Dark Light

I was in school when I came across a black and white image of a spaceship-looking thing in our English textbook. The passage adjoining it called it a  ‘Ray’, creatures found in warm, tropical oceans, and I was like “Wait, what?”. I mean they didn’t even look like a fish, resembling closer to an alien spacecraft with their gaping mouths acting as a cargo bay or a fighter-jet hanger. They even had wings like a B-2 Spirit bomber. “What kind of a fish is this”, I had asked myself. It was then when it hit me – what really do I know of Mother Earth, how much more am I missing? Life started in the oceans and yet most of us know so little about it. A completely different and vastly unexplored world exists down there, fathoms below in the greater depths, with creatures appearing to come from a different dimension entirely (no, not talking about Cthulhu). The lack of sunlight and crushing pressure makes it nigh impossible for a mere fellow like me to witness the fauna down there.

This is where Beyond Blue comes to the rescue, delivering a first-hand experience of what it’s like the dive among the fishes, rub past sharks, and get inked by an octopus.

Gosh, I just love minimalist menu screens

Story & Narrative

Beyond Blue is set in the near future, where a newly-formed research team of three use groundbreaking technologies to explore the ocean in ways that have never been done before. You play as Mirai, a deep-sea explorer, and scientist, who is there to study a pod of Sperm Whales in their natural habitat. Through her eyes, you’ll get to witness the wonders of the ocean, the colorful flora, and fauna living in the shallow depths to the alien creatures in the Deep-Sea Brine Pools.

Not only this, but Mirai will also Livestream everything via OceanX allowing the whole world to see, hear and learn about the unexplored domains, and possibly be aware of the damages humanity is doing to it at an unprecedented rate. Utilize an array of high-tech equipment like the AR visor to quickly scan and tag the fauna, marine drones (uncannily shaped like Rays) to scan targets up-close, mapping drones, sensor tags, acoustic buoys, all developed by Mirai’s colleague Andre.

The bio-samples she collects from the corals and other creatures are further studied by her other colleague Irina who aims to possibly synthesize a cure for human ailments. Additional characters include Mirai’s sister Ren, with whom she can talk once you complete a day’s exploration and head back to the sub. Different plot-lines are spun into the overall narrative giving small touches of human drama like Mirai’s grandmother having Alzheimer’s disease, Andre’s efforts to save the baby turtles, a grouchy relationship between Mirai and her sister Ren, and so on.

Cutscenes utilize detailed artworks to tell the story

And this is what I liked about the narrative, that the characters feel so warm and their goals so relatable! Maybe it’s due to the evocative voice-acting by a full studded cast consisting of Anna Akana (YouTuber), Mira Furlan (Lost, Babylon 5), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Hotel Rwanda, Halo: Reach), and Ally Maki (Toy Story 4, Step Up 3D). But it could also be in the way the characters talk about their personal life during casual chit-chat. As you play on, you’ll eventually start empathizing with them and their conviction to study, learn and protect the oceanic life and god-wiling, maybe this is what the devs of Beyond Blue desire, bring about a change within yourself in how you think about the blue planet.

Every little action of ours has cascading effects, be it good-or-bad. You flung that polythene bag over there, the wind will soon drop it into the sea with the waves pushing it further down until it ends up among the corals. Every non-biodegradable object poses a major threat to the tiny fishes that breathe the oxygen dissolved in water; they are a major source of choking hazard. And not to mention the incessant shipping and whale hunting that has put certain species on the brink of extinction. In fact, one of the Sperm whales that Mirai found had scars on its body, possibly from striking against a  ship’s hull. All these instances are not directly thrown at our face but take a more subtle approach, reflecting on how we’re doing everything based on an anthropocentric approach.

Look at the irrevocable damage we have done!

Gameplay and Mechanics

The movement mechanics in Beyond Blue are fairly simple, reminiscent on ABZU and Subnautica, i.e. you won’t ever feel the buoyant force restricting your movement. Most of the time you spend underwater will go into tracking acoustics, scanning the bio-diversity, or obtain certain tissue samples, which is a bit… repetitive if you ask me. But witnessing the impeccable beauty of the world beneath the green waves, that’s perhaps what gave me the impetus to do the same thing for 5 hours or so.

The conversations between Mirai and her colleagues over the radio further enhanced my immersion when unexpected things happened, like the sudden appearance of a camouflaged octopus or a Sperm whale stalking a giant squid live on camera in the midnight zone. Furthermore, emotional instances like Mirai’s melancholy due to the death of one of the Sperm whales caused by certain algal bacteria, and her relief when she sees the whale’s perfectly healthy calf, make up for one heck of an unforgettable experience. In fact, I kind of felt sad before Mirai’s last dive to see the whales; it was like parting with a good friend.

Release the Kraken!

Mirai’s AR visor allows you to scan the underwater specimens by holding down the mouse button giving you short info on their scientific and common name, the details of which can later be viewed in the Science Logs in the Pause menu. So the more you scan a particular species, the more info you unlock like their natural habitat, what do they eat, and even behavioral animations and 3D models. Sadly (and logically), the models and animations are only accessible via a tablet in your mini-sub.

Speaking of the mini-sub, it’s a second home featuring a lot of things tied to the narrative. You get to see the manta ray drones up-close, your diving suit, a whiteboard showing the ‘To-do list’, books written by Andre and Irina, some items from Mirai’s life like a childhood drawing of her family, as well as a whole song playlist featuring original scores from Miles Davis, The Flaming Lips, The Edisons, and more!

In the deeper and darker ocean green, the waves were both wilder and more serene.

In order to spread awareness further, Beyond Blue introduces 16 mini-documentaries called ‘Insights’ that feature original footage and interviews with the world’s leading ocean experts. Unlockable via the campaign as you progress, these Blue Planet II snippets provide a short glimpse of the efforts and activities that marine-biologists, scientists, and divers take to preserve the life in the ocean (and watching them give you Steam Achievements as well). But honestly, if the devs could add a few more videos about deep sea-life, kind of like a video encyclopedia, it might appease the curious kids who would be playing this game.

These two Bottlenose dolphins are dating

Level Design

Beyond Blue has predominantly three types of levels – mapped coral reefs with small hills and tunnels, linear trenches of hydrothermal vents and volcanic rocks, and bottomless ocean that gave me major thalassophobia! Even though it’s an open ocean but there is a particular limit up-to which you can dive; you’ll encounter an invisible wall like that of the oceans of GTA. I wish the devs made it a bit realistic by adding a pressure gauge that indicates a danger limit up to which we can dive without dying, but I guess they wanted to make Beyond Blue as family-friendly as possible. Also, I wish we could surface out of the water to look at the sun and the clouds similar to ABZU, but the invisible wall prevented me to do so. It’s not a sandbox, it’s just a box devoid of any danger e.g. you can swim directly into the jaws of a shark and its hitbox will only push you it away.

Also, it would’ve been better if we had the option to travel to different regions around the world and observe a more diverse ecosystem, but for the sake of simplicity, we are confined to a particular region of Western Pacific.

Sea predators’ hunting grounds

Visuals, Sound, and Performance

Beyond Blue is a perfect example of you can show so much with little graphical detailing. The world feels so alive despite the fishes just following their pre-defined trajectory; you can closely see how colorful the world down there is by heading into the Science Logs (though it contains very few facts).

And don’t get me started on how immaculate and serene Beyond Blue’s ambient score is. It’s just so soothing that sometimes I pause the game and just lay back and listen, imagine myself floating in the deep blue without any stress. Not only this, the music playlist present in the Mirai’s mini-sub is quite mesmerizing – some good indies out there like the ones you’ll find in Life is Strange games.

However, I did face momentary thermal issues with the temperatures occasionally spiking up to 94 degrees with my GTX 1060 laptop. Maybe because the game has to render lots of animated polygons but gladly I didn’t find encounter frame drops. Maybe future updates will fix this.

Aliens of the deep


Though Beyond Blue is short, it’s an astoundingly beautiful and educational game about marine life and the need for harmony. I did things that I could never do in real life but always dreamed of doing. All those programs on National Geographic, Animal Planet, and even Youtube videos like ‘Top 10 deep-sea monsters’, it was all playing right before my eyes!  Even though Beyond Blue is a stress-buster game, the subtle ways it portrays the consequences of our actions, its something that we all need to reflect. To end this, I’ll quote:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Volcanic rocks on fire off the trenches of the Western Pacific. I watched sensor drones glitter in the dark near the Deep-Sea Brine Pools. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the sea. Time to go.”
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