ABZÛ Preview

Stare into the abyss for a while.

I did not expect to find myself in a room with a man I admire, Matt Nava, of Journey fame, demoing his latest game. But what's less surprising was finding out he’s developing a violence-free exploratory experience.

ABZÛ is an underwater exploration game where you control the unnamed diver on her trek underwater and build her story from there. As Nava describes it, though, ABZÛ could be much more than that. He is a fan of scuba diving and communing with underwater life and wishes to commute that experience to players, his passion for the material emanating from him as he demos his work.

Nava demonstrated, upon the character's first descent into the tranquil water, the schools of fish swimming about, whose population number were too many to enumerate. Utilizing specially-developed procedural animation tools, these fish are programmed to respond as real ones would, including schooling with each other or dispersing upon sight of a predator. The technology certainly seems impressive—I saw a ridiculous amount of fish—and it’ll be neat to see how the diverse fauna respond to the player and each other throughout the game.

Plunging ever deeper, the diver took a ride on a goliath grouper swimming near the entrance to a tunnel as it rushed her through to the next area. As the diver progresses, the music also builds, showing off the well-loved stylings of Austin Wintory. Along with the changing palette of colors, this results in a rather pacifying feeling. Rather than create some run-of-the-mill hunting experience, Nava’s studio, Giant Squid, really made a world where the player can interact and discover. To that end, there is no air gauge to worry about, no fail state, nor possible death. Players should experience uninterrupted plays through ABZÛ, even in the face of great white sharks, who are absurdly misunderstood creatures.

On the sea bottom, using a sonar call, the diver found a broken drone in the sand. Simply by approaching it, she started to repair it, and it swam beside her. Nearby, she found a strange pool of blue liquid, which Nava referred to as some kind of resource. The drone immediately sprung tendrils and began to suck up the liquid. It wasn’t made clear what this resource is or what purpose it serves in the game, only that the player is expected to collect it. The drones themselves are necessary to proceed through the game as the diver will come upon pools upon hills of sand that they will break down, allowing passage through pathways hidden behind them.

I was afforded the opportunity to try out the demo for the game, and I’ll admit that the controls left me a bit wanting. It’s not that they are unresponsive, but the diver has tank controls. Pushing up or down on the left stick of the controller would pitch her in those directions rather than allow her to proceed forward. I don’t know if there will be multiple control schemes available, but this feature broke some of the immersion I hoped to have. Either way, we won’t know much more information until it releases next year for PC and Playstation 4. I’m still cautiously excited.