Gaming Xbox

BEYOND BLUE

Blending documentary with gorgeously rendered gameplay, E-Line Media has found a terrific marriage between education and entertainment.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Publisher: E-Line Media Released: June 11 (Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch,
PC, iOS, Linux, MacOS, tvOS)
Developer: E-Line MediaReviewed on: Xbox One X
(Publisher provided review copy)

Upon completing BEYOND BLUE, the new game from E-Line Media, it is tempting to joke that it’s so short because our oceans are becoming inhospitable to host life. As such, there’s not much more to explore. But as the game, and the multiple bite-size documentaries built within tells us, that’s simply not the case. We’ve explored only a miniscule portion of the depths that make up our blue planet. Instead, E-Line’s family oriented and extremely chill docu-game is an exciting, if somewhat timid dip into the shores of the ocean. A tantalizing attempt at blending education with entertainment and wonder.

Spread out over eight dives, each with mini-objectives of their own designed to teach more about life under the waves, the is more a series of setpieces than a unified whole. None of the dives is particularly long, taking anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, unless you decide to wander and let the simulated life aquatic pass by. They’re tied together by a loose and underwritten b-plot involving familial relationships on dry land, none of which are interesting. The lead character, Mirai, remains a cipher even with these intermissions, and they’re not really necessary in the end. The ocean is the star of the show, after all. Every return to the submarine that serves as a chapter break feels cramped and limiting, which could arguably be the point. With a vast underwater world to discover, it feels like a waste to focus on emails and phone calls.

Which is just fine, because BEYOND BLUE simulates the great blue beautifully. While the scope is understandably limited, the finished content is simply gorgeous and awe inspiring. Inspired by the BBC documentary series PLANET EARTH II, E-Line’s game is as close to interactive exploration as possible at the present time. It’s an immense thrill to swim alongside humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, and even sharks without a care in the world. And because the game is non-violent — including no death or fail state — the final product is the perfect family experience in every way. 

The majority of the game is spent cataloging and discovering flora and fauna across atolls, depths, and opean ocean. While that doesn’t initially sound exciting, the level of detail and dedication to authenticity proves otherwise. It’s not just rewarding, but incredibly exciting to learn about the habits of different types of wildlife, and the first time you record the calls of whales will give you chills. The further you progress into the depths, a healthy amount of thalassophobia rears its head. The game isn’t designed to be scary at any point; it’s just that the natural wonders themselves are enough to send shivers down the spine. 

Catalogued animals can be accessed through the easy to navigate menus for more information, and the wealth of data is impressive. Combined with the aforementioned mini-documentaries, each highlighting different aspects of oceanic exploration, the changing climate, and preservation efforts to ensure a working ecosystem for the future. Sourced from the PLANET EARTH series, they’re as high quality as one could expect. Viewed together they make perfect companion pieces, each complementing one another.

BEYOND BLUE, while quite short, is a wonderful narrative experience, but even better as an educational tool for the whole family. It’s a stunningly animated, gorgeously rendered, and lovingly detailed experience in every way. The user friendly design, including simple but intuitive controls, means that nearly anyone can pick up a controller and experience a world they might never see otherwise. As a companion piece to PLANET EARTH, it’s a natural extension for us to feel connected to our world. It is the kind of game I’d put in the hands of any curious young mind, knowing it would spark their imagination and love for a better future.

And like all good things, when it’s over you just wish it could go on forever. 

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