ABZÛ Review

Deep sea dreaming.

Journey, but underwater. Read up on Abzû just about anywhere and you’ll find plenty of comparisons with thatgamecompany’s seminal 2012 release, and it makes sense, given that Giant Squid was founded by their former art director, Matt Nava. However, the more I revel in its submerged splendour, the more Abzû reminds me of that studio’s previous PlayStation hit, Flower. From the feel and flow of movement down to Austin Wintory’s poignant soundtrack, Abzû isn’t afraid to follow in those footsteps.

With little to no exposition, players don the alien visage of a Diver, a mysterious humanoid creature that explores beneath the water’s surface. Exactly what it’s looking for creates the game’s narrative arc, if you can call it that, as every ancient ruin found or fishy friend made paves another slab on the road to discovery.

Abzû combines a linear structure with open level design, inviting players to explore, interact, and meditate – yes, you read that correctly. Scattered throughout this subterranean realm are unusual statues, deliberately placed to act as perches. Once seated, you can scan the environment freely, shifting focus from one sea creature to the next. The game’s use of proper scientific classifications affords an educational insight into marine biology, complete with the odd Latin tongue twister.

Instead of simply surveying Abzû’s sea life, you can also interact with it. Your Diver can emit a chirping noise, manipulating objects in the environment while causing schools of fish to swim in tow. Larger animals, from sperm whales to stingrays, can be latched onto for a quick ride while performing graceful spins and pivots.

abzu7

Bar one or two environmental hazards, there’s no real sense of danger to found in Abzû, nor is there any pressure to move on from one particular scene or moment. In fact, I’d often just stop and stare, soaking in the game’s atmosphere. A vibrant palette of colours work their way into a diverse spread of locales, each level having its own visual motif, however subtle. Naturally, Austin Wintory’s score helps to enhance this, galvanising Abzû’s most memorable and emotional moments.

Spread across six levels and a few hours of gameplay, it’s these moments that ultimately sell Abzû as a worthwhile addition to any gamer’s digital library. Needless to say, if storytelling means nothing to you, then move on. The same goes for those who insist on having their hand held at every turn instead of striking out on their own path.

What’s Good:

  • Calming, entrancing atmosphere.
  • Some truly memorable moments.
  • Looks and sounds fantastic.

What’s Bad:

  • Emphasis on exploration will prove off-putting for some.

If Giant Squid had removed every trace of its name from Abzû, you could easily have mistaken it for a thatgamecompany production. For a developer to nail that same sense of artistry and wonder with its debut is nothing short of amazing.

Score: 8/10

Version Tested: PlayStation 4

Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualShock at this point.

10 Comments

  1. Looks lovely and i cant wait to dive in, but i do have one big concern. Namely, does Abzu limit you to motion controls like Flower did? That issue kind of spoiled Flower for me, and may be a deal breaker here too.

    • No motion controls on PC at least. You just use the sticks.

      • Thanks, i imagine the PS4 version is the same.

    • Can use analog sticks on PS4. It’s my gave game over Flower and Journey, and I loved both. Replayed it already (over too soon like Journey)

  2. I’ve played an hour or so of it and I know I’ll return but… how much it “borrows” from Journey is effing unbelievable. So much so that it feels insulting, to be honest. I know Nava and Wintory worked on Journey but Abzu shamelessly cribs from one of the finest games we’ve ever seen/experienced. Sure, it’s nice to see Nava’s visuals again – and holy shit, they look mesmerising at times – but it’s the structure that leaves a considerably bitter taste in my mouth.

    An underwater Journey and then some. :-\

  3. I found Flower wonderfully therapeutic to play so i like that comparisons can be made here, will pick it up asap.

  4. Great, thanks for the review, was waiting for it, I already thought I might have missed it! I watched a stream the other night and was mesmerised. (Well, I would’ve been, were the streaming quality generally not that rubbish, and it isn’t my connection, as I’ve moved to cable recently.)

    Will definitely get it, looks stunning, and I got some little ones around who are currently into water wildlife, so that’ll be great. Am slightly confused, though, that http://www.commonsensemedia.org gives it a 10+ rating, and their ratings are generally very good, much better than what it says on packages (the ESRB rates Abzu ‘for everyone’).

    • Ok, just seen they rate Journey 10+ also, so that’s ok then. :o)

  5. what’s the damage (£) ?

    surely a game like this lives or dies on that fact.

    • You’ll have to check the PSN Store, fella. On Steam (PC) it was £12.99 when I picked it up on launch day.

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