Played on: PlayStation 4.
Available on: PC & PlayStation 4.
There’s just something about ABZÛ. In fact it’s probably not just the one thing, but a combination of several that make ABZÛ a brief, yet memorable, video game experience. Like Journey before it, ABZÛ creates a spell-binding narrative that’s open to plenty of individual interpretation and that contains many unique experiences, all set within a visually stunning environment.
ABZÛ is an adventure game, developed by Giant Squid Studios, published by 505 Games, and featuring art design by Matt Nava (who was the art director of Journey) and music by Austin Wintory (who composed the music for Journey). And just in case you haven’t picked up on the subtle references yet, ABZÛ has a lot in common with Journey. And that’s a really good thing. After all, I once described Journey as a “masterpiece” and used it as an example of why video games should be considered an art form.
ABZÛ is a game about exploration, with the loose narrative encouraging you to discover and interpret the oceanic game world in your own time, whilst drawing your own conclusions. The narrative is told through a combination of the game’s beautiful visuals and it’s masterfully crafted musical score, alongside the occasional meaningless, yet comforting, pings shared between your diver and your small robot companions. Poignant swirls of music draw your attention to key moments and events, setting the scene for the narrative to move further forward, whilst murals and paintings found within the underwater castles of ABZÛ’s environments help you piece together the meaning of your journey to reclaim and replenish the ocean.
And what an ocean it is! ABZÛ’s water is gorgeous and inviting, teeming with hundreds of different types of sealife, all on screen at the same time. From dolphins to manta rays, sharks to whales, and clown fish to Loch Ness Monster type-things, ABZÛ has you covered. It’s hands down one of the most visually striking and colourful games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. As you swim from area to area, plunging further into the ocean’s depths, you know that something new is waiting around every corner. In truth, though, some of ABZU’s best moments come from simply watching the ocean wildlife existing naturally around you. As an experience, then, ABZÛ is calming, relaxing, intriguing and at times truly awe inspiring.
In terms of the video game elements, ABZÛ performs admirably with only the occasional frame-rate hiccup cropping up during it’s 3 or so hour game time. It’s certainly not a cheap game though, as even the most intrepid explorer will quickly reach the game’s end credits. There is, at least, some replay value to be found in revisiting the oceans and uncovering all of their secrets. Between moving from area to area in ABZÛ and progressing the narrative further, your diver is also tasked with finding secret shells, releasing wildlife from hidden pools, and discovering statues to meditate on top of. All of these tasks exist purely to encourage you to explore ABZU’s beautiful environments, and fortunately the art design is so good that you won’t mind jumping back in to find that one last collectible, or to ride that whale you missed the first time around. You never need to worry about your air supply or ocean depth either; ABZÛ simply isn’t interested in the stresses of such things. Controlling your little diver is, however, at times slightly frustrating, although the slight lack of finesse in his or hers movements does make contextual sense given the game’s underwater setting, so I’ll give Giant Squid Studios the benefit of the doubt here.
Perhaps ABZÛ’s only real weakness, other than its short run time, steep price tag, and lack of platinum trophy (I really thought ABZÛ was going to be my first!), is the fact that Journey came before it. In many ways these games are so similar, despite their vastly different settings. It doesn’t make ABZÛ any less beautiful, mystifying or enjoyable to play, but it does lead to this slight feeling of familiarity right at the back of your brain. It’s an almost inaudible little voice, but it is there. There are moments in ABZÛ that seem almost identical to those in Journey, except instead of being on top of the sands this time it’s underneath the water. With a game this good it’s hard to get too upset about it, but it’s a niggle that can’t be ignored.
If Journey was a video game masterpiece then ABZÛ only just falls short of earning that title, and only because it came second. ABZÛ is beautiful, intriguing and genuinely enjoyable to play. And if ABZÛ is the sort of game we have to settle for in the days after Journey set the bar so high, then I for one am happy to do so, though next time I wouldn’t mind a little bit more game for my money.
Images from http://www.abzugame.com