Darling It’s Better, Down Where It’s…
The ocean holds a special place in my heart, though perhaps in the deeper, darker regions of it. The big blue sea simultaneously fascinates and frightens me. The oft-repeated quote “we know more about the surface of the Moon than the bottom of the ocean” fills me with equal parts wonder and dread. What mysteries lurk therein, and what sights are there yet unseen? Beyond Blue aims to (actually) immerse you in this alien world, and reveal the beauty and bounty which lies just beneath the waves. In many ways, it succeeds – stoking that childlike sense of amazement from time to time. However, my experience thus far has been more a poor man’s aquarium trip, rather than a true dive into the depths.
Before any readers get too discouraged – hear me out. Beyond Blue’s impact will vary wildly between players, depending on their expectations, interests, and simple preference. I won’t jump into spoilers just yet, but this game is very much so about our oceans, their inhabitants, and humanity’s relation to these creatures. It’s not an adventure game, survival simulator, or even much of an exploration. It’s more of a personal narrative tied to an interactive aquatic “tour,” if you could call it that.
If you want to know more about the ocean’s denizens and were perhaps a fan of Animal Planet back in the day, you might get more out of this than I did. I avoided any info about the game before I played, and while this may be a good idea for something like The Last of Us 2, I’d actually recommend against it here. Read some reviews, watch a trailer or two, and then decide if this is the kind of experience you’re willing to pay for. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the beautiful, breathtaking, but often boring Beyond Blue.
Welcome To The Deep: Beyond Blue’s Bountiful Vistas
Man, she must have stamina for days – I can hardly finish a pool lap without panting.
We’ll start with Beyond Blue’s tangible, undeniable strength – it’s scenery. One might be tempted to think this is applause for the game’s graphics, but those are simply good. The game truly shines in its realization of picturesque ocean vistas. They capture the lithe movement of playful dolphins, the vivid flash of schooling fish, and the lilting rays of sunlight on water.
I feel that Beyond Blue’s greatest achievement is that the screenshots and trailers don’t exactly do these environs justice. It’s the motion of both Mirai (our main character) and the animals around her which breathes life into the world – in a way that movies and National Geographic can’t hope to replicate. You don’t feel there, per se, but you’re probably as close as you’ll ever be… unless you’re a regular deep-sea diver.
While the sheer variety and density of aquatic species packed into each area beggars belief, your immersion remains steadfast thanks to the fluid animations and exceptional sound design. Sound plays an important role, as both your in-game guide, since you use sonar to navigate the deep, and as a player. Your ears perk up at the gentle moan of whales, or the high-pitched trill of dolphins, waiting for you beyond a cove.
To contrast the carefully sculpted reefs and caves, the blue abyss lies ever-present on your horizon. Unlike many games with underwater sequences, Beyond Blue doesn’t paint its massive walls of water with a dull navy and call it a day. Instead, there’s a true depth and ambiance to the yawning chasms of our ocean. They seem to stretch into infinity, threatening to swallow Mirai in nothingness if she wanders too far.
Don’t let Captain Ahab know about this little pow-wow
And this is where I found Beyond Blue most engaging and most meaningful – the mere experience of the ocean. Every time the game dragged me away from this simple joy, whether it be narrative, scans, or objectives; I felt my interest wane and my patience wear. With the aim of not sounding too harsh, let me explain why I think this may happen to many players, namely, to people who’re looking for a game instead of an experience.
Shallow As A Puddle: Beyond Blue’s Lack Of Engaging Mechanics
Scan, scan again, scan some more. Press F – but not to pay respects.
First – let’s get the obvious out of the way: Beyond Blue is nothing like Subnautica, Stranded Deep, or Raft. If you’re looking for survival, base building, or even something as fundamental as enemies and challenges – look elsewhere. I think a much more apt comparison is something akin to Journey, ABZÛ, or even Dear Esther.
Beyond Blue lives up to its “Educational” tag, focusing heavily on scanning ocean flora and fauna to learn more about the ecology. At first, this confused me somewhat, as Mirai seems like a researcher who would know this information like the back of her hand. However, this is explained once you learn that she’s hosting a livestream and has partnered with several other people to build a living database.
The scanning itself is, well, basic. You aim your reticle at points of interest, hold down the button, and wait for the bar to fill. Repeat this several times and you’ll unlock insights and codex entries. Occasionally you’ll be given “tasks,” like examining stressed coral or tagging a family of whales. However, these play out the same way as every other scan. Press, hold, wait.
Eventually, I grew very tired of this. I just wanted to ogle more sea critters, but to get to new areas with more wildlife I had to complete my scans. I started to wonder why I could stomach scanning in a game like Subnautica, where it’s arguably worse since scanning makes you vulnerable, and I came to realize my personal issue with Beyond Blue – information about creatures I’m already aware of is not enough.
Beyond scanning, you swim, head for nav points, and occasionally make dialogue choices. As mentioned before, this is more of a tour than an adventure. The short interpersonal stories are often well delivered – both by the actors and writers, but their presence does not do enough to compensate for the absence of meaningful engagement through gameplay.
Fear And Trembling: The Missing Link In Beyond Blue
The Midnight Zone was my favorite, and yet I still felt a little too – safe.
Don’t get me wrong, whales, sharks, dolphins – the whole lot of em are cute, cool, amazing creatures that bless our Earth. However, I’ve seen documentaries on them, read books about them, and even had the chance to watch dolphins leap beside my tour boat once. I love them, but they’re known unknowns if that makes sense.
In Subnautica, I looked forward to scanning because the creatures were, literally and figuratively, alien. They may have looked and acted like familiar characters, but their codexes proffered the opportunity to learn more about an exotic, fictional ecosystem. Yes, this is a personal problem, but it’s a microcosm of why I couldn’t enjoy this game as much as I wanted.
The best moments for me were the deep dive segments, where Mirai risked the darkness of the midnight zone. The light never reaches here, and this demesne boasts giant squid, sperm whales, and bioluminescence. A true thrill crept through my body, attended by a chill at the thought of what lies hidden in wait. What’s cloaked in the darkness: a colossal squid? Megalodon? Godzilla? No, nothing so fantastic.
Of course, the sperm whales and giant squid I did see were incredible, emerging from the murk like wraiths. However, I found the approach itself to be more exhilarating than the actual laying of eyes upon. My imagination did more to engage me than the actuality of the creatures, and that’s not necessarily a failing of Beyond Blue.
The game doesn’t want to scare you, it wants to educate and excite you. The calm music, which pervades even the most harrowing depths, reassures the player that everything is fine – this is a tour guide. You’re here to look at the pretty creatures and appreciate the ocean. Well, mission accomplished.
Come on, Who wouldn’t kill for this kinda sub? Just make sure to mute Mirai’s Playlist.
I feel like this is a perfect game for younger kids. I would’ve loved to play something like this when I was about ten or eleven. They’re still discovering the majesty of the planet we live in, and they hunger for a more hands-on experience than reading Eyewitness picture books. For me, I appreciate what Beyond Blue has accomplished and think it’s a genuinely good game, but it’s crafted for a very niche audience – one that I no longer find myself in.
If you love the ocean and want to learn more about our real and amazing planet, get it. It’s worth it. If you want to play some cool ocean games and kill the creatures in the sea for their crafting materials, steer clear.
BEYOND BLUE: RECOMMENDED FOR SOME
If you enjoy games with an ocean theme, why not check out our review of Spongebob Squarepants – Battle for Bikini Bottom: Rehydrated.
Many thanks to E-Line Media for a PC review code for this title.
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Content Writer, Amateur Poet, and Occasional Dungeon Master. I’ve published in literary journals and gaming sites, and suffer from an excess of interests.
No longer a member of the NookGaming team due to other commitments, but find more writing from him on Medium.