Beyond Blue preview (gamescom)

Currently under development at E-Line Media and due out for release later this year, Beyond Blue walks the thin line between nature documentary and videogames. Time to preview this promising crossover project.

What we know

Described as a spiritual successor to their previous title Never Alone (which was based on a tale by Alaskan natives), Beyond Blue also draws inspiration from the real world. Its title is based on the acclaimed BBC documentary series Blue Planet, and the game features (never-before-seen) footage from Blue Planet II as well.

In terms of gameplay, Beyond Blue tracks the work of Mirai and André, part of a scientific team attempting to explore the depths of the Pacific Ocean by using technology to track and study the creatures living there and the threats facing them. This, too, is inspired by real life – the OceanX initiative that advocates minimally invasive exploration is supporting the development of the game. The game also recently announced its voice cast, featuring Anna Akana, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Mira Furlan and Ally Maki.

beyond blue

What we saw

We’ve met with E-Line twice in the past year for hands-off and hands-on demos of the game. Our first encounter was in the summer of 2018 after the game was first announced. Here, we saw a collection of in-game stills that closely resembled scenes from the (beautiful) documentary feature that is Blue Planet II, showcasing the game’s tie-in to the license.

This left a lot of unanswered questions because actual gameplay was limited to a short pre-recorded video, but when we met with E-Line again a few weeks ago during Gamescom we were finally able to go hands-on. In the demo, the goal was to pick up beacons/sensors and scan different whales in order to study them, with a female lead (Mirai) as the diver you’re controlling. She communicates with André via radio to keep track of the mission, but remained the only playable character during the demo.

beyond blue3

What we thought

If we were to compare Beyond Blue to other (more traditional) videogames, the end result might seem underwhelming. The aquatic gameplay is fairly basic in nature with its point-to-point objectives and scanning a whale’s vitals might not seem like the most exciting videogame plot either, but E-Line’s new project is meant as entertainment with a message. Of course that message about the beauty of the underwater realm and the dangers it faces isn’t going to resonate with everyone, but Beyond Blue’s educational undertone makes it a very responsible and important piece of entertainment. It also happens to be gorgeous to look at.

How well it’s going to draw in the traditional videogaming crowd will be down to something we haven’t quite been able to get from the demo sessions we’ve had, and it’s how engaging the narrative will be and how the gameplay ties into it. There’s a sense of mystery to the short parts of the plot we’ve seen, which could go a long way towards captivating even those who wouldn’t normally go near a nature documentary. But if the game’s mostly about scanning creatures, then our memory goes back to Time Machine VR, which offered a similar mechanic but combined it with time travel and dinosaurs – yet I can’t remember a single other thing about the plot anymore.

With the talented team behind Never Alone at the helm, however, we have a feeling this could become something very interesting indeed, and perhaps something to play (or experience) with the whole family during the holiday season.

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