ABZU – A Journey down under the sea
Moving from the harsh desert and doing a complete 180, ABZU acts as a spiritual successor to the adored exploration game Journey. With the Art Director of Journey forming a new development team called Giant Squid, the developers embraced their new company name quite literally by making their first release about exploring a world down where it’s wetter under the sea.
You enter as an anthropomorphic robot deep underwater with no goal and a world that’s entirely consumed by water. Nature has quickly taken this opportunity to flourish dramatically, allowing you to swim with all manner of sea creatures and plant life on your journey to make sense of the world that has been set before you.
Interactivity in ABZU includes finding hidden collectables, adding various animals to your locations and riding alongside these creatures as you explore each individual area. Unlike Journey, you don’t really have the same open world feel that you might come to expect. Each area is joined by a linear chain of events that must be completed before progressing. Any deviation from this path pushes you back towards where you are supposed to be going. You can’t even go back and swim with the turtles you spawned in the last area without going back to the Main Menu.
Occasionally there are puzzles to break up exploration sections but these only consist of finding X number of things before opening a gate. The items are scattered around each area but if you go to the door you are opening, most times there will be some kind of pipeline that leads you straight to where you need to go. Later on there are also small sections where the character is able to walk around, but without the animals and atmosphere of its underwater counterpart, I’m just glad these sections aren’t very long.
You swim through each zone finding new animals to do flips with but you might start to wonder why you are doing this. The story of ABZU is up to interpretation of each individual who plays it. There’s no spoken dialogue between characters and all plot devices are given to you in cinematic snippets or long forgotten wall paintings. Nevertheless there are still some touching moments as you pair up with various recurring companions along the way. Exploring the world with a companion makes the whole experience a little less lonely and in turn makes the feeling of loneliness wash back in like wave when that partner is then taken away.
ABZU relies on it’s beautifully crafted world and relaxing background melodies to hook you in and it’s an amazingly effective combination. It doesn’t take long before you find yourself adding more animals to the current area and learning all the species in the open sea. You can quickly get immersed in how pleasant this experience is and it serves as a nice break between the standard mix of the latest FPS and RPG’s out there.
While it’s definitely powerful I personally don’t see ABZU as a game and instead see it as an interactive experience. This is based solely on my definition of what a game is which I will set out to cover in the future. Without giving any story elements away it seems like it’s trying to recreate what Journey was in a new environment but it just doesn’t reach the level Giant Squid may have expected. The lack of communication with another person, the level design and the curiosity to explore are severely limited to push you down a narrow corridor of events until the very end where anything remotely annoying no longer poses a threat to you.
With that being said, you can still spend just over two (2) hours swimming around in a beautifully crafted single-player world, riding alongside sharks and whales while a adaptive melody plays out around you. The music moves with each individual scene, matching the pace of the experience almost perfectly. It’s something you can quickly get immersed in and it serves as a nice break between the standard gaming mix you might be used. It doesn’t overstay its welcome but at the same time doesn’t leave you wanting more in the end which is perfect for what ABZU appears to be going for.
Version Information: This copy was provided by the publisher via online code for PS4.
Most of the time (~90%) I didn’t notice any issues when playing ABZU on the PS4. Unfortunately there were a few issues from time to time when the sheer number of animals would clutter the screen and then it would start to chug along before returning to normal. There was also some quite long load times (15-20 Seconds) between each of the few levels that were available which was frustrating given the length of the experience. I’m unsure if there is a difference on the PC version.