Beyond Blue, which has just washed up on Apple Arcade, drops you right into the cool of the ocean with a diving suit and a couple of voices on the intercom. For the first few minutes I swam around and explored, scanning different creatures so that an AI could build up a better idea of them and travelling to buoys that allowed me to tag distant sounds and investigate.
The moment a game like this has to nail is discovery. It’s beautifully handled. That first glimpse! I’ll be pushing through water towards a dot on the hud and a shadow slowly emerges from the blue. Whales! A pod of them! Work to be done, scanning and whatnot, but just look at them, sperm whales with those towering foreheads and laughing mouths, one of them turning on its back as it passes underneath me, huge and gentle.
Beyond Blue is full of this stuff. Whale sharks, mantas, scores of little fish gadding about. I’ve spent a long time here already, just moving over rocks, tracking dolphins, listening to the alien clicks of communication.
It’s a testament to how well it’s all done that I forgot for a long time that this was a game, but Beyond Blue is in fact a narrative adventure, one that comes together with exquisite slowness over the first half hour. I dived, chatted to my fellow scientists and moved from one simple objective to the next. Later on I found a hub of sorts and had various chats over the computer, choosing answers and questions and getting a stronger sense of where things are going.
None of that should be spoiled. Beyond Blue is a project developed with the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 bunch and E-Line, who you may know from Never Alone. I thought I’d be tempted to wait for the PC or console release with a game like this, but in fact I’m going to keep playing on iPhone. There’s something wonderful about holding the oceans in your hands, swiping left and right to move, not just tracking down different creatures but trying to understand the way they coexist.