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Beyond Blue

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: E-Line Media
Developer: BBC Studios
Release Date: June 11, 2020


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Beyond Blue'

by Thomas Wilde on Sept. 6, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Beyond Blue invites players to venture far below the surface of our vast and largely uncharted ocean to sense the soul of some of our world's most magnificent and intelligent creatures.

Beyond Blue was one of those hidden games at E3 2018, where you had to leave the convention center, go to a nearby hotel, fight three guardians, decipher a puzzle, navigate a bottomless chasm, and find the right suite in order to discuss the game with its producer.

I might be making some of that up. It was E3. Things get hazy.

Back then, however, it wasn't much more than a teaser trailer. It's a new game from the same developers that made 2014's Never Alone, built from equal parts science-fiction forecasting and BBC footage, featuring an underwater adventure set 10 minutes into the future.

I gave Beyond Blue one of my Best of E3 nominations because while it was just a trailer, it was an interesting trailer. There aren't enough games set underwater to begin with, and this was a well-researched, evocative experience that wasn't about going to a beautiful new place in the world, so you can kill whatever's there. That, to my mind, was worth the nomination.

Now, to my surprise, Beyond Blue showed up at this year's PAX West, although you shouldn't feel bad if you didn't notice it. It had what might have been the single worst booth at the show, crammed into the northeast corner of the sixth floor, facing the wall like it had been sent there to think about what it had done. In future PAX shows at the Washington State Convention Center, this booth should be punishment for known douchebaggery. The convention organizers should pay you for taking it.

I stopped by, though, and I found out to my surprise that they had a short playable demo for Beyond Blue, along with the game's writer. Naturally, I had to jump on that, and now, I feel much more retroactively justified in my Best of E3 nomination.

You play Beyond Blue as Mirai, a deep-sea diver and member of an underwater research team. Your current project sets you in the South China Sea, where you use drones, augmented reality, and state-of-the-art tech to explore the ocean floor and learn about the local wildlife. One day, while you're going about your business, you discover that the area is about to host a "superpod" of sperm whales, which gives your team, to quote the demo's introductory crawl, "an unprecedented opportunity to eavesdrop on the social and emotional life of the animals with the largest brain on the planet."

The PAX demo drops you into the ocean as Mirai in the middle of a dive, doing routine maintenance. Thanks to slightly more than modern dive technology, Mirai's running around the ocean floor with minimal equipment and no need for a bulky oxygen tank. All she has is a dive suit with an AR compass, used to direct her from objective to objective.

Naturally, the first thing that hit me about Beyond Blue is that it's visually spectacular. I was told at E3, as I mentioned above, that the developers are in a partnership with BBC Studios, which lets them use the full archives of TV shows like "Blue Planet" as reference material. Everything looks and feels realistic, and when you happen across a leatherback turtle or a smack of jellyfish, it's got that little thrill of unexpected discovery to it.

The PAX demo was only a few minutes long, with a couple of simple tasks: fix some buoys, find a couple of lost tracking beacons, and finally, go check out where all this whale song is coming from. When I did, we found that not only were we looking at a huge pod of whales, but one of them had a calf — and that calf was visibly very sick with an unknown ailment. That ended the teaser.

Much like E3, the PAX demo of Beyond Blue has more questions than answers at the end of it. The controls are simple, the scenery's gorgeous, and there's a surprisingly large cast of characters, most of whom are just voices on Mirai's headset, but there's no telling where we could go from here. For the moment, Beyond Blue feels like a calming, visually compelling adventure game with a solid hook, and I'm really looking forward to seeing a more complete version of it.

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