Abzu is all about the water, and it’s an adventure that deserves to be completely soaked in.
Abzu comes from the mind of Matt Nava, art director of critically acclaimed PS3 titles such as Flower and Journey. Abzu feels very much like a combination of those two games thanks to its wide color palette, outstanding soundtrack, and the fact that it makes for a fascinating time without ever actually saying a word.
Deep in the depths of Abzu, you play as a scuba diver swimming through the vast ocean. After diving in, you’ll encounter hundreds upon hundreds of creatures from the sea, whether it be fish, sharks, or whales. Stopping at one of the game’s meditation statues gives you a moment to relax and truly appreciate the vastness of the ocean, focusing on every type of fish one at a time, each of which is from an actual species that exists in the real world.
For almost the entirety of Abzu, you explore its world by swimming, and while the camera can become frustrating at times, its basic controls make the game accessible and approachable to just about anyone. Not unlike the previous games Nava has worked on, there’s no real story, dialogue, instructions, or giant arrows telling you where to go. The things you encounter and see throughout this journey allow you to use your imagination and wonder to decide what happened to this scuba diver and what exactly is hidden in the sea.
The game design is so intricately well done that I never at any point felt frustrated or found myself unsure of where to go. Somehow, every area in Abzu begs to be explored, but also successfully directs you exactly where to go, using objects such as light, color, and sound as symbols, allowing you as much or as little freedom as you desire.
Diving deep into the 2 hour long game, Abzu does pack emotional highs and lows, but if you go in expecting to leave with the same feelings that Journey left many with, you might end up disappointed. Abzu has its moments, but it never truly reaches as tremendous of an impact during its climax as Journey did. This can be attributed to the fact that very little changes from start to finish for Abzu. The gameplay consists of swimming from each area to the end, activating a beacon, and then entering the next area to do it again. To be fair, Abzu is about the wonders of the sea, the environment you explore, and the feelings that come with it, but adding a little more to do could have resulted in a stronger impact for the ending.
Abzu does include some optional tasks, such as freeing fish from hidden pools, finding meditation statues, and discovering secret shells, and its short play time makes it simple to replay it as many times as needed to come across every hidden object.
One of the biggest standouts of Abzu is its enchanting score, one that makes playing the game with headphones on an immersive and mesmerizing experience. Fully orchestrated, the music that accompanies your journey through the sea is an important part of the emotion and feelings that you experience through the game and are on par with Nava’s previous titles.
For the most part, Abzu ran smoothly, only slowing down when a school of hundreds of fish appeared on the screen, and contained a handful of loading screens taking moderate amounts of time to load. While a good part of Abzu is filled with shades of blue, there are scenes that encompass bright yellows, reds, and greens, and these look just as stunning as the blue of the sea.
Abzu may be filled with water, but it should float to the top of your list. Whether you’re swimming alongside a shark or diving from the top of a cliff, this short adventure makes the ocean seem like a beautiful and enchanting region to explore. While a little more variation in gameplay would have led to a bigger emotional payoff, Abzu stands out as a game that is worth diving into.