There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Blue Planet II. The BBC Studios marine life documentary was so wildly successful that it has been credited with British policy changes in relation to single-use plastics – the so-called “Blue Planet effect”.
Beyond Blue is an ocean exploration game directly inspired by Blue Planet II. This should give you some idea of the beauty, wonder, and conservation themes that await. In fact, E-Line Media went the whole nine yards to develop Beyond Blue by directly partnering with BBC Studios, ocean exploration initiative OceanX Media, and world-leading ocean experts.
Beyond Blue is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, iOS Linux, Macintosh operating systems, and tvOS. For my review, I dove into the Windows PC version.
Just keep swimming
Beyond Blue puts you in diving suit of Dr Mirai Soto, a deep-water explorer and scientist on a series of dives. Her adventures span from the shallow atolls, to the midnight zone, to deeper yet.
Dr Soto has been tracking a family of sperm whales, but soon discovers that all is not well in the whales’ world. And whales really are the real draw-card here. You’ll swim with all manner of fish, turtles, sharks, and dolphins, but the wow moments are reserved for the whales. Their slow, ponderous grace as they swim across the scene is really something.
Interaction with the wildlife itself is minimal beyond cut scene animations. I tried swimming directly into a variety of animals to get a reaction, not unlike a child tapping on an aquarium tank, but never saw any reaction. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker, but a minor one considering the level of realism achieved in both animation and design.
You’ll also love Beyond Blue if you have collect-a-thon tendencies. All sea creatures (except for coral and plant life, unfortunately) are collectible via your dive suit “scan” function. There are enough collectibles that you’ll have to go out of your way to get them all, but not so many that it ever becomes tedious.
Controls on the PC are spread between keyboard and mouse, with no available key binding options. This was a little tricky at times when it felt like similar menus required different buttons for the same outcome. However, the diving itself feels very intuitive, and that’s the part that matters most.
The story of Beyond Blue is light and conservation focused, mostly using dialogue with your colleagues and family as a narrative frame to discuss progress with whales, the environment and some background family drama. The “Live Stream” format employed during the dives is very clever, allowing the characters to explain marine biological concepts to the audience without breaking the fourth wall. This is supported by great voice acting work that never feels heavy-handed.
Players looking for the dramatic highs of other ocean exploration games like Endless Ocean will likely be disappointed. However, I would argue that Beyond Blue delivers its adrenaline in different ways. It’s in the trepidation as you look over the edge of atoll into the depths; the shock when a giant squid flits past; the eeriness of swimming through open ocean, moving forward but seemingly staying in place.
The entire game took me around four hours to complete, but much of that was stuffing around scanning as many fish as I could. If you pushed through the main story alone, you’d likely finish it in one to hours – something to consider with the current Steam price of NZ$24.79.
Then again, Blue Planet II is around $30 on DVD, so you’re still coming out on top.
Did you know the Giant Squid has the largest eyes in the animal kingdom?
You alternate between diving and the submarine over the course of the game. While there’s not a ton to do on the sub other than listen to a banging soundtrack and chat with NPCs, it does provide an opportunity to learn a little bit.
Tidbits of information about the ocean ecosystem are peppered throughout gameplay, but the real educational punch comes from watching the half an hour of educational videos unlocked along the way. These put your in-game adventures into real-life context, which I found to be eye-opening.
Learning is cool, yo.
Also very cool is the soundtrack, as mentioned. Whoever put together the submarine soundtrack has good taste, with tracks from The Flaming Lips, The Edisons and New Zealand’s own Maisey Rika. The music that plays while diving shifts into atmospheric instrumentals which aim to enhance rather than distract.
I very much appreciated that even though Beyond Blue looks beautiful, it managed this without requiring too much graphical power. My current desktop PC is about five years past due for a new graphics card, but I was still able to play Beyond Blue at its highest settings, only suffering some skipping on a couple of cut scenes.
For the ocean explorer in all of us
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but Barbie: Ocean Discovery was one of my favourite games as a child. The possibility of exploring the deep sea has held a special magic for me ever since. It’s too bad then that in real life, swimming in the ocean terrifies me. Truly, even snorkeling in shallow water when visibility is low scares the jeepers out of me.
Beyond Blue allows me to live out my deep diving inclinations from the safety of my apartment. It’s calming; it’s educational without being preachy; and it’s not bad to look at, either.
While it won’t satisfy those hoping for intense drama, anyone with any interest in ocean exploration or conservation at all will find something to enjoy in Beyond Blue.