Beyond Blue is a diving simulator that follows the story of Mirai, a diver and scientist studying a pod of sperm whales she encountered during her childhood dives. There are eight dives in the game, each progressing deeper into the ocean to explore a certain depth for clues about the sperm whale pod and some of the other species they interact with. During the dives, you stop at buoys that explain where to go to complete your objectives. You can swim freely during these dives for the most part on the way to the objectives, and it is important to do so if you want to complete the index.
You start your adventure in the water and the tutorial gives you a rundown of the controls: scan, move, interact, and change perspective. Once you’re in control, pinpoints begin to appear, showing you where the buoys are. Once you access the buoy you’re able to scan the area and more pinpoints show up. These are usually in the shape of whales (which you detect through their songs) or dolphins (detected through their clicking noises), but every so often you get a question mark, which means a new creature has appeared. Which means, of course, more scanning.
As you swim to the pinpoints you’ll have the chance to scan other animals, like fish and crabs, acquiring information on them as well. All this information is stored in your animal index, and all the animals require more than one scan to get the full profile.
It’s important to keep an eye out and scan animals as often as possible! Along with swimming and scanning, the gameplay is broken up by a few small scenes that explain more about Mirai and her love of the whales or the damage being caused by sea miners and pollution.
Once you’ve completed all the pinpoint objectives, you are sent back to the submarine. Here, you can look around and learn more about Mirai and her family through the items lying around. You can also easily access your animal index to learn about the creatures you’ve bumped into and look at any unlocked videos, which talk about certain topics from the previous dive, such as ocean vents or whale communication. Most importantly, you get to call the other characters, such as Mirai’s sister.
These calls often let you choose what you want to say, though what you choose doesn’t affect the story much. They mostly serve to further the story by adding an emotional piece, usually in the form of talking about Mirai’s struggling family or the ethical feuds between the other scientists in the crew.
Once these calls are done, you get up, get back in your wetsuit, and start diving again. This cycle continues through all eight dives, and once you’ve completed the main dives, you can choose to explore the ocean free of objectives. That’s really all there is to it.
At least the game is beautiful. The graphics are fantastic and realistic. The ocean visual is relaxing and peaceful; it’s the perfect game to play before bed, because it’s so calming. The soundtrack in the submarine is easy to listen to, and you can unlock new songs and change them whenever you want. However, the pretty graphics and music cover up the biggest issue in this game: it fails to teach what it wants to. The game has a heavy focus on ecological problems, like sea mining and pollution yet despite that, none of these issues are completely explored.
We never really learn why sea mining is a threat. Pollution is discussed, but only vaguely, its cause never mentioned. At least, not in the gameplay – it’s provided in the videos playing in the submarine. Very little information is actually given by the swimming and scanning you do. Even through scanning, some of the animal profiles provide little to no information. I could get more from a basic Google search. If I have to scan a dolphin 38 times, I’d like a little something more to make it worthwhile.
While Beyond Blue is gorgeous and has a killer soundtrack full of music and whale songs, it fails to give information through the game play and relies too much on conveying information through videos. There’s very little “game” here, and while I appreciate its ecological message and adherence to realism it left me wanting more. If you want a good educational dive through the ocean, I recommend BBC’s Planet Blue II documentary (fun fact: their team of scientists gave a lot of input on the game!). At least it’s a documentary that knows it’s a documentary, instead of a game mistaking itself for one.