ABZU Review

ABZU is more of an experience than a game. As a solitary diver you'll explore undersea environments rendered with a palette of pastels and soft-edged cel-shaded graphics accompanied by an orchestral soundtrack. These environments are teeming with life and a significant part of the game's charm comes from watching the fish and swimming among their schools. You can even hitch a ride on some of the larger sea creatures, allowing you to sit back and watch the aquatic world around you as your companion leads you through it. You'll also find dolphin-shaped rocks that you can rest on and meditate, switching the game into a virtual aquarium in which you can cycle through the various species of fish in the area and observe their behavior.

The game aspect comes into play in the way that ABZU divides its world into different environments. As you explore your environment, you'll be looking for the exit that will lead you to the next area. It might be a crevice that will pull you in and then whisk you along with the current to a new area, or you may find an opening in the rocks covered by an obstruction or a closed door to a sunken temple. Getting past these barriers is simply a matter of exploring the area further, looking for hidden (but not so much so) items which you can interact with to open the exit. The ease of opening your pathways forward makes the game easily accessible to younger gamers, but if you're looking for something that provides a challenge you won't find it here. The emphasis is on exploration and enjoying the undersea worlds ABZU creates, and finding your way forward is a problem that will solve itself as you explore each area.

ABZU screenshot 3

ABZU doesn't really have a story behind it, choosing instead to present you with the seeds of a mythos and leave you to answer the questions it raises. Shrines and temples contain wall paintings that depict a people that have the same appearance as your diver interacting with sea life, and as you explore you'll reawaken areas of a greater temple that bring forth new sea life into the game. There's a strong theme of respecting and restoring the oceans that runs through the game, but you'll reach the end of the game with as many questions about its world as you had when you started.

ABZU's almost magical environments, orchestral music, and lack of danger make it a very relaxing game, a good choice to play before heading off to bed after a trying day or to create a mental oasis of calm in the middle of a commute or long flight. Well, not too long of a flight, since you'll probably have time to finish the game twice on a cross-country flight. The Zen-like calm you'll feel while playing will only occasionally be broken by the game's controls, as making tighter turns can be a little frustrating when you're trying to reach an interactive object. Since you don't have to interact with many objects though, this will be a passing frustration and you'll soon be one with the sea again.

ABZU screenshot 1

ABZU brings to mind games like Flower or Journey (not coincidently, since the art director of those games is the designer behind ABZU), games designed to appeal more to your feelings than to your reflexes or the puzzle-solving part of your brain. I think it's good to mix a game like this into your gameplay rotation, especially when you need to relax and want to play something that will slow your pulse a bit instead of quickening it. If you enjoy this type of exploration game, ABZU is easy enough to recommend. If you want more game in your gameplay experience, though, you should look elsewhere.

Final Rating: 88% - Immerse yourself in an aquatic dreamscape.


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