A Tranquil Dream
ABZÛ is an underwater adventure game that takes place within the beautifully vibrant depths of the ocean. You play as a diver, helping to restore the ocean to its natural beauty and uncovering the mysteries of an ancient world. The story begins with the diver floating on the surface of the sea. There is no landmass in sight only the vast stretch of water as far as you can see, its quiet and empty. But, as you dive beneath the surface a completely different world full of energy and life reveals itself. An underwater world of beauty and wonder, filled with ancient ruins and eco-systems full of underwater life. As you dive deeper into the abyss you begin uncover the diver’s origin and many other mysteries that lie beneath the waves.
ABZU has some big names attached to its development. Art Director Matt Nava and Musician Austin Wintory both worked on Journey, whose art direction and music has been praised as among the best that the video game industry has to offer – and rightly so. If you enjoyed playing Journey then think of ABZU as its sibling, instead of golden, dusty deserts think cool, aquatic depths. Like Journey, ABZU holds many relaxing and reflective moments but this is also coupled with slices of action and heavy atmosphere making the game’s overall story an emotional experience.
The narrative in ABZU is created completely through visual storytelling. There is no dialogue so much of the story is told through interactions with the landscape. The game is subtly split into different depths of the ocean, the first section being in coral reefs just under the surface. Each section then continues to go to the deeper and darker places of the ocean. When exploring, you discover caverns and crumbling, ancient temples that depict mosaics of a mysterious civilization and a unknown powerful source of energy. In these old temples fish and plant life have thrived, fish swim in the majestic corridors and vegetation covers the walls. The answer to this mysterious empire lies down in the depths. Because of the landscape storytelling some narrative detail is a little obscure, however there is enough art direction and environmental clues to piece things together. You might need the play it a couple of times in case you missed a vital clue on your first mesmerizing first playthrough.
In a nutshell, the underwater landscapes in ABZU are purely sublime. The colors, textures and fluidity of the world are awe-inspiring. Its hyper-detailed in its motion and the way the world reacts to your movement. ABZU’s world feels like it’s a simulation of a real life underwater eco-system. All the fish and plant life are completely reactive to your actions. The fish follow the same procedural rules as real fish making for some beautiful dynamic moments. Swimming in among school of fish or alongside dolphins, manta rays and gigantic whales in one fluid motion feels magical.
One of the best ideas in ABZU are the meditation rocks that allow the diver to sit down and just watch the passing and going of life. The world is so captivating and beautiful that having these meditation points allows the player to reflect and wonder peacefully about this underwater empire. These meditation points also allow the player to focus in on certain fish and the game will tell you what type of fish you are looking at. By having these meditation points it’s a way for the game to communicate directly to the player instead of through the avatar.
The diver’s movement is amazingly fluid; she can twist and turn with as much grace as a ballet dancer. Because its based underwater, ABZU is best played with a controller due to the movement of the joystick being able to capture the smooth movements of the diver. You really feel the connection between the gliding of the diver and the fish surrounding you; it makes you feel more apart of that world. Furthermore, because there is no dialogue, it’s a joint effort for you and the diver to both re-discover her origins and past. Through lack of dialogue and fantastic art direction we come to the same understanding and conclusions as she does at exactly the same moment. You both go through a transformation together.
ABZU takes the act of scuba diving and transforms it into a beautiful and tranquil dream. It’s an overwhelming experience with a captivating story submerged in beautiful visuals and music. It has some magical sequences and is an all-around unforgettable game. It holds moments of relaxation but also action and tension. It explores ones of the few places left on earth we still have yet to fully understand and embraces that mystery and wonder. ABZU is a reflection of what makes video games so amazing because they create places and feelings that we will never be able to experience, like the feeling of being one with the ocean. ABZU is a beautiful artistic expression and is completely worth your time, its available on PS4 and Steam.