Abzu is the first game from the newly formed Giant Squid Studios headed up by Matt Nava, the art director for thatgamecompany’s Flower and Journey. That is not where the only overlap is with several instances of deja vu throughout the game. The result is a solid but not stellar debut.
Throughout the entirety of the game, you play as a diver exploring the sea. Much like Journey and Flower, gameplay is somewhat minimalistic. You can boost through the water and send out a chirp to gather fish to swim around you while exploring. Throughout the experience, the character will also be chirping to activate robots who swim by your side and echo your chirps back at you. However, later on you will be chirping to solve very simple puzzles to open doors. These happen too often with how compact this game is and feel like a way to “gameify” the experience unnecessarily.
Occasionally you will come across statues that you can meditate on. Doing so zooms the camera out and you can switch between focusing on the varying sea life swimming around the area. It’s serene to listen to and watch as these creatures effortlessly glide through the water. Sometimes you might see natural selection take place which is jarring against the quiet environment.
The final major gameplay element is being able to grab on to larger fish and ride them around the environment. Grabbing onto a shark, boosting toward the surface of the water only to shoot out and dive back in is exhilarating and never gets old.
Story and Modes:
The story is much like Journey in that it is ambiguous. You will uncover ruins and hieroglyphs depicting what seems to be an ancient society trying to harness some sort of magic water only for it to seemingly destroy the civilization. Of course, this is just my reading of it.
In terms of modes, there is one and it is the main mode.
Visuals and Sound:
This. Wow. This is one of the most gorgeous games I have ever played. Artistically, it is beautiful from the different areas you traverse to the hundreds of fish just going about their day, it’s stunning. I played the PS4 version and over the two and a half to three hours it took me to finish the game, I took 135 screenshots. The only games on my hard drive that take up more space in terms of screenshots are Destiny and Final Fantasy XIV both of which I’ve put dozens of hours into. The lighting in the game is breathtaking and the atmosphere the game creates through visuals and sound is top notch.
Speaking of audio, Austin Wintory returns to compose the soundtrack and it is fantastic. There are more understated tracks in this title compared to Journey, but they still make me want to buy the soundtrack. During several moments throughout the adventure, the music will triumphantly swell and it makes you feel invincible. There is no voice acting as the only sounds you will hear are the fish and your robot buddies.
As I said earlier, the comparisons between Abzu, Flower and Journey are in your face at points. Especially with a sequence at the end having you shooting upward with booming music in the background. The gathering of fish that you can get to follow you is very reminiscent of collecting petals to trail behind you in Flower. But there aren’t too many underwater exploration games out there much less ones this good. The fish riding is fun and the game is beautiful throughout the entirety of its duration. It’s a simple game which works for it wants to be perfectly.
This is a short game that you can go back and get the collectibles and find all of the meditation stones, but they don’t add a whole lot from what I saw. The game is fun, but it didn’t wow me. This simplistic type of game is great, but there needs to be some emotional gut punch for it to truly connect. Journey had the multiplayer where you would lose people you were playing with. Flower had you finding the beauty in nature against the colorless and soulless city. Abzu has a glimpse of this toward the end, but it doesn’t stick the landing. Some might say it is unfair to compare these games so closely, but with how much Abzu draws from them, I think it is apt. Regardless I still had a fun time with the game, even if it didn’t quite live up to expectations.