Gameplay 9
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Abzu offers players the opportunity to descent into the heart of the ocean without having to worry about things like oxygen or predators. It is a tranquil experience with beautiful visuals that left us eager to see each new environment. Everything from the art to the soundtrack is superb, but the gameplay could be a bit too shallow for action fans. The entire experience is also over way too soon, but if you get hooked, you’ll love every second of it.

Gameplay: Abzu is mostly about swimming around and observing your surroundings.

Graphics: The art style for the game is beautiful and each scene is filled with color and life.

Sound: The soundtrack and sound effects are a perfect match for the tranquil setting and gameplay

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Developer: Giant Squid | Publisher: 505 Games | Release Date: 2016 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

Numerous nature documentaries has taught us that the ocean can be a beautiful place that is filled with life and wonder. It has also taught us that the ocean is home to sharks and other things with lots of teeth and large appetites, which is why we prefer observing it in nature documentaries, instead of firsthand. Unfortunately, nature documentaries are not very interactive, which is why we are thankful that games like Abzu exists. It is a wonderfully immersive underwater adventure by Giant Squid Studios, which is made up of staff that includes members who previously worked on Journey. Of course, this means that Abzu shares some similarities with the Thatgamecompany classic, but it is also very much its own game.

Abzu opens with the player character, an unnamed diver, wakes up floating in the ocean. Players can immediately dive down in the water and begin exploring their vibrant surroundings. Apart from things with teeth our other major concern with diving is the inability to breathe without an oxygen tank down in the depths, but this is something that you don’t need to worry about in Abzu. The reason why the diver can swim around unrestricted by the need for oxygen is revealed later in the game, along with their lack of fear when faced with ocean predators. In fact, Abzu prefers the mysterious route of storytelling when it comes to unveiling its plot, which means players will have to figure out most of it themselves. Since there isn’t a single line of dialog in the entire game, it also means that the whole thing is very much open to interpretation.

One thing about which there is no doubt is the fact that Abzu is a beautiful game. Instead of going for a hyper realistic look, the game instead features a very stylized look at the world beneath the waves. It should come as no surprise that the game bears more than a passing resemblance to Journey too. Each scene in the game is just bursting with color and life, so there were plenty of times where we just stopped and stared at everything around us. The game even features specific “meditation” spots, where you can relinquish control of your character and let the camera follow around the other oceanic lifeforms as they go about their business. Abzu not only includes tons of different species, but they way in which they move about is also wonderful to behold. Even the schools of fish that you encounter procedurally respond to you as well as each other and whatever predators may be lurking in their vicinity.

You’ll also find that as the fish you encounter become larger and more exotic that you are able to grab hold of them and hang on for a joyride. Breaching the ocean on the back of a giant blue whale is definitely one of our favorite moments in any game, but Abzu is filled with moments like this. Whether it is petting a Great White Shark or coming face to face with a giant squid, the game is awesome to behold. It is also filled with smaller touches, such as your flippers kicking up clouds of sand as you swim close to the ocean floor or the way that the kelp sways in the currents. From a visual standpoint alone, Abzu is not a game that you will want to rush through.

While Abzu is very beautiful to look at, it’s gameplay might not appeal to everyone, especially those who can’t stay awake without plenty of action. Since your diver has nothing to fear from any of the fish, there is no combat in the game and the closest thing to action is avoiding a few proximity mines on later levels. For the rest, you’ll be swimming along peacefully, hitching rides with friendly fish, or get swept up in ocean currents that transport you from one area to the next. It is always obvious where you need to go next, but you can explore a little off the beaten track to find secret shells, release fish from hidden pools and uncover all the meditation statues. Performing these actions are highly recommended, by the way, as the game itself is very short and can easily be completed in two hours. Abzu does feature a few puzzles here and there, but nothing that could be called taxing. Along with turning mechanisms for opening certain gates, you’ll also need to find small underwater rovers that can assist you with barriers.

The store page for Abzu strongly recommends a controller to play Abzu, and while it isn’t strictly necessary, we do agree that analog controls just feel more natural when swimming around. Holding down the right trigger causes your diver to swim in the direction they are pointed and you can give them a quick boost with the tap of a button. There is also a button for grabbing on to passing marine life and one for performing a neat roll. The lack of health bars, oxygen timers, scores or objectives means that the user interface for Abzu is completely clutter free. While this might make it feel shallow and boring to action junkies, we thoroughly enjoyed every second we spent with the game and completing it was definitely bittersweet.

The stunning visuals and relaxing gameplay of Abzu is enhanced with its atmospheric soundtrack, courtesy of Austin Wintory, who also worked on Journey. To make everything more immersive, the music is dynamic and reacts to what is happening on-screen. The soundtrack also makes good use of instruments that are not commonly heard in games to complement the visual style and theme of Abzu. The sound effects are equally good and really helps to draw players deeper into the underwater experience.

Overall, we really enjoyed playing Abzu, even though we wished that the experience was a little longer. We have no doubt that some players will see the game as a glorified interactive aquarium due to the lack of action and the storytelling method is also not going to appeal to everyone. Abzu is definitely a more laid back experience, but descending into the heart of the ocean offers a great break from the frantic pace of life and other games. If you enjoyed titles such as Journey and Flower, then Abzu should be very high on your wish list. It is a truly unique game and definitely something that proves that games can also be art.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 7, 64-bit
  • Processor: 3.0GHz CPU Dual Core
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Geforce GTX 750 / Radeon R7 260X
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 6 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card
  • OS: Windows 7, 64-bit
  • Processor: 2.4GHz CPU Quad Core
  • Memory: 8 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Geforce GTX 780 / Radeon R9 290X
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Storage: 6 GB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card

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