The ocean is a fascinating place, and vital to the continued existence of humankind. Educators such as Sir David Attenborough have tried, through both lectures and breathtaking documentaries, to raise public awareness of the state of our oceans and what we need to do to save them. Beyond Blue is a new step in this endeavour, a collaboration between Attenborough’s acclaimed documentary Blue Planet II and game developer and publisher E-Line Media. Given the heightened importance of the gaming industry and the great educational potential of interactivity, it sounds like a great match. Playing Beyond Blue, however, you find a game which is light both on education and entertainment.
You take control of Mirai Soto, a deep-sea scientist who became enthralled with the ocean, and especially whales, during childhood. Now, Mirai tracks a family of whales to study their behaviour as closely as possible. In this context, as closely as possible means scanning animals. The story is divided into a set of dives that all play the same way. You start a work day by accessing a buoy and playing the sounds it recorded. Then you swim towards waymarkers telling you the current location of each animal you just heard. Once there, you scan them to tag them, or you scan them to listen to them, or you scan them to assess how they’re doing. There are two different types of scans – one involves a special drone shaped like a manta ray, which can only rotate and pan around its target, making for incredibly fiddly scanning. Then you swim to the next buoy and the whole procedure repeats.
Between each dive, you spend time in your submarine, listening to music, watching documentary clips, reading logs, making calls to Mirai’s team – which consists of a marine biologist and a sound engineer – or calling her sister. The dialogue feels natural and the voice actors, including actress and YouTube personality Anna Akana, do a great job. The cast is highly diverse, too. There’s a genuine effort to tell an engaging story, but Beyond Blue offers next to nothing in the way of gameplay. If you want to know more about what you just scanned, you have to read logs at your submarine in a very basic UI; there’s no actual interaction taking place. As beautiful as the virtual ocean is, it also feels mostly empty, with only occasional thought for anything that isn’t a whale. There are attempts to teach that don’t involve simply presenting you with reading material – for example, when Mirai talks you through an in-game live stream – but these instances are few and very short, to boot. Beyond Blue is certainly faithful to the everyday work of a diver, but this staunch realism makes for a tedious experience.
Once you’re in the submarine, Beyond Blue’s meditative ambient soundtrack changes to an eclectic mix of songs by artists such as Sophie Gibson, Miles Davis, and The Flaming Lips, giving you an opportunity to enjoy Mirai’s personal playlist. Like the rest of the game, it’s amazingly diverse, going from singer-songwriter pop to African hip-hop.
Beyond Blue has the ingredients of a fantastic collaboration, but the end result feels unfinished.
Genre: Edutainment | Format: PC (tested)/PS4/XBO/Apple Arcade | Developer: E-Line Media | Publisher: E-Line Media | Price: £15.49 | Release: Out now