Gorgeous scenery and a thoughtful, engaging story make Abzu memorable and spectacular.
Abzû advertises itself as an adventure and exploration game that takes place in a varyingly vibrant ocean. When I first checked out the listing of this game, I was immediately sucked in by the gorgeous artwork that’s realistic in detail and almost fantastical in color. You play a diver who is exploring the ocean life, and while there’s no real story or overarching goal advertised, that was all I needed to have an interest in this game. Add in the fact that it’s filled with music by Austin Wintory (someone who’s work I was not familiar with, but now plan to learn more about) and I’m completely in.
The game starts first with a cinematic intro that is very intriguing, and gives you a sense that this isn’t just an ocean-scape exploration game. Cut to meeting your character, The Diver, who is floating in the middle of the water. From here you get a quick tutorial on the the controls. Instead of moving with the joystick, you use the joystick to tilt or angle your direction and the ZR button to actually swim around. Overall it was intuitive, but I did find myself getting uncoordinated from time to time and ending up either spinning in a circle, crashing into the ocean floor, or getting stuck in tight corners where there was less space to correct any tilt error I made. There are times you get a break from this by finding jet streams, which are a fun departure from the slow world exploring and do a good job at moving you along in the story. Or you can ride some of the larger fish around the area to explore it by using the ZL button. You also can find small little diving camera buddies, that swim along with you and occasionally help you get into places. Another possible detriment to the controls is that you can only change your view by swimming in a certain direction, which makes looking around a small, confined space a little trickier that you may expect. If you’re used to games with a rotate camera, or change view button, this could be an adjustment for you.
There are also mediation spots that you can find while exploring, something I only discovered in the last “level” and then once I finished the game realized these were in every level and I blew past them. The meditation spots literally have your diver “meditate” and then shows you the aquatic life in the ocean scene that you’re at. It focuses on one animal at a time, and you can cycle through them at your leisure. It’s a cool feature that allows you to see every different animal that can be found in the current area you’re in (especially cool when some of these animals may occasionally be an extinct dinosaur, but you didn’t hear that from me).
As you explore, this game brings in a fantasy and science fiction element that wraps up a culmination of pretty much all the crap I love. If you are into some Atlantis vibes, with some cyberpunk and space mysticism thrown in, you’ll probably really get into it as well. Expect just enough story telling to pull at your heart strings and a little bit of tension that pays off in a big way at the end. As you progress, you do discover the ultimate “goal” of the game and how to achieve it. There is some agility and problem solving that you have to do as well. All of this is done with no written or spoken instruction, but the game does a great job explaining what you need you need to do in a way that’s intuitive and intriguing.
I will warn you that there was one part that made me jump, and one level of the game that had me in a pretty constant state of anxiety. However, the jump spot was humorous, and the anxiety level was manageable enough to get through – and if you suffer from fear of consequences like me, let me assure you that even if you do mess up a bunch, you never hit a Game Over point where you have to start over, and you won’t mess up the story going forward. I would say there’s just enough tension to provide great emotional payoff at the story’s end.
Overall, Abzû is a world exploring game with a lot of intrigue and heart hidden in it’s depths. The biggest flaws I would give it are the tilt controls for swimming as well as looking around, but for the most part it’s easy to sort out (unless you get stressed out and spaz the controls, but that might just be a thing I do). It’s an instinctual, go at your own pace story, with lots of time available to stop and smell some ocean roses, if you so wish. I’ll definitely be going back to find all those mediation spots I missed, and probably relive some of those beautiful story moments.