Edutainment has long been a bit of a dirty word. How can something be entertaining whilst your learn – especially when you are trying to pass on some important themes and messages for life. It is a tricky balance to get right but that is exactly what E-line Media have done with their brilliant new adventure game Beyond Blue. It is an experience that has quite simply stolen my heart.
Beyond Blue is like Blue Planet: The Game. Having teamed up with the BBC documentary team as well as OceanX, a deep sea media and science company, Beyond Blue places information and feel front and centre in its game. You play as Mirai, a deep sea diver who is tracking a family of Sperm Whales. Across eight dives you’ll be following their plight, exploring the other animals in their ecosystem and finding out about the ocean ecosystem. If it sounds like this is a science lesson, it is. The influence from the Blue Planet team can be felt throughout the game though as its about weaving a story through all the science that makes you emotionally invested as well as scientifically inquisitive.
What helps with all this is the way the play game plays. Mirai is incredibly agile and free of all the trappings you’d usually have as a diver. There is no oxygen to worry about. No animal will become a predator for you. You are an observer, gathering information and swimming around the environment majestically and with ease. When it comes to scanning objects, you open up your scanner target and home in on your animal of choice. It works similar to a sniper rifle but is far more forgiving. Precision is not hugely required, which will please younger players and non-gamers all over.
Once an animal is scanned, it stays scanned for the game as each animal is unique. There may be 36 bottle-nosed dolphins in the game and you’ll want to find them all. Animals have behavioural patterns and you’ll find them in certain locations, at certain ocean depths and at certain times of the day. Outside of the main story line, which is fantastic and a welcome bonus, this is the main gameplay thrust. You’ll gain access to an Oceanpedia of sorts where you can view all of this information to help you find every last creature. The more you scan of an animal, the more information or behaviour patterns you can unlock to view in a 3D model. Have fun rotating those around and making them look scary!
Mirai’s sub is a living and breathing space between the dives. The outside environment changes depending on the level you are on. The inside also grows with new equipment to look at, notes to read, post it notes or photos and so on. It takes the Gone Home route of environment storytelling and does it superbly. You’ll also be unlocking a full 35 minute documentary on the ocean too as you go. These videos are chopped up into short two minute snippets on various topics and are very inspiring. They act as great jumping off points to then visit different organisations to research more about the themes the game discusses. It isn’t preachy – its all very actionable and that makes it all the more empowering.
If I were to be critical, the gameplay doesn’t progress or get any more complicated over time. A couple of levels have no map so you rely on your compass whilst surrounded by darkness or pure blue. It takes some getting used to but you’ll soon be enjoying the freedom. Similarly outside of scan – locate – scan – locate – there is nothing else to do gameplay wise. If you found Abzu to be gameplay light (not me, I adore that game), then this is perhaps lighter still. What makes up for it is that you can simply enjoy being immersed in Beyond Blue and do nothing but watch and enjoy the ocean world go about its day. Once story mode is completed, free diving lets you explore every area without tasks to do. It is here where you can simply enjoy the brilliance of the world around you both visually, audibly (the clicks and calls of the ocean are expertly put together) and by gently drifting around the rocks.
Beyond Blue is definitely a game that is more than the sum of its parts. Like the developers previous game Never Alone, it makes edutainment feel effortless and engrossing. This will be a game I will continually return to again and again just to enjoy being in it. A wonderful surprise.
Beyond Blue is an engrossing and engaging documentary made game that should be swimming into your game collection now.
Engrossing story and unlockable content.
Feels alive at all times - you could watch the game and feel soothed.
Forgiving and responsive controls make swimming in the ocean a breeze.
Could have expanded a little more beyond its point to point fetch quest gameplay.
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