For a long time growing up, I found myself terrified of video game water. I want to say that I’m completely over that fear as an adult, but honestly, there’s still something that nags at me and pinches a nerve when I dive into the murky depths of the ocean in a game. Perhaps it’s a fear instigated by being swallowed by that giant fish in Jak & Daxter or accidentally encountering the massive, glowing-eyed Lagiacrus in the opening hours of Monster Hunter Tri. Regardless, diving deep into the water and being surrounded by dark, blue nothingness always inflicts at least a minor sense of dread.
When I played Beyond Blue, a video game that takes place almost entirely underwater, I felt none of that. No fear, no tension, no stress. Beyond Blue is a calm, relaxed, and gorgeous game that, unlike so many others, embraces the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.
Beyond Blue puts you in the shoes of Mirai, a deep sea explorer and scientist who is heading up a live-streamed expedition of the depths in order to contribute to a newly-formed research team that uses cutting-edge technology to interact with the ocean, as well as the life contained within it. I say “shoes”, but in this case they’re technically flippers. Most of your time in the game is spent in a wet-suit exploring the ocean, at depths that are low enough to witness gorgeous life most people wouldn’t otherwise see, while still staying away from the darker, high-pressure pockets of the deep sea.
The interesting thing about this groundbreaking technology that Mirai and her team use in the game is that it’s steeped heavily in real research. The developers of Beyond Blue have worked closely with aquatic scientists to gauge what sea-exploration could be like in 10 or 20 years, resulting in the ultra-light respiration gear and unique LED capabilities of Mirai’s diving gear.
Science informed countless other areas of the game, as well. The sights and sounds of the ocean are rendered as realistically as possible, while a huge library of in-game info gives you a massive index of knowledge and factoids concerning the various creatures that you encounter.
If reading isn’t exactly your speed, then you might want to check out the Ocean Insights of Beyond Blue instead. This series of seventeen mini-documentaries unlocked throughout the game was produced in partnership with BBC, featuring interviews with scientists and gorgeous visuals of the sea.
Considering the heavy emphasis on real-life information and scientific realism in Beyond Blue, I was surprised to see how much emphasis was being put on storytelling in the game. Mirai isn’t just a voiceless body you control for the sake of hanging out with dolphins and starfish, she talks and interacts with the rest of her crew, calls back home to her younger sister to check on the family, and there’s hints of hardship and trauma that may have influenced her decision to go on this extended underwater expedition. Some of the delivered dialogue can be corny at times, making it hard to warm up to any of the characters in the short time I had with the game, but having this kind of narrative through-line in the game helped keep me a little more engaged. I have to imagine that, without it, I likely wouldn’t end up seeing the full experience through to the end.
I’m not a marine biologist, and I’ve never gone diving before, but in just a half-hour Beyond Blue managed to show me just what kind of natural beauty I was missing out on in the deep blue sea. While the objectives and gameplay were simple, that simplicity contributed to a zen-like underwater experience that I didn’t want to leave.