Family. They can drive you nuts at times, and yet for most of us they're probably the group of people we're closest to on the face of the Earth. It's easy when you're in among the day-to-day reality to forget just how much we rely on them (and them on us), or to take them for granted - but existing in these small tight-knit groups is what we've biologically evolved to do. Beyond Blue goes to great lengths to remind us that we're not the only ones.
Beyond Blue presents itself as several things on the surface - a game about ocean exploration, and about conservation and the dangers facing our planet. Lying just underneath all of that but slowly bubbling up to the surface over the 6 hours or so it takes to finish it though, is a tale about the importance of family - and the promotion of the idea that maybe, just maybe, all the beings on the face of the planet face the same challenges together. As much as our protagonist is studying a pod of sperm whales, their hunting habits, their culture and their migration routes, she's also tangling with a series of issues within her own family. Her grandmother is developing dementia. Her sister is facing mental health issues that might knock her academic plans off course. Mirai herself is detached from all of these problems, busily streaming life from the bottom of the ocean - acutely aware of her powerlessness but noticing the increasing parallels between the challenges she's facing and those of the whales she's observing. The conversation around conservation is, fortunately, an increasingly common and loud one these days - but this game touches upon something that you don't often hear about; the personal cost of being an environmentalist. Mirai's story mirrors that of some of the scientists interviewed in the video logs that you unlock through the course of the game - who have all missed out on some element of familial life due to their dedication to the 'higher causes' of academia or conservation.
The game itself involves swimming around some beautiful hub areas, scanning everything in sight to construct logs that you can examine later. There is a story in operation - but the vast majority of it takes place in the downtime between swim missions which is spent onboard the one man submersible that Mirai calls home. It's fair to say that from a strictly gameplay perspective, Beyond Blue doesn't really have all that much to offer - with "swim, scan, repeat" being the basic loop. In spite of that, there's a lot to enjoy here if you're prepared to sit back and marvel at what's around you - and that feels like the main point of the game. Think 'experience' rather than 'game,' and you'll be off to a good start. It is incredibly impressive though. Sharks circle beautiful multi-coloured reefs, while manta rays glide through the water like angels. Still more gob-smacking though are the whales. Sperm whales, orca, and humpbacks are all here - and they're all lovingly rendered to scale with your swimmer. And they're enormous.
The first time one of these behemoths hoves into view is as amazing as the developers probably intended. If you're playing in 4K with a decent TV or monitor, you'll see the shadow first and the details a moment later. You'll swim alongside for a moment, catching up until you can see the massive flippers and tail flukes. For me, this was met with moment of euphoria followed by a moment of sadness as I realised that this is probably as close as I'll ever get to seeing one of these amazing creatures - and it justified the cost of entry into this game in a heartbeat.
As the tale ebbs and flows before reaching a fairly inevitable conclusion, you'll be left with the feeling that Beyond Blue is intended less as a game and more as a purveyor of a series of positive messages. If that's something that bothers you, I'm surprised you're still reading this site. I felt like I walked away with a new perspective on some aspects of existence. Even if the 'game' part was somewhat underwhelming, as an experience Beyond Blue is something I'll remember for a long time - and likely revisit regularly.