Abzû is a game that I'm pretty sure has managed to steer its way clear of anyone's 'games to play' checklist this Summer, but you might want to reconsider this. Following in the footsteps of previous games from the founder of Giant Squid Studios, Matt Nava, Abzû may definitely be one of the most boring games you can currently find for PS4 and PC at the moment, but it's far from one of the most boring experiences. Matter of fact, it might just be one of the best.
The game starts with you, a nameless diver, floating on top of a vast ocean. You're given one goal. Dive. Instantly the beautiful and seemingly endless sea overwhelm you as you start your journey that doesn't exactly have any distinct goal at the beginning, but that doesn't matter. All that matters is figuring out why you're here and what lies beneath the ocean.
Games such as this are hard to discuss without spoiling and I doubt anybody is here to be spoilt on what lies in store with this game, again, considering the genre. Abzû does manage to top one big flaw that exploration games in its style tend to generally stumble with and that's a sense of progression.
I have played a good number of exploration games (or 'walking simulators', if you'd prefer to call them that) where the reason I can never find myself invested in their stories is because a lot of the time they can't seem to fulfil me with a sense of progression or vary their tone. Games like this and Journey both start out very similarly, they throw the player into their stories and fulfil them with a sense of wonder and curiosity and throughout that experience they grow an emotional attachment to the player just by giving us memorable moments and challenges to overcome on our way from point A to point B. Everything that makes a good game of this kind is present in Abzû. Moments of wonder, moments of fear, moments of beauty and moments of triumph.
The story never seems to just progress around you, there's a sense of involvement that is also often absent from other games of this kind too. You're a diver on a mission, the life under the water may aid you on your quest but they never do your job for you and you're definitely not left to pick up the secondary evidence of stories beforehand such as stories like Dear Ester.
Definitely the weakest point of the game, gameplay is as minimalistic as you can be for this game. Primarily, gameplay in Abzû is looking around, finding where you need to go and then progressing the story. There are 'puzzles' (if you can even call them that) where you have to follow a chain from a door to then interact with them to open said door. 'Riveting'. There is a pattern you will notice for how the game flows after a while, but the game itself doesn't stick around long enough for it to become repetitive.
The control scheme is worth mentioning. You have to hold a trigger anytime you want to swim, if you don't it defaults to idol tank controls. Upon starting the game, the character and camera controls are inverted, which I changed to suit my personal preference, but later on the game required me to leave the water to walk on the ground (which it doesn't tell you to do, by the way, keep that in mind), but these controls were inverted. I could only move forward by moving the analogue stick back which came to me as an odd design choice. Every time after this that the game wanted me to walk on land, I had to pause and change the control scheme which could've been easily avoided if the 'normal' control scheme was actually 'normal',
One of the biggest mistakes one could make when considering trying Abzû is expecting great depth or variety to its gameplay. This is as basic as you can get, but those who are familiar with the exploration genre will fell right at home here.
The art of Journey bleeds well into Abzû. Mixing realistic environments with cartoon-ish aesthetics which, if the history of animation and art design tells correctly, really shouldn't work, but fits so well with the underwater setting of this adventure. The use of realistic lighting in this game might actually be some of the best I've seen in this generation of consoles. Because of the lighting, textures that have a very limited detail look like they're taken straight from a photograph and, again, it never meshes with the distinct and creative design of the creatures or player avatar. The game also runs at a beautiful 60 frames-per-second and even in scenes with tons going on, doesn't seem to move.
Austin Wintory, composer for flOw and Journey provides the score for this game and it's very easy to tell from just how well the soundtrack directs these scenes. The music is the key to controlling the player's emotions in every scene, just as it was in those other games. When the game wants you to explore, there is ambience. When the game wants you to feel sad, the music makes you feel sad. When the game wants you to feel triumphant or full of energy, the music makes you feel just that. It takes control of showing the beauty of capturing emotion through sound that only Austin Wintory could provide, in this context. Not a single word of dialogue is spoken in the entire game, but it hits all the right notes in telling you how to feel (no pun intended).
Abzû draws inspiration to Journey in all the best ways, acting like a spiritual successor to 2012's masterpiece. That said, it creates an experience it can call it's own through its underwater setting and beautifully memorable moments. It may be basic in gameplay, but the input from the player and the emotional connection to its very minimal world is once again proof that only something so unique can be done through a video game.
|+ Immersive with beautiful emotional impact.||– Low on gameplay with weird controls|
|+ Gorgeous art direction and visuals.||– Very little replay value.|
|+ Amazing soundtrack that carries the story.|