Disclosure ‐ The review copy of this game was kindly provided to us by 505 Games. Thank you!
Swim the ocean of the world
ABZÛ is a game from the team at Giant Squid Studios. This name may not ring a bell, but one of the co-founders, and the Creative Director, Matt Nava, was one of the team that brought the world Journey and Flower. There is certainly some pedigree here. These games are all about creating an experience, one where the path travelled is as meaningful as the actions taken along the way. ABZÛ carries this same style forward, only this time it looks away from the wind or the desert, and instead it delves into the depths of the ocean.
Players take control of a diver. Starting at the surface of the water, you dive down into a great underwater world. Mingling with the schools of fish you frequently swim past, you explore the mystery and the wonder of the world around you. These fish are not just an aside to the whole journey. The schools react to your presence and you are able to travel on the side of some of the bigger fish. This is very much a living world.
The story itself is quite simple. This is not to say that it is not deep or meaningful, just that it is takes a much more imaginative route to tell its tale. This is done to the extent that for much of this game, you will not be able to put your finger on where the path is taking you. The world has been very well designed to constantly nudge the player forward, indicating where you should be headed but never in a particularly overt way. Instead hints and clues constantly point the player in the most appropriate direction. Subtle pointers come from places like your occasional robot companions, superb map design and the infrequent door chains.
I will not say too much about the story as I feel that exploring this world for yourself will greatly heighten your enjoyment of ABZÛ.
As is the standard for semi-open world games, there are numerous hidden actions sprinkled through the map. In ABZÛ’s case, the simplest are ammonite shells. These are hidden in caves and crevices all the way throughout the world. In some cases it may be in an area which appears to be easy to get to, but is instead much more difficult than the first glance. An additional hidden event around the world are fish nests. Each of these hubs releases different sea creatures back into the world. They are easier to find, to the extent that they are often located almost directly on the main paths. Interacting with these gives the player the feeling of power as they start to craft and add life to the world around them.
These also start to tell a little more of the world you are exploring. As you start releasing more of these nests, as you get deeper into the game, you start noticing trends and patterns behind the secrets of the water. The submerged temples and signs of habitation start appearing more often. The patterns and the types of creatures you release start showing signs of something far more unexpected, and far more beautiful.
When playing this game it is strongly recommended to players that they use a gamepad. I played this using a keyboard and mouse and experienced very few issues at all. The only times I had problems was when I was getting caught by some odd camera movements. That said there was a weird inconsistency between some of the sections. This was not enough to cause any significant issues, I just found it a little strange.
All that said, the movement through the water feels amazing. It is a one speed fits all. There is a boost button which can be chained to work up some great speed, something that saw me frolicking like a dolphin in the waves. Leaping from the water into the sky is an amazing feeling. The sense of freedom that ABZÛ generates is second to none. It is an emotion that the developers play on throughout the different levels, designing the maps in such a way way to emphasise the value and price of freedom.
As you may have seen through these screenshots, this game is extremely beautiful. In some cases I do not think that I am able to do it justice. ABZÛ goes out of its way to try and help people enjoy the scenes that they have created. Placed centrally in many areas are statues. On these statues players are able to meditate. Sitting on the top of the statues the player is thrown out into the surrounding area, following the various fish and wildlife that surround them. It is a fantastic and clever addition to the game that cements its place as a one to experience and not just play.
While the game itself is charming and engaging, I was more than a little disappointed by the lack of options that are provided with this game. The graphical options are poor, with only a small number of different resolutions being provided. The game does not seem to support any ratios other than full wide screen resolutions yet. There is no place to adjust sound and volume and there is no place to adjust the keybindings.
It saddens me that a game in this day and age is not able to provide even a simple binding list or complete resolution options. I think I might be more put-off by the lack of sound options (even though the music and effects are amazing) because sometimes I want the sound to be moderated for my headset.
Overall this game is absolutely charming, it is something that everyone should give a go. While I suspect that it will polarise some gamers, much like Firewatch did, I think it will be because it has done what it wanted to do, and it did it extremely well. The visuals and sound are amazing, swimming through the world and just observing the detail is a charm even without any context. Adding into that a meaningful and charming story and you have a fantastic experience that is well worth the few hours it takes to play.