Review – Abzu

I found myself with a little extra time to sit down and game.  With family members occupying the PC, I picked up the PS4 controller and decided to restart Abzu, a game I had started a while ago but never really progressed.  What I found was a relaxing gaming experience full of color and wonder.

Abzu was developed by Giant Squid Studios, co-founded by Matt Nava.  The reason I mention this is that Matt Nava was formerly the art director at Thatgamecompany, which made Flower in 2009 and Journey in 2012.  Anyone who has played either of those games instantly has an idea of the style of Abzu: an interactive experience where normal game tropes take a back seat to exploration, environmental story telling, and movement.

Abzu is primarily set in an underwater world, most of which is teaming with life.  The player takes control of an agile diver who swims across underwater landscapes complete with various species of fish and plants.  The environment is immediately inviting, and I spent the first 30 minutes of gameplay largely just swimming through seaweed and with schools of fish.  A swim break can be taken at “meditation” statues located in each area, at which point you can choose to have the camera follow various fish through the environment.  Once an area has been explored, the next one is waiting with more varieties of sea life to see and swim alongside.

There is an actual game in Abzu.  Many areas require finding an item or two to move on to the next.  There are collectibles to search for behind rocks and in caves.  And there are antagonists that raise the tension a bit at times.  The story itself is largely told through paintings on walls and the environment.  There is no dialog or text explaining the history leading up to the game’s start or what is happening, but Abzu does a great job of just allowing the player to understand the character and the ultimate goal.

Abzu is a short game coming in at two and a half hours, but a creative and fluid (no pun intended) experience that is very relaxing.  If you have the game sitting in your library and have yet to give it a try, I certainly recommend putting in the time.

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