I’ve always had a fascination with the ocean, given that the ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and there is so much we don’t know about it. The beauty of underwater life paralleled with the mystery of it all makes it terrifying, at least to me. My fear of the deep ocean all but cements the fact that I can’t go on dives myself, so it’s nice to be able to live vicariously through games such as Beyond Blue.
Beyond Blue is a deep-sea exploration game following Mirai, a scientist studying a family of sperm whales. As she yearns to learn more about the animals she loves so much, an illegal drilling operation threatens the sperm whale’s ecosystem. Using ground-breaking technology, Mirai and her team of scientists must do all they can to save the whales before its too late.
This plot synopsis makes Beyond Blue sound much more thrilling than it actually is. Though it’s clear that the folks over at E-Line Media wanted to make a pulse-pounding narrative to give players a reason to care about the dives, they weren’t very successful. Almost all of my time with Beyond Blue was spent listening to characters talk, which was far more interesting than the actual story. When the game would slip into the melodrama about deep-sea mining or Mirai’s elderly grandmother (yes, that somehow makes it into this game), I was bored out of my mind.
Chances are, however, that Beyond Blue probably caught your attention for its gameplay rather than its story. If that’s the case, you’re in luck, at least if you’re seeking a serene underwater experience. The bulk of Beyond Blue has a very chill, relaxing vibe. Most of the runtime is spent swimming around the dive areas scanning fish, whales, and other sea creatures. Once you scan enough of each creature, you’ll be able to recognize them without scanning, which unlocks some interesting facts.
Scanning creatures isn’t particularly fun, per se, but it is satisfying. It reminds me of No Man’s Sky at launch; lots of things to scan and look at, but not really much to do. If you happen to be someone, like myself, who has a deep fascination with the ocean and wants to learn more about it and its inhabitants, unlocking facts is enough of a reward to warrant the grind of scanning everything in sight. If reading up about barracudas or sperm whales doesn’t sound like a fun time for you, there really isn’t much reason for you to play this game.
Seeing as how the popular docu-series Blue Planet II inspires beyond Blue, it’s no surprise that the game is full of interesting information. Outside of the fish facts, players unlock short videos featuring real sea creatures and scientists. The 16 videos all range between one to three minutes in length, so don’t expect a feature-length documentary, but it felt like a nice little reward for trudging through the plot.
What really holds Beyond Blue back from greatness are its graphics and presentation. While things might look fine most of the time, from afar, the visuals tend to fall apart whenever you get too close to objects. Textures are all incredibly muddy, something that is terribly noticeable the further you progress in the game. There also an added feature that lets you look at the models of creatures you’ve discovered freely, zooming in on them and watching them perform different “behaviors.” This would be a great idea if this were a graphical marvel, but, sadly, this feature only makes the graphical flaws more apparent.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Beyond Blue’s graphics is its one human character model. While diving, Mirai looks pretty good in her swimsuit. When she gets out of the suit in the submarine, however, her face is seriously the stuff of nightmares. Maybe I’m a bit harsh on the game, but those uncanny valley eyes are going to haunt me.
The frame rate in Beyond Blue is a whole beast of its own. Sure, it seems to stay steady for the majority of the experience, but it drops significantly many times during the main story. Sometimes this drop in frame rate doesn’t even make sense as nothing is happening on screen. One of the last missions is particularly bad in this regard as it takes place in the darkest parts of the ocean, meaning there’s next to nothing but darkness on screen, but you are chugging along. No, this didn’t kill the experience, but it was incredibly noticeable, even to someone who can usually tolerate a lower frame rate.
Beyond Blue touts in its marketing that it has a soundtrack featuring music from Miles Davis, The Flaming Lips, The Edisons, and more. While this is technically true, these songs are only available in between main dives (at least while playing through the story), meaning you never really hear them. The songs included are good, though, if you happen to just stand around the submarine to listen to them.
Beyond Blue is a concise experience. You can finish it in about two to three hours, and you can 100% it in less than five. While I really enjoyed all of the educational value that the game provides, if you don’t happen to be interested in the real-world ocean, there isn’t any reason for you to play this game. So, if swimming around for two hours scanning fish, watching educational videos, and learning more about the ocean sounds up your alley, Beyond Blue is perfect for you. However, the game’s subpar graphics, terrible technical performance, and melodramatic plot make it tough to enjoy the surreal adventure under the sea.
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