Abzû is less of a game, and more of a visual experience. I’m not being pretentious here by saying “some games are works of art” but certain games transcend what is considered a typical game, Abzû features no combat, limited exploration and no discernible challenge, what is given to players is a beautiful and serene experience of colour and music, with a powerful message to convey.
Developer Giant Squid was formed by the original art director of both Journey and Flower and the art style is clearly similar to both of these games, this is presented as somewhat of a diving simulator, but you have no lack of air to worry about, nor aggressive marine life to contend with. This is very much meant to be experienced in one sitting, with the game clocking in at just over an hour of playtime, whilst puzzles are featured, none are particularly challenging and its obvious that Abzû is designed to be enjoyed by anyone, at their own pace.
Playing as an unnamed diver, you traverse from area to area, from coral reefs to underwater caverns to underground ruins. The narrative is clearly up to interpretation by anyone who plays it, and to delve to deeply into it would perhaps soil the experience for some, however I personally felt that Abzû is trying exude a very powerful message about the intrusion of mankind upon the worlds oceans, and this becomes more and more evident the further you progress.
Gameplay mechanics are minimal as I touched upon before and level design is simply laid out, essentially leading from one door to the next, what starts as something similar to an underwater art gallery in the beginning areas quickly become much less open and you begin to follow a more direct route. Whilst the controls are fluid throughout, the camera can be a bit cumbersome and some of the later areas require a bit more precision which can be a bit of a frustrating battle between the player and the camera, it’s hardly noticeable though, and Abzû remains a very free-flowing and tranquil affair.
This is a visually stunning experience, the art style, reminiscent as I said before of Journey, is incredible with bright colours and fantastically well realised shoals of fish that behave and feel natural. There is a plethora of marine animals to discover, and without spoiling too much, some genuine surprises in the latter part of the game, and everything feels so fluid, from the natural sway of coral reefs, and the flow of the wildlife, right down to the ease in which your character glides through the ocean. There is even the option to ‘meditate’ which allows the player to simply watch the fish, from Clown Fish to Blue Whales, it really is a magical site to witness, and I found myself using this feature a lot just to take in the superb animations and details of these creatures, couple this with the ability to ‘ride’ certain members of the ocean such as the Manta Ray and the Dolphins and you really have a unique and remarkable trip under the sea.
Visuals aside, the musical score of Abzû is incredible, haunting and subdued at first, it quickly picks up to propel you forward. Music can be a great way to influence the way a player feels during a game, and this is done absolutely perfectly throughout. There’s a huge sense of loneliness in this game as you make you way onwards through the water, even with the abundance of wildlife on display, and the music captures this isolation amazingly well, maintaining that sense of wonder for the duration of the game.
It may feel a little too linear for some, as I stated previously, areas are fairly small and whilst you are able to explore them freely, and collectables are present, Abzû is very short and very easy to finish in one sitting. This may make people balk at the idea of paying £15.99 for what is essentially an hour-long underwater art exhibition, but I find it hard not to recommend such a unique and awe-inspiring game, the story, while open to exposition, has much to say and every one should delve in to the depths and have a listen.
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