First announced in 2014, ABZÛ is the first game from developers Giant Squid, formed by some former members of ThatGameCompany of FlOw, Flower and Journey fame. ABZÛ revolves around an underwater journey to enlightenment, allowing players to experience firsthand the splendour of the ocean’s depths and an array of unique and colourful animals in their natural habitats. With ABZÛ’s style of underwater goodness finally arriving on Playstation 4, how does it fare? I guess it’s time to find out…
ABZÛ is a relaxing exploration game very much in the vein of other Playstation exclusive titles Flower and Journey (not surprising considering the developer’s pedigree) and as with the aforementioned titles, ABZÛ is deliberately light on gameplay and content. Rather than challenging players, ABZÛ takes on a more calming, carefree approach to gameplay and focuses instead on generating a feeling of complete immersion with its pleasing visuals and audio presenting a marine world that just begs to be experienced.
As is to be expected, ABZÛ takes place almost entirely underwater and this allows players to observe and swim with a wide range of aquatic creatures which have been meticulously programmed to mimic real life behavioural traits and tendencies across a number of different environments. Each of the chapters features a different theme ranging from sunken ruins, to deep sea environments and coral reefs and each is teeming with its own distinct forms of underwater flora and fauna.
The game is quite a linear experience that funnels players along a set path and encourages the occasional bit of exploration required to solve some light puzzle elements such as locating levers or drones to open/remove specific obstacles and manoeuvring around underwater mines. For these gameplay mechanics and the underwater focus of the title, players can suitably swim, dive, roll and interact with the occasional object in the environment. It is also possible to grab onto a larger sea creature and have them propel you faster through the water for a short distance.
The chapters in ABZÛ are broken down into a series of semi-open areas that although straightforward in nature, provide players with a good amount of real estate offering the opportunity to explore. The exploration attribute of the title is where you’ll get the most enjoyment out of ABZÛ as in addition to taking in the sights, exploring allows players to locate hidden pools which when activated will release additional species of fish into the immediate area and subsequent sections of the chapter. The pools aren’t the end of it though as there are also collectible seashells to find and meditation stones which will allow players to view the ocean through the eyes of various creatures in close proximity. These amusing diversions are nice touches and act to further encourage exploration and extend the game’s duration.
There’s no escaping the fact that ABZÛ is a gorgeous game with pristine, colourful visuals a penchant for minute detail and a large range of different aquatic species that have been modelled, and subsequently animated excellently. The game’s various zones are a treat for the eyes and the detailed movement and behaviour patterns of the schools of fish, pods of whales and other lifeforms is sublime and borderline hypnotic in places. Add to the visual feast a spectacular orchestral soundtrack whose melodies manage to capture the mood of the on-screen happenings and the developers have succeeded in creating a completely immersive, tranquil and serene atmosphere that is hard to forget.
Unfortunately, despite its excellent presentation and atmosphere ABZÛ is not a game that will please everybody. Those after a more action-based title will likely feel bored and alienated by the overwhelming calmness of the title and the almost complete lack of any real challenge. Its other weakness is that it is a relatively short title, with a 3-4 hour running time (with quite a bit of exploration included) and only five short chapters which makes its asking price seem a little steep for the content included.
Although it is quite short, ABZÛ is a relaxing, enjoyable experience with a memorable atmosphere that looks gorgeous and has an amazing soundtrack. The title feels much less like a game and more like an interactive exploration experience dressed up as a game and as with titles that have come before such as Journey and Flower, ABZÛ manages to blur the boundaries between games and digital art. ABZÛ is a unique, wonderful gaming experience that is certainly worth having, but its short run time and initial price point may see inhibitive for many.
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