ABZU – Review
From one of the great minds behind Journey comes ABZU, the latest title in the ‘art meets games’ genre that we’ve come to expect from Matt Nava. Following an unnamed deep sea diver, this new game takes you on a journey beneath the ocean to explore all the beauty and secrets it has to offer.
Before we get any more into this review, I want to write the disclaimer that the water is my zen. Being in it, near it- hell, even just being able to hear it, makes me immediately happier than not being near it at all. So when I heard that this game took place entirely within the ocean, I knew I was going to love it. And Giant Squid did not disappoint.
ABZU roughly translates to “the ocean of wisdom” in Sumerian; a fitting title as both you and the character learn a lot throughout the game. It begins in the middle of the ocean, as you are thrown literally into the deep end. Looking around you, there is nothing as far as the eye can see except for a calm blue ocean; it’s almost like the expanse of the world around you is limitless… but it’s when you dive into the ocean that the game really begins.
Like the developer’s other titles, ABZU encourages exploration everywhere you go, but something this game does really well is keeping you on track. Even if you get twisted around looking for fish or shells, the sunlight filtering through the surface is a good indicator of where you should be going. The general rule I found as I played was if you follow the light, you’ll keep moving in the right direction.
This feature came very much in handy during my experience, as I wanted to explore everything. I wanted to swim with the fish and ride the turtles (because yes, you can totally ride the turtles and it’s amazing!) and look at all the pretty coral and sea creatures. As you swim around you’ll notice a range of things to interact with along the sea floor. There are animals and fish to find, seashells to collect and sonar devices to pick up. Those last ones are particularly important as you need them to advance through walls of coral in order to reach the next destination (so you can imagine how sad it is when they get chewed up by sharks).
For a video game, the gameplay in this is probably the least remarkable thing about it. That’s not to say the gameplay sucks; because it doesn’t at all, it’s just that the music and general ambience of the game is so.freaking.good. The musical backing is a big part of what makes this game therapeutic- it’s calming, relaxing and so perfectly synchronised with the movements of the sea creatures around you.
The world itself is beautiful as well. Brightly coloured tropical fish dart between beds of lush coral and seaweed, turtles swim lazily alongside you and everything under the sea reacts to the presence of the diver. Certain coral species will retract when you approach, and some fish will swim away from you, whilst other species come right up to you to sniff out exactly what you are. Some species of fish will even let you ride them, though not everyone will take you where you want to go. While some will happily take you to your next destination, others will simply carry on about their business; swimming around eating bucket loads of fish. It’s really interesting to see how each creature behaves differently according to their species, and it speaks volumes of how much research and effort must have gone into ensuring this is correct.
There isn’t much story in ABZU, but if you’re familiar with games like Journey and Flower then this won’t be anything new for you. You spend so much time cruising through the ocean and exploring everything around you that a storyline would probably only detract from the experience anyway.
Overall my experience with ABZU was positive from start to finish. It perfectly showcases how video games don’t have to be action packed with a killer storyline in order to be enjoyed. After putting the controller down at the end of my session I was relaxed, calm and perfectly zen- sensations I don’t feel often, even at the best of times! Although the game has no real replay value, I can see it being incredibly beneficial on a particularly chaotic day. Headphones in, flippers on, stress begone.