505 Games, a developer and publisher well known for releasing some downright awesome titles such as: Terraria, Rocket League and Pay Day 2, by no means fell short of greatness when they teamed up with Giant Squid and released 2016 underwater adventure, Abzu. In this breathtakingly beautiful tale, the player takes on a role of diver, Abzu who over the duration of the game’s proceedings, explores the far reaches of the ocean, meeting and interacting with a divinely diverse array of marine life along the way.
As mentioned prior, Abzu’s story entails exploring the ocean. More specifically this geared up divers task is to traverse the game’s stunning underwater setting and rejuvenate the dying parts of the big ‘ol blue. The reasoning behind the blackened and dying underwater coves is not immediately brought to the players attention, leaving a nagging feeling of wonder as the first few chapters play out. Much like, Journey (Sony Interactive Entertainment), Abzu is a game lacking in any means of dialogue. The player must instead use chirps to interact with the aquatic creatures and objects on their voyage, this as a result means it’s down to the player’s imagination to fill in the story’s blanks. However, as the story’s events transgress, it becomes apparent it’s best to play this enthralling, heart-warming title with a box of tissues at hand. Yes, developers have riddled, Abzu with some hard-hitting morals and heaps of emotion that will lead the player to feel a mass of sympathy at the very least. Put it this way, by the concluding chapter, i’d shed numerous tears.
The absolute first thing that captured me as I dived head-first into this incredible title, was simply how aesthetically pleasing it truly was. As you negotiate chapters rich in an abundance of vibrant colours, you come to realise it isn’t just the setting itself that is brought to life in such vivid beauty. The vast eco-system below the waves is not only great to look at, but is also animated to perfection, making the experience all the more lifelike and immersive. Each differing member of marine life you encounter looks and feels so realistic. Furthermore, this level of attention to detail has outward effects on, Abzu’s entire atmosphere. Swimming from an area ripe in a spectrum of bright colours into a cove made up of an entirely dark pallet of blacks and greys, changes an immediate joyous, care-free atmosphere, into a contrasting unsettling one of apprehension. It is one of the many powerful ways, Giant Squid have tried to over-compensate for lack of dialogue in this truly memorable tale.
Much like a concerned mother, Abzu doesn’t throw you in at the deep end or send you packing without provisions. The game begins in a small patch of open water in which the player is then able to familiarise themselves with the controls including breaching the waters surface, interacting with alleged marine life and doing some nifty flips. Abzu’s gameplay as a whole is swimmingly smooth. Furthermore, fluent swimming motions make journeying throughout the spanning underwater world somewhat lifelike and all the more enjoyable as a gaming experience. Abzu is an exploration title and in being so offers the players a variety of collectables to obtain in order to push the player to really investigate Abzu’s underwater world. So, content is just another aspect that Abzu by no means falls short on.
What made, Abzu such a poignant and enjoyable experience for me was funnily enough it’s lack of both dialogue and straight forward story telling. Admittedly, the incorporation of countless eco-friendly morals gave, Abzu the very basic foundations of a story however, in not possessing a typical linear timeline of events (beginning, middle and end), the story then ultimately boils down to the individual interpretation of each and every person who embarks on this underwater journey. Although this adds a level of controversy to the game, it also makes the story personal and special to you as the player. The story is what you make it to be and what it means to you. This is an effective way of leaving a resonating feel of poignancy even after, Abzu meets it’s conclusion. Even before the credits had finished rolling I found myself browsing Google for differing theories of what, Abzu’s all about. Honestly, the sheer amount of different interpretations is fascinating.
Like a cherry on a cake, Abzu is complete with an outstandingly beautiful original soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory. This beautiful accompaniment to this tranquil tale has the defining power to transform Abzu’s setting. One moment you may find yourself merrily swimming through an underwater utopia, brimming with a serene ambience, spurred on by heartwarming, melodic chimes; Or in significant contrast, hesitantly invading unwelcoming alien territory, dark, monotonous tones becoming almost haunting as you swim vulnerably through the murky depths. This powerful soundtrack sets the tone for each chapter and development in Abzu’s story and in accomplishing that, becomes the perfect companion for a game lacking in dialogue.
I thoroughly enjoyed, Abzu. It’s a simplistic, easy play with a story so lavish in both moral and emotion that it leaves a lingering feeling of poignancy and desire to experience the game again and again. This ability to resonate in the player’s mind even after Abzu meets it’s end after a mere two hours or so worth of gameplay (player dependant) is admirable and an obvious indicator as to where the developers main focus lies with this fantastic title. I strongly recommend this short but exceptionally sweet title to anyone who has indulged in and thoroughly enjoyed the likes of Firewatch or Journey because Abzu possesses pretty much everything that made these widely acclaimed titles as enjoyable as they were.