Reviewed on Xbox One (Also available on PlayStation 4, PC, iOS)
Video games have the ability to be so many different things. They can be thrilling action adventures, heartbreaking tales of loss and love, or thought provoking looks at our own society. The scope of what games are capable of has expanded significantly in the past decade, and in the case of Beyond Blue, developer E-Line Media has created an interactive educational experience that was a joy for my family to play through together.
In Beyond Blue you play as Mirai, a marine biologist who is part of a deep sea expedition to track a family of whales and study their behaviors. Mirai and her team also live stream their adventures online in an effort to educate the public on ocean conservation, even taking viewer questions in the middle of a dive. Over the course of the game you’ll be exploring various undersea environments and cataloging the diverse sea life that you encounter along the way.
As you probe the depths of the ocean you’ll scan each life form that you come across, which catalogs it in your submarine’s computer, allowing you to go back at any time to look up each creature and view 3D models of it and learn new facts about them. You’ll also unlock videos as you progress called Ocean Insights, these short clips were made in conjunction with BBC Studios (creators of Blue Planet II) and feature interviews with the actual scientists conducting this kind of research and gorgeous footage of the real life creatures and life forms that you encounter in the game.
Discovery is at the heart of Beyond Blue and coming across new creatures was a joy for my kids. They would get excited when they saw something they recognized and would yell out facts about them as they swam past. I had no idea they knew so much about dolphins and whale sharks, I guess all of those episodes of Aquanauts has paid off. They also loved seeing and learning about creatures they’d never heard of before. My 8 year old literally told me as we played “Dad, we’re having fun and learning at the same time!“
As far as the gameplay goes, Beyond Blue is a very straight forward experience. You swim, you explore, and you scan. There are no oxygen meters to monitor and refill, no intricate puzzles to try and solve, and no dangerous creatures that you need to worry about attacking you. It’s very simple but I appreciated this approach as it makes the game accessible to younger kids, although I do think a little bit more variety in what the game asks of you would have also been welcomed. As it is, Beyond Blue is all about peacefully experiencing the beauty of the ocean and uncovering it’s secrets.
And when I say “the beauty of the ocean” I really mean it. This game is quite stunning to look at. From the coral reefs and brine pools, to the dolphins and sea turtles, they’ve really done a wonderful job of capturing just how vibrant and stunning the world under the sea is. I would often times find myself just leisurely floating around to take it all in. Swimming alongside a group of whales as they sing their songs and the moonlight shining down through the waves above you is a breathtaking and meditative experience. This may become my go to game when I need to unwind after a stressful day.
In between dives you can take time to explore the small sub that you call home, examining the objects scattered about and logging onto your computer to check out your research. You can also use this time to call your family back home or your fellow researchers to discuss your findings. There’s a story line involving your sister who is back home taking caring of your ailing grandmother while you’re away, and while these bits of narrative aren’t particularly enthralling on their own, they do a good job of adding a bit of character to the experience and help to drive home just how much these researchers care about what it is they’re doing.
It’s also worth pointing out that the quality of the voice acting is quite good, which is nice considering the amount of chatter during the dives. There’s also a pretty solid soundtrack of indie music that plays while you’re hanging out in the sub, including tracks by The Flaming Lips, The Edisons, and more. Turns out Mirai has pretty solid taste in music.
The experience is relatively brief, lasting around 3 hours or so in total, but it felt just about right for me and a good length if you’re playing along with your kids. It’s great time to have over a weekend at home. They also include the option to free dive in any of the environments after you’ve finish though, so you can go relax some more and discover any of the creatures that you might have missed the first time around.
Beyond Blue is a truly unique interactive documentary. It offers a beautiful glimpse into the world of oceanic research and it had my kids and I completely engaged and entertained the whole time. It’s an easy recommend for families or anyone that has an interest in oceanography. If getting kids (and adults) interested in taking care of our planet’s oceans was the goal of the developers, I’d say they should be pretty proud of what they’ve accomplished.