A spellbinding dive into the unknown.
With the amount of loud and bombastic titles we've seen this year, seeing a game that seeks to slow things down and inject a calm and soothing tone sticks out in a big way. In ABZÛ, you're simply a lone diver looking for answers in the ocean's depths.
Developed by Giant Squid—which includes former developers from That Game Company—it's no secret that titles like Journey and flower have had influence on this game, and they're definitely not shying away from it. If anything, they have embraced the similarities and used them to their advantage to tell a unique story of ethereal wanderlust under the sea.
And with a wide ocean to explore, ABZÛ exudes an almost otherworldly charm that makes this trip one to remember.
You awaken on the ocean's surface, floating, and with no land in sight. You're an unnamed diver, and you feel something calling out from below—and so you take the plunge. As you explore the world underneath the ocean's surface, you come across the many wonders of the sea's ecology, and even the remains from days past. But as you go deeper, you discover that the ocean may hide something sinister, and that the diver may have more connection to what lies below than she may realize.
As a game about exploration, you're encouraged to take your time and search the waters for aquatic life and structures to shed more light on the events that led up to the game. Spread across several zones, the diver will learn more details of the world as they progress, shedding light on how nature and the ruins below were once connected.
Danger is real, and there are many surprises underwater, but there is no death or game-over state. This is to allow for easier progression and a stronger focus on the story, without having to hit any walls during gameplay.
While there's some light-puzzle solving and action set-pieces using your drone allies and even some of the undersea creatures, the obstacles are very simple to overcome. Aside from struggling to find the exit in a few areas, I never hit any walls that completely halted my progress. I was very pleased with the general pacing of ABZÛ which is very solid and consistent throughout.
The developers were smart to have ABZÛ focus on single-player, as the extra players in co-op can encourage players to rush through areas. While you have clear goals to complete, there's never really a sense of urgency. That might be a downfall in other games, but here it allows you to explore the ocean depths peacefully. Some of the best portions in the game are those little moments where you simply swim over reefs and into hidden caverns to free trapped aquatic life and discover ancient hieroglyphs. Calmly swimming through a massive school of fish during one of the early levels still remains one of my most striking moments in ABZÛ.
The underwater locales create an equally soothing and captivating atmosphere that just begs to be explored. And with its minimalist approach to storytelling, with no dialog or words expressed throughout, most of the time silence and the subtle visuals displayed end up speaking volumes for the overall story. Though I was very pleased with the progression, which gave me callbacks to even classic titles such as Ecco The Dolphin, at times I felt the vagueness came off overly so. Certain plot points that happen later in the game come off a bit unearned and fell a little flat.
As you can readily see from the screenshots and trailers, ABZÛ is one beautiful game. The sense of discovery and wonder is constant throughout, which was made all the more charming by the fantastic presentation. In addition to the lavish and vibrant color palette in the game's art style, the general performance is rock solid, even during the more visually intense sections. I'd be remiss not to mention the fantastic musical score from Austin Wintory, also the composer for Journey, which is ties everything together beautifully. The score is sublime, and it adds an almost otherworldly calm to the game's atmosphere.
Unfortunately, one of my biggest letdowns with ABZÛ was that it's all over way too soon. Though I appreciate it not trying to overstay its welcome, I still expected a bit more. At about three to four hours, I felt that playing it in a single sitting kept me more in the moment and engaged, so if you're able to experience it that way, definitely do so. But do take your time. As the calm atmosphere suggests, there's no rush.
The developers at Giant Squid have made an impressive debut with ABZÛ. While very brief, almost overly so, the journey was still one to remember, especially when it features one of the most visually striking and cathartic endings in recent memory. ABZÛ is a spellbinding and visually stunning experience. I can't recommend this title enough, and it's definitely one you'll want to check out.