Beyond Blue Preview - E3 2019
We take a deep dive with the upcoming underwater adventure
It's pretty rare that I'm ever outnumbered at E3. Usually, I am one of many members of the media seeing a game presented by one or two people. My meeting with E-Line Media was the exact opposite. There I was, sitting in a hotel room, surrounded by passionate members of the E-Line team that ranged from developers to community managers to the president/co-founder. It was a unique situation, but also a fun one as it gave me the opportunity to float questions out and let the team answer them - and they were always eager to answer.
Strangely enough, one of those questions was about making a game that wasn't fantasy, science fiction, or anything in between. My time at E3 was spent running from fantasy adventure to sci-fi horror, from elves to aliens - and maybe taking some time along the way to play a military shooter. It all kind of starts to feel a little familiar. Even before someone can get their elevator pitch out about how their fantasy game is different because this time the humans are the underclass and the elves are the ruling class, the back of my mind is still kind of mulling over how I've seen that set up a million times.
What video games still tend to struggle with is our world today, tangible reality, and existing in a world of non-fiction. E-Line found a real sense of how to do that in their 2014 game, Never Alone, blending elements of fantasy with non-fiction to create something that felt both grounded and fascinating. The game got the attention of the BBC, who approached E-Line with a collaborative project based on their documentary series Blue Planet II. The concept was that E-Line would use the doc's audio, unedited footage, and get access to the participating scientists to make an adventure game - that game is Beyond Blue.
Beyond Blue is a fascinating project and as I said, the team at E-Line talked about it with such passion. The game is set fifteen years in the future, so they worked with scientists to make sure that the technology they were creating in the game was relatively attainable in the next decade-plus. They talked about how a scene between the scientist throwing seaweed to the dolphins who caught it and darted away to play, was lifted directly from footage edited out of the documentary. They told me about how some of the late-game content will take players to the base of the ocean, to a place where scientists believe life was first formed.
The game itself is pretty simple; a relaxed experience - at least the part I played - where you explore the ocean, tracking different creatures. The underwater traversal is quite excellent. As someone who always gets annoyed by water levels because I never feel like I have the control that I need to appropriately move my character, it was great to play an underwater game where the movement felt natural and easy.
As I reached objective markers where I would be researching the animals, I pressed the left bumper to go into scan mode. Then I had to hold the “X” button while looking at the creatures I wanted to scan. These scans were relatively easy and the gameplay isn't particularly challenging - but the game feels like it's more about the exploration and the visuals.
And those visuals are a real treat. Players will move between a few different environments as they progress through the game, but in the bit of ocean I explored I was floored by the bright coral and rich blues of the ocean floor. 2016's Abzu presented a very heightened reality of ocean exploration and aesthetic, so while Beyond Blue has pulled this interpretation much closer to reality, it is indulging in the same concepts of vibrant and rich colors.
There's also an incredible spectacle baked into Beyond Blue as you swim up close to the animals that populate the ocean, getting a sense of scale and detail that's quite awe-inspiring. I've always said that a good measure of a preview is that feeling of being able to simply get lost in a game, forget about your many up-coming appointments and play. And I felt that with Beyond Blue; I could have played that game from start to finish had E-Line let me. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until the game is released to do that.
Beyond Blue is planned for launch in 2019 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.