A fascinating trip into the underwater world, Abzu does everything right and really shows just how large the ocean is. Diving deeper and deeper into the ocean and game, you’ll soon come face to face with a story that is wonderfully told through imagery and an artistic style that has to be seen to be believed.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Giant Squid Studios
Available On: PlayStation 4 and PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Back in 2012, a simple yet beautiful game by the name of Journey was released for the PlayStation 3. It immediately captured the hearts of gamers everywhere, and won numerous awards for that year. Matt Nava, the art director that was behind Journey, went off to form his own development studio, Giant Squid Studios. So it should be no surprise that their first title, Abzu, is capturing that same feel everyone felt four years ago. Throw in the fact that Austin Wintory, also known for Journey and The Banner Saga series, is back with another fantastic soundtrack to accompany the game, and it’s a perfect combination that delivers a game well worth the investment.
Announced at Sony’s E3 Press Conference in 2014, Abzu instantly drew attention to itself through its visual style and from the premise of the game. Abzu, which gets its name from the ancient words for ‘ocean’ and ‘to know’, starts by simply asking the player to dive. Upon diving into the vast blue ocean, you’re met with an underwater world that is just bursting with places to explore, fish to swim with, and secrets to find. I found myself in the initial starting area just swimming around, as the actual controls for swimming are spot on. It feels natural to be able to swim up to the surface of the water, dive back down, do a flip, and swim faster when needed.
The art style of the game is extremely well done. It truly feels like you’re in the ocean, surrounded by all types of aquatic life. The first time you grab onto a fish in order to swim with it, it leads you through a tunnel that extends off into the next area. I knew this game was going to be special, but it absolutely took my breath away in certain areas and moments of the game. One such instance was in that very same area the fish leads you to. The amount of plants that are all around you, how they move with the water, and how they lay on the surface was amazing to experience. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of those types of moments in the game. There’s one part that genuinely made me feel as small as I have ever felt. I don’t want to spoil this magical part of the game, but eventually, the diver will swim up next to something that is just remarkable. Seeing how tiny the diver is compared to it was a sight to see.
Much like Journey, you communicate in the game by simply pressing a button to make a sound. This allows interaction with fish and various things spread out through the game. Every so often, you’ll encounter a triangular shape that, when interacted with, causes one of a few different things to happen. There are a dozen or so meditation points, which are statues shaped like the head of a shark, that have these interaction points on them. When meditating, you simple are watching the underwater world as if the diver was not present. There’s something incredibly peaceful about watching fish in their natural habitat, and Giant Squid Studios nails that feeling to perfection. You can also grab on to many different species of fish, which all control and behave as their real counterparts do. Turtles swim slow and graceful, whilst a dolphin can move briskly through the water, and even race toward the surface to perform a dazzling jump.
Austin Wintory really knocked the soundtrack out of the park with Abzu. It is soft and subtle when it needs to be, and will crescendo into an epic display of a choir and orchestral instruments when something important or exciting is happening. The music really helps paint the picture of being underwater and experiencing this adventure with the diver. There was one time when the diver was being thrust along in the fast moving water, and the orchestral piece that accompanied this particular section helped explain just how fast you were moving and what was happening to the diver.
Progressing further into the game requires the solving of some basic puzzles, but they aren’t too difficult, and are there just as a means for something else to be doing besides swimming and exploring the ocean. The diver will eventually have to locate these little robots that will follow him around in assorted areas, and they will help unblock the way forward when needed. There are a few other different types of puzzles in the game, but they are best left to be found on your own while playing through the game.
That is something that cannot be stressed enough. Do not spoil Abzu for yourself. Stay away from spoilers, don’t watch a playthrough, and try to go in knowing as little about the game as physically possible. There were several moments of the game that literally left me with goosebumps. There are a handful of portals that the diver will go in to in order to complete a certain task in a few different areas of the game, and the area that the portal leads you to is just.. amazing. I probably sat there, soaking in the music and the atmosphere, for several minutes before I realized I needed to do something else besides just float there in the water.
It’s very rare that a game releases and can bring out these types of emotions and feelings within a player. Abzu is worth every second that it lasts, which for me took just under three hours. That includes exploring more than just the path from one area to the next. It’s a game that is worthy of being explored and experienced, and it will leave you in awe and wonder as you slowly figure out the story, what is happening, and why it’s happening. The ending caught me completely by surprise, which in fact was a great thing. Giant Squid Studios created something extraordinary with Abzu, and it will certainly stick with me for quite some time.
9.5 / 10