Abzû may be the most beautiful game I have ever played. To set the mood to talk about how amazing this game is, we’re going to need some music. If the embed isn’t enough of Austin Wintory’s absolutely breathtaking soundtrack, here is the rest of the soundtrack on Spotify.
This art piece by Giant Squid Studios took 3 years and 13 people to pull together – including director Matt Nava from Journey. Oh, and if you think the music in Journey is similar… that’s because Austin Wintory worked on Journey, too. While Journey takes place in a desert – Abzû takes to the sea.
I have seen many articles reviewing this game that point out you can finish it in just a couple of hours. That is true. You can absolutely complete it in just under 2 hours if you really, really wanted to just rush through it. However – if you do this – you are missing out.
Abzû is not a game to jump in and shoot things, or a game driven by dialogue. This is a game full of beauty and life! This game urges you to slow down and experience it – and in fact the collectibles are meditation spots! Literal spots for you to sit on and simply observe. So let’s break this game down into a few key areas:
You’ll start the game as a diver in the ocean. You’ll have a few bits of text to give you directions on how to swim and interact with the fish around you. It took a few moments to orient myself with the swimming mechanic. As much as I love games like this, anytime you introduce the ability to go in any direction, I struggle!
As I was playing this on the Playstation 4, the controls were the standard joystick operations. Left stick to drive around, right stick to control the camera. As you get used to swimming, you’ll also find that you can interact with the fish and other creatures in your environment. When you get close enough, you’ll see the names of them; and some of them you can grab hold of and go for a ride! (This was most fun for me with some of the speedier mammals, like dolphins or orcas!)
You also have the ability to dash and swim a bit faster. This lets you to leap out of the water when you are near the surface, and you can ‘ping(?)’ or make a little chirp sound. This seems to have some impact on fish/wildlife, and another creature as well.
Unlike many other games, you can not die. I spent most of the game fearing for my life until I realized this. Once I realized nothing actually hurt me, I relaxed and allowed myself to explore a lot more. There are plenty of places that may make you uncomfortable, but nothing will kill you. I know that this style of gameplay is not for everyone, but sometimes, it’s good to slow down. I think it is an absolutely wonderful idea to take a breath, and slow down. Just enjoy a game without being rushed, and without fighting. The diver is non-violent!
I did find that at times I would get a bit frustrated with the camera – but that is a common issue for me overall. I just don’t tend to have the greatest coordination! At one point, I managed to ‘separate’ from my ‘ride’ and really struggled to catch it again – I couldn’t quite figure out if I was just repeatedly hitting the wrong button (I very well could have been! I do that…) or I could just not get the angle right.
Abzû’s story is told without a single word. As you explore, you’ll find murals along walls, giving you clues as to what happened in the past, and who the diver is. You’ll awaken with no explanation as to who you are, but you’ll explore a vast ocean that needs a bit of help.
Additional story elements, with spoilers, behind here.
As you begin to explore the ocean, you’ll find areas of the ocean that seem to be dead. They’re lifeless and dark and empty – a bit depressing. The first time I came across them I was afraid to go into them, thinking they were somehow poisoned or dangerous.
The diver is able to bring life back to them, restoring these empty parts of the ocean, and bringing back certain creatures. It’s a beautiful treat each time you do this (and, although I can not say for sure, I feel strongly that the design of these areas bleed into The Pathless, just a bit, and that makes me happy!), and one of them brings back one of my favorite creatures in the world – the Whale Shark!
The areas around these restored sites contain the murals – murals that show some type of ancient civilization that clearly have a connection with the ocean. As you continue on, you’ll also begin to repeatedly see a great white shark, which also appears in the murals periodically. As you continue, you’ll notice a key element – each time you restore a site, it is being restored by energy in the diver.
Eventually, you’ll come across pyramids – the only thing in the entire game to do any type of damage to you. When you reach the last pyramid, you’ll find that same shark attacking it. The pyramid fights back – and both you and the shark take a hit.
It is at this point in the story that I find Abzû has done something amazing: the shark is not the monster. The diver is damaged and left with a skeletal frame, and the shark lays there dying. The diver goes and pets the shark while it lays there dying, and if you think back through the entire game – the entire time the shark has not been attacking you, only mechanical things related to the pyramid. (Yes, I cried. I absolutely love sharks. They important creatures in our ecosystem, and they not mindless killing machines.)
Then, because that scene was tragic and sad, after you restore the last section of ocean, you are treated to a spirit version of the shark to destroy the pyramid with.
There is a lot of tie in to Sumerian mythology with this story, which is fascinating, and I strongly suspect that The Pathless has minor ties to this game as well (even if I am wrong and seeing ties that aren’t actually there!)
Overall, I give this game easily 10/10…. Flurpys? Whatever rating system you want to use. Abzû is a beautiful game with incredible music. It is a game to slow down and relax, and one of the few pieces of media out there to remind us that certain species are not monsters.