It is not everyday where a video game that caught you by surprise and completely won you over has a mirror version of It with totally opposite gameplay and that game as well, takes you by surprise and totally wins you over. After playing MANEATER and becoming the worlds most powerful shark eating anything and everything that dared to move in or on my ocean, venturing under the se did not feel as exciting in any other game. Thankfully, there is more to experience under the sea than just finding food to become a giant shark and in a nice change of pace, I was happy to learn about life in the Ocean as much as I was to try and eat it all. It was time to dive back into the water with Beyond Blue and it was an incredible experience.
Beyond Blue manages to do something special treading the fine line of an educational game and being genuinely entertaining. Inspired by one of the most spectacular wildlife documentaries ever made in Blue Planet II, and that influence can clearly be seen in how Beyond Blue invites players into the world to explore it. Where Beyond Blue succeeds where other educational based experiences have failed before, is that it focuses on giving the player the freedom of time to do the exploration of the ocean world and whilst a lot of it is hand holding guidance such as completing set objectives in order to complete the dives, the player is not rushed to do so and as a result, Beyond Blue is easily one of the most relaxing games to play in 2020.
You play as Mirai, a marine biologist working with a team to research and develop technology to help track and trace ocean life to better understand them. The gameplay switches between 8 Dives where the player will have to complete objectives in order to complete that dive and Mirai herself, as we explore her own life in the narrative between dive sections. The main focus is of course on the dives themselves, as Mirai often live streams her adventures as she researches sea life including her tracking of a Pod of Whales, with the first dive revealing that a new female baby whale was born. Though guided, the fun of the dives for me has to be just swimming about looking at the vast ocean life and jus being in awe of the fantastic job the sound and visuals do to bring this strange world to life particularly with the sound because if you have a fairly decent headset, hearing all the animal sounds such as the clicking of Dolphins and the songs of the whales will completely relax you as you the wonder of it all washes over you.
Visually Beyond Blue is quite simply majestic and on my Xbox One X it was just breath-taking to not only see how the light from above the sea became true art when you looked at how it broke through the water but the level of detail in each creature is staggering when you swim up close just to take it all in. The animation of the sea life is phenomenal and I lost myself in seeing dolphins, whales and even schools of fish all swimming around me, scanning each one to catalogue them and through the objectives, learning so much about their behaviour which just felt more personal by controlling Mirai and hearing her reaction to it. Though it may never be as personal as actually diving yourself but the game does a superb job of being as immersive as possible to bring the player into this world.
Of course, it is the educational side that is really the strength to Beyond Blue and it does this is very clever ways. The dives themselves are close to “hands on” education as you can get as Mirai deploys and uses the technology available to conduct her research and to actually see the behaviour of how Ocean life lives is always incredible. But the game also has Insight Videos, short little films which are unlocked by completing the dives and can be played back on Mirai’s base sub. I love these insight videos which explain the technology the ideology of Marine Biology and the animals themselves and compliment the actual gameplay really well. I would say this would be the perfect experience for a younger audience as the game is easy to follow with really no risk of ever failing a dive and the rewards with the insight videos is a great incentive to completing the dives themselves. But this is certainly not a game aimed for “kids” as the story narrative for Mirai is very well written as we see the personal relationships and disagreements between her team form around moral ethics about why they are conducting the research against the science of it all. You also learn more about Mirai herself as she communicates with her sister via calls or emails and learn that their mother is suffering from dementia with responsibility falling on Mirai’s sister to look after her which makes Mirai feel guilty for being away. All very powerful story elements for a narrative that could just be ignored if you simply move from dive to dive but certainly adds an extra layer to the story telling alongside the educational elements which never overshadow the game.
Beyond Blue for me is an absolute delightful game to play and there is awe and wonder to be found every time Mirai takes to the oven on a dive whilst the story narrative of her team and family life never feels rushed or just there for padding. The game is limited to only one area of the ocean and 47 species of sea life but I also feel that this more of a platform than just a game experience and if DLC is planned, it could easily see Mirai and her team moving to a different ocean area with new life added in and a fresh narrative too. I love being back in the base sub watching all the Insight videos which I have over and over and I really enjoyed having Mirai’s own Spotify style music playlist which I often found I had left on as I did other things around my home as the songs are incredible, in fact I have them on now as I type this review.
Beyond Blue is a welcome bonus experience, correctly priced and manages to get the balance between being an educational title as well as a solid gaming experience as well which so few others have successfully done. I truly hope to see follow up titles or content for this game as the wonder of Ocean life was ever present just as it was with Blue Planet series of documentaries.