If you’ve ever wondered what it must be like to spend your days working as a deep-sea diver, gathering data on the planet’s oceans and its inhabitants, Beyond Blue has you covered in abundance. Despite titles like Abzu, Endless Ocean and Subnautica already providing similar experiences, Beyond Blue offers more than just a story-driven dive through the ocean depths. Its partnership with the BBC’s Blue Planet team also makes it a deeply rewarding educational experience that left with me with greater knowledge of our oceans and how their existence is vital for all life on Earth.
You take the reins of deep-sea explorer and scientist Mirai as she sets out along with her research team to learn more about the oceans and discover the secrets they hide. The story primarily focuses on a specific group of sperm whales and your job is to locate and study these creatures, noting aspects of their lives, such as mating patterns, hunting skills, communication techniques and more. Over the course of the journey, you’re also given a deeper look at Mirai’s backstory, family relationships and why she’s passionate about the role she’s playing in marine exploration.
The story takes place over eight unique dives into different regions of the ocean. From the Sunlight Zone just beneath the ocean’s surface, to the Twilight Zone where the sunlight starts to fade. Even to the Dark and Abyss regions which, as you guess, are void of natural light and is home to some of the most varied, and often frightening marine life. During each dive, you’re guided through your objectives via way-points but because Beyond Blue is also an educational experience, you’re able to explore each region to your leisure, scanning the lifeforms through your scan tool that can be activated through the L1 button.
Each ocean region includes a specific amount of each aquatic lifeforms for you to scan, and you’ll need to scan every single one if you’re a completionist and want to discover all the game has to offer. Thankfully the in-game map reveals all the scannable creatures, although they can be a little hard to make out sometimes. Once a creature has been scanned, you can view more details about it in your Science Log. As you progress, your scanning tool will also be upgraded to include a range of UV lights, allowing you to find out even more about the aquatic lifeforms.
Each of Beyond’s Blue’s dive regions are a visual delight, from the coral reefs in the crystal blue Sunlight Zone to the dark, volcanic, alien-filled Abyss regions. However, while the backdrops and scenery are a delight, some of the creature models are less than impressive, especially when viewing them through your Science Log where textures turn a little blurry. Thankfully, the game’s ambience, atmosphere and background score whilst exploring these regions more than make up for the occasional visual limitations.
What I found most insightful though was the Ocean Insights you unlock during the course of your journey. These sixteen unique unseen mini-documentaries, filmed as part of the BBC’s Blue Planet series, feature original interviews with ocean scientists from across the world. They reveal more about some of the ocean’s inhabitants, its zones and how humans are slowly destroying the waters. They also touch on how the planet’s oceans impact all areas of life and how if the oceans fail, the planet fails, so it’s vital we continue to protect, conserve, and sustain them.
Between each dive, you’re able to unwind in your submarine, which acts as a sort of hub allowing you view your Science Logs. You can listen to a range of music and check in with your research team through voice calls, during which various options allow you to shape the dialogue how you want. For the most part, these calls are designed to refresh your memory about your last dive and detail your objectives for the next one. There are a few forced moments, but the dialogue between Mirai and her research colleagues is strong and insightful. Conversations with Mirai’s sister, Ren, help reveal a backstory to why Mirai is passionate about the oceans and also reveal more about the personal sacrifices deep-sea divers often have to make while they are away for multiple weeks and months. I just wish there was more!
My biggest gripe with Beyond Blue is its stuttering framerate. In some of the later, more enclosed levels, trying to scan and move the camera at the same time lead to some serious slowdown. For the majority of the journey, it’s nothing more than a little nuisance, but it can occasionally become very bothersome and on one occasion made the experience nearly unplayable for a couple of minutes. Hopefully, E-Line Media can patch the issue as it’s really the only major blot on what is a deeply enjoyable experience.
Despite some occasional framerate drops and a slightly twitchy camera, Beyond Blue is a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable three-to-six hour dive through some of the most beautifully-diverse underwater landscapes on the PS4. I especially loved how Beyond Blue not only managed to deliver a memorable underwater video game adventure but also an educational platform that could, and probably should, be incorporated into school classes around the world. Therefore, giving the youth of today the chance to learn about the oceans in more than just textbooks.