasionally live streams their job, which entails them keeping tabs on a family of sperm whales. There’s an underlying plot of an underwater mining operation, but, for the most part, the narrative revolves around Mirai’s relationships with her sister and the family of sperm whales (as well as their parallels).
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to Beyond Blue. Between dives, you’re given a bit of dialogue whenever Mirai calls her sister Ren to discuss school or the declining health of their nana, or brief conversations with her crew, but the dives themselves only consist of scanning sealife and following quest markers (that always lead to more scanning). The explorable area is also quite small, despite the game taking place in the middle of the ocean.
The game is pretty easy on the eyes, with vibrant areas to explore alongside deep-sea volcanic vents. Mirai and the sealife look and animate well too. But as far as “video game stuff,” it really is just swimming around looking for circles (indicating unscanned objects and sealife) until quest markers pop up. This leads to even more scanning. There’s mention of molten vents and their danger to Mirai, but they don’t actually affect her if you swim on top of them. There are no threats at all, actually (which isn’t a bad thing, mind you). You swim, you scan.
The story itself is quite good, with a finale that definitely stuck with us, but my partner ultimately wished they had more to do while controlling Mirai. They’re obsessed with the ocean and knew the names of everything before scanning them, and still had a good enough time with Beyond Blue because of its nautical themes, but grew tired of the same formula. That’s pretty damning for a 3-hour game.
The Blue Planet inspiration is obvious, as E-line Media teamed up with BBC Studio and OceanX Media to help craft Beyond Blue. Completing dives even unlocks short documentaries that you can watch back on Mirai’s sub, which I found really interesting. It’s about 30 minutes’ worth of content altogether. You can also listen to a handful of licensed songs on your sub, but there isn’t much to do inside while you’re in there.
In a nutshell, Beyond Blue is pretty, interesting, and educational, but there isn’t much meat on its bones — and what’s there isn’t exactly riveting. There’s certainly a chill, zen-like quality to the experience, though, and I’m always down for more interesting games that aren’t color-washed military shooters or yet another pixel platformer.
This review was done using a digital Xbox One copy provided by the game’s developer.