Looking For Deeper Meaning
HIGH The loving detail bestowed on the environment.
LOW ‘Detective vision’ is a staple.
WTF Could this be the soothing balm for 2020?
There are certain pieces of art that sell a mood and inspire action. For me, the one that comes to mind is the film documentary Dogtown and the Z boys, which is about the roots of modern skateboarding. When I first watched it, it instilled in me a desire to pick up a skateboard and try it for myself. Given the enthusiasm for its topic and the message the game has, I could see Beyond Blue doing the same for kids in regards to the ocean.
The game is about underwater 3D exploration, and the main objective is to swim to waypoints that advance the plot. Between these moments, the player can scan aquatic creatures and gain information about the environment. Each area is broken up into discrete levels, but there’s a fair amount to explore, even if the ‘gameplay’ is slim.
The story centers on scientist/diver Mirai as she follows a group of sperm whales and tries to decipher their calls. This takes her below the twilight zone (a portion of the ocean where the last vestiges of sun reach) and into the pitch-black realms of giant squid. Between levels, the player can walk around Mirai’s submarine to watch documentary clips, listen to a curated list of songs, and to talk to her coworkers and family via radio. The plot around Mirai’s bickering workmates and her ailing Nana are light, but serve the overall message of family, duty, and the wonder of nature well.
When I first started Beyond Blue I was expecting something closer to a traditional action game and was a little disappointed to find that there’s no danger or threat. However, by the time I completed several dive missions, it became clear how the gameplay is married to the narrative — Blue is a love letter to sea creatures and to nature in general.
Having giant humpback whales glide above me while scanning them, digging into caves to find scurrying octopi, or swimming alongside a school of fish made me fall head over heels with the environment. The fact that there is no threat to the player makes sense because Beyond Blue wants them to explore everything underwater and to eschew the typical movie fearmongering of a Jaws or a 40 meters Down. It is Mirai’s duty to her underwater family and her real family that pushes her forward, and it exposes how threatening humans are to the ecosystem. In another game, a ‘humanity is the real villain’ message would be cliche, but in Beyond Blue it’s a rallying cry.
Because the message is so strong and delivered so effectively, I can forgive some of the design choices.
The first is that there are four different view settings – no light, a flashlight, X-Ray vision and a green one whose purpose is unclear. However, apart from one moment when scanning a shark is required, there’s no need for anything other than the flashlight.
The second is Beyond Blue’s ‘detective vision’ that highlights animals to be found. While I was trying to locate all of the creatures for an Achievement, I noticed that using it narrowed my field of view. Similar to how it’s used in the Arkham games starring Batman, it made me focus on certain points and detracted from the artistic beauty on display. Blue does little to discourage using it constantly as fish can be missed, and over-reliance on it makes the experience feel smaller than it should.
Like the team’s previous work, Never Alone, Beyond Blue shares informative content via a genuine love for its topic. I can easily imagine pre-teens picking this up and wanting to be marine biologists, in the same way that I wanted to become a skateboarder, or how one might want to be a paleontologist after walking out of Jurassic Park.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by E-Line Media. It is currently available on PS4, PC, iOS, Linux, Mac and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Alcohol Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Language, and Violent References. I’m kind of surprised this game got away with an E rating — there’s not much in the way of violence, but it documents (offscreen) a beloved grandmother’s slow descent into dementia, and there’s also a particularly poignant moment where a whale is poisoned and dies. Very young kids might find it quite distressing.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully playable without sound. The text size and color cannot be altered.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.