by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Deep sea diving
Starting the game as a diver somewhere within a vast ocean, Abzu really doesn't give you any indication as to what you are meant to do. I followed the on-screen prompts and proceeded to dive underneath the surface to the watery playground below. Fish of all kind were swimming around, many in clusters too scared to venture near the invader of their sanctuary. Others were alone, moving gracefully through the clear, tropical waters. I noticed a shiny object below and swam towards it, hoping that it was some sort of half buried treasure from an ancient ship. On this occasion, it was not to be, but it soon became apparent that Abzu is all about exploring the underwater landscape as if you were related to Jacques Cousteau.
There is little story in Abzu - it doesn't really become apparent until later in the game - allowing gamers to set their own pace while searching the depths of the ocean. The lack of story and direction early on can be somewhat confusing, as you swim aimlessly, hoping to find something that will guide you further towards a goal - a goal that is not actually identified. Often, it is best to head towards any brighter areas as they tend to contain objects of interest. But you cannot actually get lost as a light will occasionally shine from the diver's mask giving an indication of the general direction you should be heading in order to progress. So, while Abzu has an open-world feel, there is a linear progression to the story.
Apart from exploring the ocean, there are sections of the game that require puzzle solving skills. Often, gates leading to the next destination are locked, requiring our intrepid scuba-diver to find ways to open them. The puzzles are not very difficult, though, and allow the exploration to continue unabated. Throughout his exploration, our hero will find a number of collectibles and identify dozens of variety of sea life - both living and extinct. If you're lucky, some of the larger creatures will even allow you to hitch a ride on their backs.
As you explore, you are forever accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack. The beautiful, yet somewhat haunting orchestral score fills the undersea locale with a wonderful atmosphere. The music is buoyant as the sun’s rays pierce through the surface of the water but sets a darker tone as you dive deeper into the unknown to uncover the mystery below. The use of a choir in the composition is done to perfection and while I wouldn't class myself as a classical music fan, I found myself wanting to take my time through the each section of the game just to keep listening to the music.
Being that developer Giant Squid was founded by the art director behind the games Journey and Flower, it is quite easy to see where the visual style has come from. The art style is very similar and there have been elements taken from both, despite the largely underwater setting. In place of the leaves that swirled around in Flower, colourful fish of all varieties swim around or away from you. The locations are beautifully designed with variations from one area to the next. Abzu goes from a bright and colourful setting to a darker, brooding environment as our adventurer begins to delve deeper into the mystery before finishing the game with an explosion of colour again as his quest is completed.
Abzu gives off the feeling that it was originally devised as a way of teaching gamers about marine conservation, but it does so in an enjoyable and relaxing way. In fact, the game won't take too much longer than your average documentary to play through, unless you want to find all the collectible objects. As mentioned, exploration is the main focus and although there are some simple puzzle elements, you'll wander around at your own pace discovering the mysteries of the deep. Identifying the various species of marine life and finding all the shells works well as a collectible feature in Abzu. If you want a game with action, Abzu will probably not be your thing, but if you want to be free to roam the mysterious depths of the ocean whilst listening to a wonderfully haunting musical score, Abzu won't disappoint.
Wonderful soundtrack, lovely art style.
No real guide as to what you're supposed to do. Rather short.