Where To Buy: PSN Store, Steam
Did you know that 95% of the Earth’s oceans are unexplored? Whilst we send probes to new planets and gaze at galaxies light years away, humankind has only explored a small area of the planet we live on. ABZÚ shows us how magical our oceans are with otherworldly landscapes and near alien species calling the big blue sea their home. ABZÚ also sends a strong message to the player that unexplored does not necessarily mean untouched, as our treatment of Earth may still have a profound repercussion on the sea.
ABZÚ, which loosely translates to Ocean of Wisdom, is the newest project from one of the visionaries behind Journey and Flower. Inspired by the prior titles and other brilliant independent titles, ABZÚ contains no dialogue, little to no tutorial and still manages to guide the player through a powerful and beautiful adventure.
Our nameless character begins waist deep in the water as a picturesque cloud filled sky hovers above. The art style strongly resembles The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker which also featured the ocean as an essential element. This wise choice allows the animations to look and feel extremely fluid as, considering the majority of the story will take place submerged, is necessary. This design decision also allows the environments to become varied and vibrant without the need of articulate detail thus creating an underwater paradise.
As you breach the surface and take your first plunge into the unknown, the swimming mechanics fell perfect. Tank controls to older gamers may bring back terrifying memories yet underwater this control scheme works. Holding R2 will propel you forward whilst the analog stick will adjust your path. Just as the animations, the controls feel sleek and oddly calming as you glide through the water. It is almost therapeutic, particularly when combined with the leisurely atmosphere and pacing of ABZÚ.
There are no serious threats to you in these waters and this luxury allows you to explore at your own pace. The surface of the ocean obscures the mesmerizing depths below. The underwater scenery is nothing short of stunning and the abstract situation allows for some audacious color pallets. As you enter a chasm engulfed in green, I never knew so many shades of the hue could exist. As the sunlight streaks down, breaking through the watered veil, areas become illuminated whilst others are shrouded in darkness. The plant life living in the depths look unworldly as pink and yellow flowers shy away as you approach them. As you venture into new areas, the dominant color will change drastically creating a fresh haven for you to explore.
As stunningly beautiful as the scenery is, the musical score makes it more so. An orchestra accompanies you throughout the entire journey with delicate alterations in tone and rhythm conveying the events unfolding on the screen. A symphony of mellow notes resonate as you explore the calm, open water but as you are drawn into powerful currents, the tempo increases and becomes erratic. The music direction is incredibly well crafted to the extent that the emotions I felt through my adventure felt perfectly captured by the incredible score.
The 3-hour experience of ABZÚ is a powerful one with many themes to interpret as you will. Although no context is given, the underwater kingdom seems to exist in a time after mankind. You will encounter a number of man-made structures that have been entirely engulfed by the ocean. As you enter a new region, sea life surrounds you with fishes and many other underwater creatures passing by. As you interact with hidden objects, new ocean life erupts from the floor introducing a wide variety of creatures into the world adding to the already populated region. Predatory fish will hunt for pray whereas larger mammals such as dolphins will serenade you as they leap from the water, glimpsing the open air as they somersault below the stars. As you progress further, more exotic creatures join you as orcas power through the water and Giant Squids leave a trail of ink behind them. ABZÚ is a love letter to the ocean and you will be educated here as the names of the new species appears on the screen. You can even meditate on a statue and simply study the animals as they progress through their day.
Although the size of the animals can be intimidating as you swim through the ocean with a pack of whales, they are all welcoming to you. In fact, aside from pray being consumed by predators as a necessity, the entire ocean population seem harmonious. As you swim through the sea, varying species flock around you, mimicking your movements. If you attempt to dive out of the water, performing a trick in the air, do not be surprised if a few of your friends accompany you. Seeing all of these majestic creatures, you cannot help but want to control them and instead of simply allowing you to do this, your character approaches the beast and they bond together in unison, emphasizing the comradery under the sea.
The real threat in the game is technology and this seems like another message that the developers, Giant Squid, are attempting to address. As the story proceeds, the beautiful areas become contaminated with machines. Menacing tetrahedrons which act as naval mines explode if you are in close proximity and huge chained door prevent water flow and life existing in certain areas. The message I took from this is that, even though a lot of the world may still be unexplored; our arrogant actions we as humans take are not only detrimental to ourselves and future generations but to the planet too.
Although I adored my time with ABZÚ the lack of any thought provoking puzzles may make others feel as though the experience is lacking. I appreciate the message and the beauty but more complex elements would have helped to make the experience a more, fully formed one. There are secrets to be found with hidden collectibles but the climatic finale had me feeling as though revisiting chapters to collect these would diminish the experience.
ABZÚ, much like Journey, is a celebration of how smaller, independent studios can now make games that do not fit the Triple-A mold. Gorgeous, creative and elegant are words rarely used to describe video games yet they are fitting here. The message is loud and clear, our planet is beautiful and let us not only appreciate that but protect that. There are many other messages here about respect, friendship, and sacrifice but everyone will take their own morals from ABZÚ.
- Gameplay: Powerful Story and Message, Little Challenging Gameplay
- Graphics: Exotic, Otherworldly Locations
- Sound: Incredible Musical Score Throughout
- Presentation: Sleek and Elegant
- Powerful Message
- Elegant Control Scheme
- Underwater Education
- Incredible Musical Score
- Lack Of Puzzles