After a somewhat lengthy wait, Beyond Blue by E-Line Media has finally been released! It’s out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC – here’s what we thought.
It’s been almost two years since we first heard about Beyond Blue, when it was presented during 2018’s trade shows in teaser form – with little more to see than a few screenshots and a brief explanation. The “Blue” portion of the title referred to the BBC’s amazing Blue Planet documentary series though, which serves as a backdrop of sorts to the game.
A year later, we got our first glimpse of actual gameplay and were even able to go hands on and experience a bit of the in-game narrative – revealing an emphasis on exploration and wonder rather than thrilling action. It’s been a bit of a wait since then, but the full game is out now, giving us the opportunity to see how the game plays and how it ties into the licensed source material.
From that perspective, our journey with the game has come full circle. Having now played the entire campaign we can finally see to what degree this is a “BBC documentary simulator” or actually a game, and of course the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The plot of Beyond Blue is perhaps most closely related to those eight to ten minute “behind the scenes” clips that come with each episode of Beyond Blue, showing us the researchers and camera crew at work.
Although you’re not a BBC employee in Beyond Blue, main protagonist Mirai Soto fell in love with the underwater world a long time ago and is now a valued team member of a crew that’s researching the behavior of sperm whales and the world they live in. The story takes place in the near future, so you have access to some impressive technology to carry out your work and follow a particular family of whales in which a young calf was recently born. Following the story cues, you uncover more and more about the way they communicate, where they migrate and the dangers they face.
A game based on a nature documentary is of course going to be at risk of turning into a bit of a guilt trip about the state of the natural world. Beyond Blue keeps this aspect very implicit and retains a firm focus on the natural world and the animals that live in it – those relationships and emotions like awe and wonder being far more important to the experience. You can record and catalogue much of the living world that you find, exploring a little as you veer away from your objectives a little. The voiceovers that fuel the narrative try to keep you on track though, and a lot of them are tied to Mirai conducting a live stream for followers of the research team. Your fellow scientists will thus remind you of your objectives, making for a relatively streamlined experience even though it’s set in an open underwater world.
In between the various dives you conduct over the course of the somewhat short story (the game can be completed within the scope of four hours), you get to rest inside a small submersible, chat with your teammates and family members, and review what you’ve found out. The latter is done by checking out the in game “insights”, which are enriched with short clips that were originally part of the Blue Planet series. These clips are gorgeous, as is the in-game presentation of Beyond Blue – Mirai glides through the water smoothly, and the world around her is teeming with life. This isn’t something you want to rush through – enjoy the journey, don’t be in a hurry to get to the destination.
There is very little action in the traditional sense in Beyond Blue – much of the appeal comes from an appreciation of the natural world you get to be a part of in this game, so if you saw Blue Planet and didn’t care for it then you might struggle with this game as well. Those who get their “wow”-effect from everything the natural world has to offer, however, should definitely consider E-Line latest. Like Never Alone before it, it doesn’t deliver mindless action but provides a meaningful experience that makes and leaves an impression outside of the confines of the core gameplay experience.