Abzû Review

My day job is by no means difficult, or laborious. I sit in a cube all day, plugged into a phone, browsing the web. Also, I take lots of calls. About 100 a day. Each call is a new person, and not many of these people are pleasant. Talking to 100 different angry people a day can really become draining, and stressful. Abzû is exactly what I need at the moment.

The game isn't plot thick, or even all that interactive, but the world is so enchanting, beautiful, and mysterious that the simple act of exploring it is enough. In Abzu you play as a nameless, silent diver. Your only real task is to explore the oceans depths. The story is, quite literally, broken into pieces that you must decipher for yourself through landmarks, or ancient drawings in crumbling ruins. The do-it-yourself storytelling, along with the stunningly vibrant oceanic landscapes, deeply encourage the curiosity that they evoke, and make for a moving, meditative experience.

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Did I not even get into the music yet? oh lordy, lordy is it good. Austin Wintory, best known for his work in Journey and The Banner Saga, sits at the helm as composer, and it's everything you'd expect out of him. Each track pairs so well with each section of gameplay. Without any dialogue in the game, the music takes its place and has a heavy hand in the character development of the ocean and its creatures. It's truly awe inspiring. Wintory's compositions will tug at your heart and toy with your fears; further proving himself as one of the bests in the industry.

The gameplay includes what might be the best swimming mechanic I've experienced in a game. It's extremely fluid and natural feeling. It just feels right, and is a ton of fun. As the diver you gradually travel deeper into the ocean revealing the secret past of an ancient people who once lived there. Along the way you'll find organic nodes that contain different kinds of oceanic animals. Activating these nodes will release the creatures into the surrounding area. There are also little robot helpers you can find, and meditation statues to activate. The robot helpers follow along, and remove pesky coral reefs that block your path. They're kind of cute too. You can chirp at them and they'll chirp back; it's a nice little touch. The statues can be activated to meditate on. During meditation you can observe the surrounding creatures closer as they swim around, hide in their shells, or eat other fish. it's neat, but doesn't really do anything to make the game better or worse. It's just there, though I can appreciate it. My favorite interaction is grabbing onto larger fish or mammals to hitch a ride and control them. It's really incredible jumping out of the water with a group of dolphins.

As much as the minimalist gameplay adds to the experience, it also takes. Without the ability to do much I didn't feel as attached to the world as I wanted to. The few interactions in the game weren't enough to make me feel like I contributed in a meaningful way. The ending is beautiful, and extremely well done; the music crescendos to a grand finish, but it doesn't make me feel what it so clearly wants me to, and left me somewhat unsatisfied.

Abzu is a short and wonderful three-hour experience from a studio with much promise. The game thrives at creating a living, breathing, colorful world that is an absolute joy to explore, but it's minimalist gameplay works against it in the last half of the game. Should you still pick it up? Absolutely. Hell yes. It is a visually stunning, playable art piece, and it is completely worth your time.


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